Beth Revis had a tough job in writing Rebel Rising, the YA novel chronicling the life of Jyn Erso prior to the main narrative of Rogue One. She not only needed to craft an engaging and exciting story, one that fit into the ever-widening new canon of the Star Wars universe, but she also needed to create a character arc for Jyn herself which both ended with Jyn being an angry, sullen, bitter person who wanted nothing to do with the Rebel Alliance (or, really, anyone or anything), but which at the same time was narratively satisfying. How do you craft a character arc that ends with the Jyn Erso we meet at the beginning of Rogue One and not have the entire thing feel like a let-down and a bummer, or like anything more than an extended prologue to the film? Can you even do such a thing?
The answer, thankfully, is “yes.” Mostly. Revis gets a lot of mileage out of retelling a couple Rogue One scenes from Jyn’s point of view in the novel’s epilogue, which allows her to end the novel on a more hopeful note than she would have been able to otherwise. It also works in concert with Alexander Freed’s Rogue One novelization in filling in some of the character development which went undeveloped in the film itself, helping to explain just how the angry, bitter character we meet at the beginning of the film makes such a 180-degree transformation to deliver the “rebellions are built on hope” speech which kicks off the film’s finale and climax. In terms of the novel itself, however, it allows Revis to, in a way, have her cake and eat it too. She’s able to end the novel with a Jyn that’s believably the same person who tells Saw that living under the flag of the Empire isn’t so bad if you don’t look up, while at the same time not ending the book on such a downer that the reader wants to throw the book and/or themselves into a river upon finishing it. It’s a delicate balancing act, and but for some rushed plotting just before the book’s climax, Revis handles it well.
But that’s the end. How does the rest of the novel stack up? Quite well, I’m pleased to report. Revis’s Jyn is completely engaging, compelling, and believable as a young protagonist. Her personal journey is full of ups and downs, hate and love, fear and hope but it never feels arbitrary or contrived. Nor does the book’s intended audience of younger readers mean it shies away from darkness, violence, or tragedy. Like Rogue One, Rebel Rising is very much focused on the “war” part of Star Wars, and is tonally appropriate for that theme. Along the way, Jyn meets a wide array of characters, good and bad, who influence her, challenge her, and provide enough spice to keep the reader guessing as to what will happen next.
I will say, I’m okay with moving on from the post-Revenge of the Sith, pre-A New Hope years. Between this, Catalyst, Thrawn, and a couple other pieces of media, I’ve had my fill of the “what the heck is the Empire building?!?” story arc. Indeed, Thrawn and Rebel Rising in particular might have felt stronger had they been released prior to Rogue One. Not because we wouldn’t have known what the Empire was building (spoiler: it’s the Death Star!), but because seeing how the galaxy reacted to what was happening before seeing Rogue One would have made those threads culminating in Rogue One that much more satisfying. Either way, I’m done with this arc now.
The audiobook is an excellent way to experience this novel. Rebecca Soler has narrated dozens of audiobooks, most notably the Lunar Chronicles series and the Leia portions of The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy. Her narration here is crisp and clear, and thankfully avoids the random bursts of inappropriate emotion that characterize the Marc Thompson Star Wars audiobooks. That’s not to say Soler’s narration is dry; far from it. She’s just far better at maintaining an even tone when describing something ordinary, and infusing her narration or dialogue with emotion when it’s called for.
As for her dialogue, Soler doesn’t do voices, per say. Her Saw, for instance, reminded me a little of Ashley Eckstein’s attempts at gruff male voices in the Ahsoka audiobook — reminiscent of an almost comical attempt by a small child to imitate an adult. The tone and inflection she uses for various characters, however, is always distinct, and I never had trouble discerning who was speaking in any particular scene. When compared with Thompson’s voices — occasionally great impersonations, but often terrible, and often hard to tell apart — I’ll take Soler’s less flashy consistency any day.
I enjoyed the heck out of Rebel Rising, and I enjoyed the heck out of Soler’s interpretation of Revis’s words. I’d love it if we could maybe start getting female narrators on books written by men as well as women. For now, though, if you found Jyn Erso in Rogue One to be the least bit compelling, I highly recommend Rebel Rising, and I can also enthusiastically recommend the audiobook as a fantastic was to consume this bit of media.