Contains mild spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker novelization
After years of enduring the FOMO of convention-goers getting exclusive early releases of books I desperately wanted to read, Chicago finally got a win. I was one of the lucky people to pick up Rae Carson’s novelization of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker at Chicago’s C2E2 convention last month.
I can't properly convey my feelings about The Rise of Skywalker novelization without revealing my thoughts on the film itself. I saw it four times in theaters in a vain attempt to make myself like it. It looked great, it sounded great, and I was fully on board for the Kylo Ren/Ben Solo action, but I had - still have - a lot of issues with some of the story decisions. The Rise of Skywalker novelization, however, succeeds where many story components of the film failed.
1) Deleted scenes, but better
The Rise of Skywalker novelization exists to take the reader beyond what we saw on screen. Like Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker novelization is expanded. It includes a handful of new scenes written specifically for the book or shot and later cut from the final film. The list of bonus features on the digital, DVD or Blu-ray for the film doesn’t include deleted scenes, so it sounds like Carson’s novel is the closest we’ll get.
The new material in the novelization rounds out the story in a gratifying way, expertly employing the use of flashbacks to draw more emotion out of moments already designed to rip your heart out. One of my favorite additions involves Kylo Ren and Chewbacca in a confrontation that, I think, plays out best in written form. Not that the actors couldn’t pull it off, but Star Wars films often refrain from using flashbacks. It’s a moment in which both characters appear guarded as they each endure a heartbreaking internal struggle.
The novelization also includes details about Lando Calrissian and what he’s been up to since Endor. While discussing the process of writing The Rise of Skywalker at a panel at C2E2, Carson talked about a quiet pause in the action that follows Lando roaming the corridors of the Millennium Falcon, lost in old memories.
2) Leaning into Leia
Utilizing unused footage of Carrie Fisher’s previous performances as Leia Organa was an admirable accomplishment for the visual effects artists who worked on The Rise of Skywalker. But it forced Fisher’s scene partners to awkwardly act around her in a way I found distracting. In contrast, Carson weaves Leia content seamlessly into the story and expands on it in a way that’s far more satisfying than the onscreen experience.
The filmmakers did what they could, but the novelization cranks it up to an 11 to see Leia through her final act, which is built up using flashbacks and whispers from a certain Jedi past.
3) Much needed exposition
The novelization takes some of the storylines that seem to contradict other canon material and, well, it doesn't exactly fix them. It tries to justify them. For me, the added exposition makes some of them easier to swallow -- like mending the Skywalker lightsaber that was destroyed in The Last Jedi and positing that Leia had more Jedi training than we were previously led to believe.
Obviously the major one is Palpatine’s return. There is a lot of what I would call necessary exposition in the novelization that explains how that came to be.
Does it make sense? No. Does it justify all retcons to previously established canon material? Absolutely not. But it helps… kind of.
4) The ending
Fair warning: there’s no added epilogue. The book ends the same way as the movie. But if certain moments at the tail end of the film left you scratching your head in the theater, the novelization will clarify a few details. Thankfully it fixes the creep factor of Lando’s encounter with Jannah at the end of the film and gives him a new mission in a post-First Order galaxy. It also confirms exactly how long Rey plans to stay on Tatooine.
For me, reading The Rise of Skywalker makes the story and all of its flaws easier to accept. The novelization allowed me to take the story at my own pace, dive deeper into the juicy details of my favorite scenes and, best of all, it helped me make peace with some of the things I found lacking in the film. I’ll be curious to see The Rise of Skywalker a fifth time now that I have all the added context.
The thing about Star Wars films is that they often improve with age. There’s an entire generation that identifies with and embraces the prequel trilogy as their Star Wars. I have no doubt the same applies/will apply to the sequel trilogy. I just wish the Episode IX filmmakers had cared as much about telling a cohesive story as Carson did.
But ask me again sometime.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: Expanded Edition will be released in the U.S. on Tuesday, March 17 and is available for pre-order now.
Laura Kelly co-hosts the podcast Force Toast: A Star Wars Happy Hour with her friend Alyce and competes in the Star Was league of the Movie Trivia Schmoedown. She loves wine, pasta, Star Wars Rebels, English bulldogs and spending far too much time on Star Wars Twitter. Find Laura on twitter or email her.