BOOK REVIEW: ALEXANDER FREED’S ROGUE ONE

“I think Jyn fully recognized who she was and sought a way to channel her best and worst impulses, her darkest moments and her brightest, toward a cause worthy of her true incandescence. In a kinder universe, she would have walked away from Scarif. I can’t imagine who she would have become, but I think she would have been extraordinary. I am grateful I knew her, no matter how short the time.”

Mon Mothma, personal files, Unpublished Reflections on Jyn Erso, Rogue One, page 320.

The above extract provides the final words of the Rogue One novelization by Alexander Freed. It is provided as part of a series of supplemental inserts peppered throughout the book, normally in the form of in-saga files or data records.

The extract noted is quoted from the personal files of Mon Mothma within “the Hextraphon Collection”, the naming of which will immediately pique fans’ interest. In light of the Rogue One events that take place on Scarif the inclusion of Mothma’s reflection will strike a poignant note for fans. It’s a fitting last word on Jyn Erso’s passing as the saga leaves Scarif’s fallen to make way for the events of A New Hope.

Like the Interludes employed by Chuck Wendig within his Aftermath Trilogy, it is these rich new details woven tightly into the tapestry of Rogue One that makes Freed’s latest work for the Star Wars canon an essential read for fans.

An essential perspective

The feeling of this novelization becoming a crucial part of the fan experience is amplified by the fact that most Star Wars fans will now be occupying the barren hiatus between the cinematic and home entertainment release of Rogue One.

This novelization is similar in tone to Freed’s previous work within the new Star Wars canon, Twilight Company. Rogue One also explores similar themes to that book which had considered the Rebel Alliance experience at foot soldier level. Freed’s Rogue One novelisation also develops the study far beyond this and gives us fascinating insight into the thought processes of high command on both the Imperial and Rebel Alliance side of the conflict.

Here, for example are two intriguing insights into the mindset of Admiral Raddus that we are blessed with by Freed on pages 252 and 253 respectively;

“It was a tremendous sight, unique in the history of the Rebellion. If the fleet had a vulnerability, it was that self-same uniqueness: We fight as siblings who have never known a shared home, Raddus thought, against an Empire that knows naught but tyrannical discipline.” Page 252

“Raddus had never known the Empire to be restrained in its use of weapons, and of all the planets in its grasp he could think of few as defiant as his own homeworld. Mon Cala had resisted. Mon Cala had been punished. Mon Cala had, time and again offered its warriors and resources to the Rebellion. If the Rebellion failed to stop the Death Star, Mon Cala would be obliterated. for this reason — and for hundreds others — Raddus would fight as long as the Profundity [his refitted Mon Calamari flagship] endured.” Page 253

It is detail like this that enrich a fans experience by offering what only a book can, fine insight into a character’s mindset. We see similar with Mon Mothma’s contemplation of how close the Alliance is to unraveling, referring to the fact that the Alliance leadership’s, “inability to commit to a course of action ensured the Empire’s growth and the delegitimization of any future protest movements…” (page 213)

Other examples are found in some fine prose for those who wish to bask in the excruciating relationship between Tarkin and Krennic, and how those characters perceive one another. The novel builds well on the foundations laid out in James Luceno’s Catalyst (see below) in this regard. These are two characters that love to hate one and other, and Freed practically conjures an image of the cold sweat forming on Krennic’s brow as things start to go permanently awry on Scarif.

Supplementary detail

In terms of these mechanics of the book there are other intriguing supplementary elements that precede chapters within the book. These include:-

  • Rebel Alliance situational data;
  • Correspondence between the offices of Krennic and Tarkin;
  • Extracts from fragments of the archives of the Order of the Esoteric Pulsar on the Pilgrims of Jedha(!);
  • Emergency messages between Rebel leaders;
  • Exchanges on engineering matters between Galen Erso and the Engineering Operations Manager;
  • Notes on the History of the Rebel Alliance Navy (which is just brilliant);
  • A Sunset Prayer from the Guardians of the Whills; and
  • An In Memorium testament from Mon Mothma for Jyn Erso.

Writing as a longtime fan of the saga, but also a fan of Mon Mothma (whose brevity of screen time has always made the character especially intriguing) this book is a treasure trove of detail that can now be ruminated on for days on end. As regards Mothma specifically, between this book, the information in Wendig’s books and Claudia Gray’s Bloodline, we are starting to get more and more detail on a character who really should be pivotal to any saga narrative in the era from Rebellion to post-Endor reconstruction.

Even the structure of Rogue One as a story translates very effectively into a novelization, converting easily into a dramatic thriller. The text moves briskly from the opening scenes on Lah’mu, to the Ring of Kafrene, to Jedha, to Yavin, to Eadu, (back to Yavin,) to Scarif. We are, in-between, rapidly taken to the Death Star in situ and Mustafar (expressly confirmed within the book — scene beginning on page 187 — which wasn’t the case in the film). The pinball-like “location bounces” seen in the film translate well to novelization without losing the reader.

The plot unfolds towards its heist scene climax perfectly, the structure is effective and measured into natural breaks for the reader. Even though most of those reading Freed’s work will have seen the film, tension is still sustained through the additional detail which serves to underscore the natural suspense. Freed makes it very clear to the reader that if this one chance for the Rebellion is lost, then Imperial consolidation of power will be total. It keeps us gripped as we reach the culmination of events at Scarif.

Accompanying recommendations — Further reading

Given the duplication of the story in both the book and film (they mirror each other with the odd exception such as the Jyn-TIE fighter scene which didn’t make the film version), the character insight, supplementary information sections, and narrative drive are the elements that clinch the case for recommending the book.

There is also much more to recommend the Rogue One novelization, in terms of new angles and perspectives it provides, than there was with last year’s The Force Awakens novelization by Alan Dean Foster. To be fair to that author, his hands were probably tied tight so as not to inadvertently signal the direction of the overall sequel trilogy.

There are also a few further suggestions to those who read and enjoy the Rogue One book. If this is an entry point in your reading of the Star Wars novels you should consider exploring two other novels in the new Star Wars canon. Those books are Catalyst by James Luceno, a novel that predates the events of Rogue One and which explores the early development of the Death Star project. The book rotates around the life events of the Erso family with a focus on the relationship between Orson Krennic and Galen Erso from their student days onward. It is fascinating and highly recommended.

The second suggestion is to then go on to read James Luceno’s Tarkin—  the interplay between Krennic and Tarkin will be added to immensely when you know how granite-hard Tarkin’s character is. Upon reading Tarkin, you will know that given his pedigree and upbringing, he was always going to come out on top in any power struggle with Krennic (albeit only by a short period in the end — perhaps Krennic had the last victory after all as the driver behind the Death Star project).

Finally if you love the little supplementary elements in Freed’s Rogue One book you should really consider Jason Fry’s Rogue One: Mission Files (in UK — or Rogue One: Rebel Dossier in US). That book contains similar in-universe files on characters, mission briefings, that all help the world building approach that lends so much to the saga.

First though, if you haven’t done so already, go out and get the Rogue One novelization. It is a work that Alexander Freed has put a lot of love into and it shows. It serves as a true testament to the tale behind those famous stolen data tapes. Enjoy.

Star Wars — Rogue One by Alexander Freed is published under the Century Imprint in the United Kingdom and is available in all good retailers and libraries.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s