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?
A common criticism from those who don’t actually read young adult fiction is that the stories are too juvenile and won’t connect with an adult audience. Star Wars is currently hellbent on proving them wrong. In the latest young adult novel in a galaxy far, far away, Rebel Rising, readers learn more about Jyn Erso’s less than ideal life from when Saw retrieves her to when we meet her again in the prison on Wobani. Beth Revis does not mess around as she takes Jyn (and readers!) through the years on an often rough yet fulfilling journey.
One of the most important things to know about this book is that it can be fairly unrelenting when it comes showing what Jyn’s life was as a child and a teenager. In a way, that’s to be expected. Rogue One tells us that she was on her own since the age of fifteen after she saw her mother murdered by Krennic and was subsequently raised by a militant rebel. In other words, we knew that Jyn didn’t have an easy life but knowing something and really seeing something are two completely different creatures. Jyn certainly has moments of happiness throughout her life but doesn’t really have a happy life. It will be impossible to watch Rogue One and ever think of Jyn Erso the same way after reading Rebel Rising and that’s definitely a good thing as Star Wars literature continues to expand upon and truly elevate what we see on screen.
Where Revis soars is with her portrayal of Saw Gerrera. Admittedly, I was biased against him because of The Clone Wars and Rogue One didn’t do enough with him to sway my opinion. The author makes him a fully realized character that feels like the logical transition between when we last saw him on Onderon and when we later see him on Geonosis. Perhaps Revis is just hitting me in my very specific emotional weak spot of found/adopted family and gruff adopted fathers who really don’t know what they’re doing but are trying their best but she actually made me genuinely care about Saw. It wasn’t an easy task. He genuinely feels like a real human being now and clearly carries the weight of what happened to Steela with him every day even while continuing his unrelenting guerilla campaign against the Empire. We stay with Jyn’s point of view the entire book but Revis makes you want to occasionally detour with Saw and see more his fight against the Empire and his clashes with other rebels groups. It’s incredibly well done.
Revis also does a good job with her supporting cast, following up on some name drops from Alexander Freed’s Rogue One novelization. With a few exceptions, none of them quite live up to how fully realized both Jyn and Saw are but it’s a solid supporting cast nonetheless. If nothing else, it’s nice to see the supporting cast have noticeably more women present than in stories of old. Also worth noting is how seamlessly Revis handles the passage of time. Her Jyn immediately after Lah’mu feels noticeably younger than her Jyn who is now on her own but they still feel like the same character. All of this contributes to a very believable story.
Rebel Rising is another strong entry into the Star Wars canon and does a more than admirable job helping readers get to know both Jyn and Saw better. It is absolutely something that Star Wars fans should delve into when they have the chance.
Thank you to Disney/Lucasfilm Press for providing an advanced copy of the book for review purposes.