Review – Rae Carson’s Expanded Novelization of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
This past December, the Skywalker saga reached it’s end with the release of The Rise of Skywalker. The script, written by JJ Abrams and Chris Terrio (with story credit also given to Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly), left many fans confused with it’s lack of canonical connections. It seemed to ignore so much of what many felt the story had been building to, jettisoning the mythological elements in favor of juggernaut action sequences and giant space battles. The film moved at point-five beyond light speed and left this viewer (and many more) disappointed and bewildered once the credits rolled. There were many fans who adored the film and felt satisfied, so author Rae Carson had something of an impossible job when adapting this screenplay into a novel, no doubt hoping to preserve the story many loved while giving those who grieved the characters and potential through-lines a bit of clarity. The novel has been out for nearly a week now, so I will warn about a few spoilers from added scenes, but there is nothing discussed which suggests this novelization changes any main beats of the story.
If you read my review of The Rise of Skywalker or follow me on social media, you probably know I left the theater disappointed. There are a lot of problems I have with the story, but I’ll try not to spend time retreading those. I’ve been looking forward to Rae Carson’s interpretation of the story, as well as what she would add to the Extended Edition. Doing my best to keep an open mind, I avoided social media posts with photos of pages and tried to stay away from the discourse before this arrived in my hands. With that said, I’m going to go looking for the best of what this novelization has to offer, rather than focusing on plot points I already know I dislike, because ultimately, there’s nothing Carson could do about that. Her task was to bring the story to the page, let us into the minds of these characters, and slow down the narrative from frenetic pace of the film.
Also, if you want a breakdown of what was added or altered in Carson’s The Rise of Skywalker, fellow staff member Jordan Pate listed all of them in his excellent review. James Baney and I also broke them down in our The Rise of Skywalker SWNN Book Discussions episode, so I won’t focus on listing them since they’ve already been well catalogued. Now, let’s dig in.
Rae Carson opens The Rise of Skywalker in a much different way than the film – and one I much prefer. We open with Rey’s Jedi training under the tutelage of Leia. For me, this beginning set a more hopeful tone and felt much less jarring than the Kylo Ren death squad opening of the film. Not only do we learn Leia spent a lot of time training with Luke to become a Jedi, we also learn the bond she and Rey share has only grown stronger. Leia isn’t just teaching Rey about the Force, it almost feels as if she’s transmitting the knowledge, strength, and fortitude we’ve come to love in this iconic character. Carson’s writing shines while describing Leia’s mentorship of Rey. The expansion of Leia’s presence and dialogue in the novelization is something I expected and am so grateful for. For obvious reasons, Leia’s role had to be limited on film, so it’s nice to learn more about what she experienced during her final fight to restore hope to the galaxy.
Carson also highlights how Leia is well aware of her failing health and the urgency she feels in preparing Rey for the final fight. Rebecca Roanhorse touched on the physical toll Leia felt from being shot out into the vacuum of space in The Last Jedi. Carson not only highlights Leia’s self-awareness of her physical decline, she also features a voice from the beyond preparing Leia for her departure of the physical world, her brother Luke. Whether Carson chose to add this herself or if it was an element of the script unused, I thought it was a lovely addition to the story. I don’t think the sequel trilogy’s faithfulness to the legacy characters and previous films hinged on having the “big three” in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. The spirit of love and friendship they cemented in Star Wars felt more important to me, providing a foundation to the sequel trilogy, and this dialogue through the Force between brother and sister really worked for me. It didn’t feel like fan service at all, but a very natural dialogue about the spiritual nature of the Force and the interconnectedness of the souls it touched. Though Luke calls to Leia to embrace her departure, she defies her brother’s suggestions, insisting she has more to do in the galaxy and will hang on as long as she can.
As the novelization shifts from Rey and Leia on Ajan Kloss, we join Kylo Ren on Mustafar. I’m still dumbfounded why the film didn’t reveal it’s opening sequence took place on Mustafar – the planet which holds so much significance for the Skywalker story. Not only is where Anakin Skywalker fully dove into the darkness, it’s where Darth Vader spent decades trying to unlock the secrets of the Force to resurrect Padmé Amidala. If you are scratching your head about Vader’s spiritual quests, the “Fortress Vader” arc of Charles Soule’s Darth Vader comic and the virtual reality experience Vader Immortal depict this in great detail. Ren’s violent arrival at his grandfather’s ruined castle is a huge moment, all being observed by admiring Allegiant General Pryde and a contempt-filled General Hux. Most notable, Ren doesn’t just walk to a stone chest containing the Sith Wayfinder, he must commune with an amphibious spider-creature called the Eye of Webbish Bog, who is protecting the artifact. He warns Kylo this artifact will not only show him the way to Exegol but also will expose his “true self”. The Eye has been guarding this artifact from the orders of Darth Vader, allowing only those who can defeat the Sith Lord’s acolytes who guard his castle. Once Ren has the Wayfinder, he makes his way to Exegol, just as he did in the film.
The conflict in Kylo Ren is much more apparent in Carson’s writing than the portrayal in the film. Ren perceives Rey the last pathway to the light and the only hope Ben Solo clings to. We know from Charles Soule’s The Rise of Kylo Ren comic that Ben Solo did not quickly succumb to the dark side as many assumed from the flashbacks of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi – but in this novelization, Kylo Ren is throwing himself at the darkness with accelerated determination. Carson does a great job of highlighting how bound and determined Ren is to fully immerse himself in the darkness, but this ambition he holds wildly swings like a pendulum at times, especially when he comes into contact with Rey. Rey has several close calls in The Rise of Skywalker as Kylo Ren tries to extinguish her light from the galaxy, but each time she bests him, Carson implies Kylo feels a sense of relief he cannot explain. The foreshadowing for Ben Solo’s eventual redemption strikes a tone of consistent perseverance rather than a split second decision to return to the light. Carson’s writing not only provides a depiction of the last days of Kylo Ren, it also presents Ben Solo’s return as a journey.
Finn and Poe Dameron aren’t expounded upon in much greater detail, though both of their fiercely loyal and fighting spirits contribute to the most crucial moments of the conflict between the Resistance and First Order. Just as Finn is presented in the film, this is no longer someone who feels conflicted about running from the First Order or standing to fight. Finn is here to stand with his friends and fight for the galaxy. Though his story is not much different in this novelization, he seems much more unsettled and concerned for Rey than in the film. In my opinion, we still don’t get a clear moment of him revealing his Force-sensitivity, which is something I’d hoped for.
Poe’s exhaustion with the fight against the First Order is even more apparent as it was in the film. He’s running on fumes here and desperate to even stand in fight against the insurmountable. The guilt he feels from the loss of life under his watch in The Last Jedi still creeps in and feeds his self-doubt when it comes to his potential to lead the Resistance. This defeatist attitude finally vanishes upon Leia’s death and Poe realizing he no longer has a choice. Veteran Lando Calrissian also reminds Poe that no one who led the Rebellion ever really had a plan – the Rebels just had each other, and the unity of friendship had to be enough because it’s all their was. Not much is expanded upon with Poe’s past spice running past, but we have a future novel to look for that story.
If you came looking for more Rose Tico content I’m sorry to say this novelization still lacks it. While I don’t entirely blame Rae Carson for this, it’s still disappointing. We do get to see a brief scene between Rose and Rey, it’s a lovely moment where they both express gratitude for the friendship and support system they’ve formed. If you are looking for more Rose content, she plays a large role in Justina Ireland’s Spark of the Resistance, but it still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth this wonderful character didn’t play a bigger role in The Rise of Skywalker. There’s no antidote for that in this novelization and it’s a shame. If we ever get more stories beyond The Rise of Skywalker, let’s hope the story of hero Rose Tico continues.
Chewbacca certainly shines in this novelization. The deep connection Chewbacca shares to the Organa, Skywalker, and Solo lineage really comes through. There’s an especially touching moment when we learn this loyal, altruistic being spent a lot of time with Ben Solo when he was a child. Not only that, we learn he’s also a mirror for the fragments of Ben Solo trapped within the darkness of Kylo Ren. An important addition we get involving Chewbacca is his interrogation under Kylo Ren. One of the more amusing subplots of Rae Carson’s adaptation is how General Hux is quietly rooting for Rey and trying to stoke the conflicted soul he knows Ren endures, most likely due to overhearing Snoke’s berating of Ren before the preceding Supreme Leader’s death. And Hux isn’t wrong. Kylo’s mind probe of Chewbacca is gut wrenching for them both. It would’ve been great to see on screen.
Lando was a great addition to the film but I felt the essence of his character really shined in this novelization. We see a real journey for Lando in Rae Carson’s writing, not just a couple cameos to get the fans clapping. Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to see Billy Dee Williams back in the role after waiting two films but Carson really focuses on what the characters’ gone through and why he’s reluctant to join the fight. When we meet Lando in the beginning of the novel, he’s more lost than anything. It just so happens Leia knew how to find him and he’s decided to pitch in a hand but he really believes that’s all he’s capable of. Lando’s still grieving the loss of a daughter, taken by the First Order (and no, it’s not Jannah). It isn’t until he sees the Knights of Ren take the Millennium Falcon that he decides it’s time to join the fight. He still shows up at Exegol with a massive fleet and saves the day, but Lando’s story becomes something so much more upon the victory. When he meets Jannah he realizes she represents hope that his daughter may still be out there and Lando sees he can play his part in helping the other children lost to the First Order find their parents. Lando decides he has a new purpose, which is to help those lost find their homes. It’s a beautiful way to send the character off into the sunset while potentially leaving the door open for more stories. I’d certainly read that book or watch that show!
But when it comes down to it, The Rise of Skywalker is most centered around the conclusion of Rey’s journey. I can’t beat around the bush here, I HATED the choice Abrams and Terrio made to not only give Rey a Palpatine lineage but also imply the fulfillment of her journey seemed to center around her taking on the name Skywalker. I recognize I bring my own issues with this story to the book and navigating this Palpatine/Skywalker fanboy fantasy is no fault of Rae Carson. She really did the best she could. I did appreciate Carson spelling out why it was so convenient for Rey to find the other Sith Wayfinder on the Death Star, rather than the ham-fisted Goonies homage JJ Abrams gave us. I also appreciated how torn up Rey felt about sensing the darkness within herself. There’s nothing in this novel, for me at least, that can restore the agency Abrams and Terrio stripped away by essentially making her a Luke Skywalker-clone and punishing her for finding love. For me, Rey embodied the notion that someone from “nowhere” could do extraordinary things, whether that be save the galaxy or a truly haunted soul with the gift of hope and love. No matter what Carson wrote, there was no getting past the disappointment I felt toward the conclusion of Rey’s story. I still love the character but she deserved better than being a chess piece of a tired struggle between Darth Sidious and the Skywalkers.
And we’ve reached the kiss. This was a romantic kiss. This kiss stemmed from an understanding these two once enemies came to in The Last Jedi and the fight they tried to wage in The Rise of Skywalker. Carson does an excellent job of detailing how exhausting it is for Rey and Kylo to carry hate toward one another. As mentioned before, Kylo seems desperate to kill Rey in hopes of extinguishing the light but remains relieved when she survives each time. Rey isn’t so much determined to face Kylo Ren as she is to protect her friends but when the fight finally brings them together, face-to-face in the physical realm of the Death Star’s wreckage, it doesn’t go as planned. They each throw their might against the other but the ‘dyad’ nature of their relationship seems to make it impossible for either to make the kill. When Rey finally does, it’s at a moment they both sense, Leia’s passing, and finally they both understand what Leia remained to do. She meant to reach out to Ben. Rey realizes she’s taken the killing stroke at the second Ben began to win his battle against Kylo Ren. Rey tells him point blank she would’ve taken his hand, would’ve stood with him, if he were to be the person she believed in – Ben Solo. Then she gives part of her life to heal him and bring him back. We know Ben Solo suffered nothing but neglect, torment, and abuse most of his life. Rey lived in solitude most of hers, only to learn the family she’d waited for stemmed from one of the truly evil lineages of the galaxy. These two souls found one another in love – the first time for each of them. They each deserved romance, deserved to smile, and deserved to kiss – with love. I was very disappointed Carson chose to walk the line with her portrayal of this scene but I’m guessing that had more to do with others placating the Reddit trolls or fans who can’t wrap their heads around a heroine finding love and not being punished for it. Or those too simplistic to imagine atonement of Ben Solo that doesn’t involve death.
Palpatine was a clone. He lived because the original Palpatine transmitted his soul from the Death Star fall across the galaxy to this clone. That’s it. The only remotely interesting thing Carson adds to Palpatine’s story in The Rise of Skywalker is the fact he always strove to achieve a ‘dyad’ with Anakin and that would be the way they cheated death. The return of Palpatine could’ve been so much more interesting in both the film and this novel but it ultimately read like a Legends novel or mediocre fan fiction and still feel like it was such a waste of both the actor and the character.
The end is what it is. No, I don’t think Rey stayed on Tatooine but I do find it odd this film chose its final moments to circle back to a planet that represented nothing but destruction, solitude, and death in the Skywalker saga.
So…is this worth a read? Yes, but I think fans who were disappointed by this film shouldn’t feel rushed to pick it up. It will be here for you when you’re ready. As I mentioned in this review, there are certain story elements I’m very grateful Rae Carson expanded upon and specified. No, this won’t change your view of the story if you disliked or loved the film. It helped me accept the film as a Star Wars story which exists and is ultimately part of the larger canon but that doesn’t change the problems I had with it. I’ve spent so much time and so many emotions on The Rise of Skywalker so I felt a great deal of satisfaction when I reached the last page of this novel. Not satisfaction with the story, satisfaction that I’m ready to put it behind me and move on to other stories in Star Wars which honor the mythology, hope, and love which brought me here to begin with.
My rating is based solely on the fact Rae Carson is a solid writer and did a great job with what she was given. Other than that, well…
Special thanks to Del Rey for the advanced copy used for this review.