Review: Guardians of the Whills

Greg Rucka has certainly been making his mark on the Star Wars canon. First was Smuggler’s Run, the Han Solo middle grade novel, then there was Shattered Empire, the first post Return of the Jedi comic, then Before the Awakening, which told background stories about The Force Awakens protagonists Rey, Finn, and Poe. Now comes another middle grade novel about Baze and Chirrut, my two favorite characters from Rogue One. I’ve enjoyed all of Rucka’s Star Wars stories, so I was super excited to see what he did with Guardians of the Whills. Did he live up to expectations?

In a word, yes. More after the jump!

Guardians of the Whills takes place prior to Rogue One, starting right around the time Saw Gerrera and his band of partisans come to Jedha. Baze and Chirrut have been fighting the Empire in their own subtle way, by stealing Imperial shipments and helping two sisters, Killi and Kaya, who run an orphanage. When the sisters get forcibly relocated and lose all their stolen goods, Baze and Chirrut agree to partner with Gerrera to fight against the Empire in exchange for helping the orphans. But soon Baze and Chirrut learn what fighting the Empire can cost them — and what they can gain.

In general, I really enjoyed this book. It’s a quick read, only 234 pages, with a big font size and small pages. Although this is a middle grade book, Rucka’s writing style is smooth and compelling; many times I had to remind myself this isn’t a novel for adults. The plot was compelling, but the real star here are the characters. Rucka is pitch perfect with both Baze and Chirrut. Baze is gruff and bitter, but a sliver of idealism shines through and you can see how he used to be a Guardian of the Whills. Chirrut is idealistic, but with a touch of cynicism as he realizes nothing they do to fight the Empire will make a real difference on the planet. I loved reading about them and their relationship, and (like the movie) Rucka really makes you feel like they’ve known each other forever. (While there’s nothing in the novel that confirms they are so totally space married, there’s nothing in here that denies it, either.)

One thing this book did was really make me rethink Gerrera’s partisans, and not in a good way. I’m not the biggest fan of Saw, but can understand why he felt the need to fight against the Empire the way he did and why he would have had a falling out with the Alliance leadership. But after what happens at the end of this novel, I have a really hard time sympathizing with Saw and his group. For a few pages, I hated them. (I’m eager to read Beth Revis’s novel Rebel Rising, which should give some more insight to Saw and possibly make me rethink him all over again.)

The worldbuilding in Guardians is also top notch. I could really feel the oppression of Jedha and how desperate the residents must have felt under the reign of the Empire. The book gives some more background to the different religions, like the Disciples of the Whills, and each chapter starts with a prayer or mantra from the various groups.

The only drawback of the book is that it starts very slowly. Normally that wouldn’t be a big issue for me, but since this is a book aimed at a middle grade audience, I could see kids getting a little bored to start out. But once Baze and Chirrut first meet up with Saw, everything ramps up and I had a hard time putting the book down.

Guardians of the Whills is a short, compelling read that makes the two best characters in Rogue One even better.