For this review, “I rebel” and walk the path of someone who can’t find their way on either side of the Galactic Civil War. Abandoned by a rebel friend and hunted by the Imperial war machine, Jyn Erso lives life in a grey area of the galaxy. What is she to do when the rebellion brings her nothing but pain, but the Empire does nothing but cause pain for others? Spoiler-Free Section:
I loved this book.
At first I wasn’t going to make this one a top priority to read. Minus the comics, I’ve read most of the new canon entries. For some reason, this novel didn’t strike me as something I needed to delve into straight away. So I thought I’d buy some comics next, or take a break and jump back into my Legends backlog. Is Jyn Erso’s backstory really that important if I’ve already seen Rogue One?
Yes. And I was wrong to think I’d let this one sit on the shelf and wait until Phasma or something comes along soon. I can’t say it enough. This. Book. Is. Great.
Beth Revis’s Rebel Rising takes place in the Dark Times period, before Rogue One and A New Hope. It begins with Jyn hiding out in the cave where Saw Gerrera finds her, as depicted in the film. Her father has just been reclaimed by the Empire and her mother has been murdered for defending her family from Krennic’s scheming. Now, with just the few necessities and some personal things like toys she was able to grab, she awaits rescue. She knows Saw Gerrera wil come for her, but what does that entail?
As we know from the film, Saw trains Jyn and shapes her into the spunky fighter we know. Her first months with Saw are terrifying. As part of her training, she bludgeons scrapped Clone Wars droids and learns to fire a blaster at Stormtrooper armor – armor she at first believes is occupied, but later finds out is stuffed and not being worn. But still, she knows someone had to die for Saw to get the armor at all.
Jyn lives the definition of a Spartan lifestyle. They live on rations, train hard day in and day out, and neither of them have credits to their names. Saw’s role in her childhood is expanded upon, which was likely cut from the movie. He builds her a small bedroom at his base on Wrea, and protects her from prying eyes. He’s not only worried about Imperials finding her – he has to protect her from any rebel who might want to kill or collect a bounty on an Imperial’s daughter. The fact that Jyn misunderstands her father is a great source of stress for her, and she pushes to forget about Galen. She thinks of him as a traitor to her family – but in reality, as we know from Rogue One, everything he does is still to protect her.
Without getting into the deep spoilers, the novel builds to a scene where everything is getting worse on a planet called Tamsye Prime. Jyn and Saw are on a mission together with some of Saw’s other troops – soldiers he’s had over for planning and meals at his base on Wrea – and they are betrayed. Saw makes his infamous promise that is mentioned by Jyn in the film:
“The last time I saw you, you gave me a knife and loaded blaster and told me to wait in a bunker until daylight.” – Jyn Erso
From there, Jyn has to rebuild without Saw or any of his boys from Wrea. She’s learned how to survive, but she has to learn how to live. And that’s the hardest part of her tragic life thus far.
I’ll get into that part of the novel in spoilers, but I also wanted to talk about Wobani before that. Briefly seen in the film, Wobani is an Imperial-controlled planet and home to massive labor camps. The novel is intermittently broken up by flashes forward to Jyn’s days in prison there, where she is referred to by the false name Liana Hallik. On Wobani, prisoners are little more than slaves. Underfed and often bound in stun cuffs, the prisoners are assigned different work details each day to prevent chatter and alliances between inmates. They do everything from digging in mines to working assembly lines, and there’s a small detail early on that I just loved when I read it. Apparently, one of the work details is building the Imperial-style wall fixtures, the ones with the rounded, oblong lights.
So, before I move onto spoilers (and more gushing about this book) I have to say that it is the best of the Rogue One tie-ins I’ve read so far, except maybe Catalyst.Catalyst by James Luceno follows Jyn’s entire family, and actually leaves off with the Erso family escaping into exile on Lah’Mu with the help of Saw Gerrera. Both are fantastic reads and you could actually consider a sort of “quadrilogy” of novels – Catalyst, Rebel Rising, Rogue One, and Battlefront II: Inferno Squad. All four deal with the Erso family, their split, Jyn rsing to the occasion to fight the Empire, and the eventual fallout of the destruction of the Death Star thanks in part to Jyn and Galen Erso.
******So now, onto spoilers. If you have not read Rebel Rising, Catalyst, and/or Battlefront II: Inferno Squad, this section contains plot details, minor connections, and spoilers! Also, if you’ve yet to see Rogue One, you also might want to steer clear. So, if you want to AVOID SPOILERS…******
How can I put this without it sounding like I hate Rogue One. . .any criticism I could level at Rebel Rising ultimately points back to the movie and not the book. Not to beat a dead horse and say the book is always better than the movie, but in this case, it almost feels like Rebel Rising is required reading to fully understand Jyn Erso’s character. We’re all sick of wondering what Rogue One would have been without the infamous reshoots, so I won’t get into that. But I do feel like a lot was probably cut from the film and wound up in the supplemental novels. Is that good or bad? Depends on your point of view. As someone who prefers deep character exploration as opposed to strictly watching films, I like that all the details aren’t in one place. The novels add depth to the films for me. But I’m not much of a movie guy outside of Star Wars, so what do I know?
Rebel Rising is similar to Inferno Squad and even Thrawn. It’s a character dissection, getting into the head of Jyn and showing how her entire world view has been twisted by both the rebellion and the Empire. After she’s betrayed by a minor character named Reece and abandoned by Saw, she develops a hatred for the Alliance. She has no love for the Empire, but can’t justify fighting a war that can’t be won. Both sides are constantly taking things away from her, and she wants to ignore them both and just live her own life. But this never works out, and she’s constantly coerced into taking odd jobs that draw attention from both sides.
Early on, I thought the novel might end with Saw and Jyn getting separated and that being the moment Jyn is arrested and taken to Wobani. Not quite, and I’m glad there was so much more in between those moments. After they are betrayed and separated on Tamsye Prime, Jyn flees the ravaged planet and hitches a ride with a woman named Akshaya Ponta. Jyn lies and says she’ll be able to fix Akshaya’s droid in exchange for a ride, but once the pair get to know each other, they start to become more like family. Akshaya lost her daughter to a rare disease known as bloodburn (first mentioned in the novel Bloodline, coincidentally.) She lives with her son Hadder and works as a small-shipment pilot, running ore from place to place.
It’s at the point where Jyn meets the Ponta family that Rebel Rising almost feels like a different book, and I mean that in a good way. Things start going surprisingly okay for Jyn after Tamsye Prime. She’s still hurt over being abandoned by Saw, and she knows the Empire is doubtlessly after her as well, but life slows down and she’s able to settle down for about a year. Despite not knowing if Saw or her father are still alive, she begins to build a new life with the Ponta family. She develops a relationship with Hadder and the two are adorable – Hadder quips a lot and knows a bit about cooking, and Jyn appreciates some levity and real food for a change. The pair take the family planet hopper out for rides just beyond the planet Skuhl’s atmosphere, and later on Jyn defends herself and Hadder from one of Saw’s boys who was presumably sent to check up on her. Shortly after that, there’s a rare romantic scene – by rare I mean it’s implied to be more than just kissing – and it cements a growing love between Jyn and Hadder.
So of course we know it all has to go south, right? That’s the great tragedy of Jyn’s character. For some reason she’s just doomed. Whether she trusts in her father, the Force, or Saw Gerrera, nothing seems to work out for Jyn in the long run. Akshaya is assured, mistakenly so, that the Empire will never come to Skuhl. She compares giants to ants and ant hills – the Empire to Skuhl’s worth, respectively – and in her mind there’s no reason for the Empire to come. But the Empire finds reasons and begins tracking down smugglers and pilots leaving the system. Jyn and her new family attempt to escape Skuhl, but a small rebel squadron of Y-wings shows up and a battle ensues. Separated into the two family ships, Jyn uses her expertly-forged documents to give coordinates to Akshaya and Hadder a meeting place, but their ship is destroyed just as Jyn enters hyperspace. She’s unsure, but believes they were shot down by a rebel ship. But ultimately it doesn’t matter who did it, because she’s lost everything – lost another family – all over again.
After the tragedy at Skuhl, Jyn is forced to take on odd jobs at the meeting place, Five Points. Ultimately she’s caught up in helping a borderline inept Imperial officer settle some gambling debts, again using her expert forgery skills. Inevitably, Jyn falls into a trap set by the officer’s superior, and is captured along with a small rebel cell. The twist is that she was forced to take a job to bring the rebels in, but was also betrayed herself when she finally sprang the trap on the unsuspecting cell. From there, Jyn is sentenced to imprisonment and hard labor at Wobani for an unspecified amount of time. Wobani is also riddle with tragedy, further breaking down Jyn’s will to rebel against the Empire.
Or does it strengthen her resolve?
The whole point of this novel is to bring attention to the fact that Jyn can’t sit idly by and not do something about the Empire. Yes, the rebellion has taken just as much from her. But there would be no rebellion without an Empire to fight. She realizes that more often than not, she steps in and tries to save people, to make their lives better in some way, and that builds up to the Jyn we meet in Rogue One. She’s done running, maybe not ready to commit to a larger cause, but ready to do start somewhere.
Besides the great story of Jyn’s rebellious nature coming to fruition, there’s also a lot of great connective tissue between Rebel Rising and several other novels. As I said, bloodburn is mentioned. One of Saw’s partisans, Staven, goes on to lead the Dreamers cell in Inferno Squad. There’s nods to Catalyst such as Macvee, the Erso family’s droid and numerous references to their life on Lah’mu. Saw also makes a reference to Has Obitt, who is a side character in Catalyst. Even Lux Bonteri’s adopted daughter gets her backstory here, which is later referenced in Inferno Squad. It’s little references like this that help bind much of the larger continuity together, at least for me personally.
******End of spoilers******
Rebel Rising is a great read for anyone who likes the Dark Times or Rogue One era of Star Wars. There’s no Jedi, the Empire rules without much challenge, and things are looking bleak. But Jyn ultimately finds the hope that all of Star Wars hinges on. It’s that self-discovery that leads many characters to push forward, rebel, and make the galaxy a better place. We need more novels like this one that explore the grey areas of the galaxy in such a natural, realistic way.
Hope you enjoyed the review and recap! Until next time, partisans.
-Supreme Leader David