Background Image: NASA/CXC/Penn State/L. Townsley et al.
After Star Wars: The Last Jedi came out in late 2017, plenty of fans were furious with Poe Dameron for his disobedience and mutiny that helped whittle down the Resistance to nearly nothing. But at the start of Rebecca Roanhorse’s Resistance Reborn, no one is more upset with the beautiful-haired pilot than Poe himself. The book, which bridges the gap between The Last Jedi and the forthcoming Episode IX, The Rise of Skywalker, acts as a Poe Dameron Redemption Tour of sorts: Seeing as his actions led to most of the Resistance’s ships getting blown up, he is now tasked with finding new ships and new bodies. That means pilots, sure, but also potentially some Rebellion leaders who can provide a shot in the arm to General Leia Organa’s floundering Resistance. It’s a thin enough plot stretched over nearly 300 pages, but the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Roanhorse (Storm of Locusts) amplifies the patchy plot with tender character moments and thought-provoking questions about what it means to occupy the gray space between good and evil in the Star Wars universe.
(This review contains minor spoilers for Star Wars: Resistance Reborn.)
Overall the story reads as if Roanhorse did her best with an incredibly tight outline from the powers that be, but then found little moments to add her own sparkle. The pacing is stilted to start, with members of the Resistance coming together to plan how they’re splitting up, then reuniting to check in on how their various recruitment efforts have gone before parting ways again. Individual scenes lack urgency or surprises and feel like they are just trying to check off plot beats on the way to a fancy celebrity birthday party or a thrilling zip-line chase over a garbage-eating monster. If you aren’t up to date on certain comics or, surprisingly, the Star Wars Battlefront video games, you might miss why certain characters like Shriv Surgaav or Zay Versio are significant.
But then you get delightful interludes between Poe and Finn in which they discuss the latter’s love life (or lack thereof) with such shared affection for one another that either this is further laying the groundwork for a strong, supportive friendship between two men… or it’s a little treat for the Stormpilot shippers. Poe helps Finn tie a tie, for crying out loud:
He motioned the younger man over and took the tie from his hands. He looped the silver silk around Finn’s neck under the collar, letting the long tapering ends trail down either side of the line of cloth-covered buttons.
“There are different ways,” Poe explained as he crossed the thicker side over the thinner one and brought it up and through at the collar. “But this is the one my dad taught me. It’s my favorite.” He let the thick side fall forward then brought it around the other side, and back through at the collar. Once more over and through and then he tucked the end through the knot he had made at the base of Finn’s throat. HE pulled the end tight and adjusted it until the two tails were almost even, leaving the thin side a bit shorter.
He fastened the pin over the tie, holding the fabric in place. He smoothed the tie one last time before turning Finn around so he could see himself in the mirror. The younger man’s eyes were wary at first, but soon went soft with wonder.
“They don’t teach you how to tie a tie in stormtrooper training,” Finn said quietly.
Even if this duo’s relationship remains subtext, there is a refreshing amount of queer text in Resistance Reborn; more than one same-sex relationship, and even a character who could potentially be read as non-binary, get all-too-brief mentions. Like I said, little moments of sparkle.
Poe and Finn’s mission requiring formalwear is like a more fun Canto Bight, but unfortunately doesn’t take place until the final third of the book. Once readers get over the initial hump of planning, and the three simultaneous operations on very different planets all kick into high-gear, the story propels itself to levels reminiscent of classic Legends adventures.
While Poe gets to make his peace with his actions at D’Qar, the greatest interiority in this book belongs to Leia. We still don’t know just how much Carrie Fisher will factor into Rise of Skywalker’s plot, so you get the sense that this book is about stealing as much extra time with her as possible. Her alarming number of recovery headaches notwithstanding, General Organa is as wry and sharp as ever, especially when regarding these kids to whom she is entrusting the future of the Resistance. I can’t think of the last time that I read something from the perspective of an older woman that gives her so much damn credit. She might momentarily struggle to follow a particular conversation—the woman just Force-flew through space, give her a break—but she also catches the moments in which the Resistance’s younger members speak to her as if she’s an addled grandmother. And then she turns around and pulls out a solution or a far-flung contact that they lack the experience to even consider. Leia knows that she’s running out of time to keep leading the Resistance, but she sure as hell is not dead yet, nor is she done contributing to the rebellion she’s been leading since she was 19.
Even as Leia is doggedly pushing her people forward, she reminisces on her time in the New Republic’s Galactic Senate and the events of Claudia Gray’s Bloodline. Fans of how that book mixed the political and the personal will appreciate how Roanhorse picks up that thread for Leia’s plot arc, as well as the familial ties established in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath. That book brought together Rebel pilots Wedge Antilles and Norra Wexley, the mother of Temmin “Snap” Wexley from The Force Awakens. At the start of Resistance Reborn, the two have settled into a comfortable retirement on Norra’s homeworld of Akiva; but when the Resistance is in need of an old leader to inspire new hope, Wedge struggles with whether or not to join the fight.
Despite these moments with beloved heroes, Resistance Reborn is most effective in the time it spends with the galaxy’s denizens you won’t be seeing on the big screen in December—the average folks trying to get by while watching the Resistance and the First Order literally chase each other across the sky on their morning commute. To wit, the primary antagonist is a nobody, a middle manager at the Corellian Engineering Corporation. Winshur Bratt isn’t evil, per se—but he’s ambitious, self-serving, and insecure enough not to mind when the First Order takes over his workplace. And when his job duties expand to include overseeing the transfer of some political prisoners to a labor camp, Winshur doesn’t go all Jyn Erso and declare this grounds for rebellion; he keeps his head down, because he’s just comfortable enough within the system to not want to change it. And in some ways, that’s more terrifying than a Sith lord—because if you can’t get the average person to care, then any resistance is doomed.
On the flip side, Leia and Poe’s forces include at least one reformed Imperial officer, which leads to fascinating tension among the remaining “good guys” that could have benefited from more exploration. While there were plenty of Imperials and baddies featured in Legends books—including some, like Mara Jade, who saw the light—in the past five years there has been a growing trend of Imperial or First Order defectors’ stories being centered: Bodhi Rook in Rogue One, Alexsandr Kallus in Star Wars Rebels, and of course our dear FN-2187. These individual breaking points, the moments these characters stop in their tracks even if they are just one person, seem to add up to a larger moral message about simply doing better than you did yesterday. It’s never too late, the Star Wars canon seems to be saying, to change sides.
You could go into The Rise of Skywalker without having read Resistance Reborn; in terms of plot, it doesn’t really tell you any more than the first few minutes of the movie presumably will. However, if you want to get everything you can from the conclusion of the Skywalker saga, Roanhorse’s book sets the necessary moral and emotional foundation for what will hopefully be the defeat of the First Order and, more importantly, the future of the galaxy.
Star Wars: Resistance Reborn is available from Del Rey.
Reading this book made Natalie Zutter nostalgic for all the Legends books and comics, and reminds her that she really needs to pick up Doctor Aphra’s adventures. Count down to Rise of Skywalker with her on Twitter!