Canon Novel Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

-Spoiler Review-

In 2015, Alexander Freed wrote Battlefront: Twilight Company, a great novel unfortunately surrounded by the Journey to The Force Awakens imprints and the actual movie itself in December. Despite it’s low-key status, Twilight Company may be one of the canon’s most solid novels. How does Freed stack up when adapting a movie to a novel?

Most adaptations of the canon have been weak so far. Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of TFA was hampered by being based off an early script (thank the Maker that Rey was changed – she was easily the most dislikable character in the novel!), indecipherable prose, while missing the magic of the film. Chuck Wendig’s Marvel comic adaptation of TFA was a bare bones approach to the film, recognizing important scenes without letting them play out in any meaningful way (it was like watching the film on fast forward and on mute). Supplementary stories like Rey’s Story and Finn’s Story brought interesting new takes on the film, but didn’t add a lot of necessary material that made it worth recovering old ground.

Thankfully, Alexander Freed’s Rogue One novelization changes the pattern. Rather than being “good reading” in addition to the film, I argue that the novel is required reading. 

The first reason that the novel should be required reading is that it allows us more time with the characters. Whereas a lot of TFA adaptations simply recounted the film’s events, Rogue One gives us deeper insight into every character and their motivations. In the film, Lyra’s stand against Krennic didn’t strike me as very believable. Why would she stand up to Death Troopers when she could have reasonably expected escape for her and Jyn at least? The novel gives us a fresh take, and gives us more insight into Lyra’s plan, and how she misjudged Krennic. Expecting him to cower in fear from the blaster, we realize just how dedicated Krennic is to finishing his plan to build the Death Star and give it to the Emperor after manipulating Galen into finishing the work.

We are also granted a look into Jyn’s mind, her coping mechanisms for dealing with the constant feeling of rejection (first from Galen and then from Saw), and how she came to love, and trust, the Rebel Alliance, despite its sins against her. Realizing that Jyn sees the world through the lens of her experience in the cave, as she hides and waits for someone to save her, I gained a new sense of the tragic nature of the film itself, and actually had a more emotional response to the film in my second viewing. We are even given more scenes between Mon Mothma and Jyn, scenes that should have made it into the movie for a myriad of reasons, not just because it contains a conversation between the two!

The second reason that this novel is required reading is because it feels like a perfect sequel to previous novels. James Luceno’s Tarkin may not have been the thrill-fest some may have wanted, it’s hard to argue that Luceno has Tarkin’s voice down pat. Seeing his relationship with Darth Vader blossom as he rose in power in the Empire was a lot of fun, so it was great to see how he took over the Death Star project during Rogue One’s mission. Seeing a lot of Tarkin’s ambitions and machinations come to fruition in the novel was a lot of fun. Freed may not have Tarkin’s voice down pat, but he understands the inner workings of his mind. Reading Krennic’s thoughts as he discovers how easily Tarkin played him over Jedha brought a brand new dimension to the film, something that as you may know from previous reviews , is a huge highlight in my book. Not only is this novel a perfect sequel to Tarkin, it is also a perfect sequel to Catalyst. If for no other reason than added dimension to the scene on Lah’mu, the two novels are perfect bedfellows. Emotional scenes from the film (Galen saying good-bye to his Stardust) are given more weight when actual events from Catalyst are spelled out in the novelization. I was disappointed with Catalyst at first, as I felt that it wasn’t an entire novel. Now that we have the climax of the novel (the confrontation on Eadu), I feel like the story is complete and have a newfound respect for both stories. 

The third reason that the novel is required reading is for the interludes. Now, the book does not address them as interlude, but supplementary information. We are able to read conversations that are sent in the Rebellion and between Imperials – one especially interesting side story is when Galen’s revenge is almost discovered half-way through the process! The Aftermath trilogy used interludes to address (mostly) unrelated incidents in the galaxy that happened during the events of the novel. Ahsoka also used brief interludes to show glimpses into Ahsoka’s life, and a few looks into the lives of others. I am not a huge fan of the interlude concept, as I did not think Johnson’s were necessary (some felt extraneous, like visiting Ben’s house, and those that fit with the key elements of the novel could have been weaved into the story a bit more directly), and I think Wendig’s are becoming a bit too heavy handed, but I thought they were implemented well here. Rather than acting as a set up for a different story in a different book or series, these were truly supplementary material. The novel would function just as well without them. But, they added a new dimension of fun that you would generally have to go to a different media source to find (such as the Rebel Dossier)

The fourth reason that this book is required reading because it address some of the pacing issues of the film. I was not bothered by a “slower” portion of the film between Jedha and Scarif (as some of my friends, and many on Twitter) have complained about, but I felt that the novel had a better speed than the movie. If anything, the novel moved too quickly! I would have loved to see an extra fifty pages added to the novel to flesh out a few more backstories, or conversations, or even give a few more details about the locales, considering most made their first canon appearance in the movie.

The final reason that this book is required reading is that it demonstrates that Rogue One truly is a Star Wars Story. If you are anything like me, you were taken aback by the lack of crawl in the film, and the lack of the distinctive theme music, and were a little confused about the title card. Stripped away of all that, the novel shows us that this story was, at its core, a vital part of the Star Wars universe. It was a tale about bravery, about family, about trust, about overcoming impossible odds, about chance and faith and everything in-between. Foreign creatures, and foreign locales with a gruff crowd, make an appearance. Truly, Rogue One was able to hit every key moment from the Saga films without becoming merely a rehash.

A word of caution, though: don’t go expecting too many new scenes. Though some moments are expanded, there are few entirely new scenes (unlike the handful that were in Foster’s The Force Awakens.) But, please don’t avoid this book because of that: the expanded conversations and character developments far outweigh the loss of any new material. I will say that there is one new cluster of scenes: how does an intimate look at Jedha City a moment before the Death Star weapons test is conducted sound? Tragic, heartbreaking, and somehow fun? Then this new scene is for you. A squad of stormtroopers featured in this scene brings back distinctive memories of Twilight Company, showing why Freed has to be brought on for more work.

As this book offers key insights into characters, concludes and carries on the stories of former novels, offers brief glances into the history of the events of Rogue One’s mission, addresses pacing issues from the film, and proves that Rogue One deserves its place as a film, the novel is required reading for anybody who is a fan of Star Wars as a whole. Instead of offering a cursory glance at a film, wasting time which could be spent watching the film, the novel provides a fresh, new experience, one that greatly enhances enjoyment of the film and Star Wars as a whole.

Chris is the Sous Chef at the Mynock Manor. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisWerms, and of course, follow the Manor.

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Star Wars Comic Book Reviews:
Darth Vader: The Shu-Torun War
The Force Awakens 1-2

LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures Reviews:
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