One of the perks of working in a library: I can get my hands on just about any book I want.
One of the downsides of working in a library: it can take months to finally get it. Thus the case with the belated review of Rogue One.
While I didn’t feel that Rogue One as a film deserved the degree of hype that it was given (it just felt like it was missing things and tried to fix things that didn’t need to be fixed), I did want to give the novel a chance. Novelizations of Star Wars movies haven’t done me wrong yet, and as they always add things that didn’t make the cut in the film, I’m game for it.
So how does Rogue One pan out compared to other novels and the film? Let’s take a look!
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story tells the story about the background of the Death Star through the eyes of it’s designer, Galen Erso, and more importantly, his daughter Jyn, who plays a major role in acquiring the plans to destroy this superweapon.
The Empire’s grip on the galaxy is tightening, and military might is reaching a new height thanks to a secret weapon that will instill fear into the galaxy. The Rebel Alliance is fragmented with members not wishing to be fully militarized (and some former factions truly being terrorists) while others demanding action to stop the Empire. When the information about the superweapon and it’s creator are brought to light, will the Alliance band together to act?
==What You Get==
The book is a meaty 336 pages with cover art from the movie poster and the storyline of the movie. There isn’t much else to say about it physically, and going into details would ruin the later parts of this review.
The book is written by Alexander Freed, who is not new to writing for the Star Wars universe. He worked as a writer for BioWare (parts of the Imperial Agent storyline in The Old Republic), wrote some of the Star Wars comics (two of which were from the Old Republic Era), and was the writer for the novel Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company. I don’t have much experience with Freed’s work outside of BioWare, but he surely has the chops for this.
As it expected with a book based off of a film, we are given the storyline of the film, but much more depth. We are given additional scenes with the various characters, and we are given the true inner dialog and thoughts of the characters. Almost half of the prologue is additional information regarding Galen’s relationship with the Empire as a whole, his thoughts on farming, and some examples of the lengths he’ll go to work against the Empire.
And that’s just the prologue. The book continues this trend, offering inner thoughts and expanding details for most of the characters, including Jyn, Bodhi Rook, and of course Cassian.
This is a point I cannot emphasize enough: the characters in Rogue One were a bit of a mystery in the film. Why did Baze follow Chirrut everywhere? What happened between Jyn and Saw all those years ago? What is going through Krennic’s mind when he meets Vader on Mustafar? Each of these gets elaborated on in some way; not always the depth we want, but at least the necessary depth for the story.
The extra scenes added really do help flesh things out and add to the pacing of the novel rather than detracting from it. There were some parts of the film in which things just kind of “happen,” like Jyn suddenly having a blaster or batons on Jedha when she was just rescued from a prison camp (and clearly not trusted with weapons). I always feel privy to extra knowledge of the setting whenever I read the book to a film, and Rogue One is no exception. Unlike the novelization of The Force Awakens, the added scenes don’t just feel like fluff; they feel organic and as much a part of the story as what we see in the film.
The writing itself is crisp and easy to follow, and even with the internal monologue of specific characters over the span of pages (with inserts in parenthesis, like this), it doesn’t feel like it is dragging on as you would expect with such a situation. That is often the challenge when working with inner monologue, and we see it done rather well here.
I have a few major gripes with Rogue One as a whole, as well as the canon reboot overall, but I won’t rant about them too much in this review.
One complaint I have is the apparent need to have a romance between Jyn and Cassian. The movie had that tension there with little buildup, and the book just drops the hints like a bus on a high-gravity world. Romance is great, but it doesn’t have to be in EVERYTHING, especially when we’re trying to build up a strong female lead. For example, Cassian has an almost obsession with Jyn early on that could be seen as the steps of a romance plot. We get a few more subtle hints throughout the book, and while I am grateful that it doesn’t evolve past hints, I still could have lived without it.
Like the film, I’m feeling a bit uninspired by the Easter Eggs that were added in (I believe shoehorned) to the story. For example, when Jyn runs into Dr Evazan and Ponda Baba, it felt like someone was trying to hard to validate the story by introducing characters (who look surprisingly younger even though just a few days pass between then and A New Hope). In the novel, it is lightly touched on and uses a line similar to A New Hope, but it just felt glossed over, almost like it was an afterthought.
Anyone who loved the movie will notice the change in Chirrut’s chant. It was changed slightly, to “The Force is with me, and I am with the Force” when Chirrut fights the troopers on Jedha, but when he is in the prison cell his prayer changes to “May the Force of others be with you.” While it is a nod to the original draft-turned-comic known as “The Star Wars” (which we did get the quote used in passing in the film), it just felt odd to not see the line staying in place. We also see changes in the quote; when Baze states it, he starts with “The Force is with me, and I am one with the Force,” but then a few lines later he says “The Force is with me, and I am with the Force”, yet when Chirrut says it for the last time, it is the same quote from the film: “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.” I’m not sure how I feel about the inconsistency; I can’t tell if I should appreciate it as different chants of a religious group, or if I should dislike it due to not being consistent with itself.
One part that I’m a bit ambivalent on is the character progression. Jyn seems to be an emotional wreck that can’t deal with reality (especially with how often she’s in her “cave” in her mind and just staring off) and possibly has PTSD, Cassian is a mentally unstable zealot that thinks he’s always right, and Bodhi Rook is just as much of a mess as he was in the film. The most likeable characters are those that were popular: Chirrut, Baze, and K2, all of whom we only get minor snippets for. Not quite sure how I feel on that.
My not-quite-dislike-but-not-quite-like for Rogue One impacted my enjoyment of the book. While the film felt like it was missing things overall, the book didn’t improve the fact that the story doesn’t quite feel Star Wars enough. While some complained about the lack of Jedi, I felt it was more a lack of the depth and fantasy that makes Star Wars what it is. Our alien experience is limited, the Easter eggs are shoehorned in, the timeline gets a bit more convoluted (and ruins some lines from A New Hope), and we’re left with something that would make a great Sci-Fi story but an iffy Star Wars tale.
All said and done, I’ll be giving Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 3.5 Buns.
As a long-time Star Wars fan, I know I’m being critical of the story, but the solid writing of the novel helps with my problems with the book. For someone who isn’t “spoiled” by the old Expanded Universe and doesn’t have as critical an eye (your average reader), this would more than likely be a 4 bun book.
If you enjoyed the film for Rogue One, then you will absolutely enjoy the extra scenes in the book and Freed’s writing style. This book gives me some hope for Star Wars film novelizations (especially after last year’s fiasco with the novelization of The Force Awakens).
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is written by Alexander Freed and published by Del Rey. It is available at most bookstores.