“You can go back to leading Rapier Squadron and having your hands tied by Command, by Major Deso, by politicians who don’t recognize what’s happening right before their eyes . . . Or you can join the Resistance and help us stop the First Order before it’s too late.” – General Leia Organa
Warning: This review may contain minor spoilers for The Force Awakens. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want anything spoiled, don’t read on. You should watch the movie before reading this book anyway.
Finally, we’re getting books about the main characters of The Force Awakens! Or at least one book. Before the Awakening is a book by Greg Rucka, who also wrote Shattered Empire and Smuggler’s Run. This is the first book that stars the “New Big Three” from the new movie. Though some of the books in the “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” series had appearances of minor or background characters from the film, none of them have had appearances from any of the main characters.
This book is split into three parts. One part for Finn, one for Rey, and one for Poe. These sections are in place of traditional chapters. So instead of having many chapters throughout the book, we get three “parts” instead.
Each part tells a short story that takes place a short time before The Force Awakens. We get a bits of extra information about the characters that helps to flesh them out and helped me to understand and accept certain things about the characters that didn’t make sense to me the first time I saw the movie.
We get to see what life was like for Finn (he’s still just “FN-2187” in this story) training to be a First Order stormtrooper. As someone who has been doing my best to keep up with the new canon so far, this was pretty interesting to me because we’ve already had a chance to see what clone trooper training was like in The Clone Wars, and what life was like at the Imperial Academy in Star Wars Rebels and Lost Stars. We’ve also had a chance to see things from the perspective of another stormtrooper in Battlefront: Twilight Company. Being able to compare all of these scenarios is pretty interesting, both for their similarities and differences.
Much like the clone troopers in The Clone Wars and the prequel movies, First Order stormtroopers are not given names, but only numbers. (Imperial stormtroopers under the Empire were also assigned numbers, but they also had names of their own, because they were not raised to be stormtroopers their whole lives.) Clones gave each other nicknames (for example, CC-2224 was “Cody” and CT-7567 was “Rex”) and so do the First Order stormtroopers in this story. FN-2187 however, doesn’t have a nickname.
On the subject of these nicknames, one of the few things that annoyed me in this book was the choice of nicknames for a couple stormtoopers. In The Clone Wars, one of the reocurring characters was a clone trooper named CT-5555 who went by the name of “Fives,” appropriately. Well, in Before the Awakening we learn the nicknames of three stormtroopers in Finn’s squad, and two of their names are “Zeroes” and “Nines.” Really? Could we be a little more original please?
Aside from that small gripe, Finn’s story here is decently interesting. Finn is one of the best stormtroopers in his class, by far. He is a great leader, and a great soldier. Finn also really cares about his squadmates, and will go out of his way to help a fellow trooper in training missions. His compassion for others leads to his eventual disillusionment with the First Order that we see in the movie.
Rey’s part in the book is also fairly interesting. After I saw the movie I had a hard time understanding how the heck Rey was such a good fighter, such a good pilot, and such a good mechanic. It reminded me so much of Anakin Skywalker, except with Anakin we got an explanation for why he was so skilled in all of those areas. With Rey we don’t have explanations, which made it hard for me to believe that she could be so skilled in all of those areas. Well, this book (and Jason Fry‘s new book, Rey’s Survival Guide) helped provide some satisfying explanations for why she is like that.
Poe Dameron really steals the show in this book. Though admittedly Poe was already my favorite of the new characters after seeing the movie, his story in this book is by far my favorite of the three stories contained within. Finn and Rey’s stories were interesting, but they didn’t hold my attention the same way that Poe’s did. Poe’s story really felt like a Star Wars story. It felt like it would work as an alternate-timeline continuation of Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston’s X-Wing series of novels.
Poe’s story starts with him flying for the New Republic–not the Resistance yet–as the leader of Rapier Squadron. Something that may be a little confusing to the first-time movie viewers and readers of this book is that the Republic and the Resistance are not the same thing. The Resistance is an offshoot group of people loyal to the Republic who recognize how serious of a threat the First Order is to their way of life. The Republic does not seem to be worried about the First Order in the least, so the Resistance was formed as it’s own separate organization to stand up to the First Order and hopefully to protect the Republic. A little confusing at first, but I suspect this will all be made even clearer as time goes on with new movies and other materials coming out.
The first bit of Poe’s story contains heavy references to the comic series Shattered Empire, which starred Poe’s parents as main characters. The comic is by no means necessary reading before picking up this book. But being able to pick out the references this book makes to the comic added to my personal enjoyment of the book.
Poe’s parents were heroes who fought in the Rebellion against the Empire. Poe’s father was always worried that a situation similar to the Empire’s takeover of the galaxy would happen again in the future. Poe shares these fears, and he sees the First Order as a serious threat, while the Republic he works for dismisses the First Order as nothing significant.
Clearly, at the beginning of The Force Awakens, Poe Dameron is working for the Resistance. At the beginning of his story in Before the Awakening, Poe is mostly unaware of what the Resistance is and who they are, aside from a few rumors he has heard. This story shows how it is that he came to join the Resistance.
Poe’s section of the book was the most entertaining story by far, and it was the most action-packed, containing the kind of space battles you’d expect in a Star Wars story. While Finn and Rey’s stories provided interesting bits of background information for both individual characters, Poe’s story provides background information relevant to the main plot of The Force Awakens.
There some little things in the book that made me smile. At one point in the book Poe gets to fly a Z-95 Headhunter, which was a ship that first appeared in one of the earliest Expanded Universe novels, Han Solo at Stars’ End, by Brain Daley (though I believe the Headhunter was already canonized in James Luceno’s novel, Tarkin).
Poe also makes a reference to “the Irving Boys.” I have no idea who the Irving Boys are, but in The Force Awakens Rey tells Han that the Irving Boys were one of the groups who at one time had possession of the Millennium Falcon. Maybe someday we’ll learn more about them.
Overall this was a good book. I’d recommend it for Poe Dameron’s section alone, but Finn’s and Rey’s sections were also fairly entertaining, though I think their stories drag down my score of the book a little because they aren’t quite as good. The book is short, so it is a quick read. It is by no means a full-length novel, so they story isn’t as “big” as something you’d get in a 400 page novel. More than anything I’d consider this book a collection of three short stories.
Greg Rucka has impressed me with his work in the new Star Wars canon so far. I definitely look forward to any future Star Wars stories we may get from him. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone out there who is looking for a little extra information about the new main characters in The Force Awakens.