– Spoiler Review –
Serving as both a companion piece to the original trilogy character-focused YA novels from “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and the film itself, Before the Awakening (written by Greg Rucka, art by Phil Noto) fleshes out the three new highly entertaining and enjoyable leads of the new trilogy, Finn, Rey, and Poe. Overall BtA doesn’t change our perceptions of the characters, but it deepens the strong character work done for them in the film as well as explain the state of the galaxy a little more than the film cared to. Any fan of The Force Awakens and these three new leads should take the time to read their stories within Before the Awakening.
What makes Finn really work is John Boyega’s charismatic everday man performance and Rucka does a good job capturing how Finn (and therefore Boyega) would be before he breaks free from the First Order’s chains in TFA. Within the First Order, FN-2187 is an exceptional stormtrooper, scoring top marks in quite nearly everything. However, what holds him back is his empathy and curiosity (two things which make him so enduring in the film) which leads him to constantly help a failing soldier in his squad (named Slip) and leads him to occasionally wonder if what the First Order feeds them is actually the truth. Captain Phasma sees Finn’s empathy as a “weakness” and attempts to cull it from him in increasingly drastic measures, including cold blooded murder of “rebellious” mine workers. While we already know he won’t commit any of these murders, what Finn’s section does so well is give an inner voice to the struggle he faces as a stormtrooper. While it’s easy to understand why Finn breaks free from the First Order in the film, this short story adds a little more weight to the decision. His story within BtA ends just before the beginning of TFA, as he’s assigned by Phasma to the Jakku village invasion as a final test to see if his empathy can be stomped and if he’s truly loyal to the FO.
It also reveals some of the behind-the-scenes of the First Order and how their training regime works, including some back and forth between General Hux and Phasma. In a way the FO functions like the Empire did for training, it’s just the FO starts their troopers as children (of the none-clone variety), while propaganda litters everything they do and it’s drilled into everyone that everything they do should solely be in the service of the First Order (and Supreme Leader Snoke) to further its goal of riding the galaxy of disorder and chaos.
- It’s very likely the stormtrooper who wipes his bloody hand on Finn’s helmet in the opening scene of TFA is Slip.
- It’s 100% confirmed from StarWars.com that one of Finn’s fellow squadmembers FN-2199 (Nines), as seen in Before the Awakening, is the stormtrooper who became the biggest meme from the movie so far as “TR-8R,” i.e. the baton wielding trooper who calls Finn a traitor during the battle at Maz’s Castle.
Seeing as Finn is way more interesting when he’s not a stormtrooper, I didn’t enjoy his section as much as the others, but the way it captures his inner struggle and reveals some FO details more than make it a worthy read.
Being my favorite character in the film, it should go without saying that Rey’s section is also my favorite of the three within BtA. While TFA had a couple of scenes of Rey going about her everyday life as a scavenger, BtA goes full-on scavenger lifestyle and makes me realize I’d love just an entire movie of Rey before her awakening while living on Jakku. In her story, Rey finds a slightly more recently crashed ship under the shifting sands and sets out to fixing it up in an attempt to reap the awards of such a valuable find (instead of, you know, flying it off to anywhere else but Jakku). Two fellow scavengers she loosely calls friends, Devi and Strunk, happen on her discovery but offer to help her gather the parts she needs to get it working (and get a share of the award). Rey has a hard time trusting them, but they slowly prove themselves over the several months it takes them to put it all together. In the end they do steal the functioning ship, but it’s not because they were untrustworthy, instead it’s because Rey was blind to their eagerness to leave Jakku due to her unflinching desire to wait for the return of her parents/family by staying on Jakku. Her ‘need’ to wait made sense in the film from what was shown, but how she feels about it is given more context within this short story, helping add to her reluctance to leave.
What Rucka does so well with Rey is capture her sense of wonder, hope, and excitement tinged with loneliness, while giving more credence (though she doesn’t actually need it) to her shrewd mechanic ability, piloting skills, melee weapons proficiency, and how her latent Force abilities seeped into her everyday life. There’s so many great little moments for Rey here, like how she built a flight sim from an old Y-wing computer (hence her piloting skill), the fact that she alone puts every piece of the ship back together and in working order, to how she rationalizes staying on such a desolate planet while waiting for a family unlikely to come back while doing such lowly work which barely keeps her fed. Her strength of will is commendable and in a way at times her story can feel like a motivational one considering most of our day-to-day problems pale in comparison to hers.
Trivia: it seems Teedo, the alien on the luggabeast who has BB-8 captured in its net in TFA, is actually the name of their species. The Teedo belief system and how it revolves around the storms on Jakku was a really well fleshed-out minor, but intriguing cultural detail.
I was fearful that following Rey during her scavenging years on Jakku wouldn’t make for such a good story, but suddenly I want more about the time…and definitely more about her. It’ll be interesting to see how the trials ahead of her affect her hopeful spirit, which is just one of the many things which make her a great and memorable character.
While Finn’s gave us an inside look at how the First Order operates, Poe’s uncovers the state of the galaxy a little more than the film was willing, including explaining the relationship between the New Republic and the Resistance (though the TFA Visual Dictionary also uncovers more of those details, some of which can be found on the StarWars.com Databank). It’s not all about galactic politics, far from it actually, but those scenes stick out considering we’re all so hungry for those details at this point. Ever since the Galactic Concordence, a treaty where the remnants of the Empire we’re given their own little pocket of space while promising not to build armies and the NR promised not to take action against them as long as they followed the rules, there’s been a fragile peace. Obviously the First Order, which rose from the ashes of the Empire, doesn’t follow the rules because then we wouldn’t have TFA in the first place, but it’s interesting to note there are sympathetic FO members in the Republic Senate, making you wonder what Snoke is promising that’s so good they’d want to join. Those questions don’t get answered here, but like Poe, I think it’s sickening to know there are more out there (FO sympathetic Senators) than the one Poe is sent by Leia to grab within this short story.
There’s a lot of fun little details about Poe’s life thrown into his story here, including bits and pieces about his time with his parents. Shara Bey headlined the Shattered Empire comic series and rightfully won a place in many of our hearts fighting alongside Leia and Luke, but her compassion and desire to start a family is what truly made her memorable. That series ends with her, her husband Kes, and Poe settling on Yavin IV and within BtA, we see both of Poe’s parents truly stayed out of the army, though they both dealt with it in different ways. Shara flew for civilian defense and eventually gave her A-wing to Poe before passing away (for unspecified reasons), though she chose to never talk about her service; Kes boasted about his exploits, but never got into specifics, while losing Shara only deepened his fear everything he and his friends sacrificed for peace was in vain. Shara and Kes seem to parallel WWII veterans in those aspects and much like how we had a Baby Boom generation because of those returning from the war, Poe is a Victory Baby in-universe.
- Leia’s on a Mon Cal cruiser called Echo of Hope, a welcomed but not-so-subtle callback to A New Hope, considering Leia’s currently looking for said hope i.e. Luke
- Leia got Admiral Ackbar out of retirement; Z-95 headhunters live post-RotJ!
- Leia at one point says Poe reminds her of Luke and Poe’s internal dialogue says he has a question to ask her but he thinks better of it. I’m not certain what the question is, but I’d guess it could be, “Do you know where Luke is?” considering Poe grew up next to a tree from the Jedi Temple on Coruscant that Luke rescued with Poe’s mom and definitely believes in the Force. Or could be wondering simply what she means by that.
- Poe now has a comic series, which picks up right after his section in BtA ends!
I get Poe’s whole section is basically leading to his first meeting with Leia but their interactions here simply beg to be expanded. Especially since her firceness comes across so well, but so too does the sadness she carries from what happened with her own family, something Poe picks up on from seeing it in his dad after Shara died.
Backed with galaxy expanding details, some chaotic but deftly written action sequences, and more backstory for Poe than either of the other two characters got, his section is worth waiting to read at the end.
Overall, the stories within Before the Awakening don’t change the way you view Rey, Finn, and Poe, (they simply can’t) but they certainly give those who want more of these new leads exactly that. Also, fantastic new pieces of Star Wars art from Phil Noto add great value to this package!
+ Deepens understanding of each character…
+ Rucka brings the characters to life expertly
+ Explains more of the galaxy
– …though doesn’t add anything really new to them
STAR WARS MOVIE REVIEWS:
The Force Awakens
CANON NOVEL REVIEWS:
Aftermath | Aftermath: Life Debt
Battlefront: Twilight Company
Lords of the Sith
A New Dawn
Heir to the Jedi
CANON YOUNG ADULT NOVEL REVIEWS:
Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure
Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure
The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure