Happy Triple Force Friday! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than a wonderful book Justina Ireland gifted fans this morning, Spark of Resistance. This marks the beginning of “Journey to The Rise of Skywalker” and what a beginning it is! This story really reinvigorated my positive outlook on Star Wars and makes me even more excited for what we’ll witness in December. This is a story of hope, friendship, and ultimately knowing what to sacrifice to do the right thing – and when to do it. The story is threaded with heroism and strength we all look for in the heroes of Star Wars – not only in the heroes we’ve come to know but the ones they would fight to protect. A story of hope unfolding at the edge of a galaxy engulfed in peril. SPOILERS AHEAD….
Nothing about taking on the First Order was ever going to be easy. I don’t think there’s a fan who left The Last Jedi not thinking the remains of the Resistance would be up against tremendous adversaries in the ranks of the First Order. The overwhelming sense of struggle overshadows most everything Rey, Rose, Poe, and BB-8 consider when we meet them aboard the Millennium Falcon. Ireland describes the feeling in Rey, who regards every moment passing is a moment for Kylo Ren and the First Order to get stronger. We join our heroes while they are on a basic supply run and it’s assumed a significant amount of time has passed since the events on Crait (though it’s not specified). They pick up a distress call on a Resistance frequency but can’t confirm who it is. The sender clearly needs help, but Poe is skeptical it may be a trap, since it’s using older encryption. Rose and Rey remind him of the desperation the Resistance forces felt on Crait when no one responded to their distress call. The fear they might be leaving potential allies to face the First Order alone convinces our heroes to respond to the distress call, which is coming from the backwater planet of Minfar.
We’ve never seen these three working together and I have to say Ireland did a fantastic job creating an established chemistry and dynamic between this trio of heroes. The dialogue between them flows seamlessly and the banter is one of the reasons I felt like some time has passed. I imagine we’ll learn about other adventures these three have been on together leading up to this because most readers probably sense a great amount of respect between the three heroes. The inherent teamwork is one of the strongest qualities in Spark of Resistance. Rey may be on the cover but make no mistake that she shares the story with Rose and Poe in equal respects. Not to leave poor Poe behind, but the friendship between Rose and Rey adds so much positivity to the story. The three of them lift each other up and work together for the common good. Granted, there’s some healthy joking and teasing, but this group is solid and runs in stark contrast to the crummy First Order officers.
So…what’s the state of the First Order? Well, we don’t get a lot of details but it’s implied they are aggressively on the move, taking over systems and resources across the galaxy. The portion of the First Order our heroes have to deal with in Spark of Resistance is relatively small compared to what we’ve seen them up against on film. Commander Branwayne Spiftz and his small ship, Ladara Vex, are the catalyst for the distress call coming from Minfar. The First Order has recruited a professor named Glenna Kip who once had a mysterious role working with the Empire in weapons research and development labs they established on Minfar. Right away, Commander Spiftz shows he is as eager and selfish to move up in the ranks of the First Order and will do anything it takes to get there. Professor Kip is helping them search for an old Imperial weapon called Echo Horn, but we learn quickly she has no love for the First Order and her intentions are to destroy the weapon so they can’t get their hands on it – though her motive is not revealed. Spiftz is determined to take the weapon for himself, turn it over to General Hux, and get all the glory he feels he deserves. Spiftz is pretty insecure about his small ship and would much rather have a Star Destroyer. One thing I found notable in the First Order descriptions: Kylo Ren doesn’t really seem to be regarded by Spiftz. The commander seems more interested in getting Hux’s attention and admiration than the new Supreme Leader, so keep that in mind. Spiftz is pretty short-sighted and hasty, though, so it’s possible he sees Hux as the quickest path to whatever greatness he hopes to achieve.
When our heroes arrive at Minfar, they are greeted by Spiftz’s TIE Fighters. The First Order isn’t certain if the Corellian freighter is the Millennium Falcon, so they only send a small contingent of fighters to look into it. Rose, Poe, and Rey working together against these TIE Fighters is one of my favorite scenes in the book. It harkens back to all the classic moments of Star Wars and reminds me of some great moments from Rebels, as well. On a funny note, Rey makes it clear the Falcon is her ship and she won’t let Poe fly it. If there’s any tension between the trio, it’s when Poe seems to question Rey’s abilities to pilot the craft as well as him, but quickly retracts when he realizes how demeaning it is to Rey’s abilities. Again, the underlying respect between these three really lifts the story and positive themes it conveys. They deal with the TIE Fighters, but the Falcon is badly damaged and they are forced to make a hasty landing on Minfar.
Rey is still finding her footing and coming to terms with her new abilities in the Force. There are no lightsabers to speak of in Spark of Resistance and we don’t see Rey doing anything crazy with the Force – and I actually think that was a wise choice by Ireland. Rey doesn’t ignore the fact she’s tapped into this awesome, universal power but she’s very much aware her grasp of it is limited. The closest comparison I can think of is Luke when we meet him in the titular Marvel Star Wars series set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Though, there are some caveats with that comparison. Rey seems much more patient and accepting about her limitations in understanding the Force, where Luke felt impulsive and often displayed selfish qualities when it came to his quest to learn more and become a Jedi. Rey is very much ‘here and now’ and her primary focus is stopping the First Order. She knows a better understanding of the Force will help with that but she doesn’t push or rush anything. There is a calm, intellectual approach to her new abilities. There are moments in Spark of Resistance when Rey reaches out to the Force for help and doesn’t get what she’s looking for and there are moments when she does. What this means for when we meet her in The Rise of Skywalker I can’t say and won’t speculate, but it was nice to spend more time with Rey the person rather than the savior of the Jedi. I’m grateful she is the last Jedi, but that bigger purpose doesn’t factor in much with this story. This is Rey – the loyal, brave fighter for all things good in the galaxy.
Rose Tico has risen in the Resistance to the same heroic status she was ready to anoint Finn with in The Last Jedi. She’s still got all of her technical knowledge, but the confidence she’s always had is much more apparent. Rose is often the voice of action in Spark of Resistance, compelling Rey and Poe to do what needs to be done. She also demonstrates her most noble qualities of looking out for those who cannot protect themselves. It may seem trivial to some, but her care of the porgs (they are still nesting on the Falcon after this time) is really sweet and just goes to show Rose looks out for everyone. Don’t relegate her to Porg-herder though, because she does this selfless act on top of keeping the Millennium Falcon together and fighting the First Order. Rose is an absolute badass in this story and I love it. She continues to be fearless in the face of every dangerous situation they are put into. I’ve no doubt by the time we get to The Rise of Skywalker Rose will play a prominent, important part of the Resistance. Ireland captured the character perfectly and I could hear Kelly Marie Tran in every sentence I read.
Poe Dameron has gotten his head out of his cockpit and is doing what it takes to be a leader, though he’s definitely following a lot of direction from Rose and Rey. I got the sense Poe’s taken his ‘act first, question later’ mentality down several degrees since The Last Jedi. It’s not explicitly stated the devastation the Resistance endured had this effect, but it would be hard to imagine Poe doesn’t feel a tremendous amount of guilt about those losses. He’s very thoughtful, especially during an exchange with Rey I mentioned earlier, when he inadvertently implies she’s not as good of a pilot as he is. Poe realizes his mistake right away and genuinely feels bad about it. He’s still got the swagger but there’s a dimension of humility there we haven’t seen. Again, Ireland nailed it with Poe and the best parts of Oscar Isaac’s performance come through in her words. Poe doesn’t get to fly very much in this story, but like Rey, I think it’s a good thing we get to know him a little better without him hopping into an X-wing every chance he gets.
Once our heroes land on the planet below the story starts moving pretty fast. The Millennium Falcon is damaged and they need to find parts to repair its engines or they will be stuck on Minfar. After releasing the porgs into the wild, the trio start exploring the strange planet. The jungles are thick and bioluminescent, but the indigenous species quickly reaches out to the Resistance. The indigenous species are called Zixon. Ireland has referred to them as ‘murder rabbits’, but I’d classify them more as ‘aggressive self-defense rabbits’. They’ve been through a lot and are not happy to see history repeating itself. We learn the story behind this super-weapon the First Order is after from the perspective of the Zixon. We learn from two Zixon – Lim and their leader, Jem – the Empire set up shop on Minfar decades ago. The weapon they built, Echo Horn, used frequencies which caused the Zixon to become mentally stunned and subversive to the Empire. They say it wasn’t exactly mind control, but it made them susceptible to suggestion, essentially a brain washing machine. For years, the Zixon toiled under the Empire, until someone they call their “friend” helped shut down the machine. The Empire never returned but their laboratories filled with the technology used to created Echo Horn still sit dormant in a region called the Forbidden Lands.
Ireland does a great job with the world building here, as well. I was instantly transported to Minfar through her descriptions of the lush jungles and winding tunnels in which the Zixon live. One of their tactical advantages against the First Order are the subterranean cities and roads they dwell in. The Zixon can pop-up out of anywhere and capture First Order troops who hunt them. It’s also suggested they are Force-sensitive, as are the flora and fauna, because they know who Rey is when they meet her. They explain that the plants of the planet have been singing her name and telling them who she is. Not much more is expanded upon about that, but it sounds like the Force is cheering for Rey across the galaxy. Poe speculates that the “friend” who helped liberate them from the Empire might be Luke Skywalker, but Rey doesn’t think it is.
Meanwhile, Commander Spiftz has realized it is the Millennium Falcon and he’s become obsessed with capturing it and whomever is aboard. Spiftz is so determined to get the glory he doesn’t call for reinforcements and is actually determined to find the super-weapon and the Resistance fighters before the supplemental troops already underway actually arrive. The commander is certainly the most Krennic-esque First Order officer we’ve met. He’s only interested in his own rise and the First Order is just a means for him to control those under him. At one point in the book, he actually entertains the idea of abandoning the First Order and ruling over Minfar on his own. Yeah, this one definitely tortured small animals as a child. Watching in the wings of Spiftz’s blind ambition is Professor Kip, who notes this morally bankrupt officer will be easy to evade, because she has a goal of her own.
We learn that Kip is not only determined to keep this weapon out of the hands of the First Order, she’s also a spy. Leia knows about her, but our heroes don’t, so she has to play it very carefully. Honestly, Glenna Kip is my favorite character from this book. She mentions she’s been studying the ‘nature’ of the galaxy for decades and knows which side to choose. The professor has been able to infiltrate the First Order and use their resources to help protect the Zixon. We learn that she – not Luke Skywalker – is actually the mysterious friend who saw what the Empire was testing out on the Zixon and objected. Glenna Kip taught the Zixon not only how to fight back against the Empire, but also how to defend themselves from a predator called a grobel. These predators comb the tunnels the Zixon built and their physiology gives them a natural defense against blasters – crystals and gems line their skin and deflect any fire. Once she breaks off from the First Order and joins our heroes, the climax of the story begins.
Our heroes eventually make it to the Forbidden Lands and find a gargantuan Imperial lab, completely abandoned. The Zixon don’t want to go anywhere near it because they remember the days of being enslaved by the Empire via the Echo Horn. Once inside, our heroes come face-to-face with Commander Spiftz but it’s not really much of a match. Ireland gave us a villain that is despicable and evil, but he’s ultimately inept. Some people might complain there is a villain problem but I think his ineptitude is perfect for this story. Spark of Resistance is at its best when focused on the heroes and the Zixon. I imagine there is a bit of caution here, too, by not wanting a single villain to trump the greater evil the First Order poses. Spiftz is more of a vehicle to personify the evil, rotten intentions of the First Order and how those ultimately diminish an authoritarian government. He’s pathetic and by the time of his demise, you don’t really even notice him.
There are some things I’m leaving out because I think you should experience them for yourself. Poe Dameron poses as a First Order officer and the amount of apprehension he feels simply trying to fit into the uniform is hilarious. Rey doesn’t reflect on the events of The Last Jedi very much, but when she talks about what happened in Snoke’s throne room, it’s very effective. Rose remembers the fighting she and her sister, Paige, had to do against the First Order on Hays Minor (that is depicted in here and it’s excellent). Again, Ireland nailed these characters. Oh, and the Resistance has also managed to secure a fleet of Mon Cala cruisers courtesy of Aftab Ackbar, who we have yet to meet. I won’t tell you how we meet this fleet, but they definitely show up to help our heroes in the final act, just as the First Order reinforcements arrive.
Justina Ireland has crafted a wonderful story here and I encourage you all to check it out. I’ll be honest when I say I totally forgot this was going to be released on Force Friday. Frantically, I downloaded this to my Kindle, made a pot of coffee, and dove in. This story swept me away within a few minutes of scrolling through the pages. Ireland’s writing flows so smooth you will think you’re watching an episode of Rebels by how quickly you make your way through this book. It is effortless reading and was an absolute joy to spend my morning with her words. If this is just the tip of the iceberg of what we’re getting for “Journey to The Rise of Skywalker”, then I’m even more excited about the content that will lead up to this December. If anyone at Lucasfilm is reading: Justina Ireland knocked this out of the park and please ask her to write many, many more Star Wars stories.
Spark of Resistance: Journey to The Rise of Skywalker is available at your local bookstore and from online retailers.