Biweekly Book Review: The Rise of Skywalker

Full disclosure: though I’m sure you know this about me already, I did not like The Rise of Skywalker, the movie. Though I did my absolute best to be fair to the book for what it is, I was not nice about the film in this review. Reader discretion is advised, I don’t want to yuck your yum.

You know I almost didn’t read this one at all? It’s no knock on Rae Carson, I think she’s a fantastic writer. But I just really didn’t think I could subject myself to this story again. How, I wondered, could I voluntarily sit through an author valiantly trying to fit a square peg into a round hole? Especially a peg that was carved in a square shape while the carver looked straight at the round hole they were meant to fill. This metaphor is getting out of hand. What I’m trying to say is at the end of the day in the spirit of fairness (and thanks to my instinct to start everything I finish) I read it. My thoughts? Let’s dive into The Rise of Skywalker by Rae Carson.

What Worked For Me

When I say Rae Carson valiantly tried to save this story, I mean it. Motivation that was utterly lacking in very thin dialogue was fleshed out in internal monologues. Scenes were extended to make sure they landed better. Rose Tico actually had stuff to do?? And actual lines?? And a conversation with Rey?? I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

And the thing is, I really do like those scenes that Carson added. I think she did wonders with Kylo Ren. What felt like character regression on-screen was fleshed out to look more like a young man on the verge of losing his grip on everything he thought was true. The early stuff on Mustafar is great, particularly with Hux and Pryde there too. The added scene with Chewie, where Kylo is forced to remember everything that “Uncle Chewie” was to him was fantastic.

I also adore everything Carson did with Leia. The limitations of including Leia in the film do not exist here, obviously, and this is instead a beautiful final homage to Carrie Fisher. Leia is everything the reader knows their princess and general to be. She is confidently in charge, never loses sight of her heart, and is even a style icon to the younger generation – the kind of meta content I do enjoy. This characterization was the final outing that Carrie’s Leia deserved.

As a small aside, I do like that Carson made it explicit that Leia chose to use her knowledge of the Force in an internal, quiet way during her political career. That was always my preferred headcanon, to think that she used her abilities in a less flashy, but ultimately truer way, and I love that it was made part of the story. Honestly, it’s a testament to Carson that Leia suddenly deciding to become a Jedi didn’t feel as out of place as it did on-screen.

I know I’m leaving a lot of detail out. Honestly the little character stuff with the Resistance members, the First Order, even the Knights of Ren were great. More Hux time is always a treat, and I loved getting to spend additional time with Finn and Poe. It’s just that knowing the endgame is staying the same kind of put a damper on the whole thing and reminded me that I wasn’t reading a really well-written fix it fic.

What Didn’t Work For Me

It’s going to be really hard to separate out what didn’t work for me *book-wise* from the story beats I didn’t care for, but here goes my attempt.

I rarely talk about Rey these days except to say that I genuinely don’t know how to talk about Rey these days, and I haven’t since The Rise of Skywalker. In the wake of the story turning her into a stand-in for everyone else’s expectations and then doing nothing to dispute that – because that absolutely could have worked if it had been refuted by the end – she doesn’t feel like her own character anymore. She is a template onto which people project whatever feelings they want to have.

Unfortunately, despite Carson infusing Rey with as much motivation and internal turmoil as she possibly could, there was just no escaping the broad strokes the story had laid out for her. Whatever fear of her own capacity for evil she might have had in a better story – born out of witnessing Ben’s fall to the dark and not EviL GeNEtiCs – it always comes back to what the old people in her life think of her, and how much she depends on them and needs them. It’s not even like that was something she overcame either since she is “all the Jedi” and all that, and is never once allowed to exist under the wonder of her own power (or is it his power?). Yes, at the end of the day this is a critique of the movie and not the book, but the point I am making is this is the one hurdle Carson really couldn’t clear, cut off at the knees as she was.

Conspiracy Corner

If you’re not in the mood for tinfoil hat time, thank you for reading this far, you can go ahead and close this, because I’m about to spiral back to a December 2019 headspace.

I have never been convinced that Episode IX was the story they intended to tell in the long run. I have gone on and on to anyone who would listen that every book that comes before the movie was trending in a far more optimistic, hopeful direction, only for the carefully stacked Jenga tower to get toppled by a man determined to copy-paste a movie from 1983, with a dash of petty on the side for good measure.

Now, having finally read this book, I am even less convinced that what we got was what we were supposed to have. Despite my whining above, there are so many parts of Rey’s conflict that track with the insecurity that comes with being the lone Jedi face of the Resistance. It’s a good, emotional journey that gets repeatedly hobbled by the forced incorporation of nonsense like “you’re a Palpatine” and “she wasn’t Palpatine’s vessel, she was the Jedi’s vessel”

Be your own damn vessel, Rey. Whoever writes the next Rey story, I am begging you, never once let her reference the Jedi of old again – and yes, I am including Luke in that.

Look at the moment Rey shoots lightning out of her hands and blows up the transport. Kylo’s thoughts following that had nothing to do with needing to push her to confirm she’s a Palpatine, the way he tells her he was doing. No, his internal monologue is instead relishing that Rey is giving in to her inner darkness and might be ready to turn at last.

Almost like this was written before Adam Driver ever uttered “you’re a Palpatine” while huddled in his guest room closet…

Speaking of which. Given how often the book reiterates that Leia wanted Ben to come home, and how Lando and Chewie both reflect on the tragedy that was his fall, I cannot believe that Carson put all this in there knowing what the ending would be, amplifying the inevitable “what the fuck”.

Does it seem convenient that the two bits I dislike the most are also the two bits I believe were thrown in at the last second? Yes, maybe. But they’re also the ones that feel the most out of place, and they’re made to feel more so by Carson’s attempts to inject a little logic into the mess.


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