Spoilers for Rogue One as well as Rebel Rising throughout this review.
I want to be fair to this YA story about Jyn Erso’s youth, but I’m finding it really hard. Rogue One ensured that I was the Star Wars EU’s bitch again, for life, because having killed off all these new characters who I already adored, the marketing teams knew I’d be slavering for any tidbits they’d throw my way. So I was obviously eager for the YA novel about Jyn, the kids’ book about Chirrut and Baze, and the forthcoming graphic novel about Cassian and K-2S0, all meant to give the starving fans of the died-too-soon a little more information about their faves. But I’ve been trying to keep realistic expectations about how far these might deviate from my own ideas about these characters and their pasts. And realistic expectations about how much a franchise with a drafted-in author will have thought about characterisation in the way that I, a PhD graduate in the field of literature, who’s been voraciously reading and writing fanfic again, will have thought about it. Unfortunately, Rebel Rising disappointed even those expectations.
Let me get two particularly petty points off my chest first:
- Devaronians don’t have furry arms!
- Why would Zohrada call Jyn ‘Jyn’ just before she dies, not ‘Liana’?
These petty points are to remind me that no one who proof-read this cares as much about the Star Wars universe as the fans themselves, so, assuming this book is intended as a gateway to the EU for new, young female fans, I need to try and be fair. And possibly just to stick to reading fanfiction.
Most of Rebel Rising focusses on Jyn’s time with Saw, with another large chunk of it given over to a year she spends on the planet Skuhl. Jyn’s real wandering years — 18–21 — are skipped over in a couple of paragraphs near the end. This means that Revis (none of whose novels I’ve read before, and none of which seem to be part of the Star Wars franchise) can focus on a young Jyn, still hopeful, and try to explain her loss of trust and hope in the galaxy. It also gives a lot of time to Saw, who sounds nothing like the Saw Gerrera of Rogue One in this novel, so perhaps he’s more like the Saw we meet in Clone Wars? I’ve not yet caught up on the animated series. But this Saw is bemused and somewhat under-prepared for the introduction of an eight-year-old girl to his (literal) man cave on Wrea. Saw Gerrera, the Saw Gerrera, who’s been nursing an ever-growing hatred and paranoia since his sister’s death, and he didn’t have a plan for the eventuality that he’d get Jyn off Lah’mu, but neither of her parents? Who didn’t bother to say to Jyn before anything else, before anyone else arrived on Wrea: ‘your name isn’t safe anymore. Here’s what we’re going to tell everyone else about who you are and why you’re here.’ Frankly, the Saw Gerrera in Revis’ novel deserved his betrayal by Reese, Dudebro Extraordinaire, whose Villainy(TM) and Loose Morals were evident from the first time we met him.
There are so many details in the plotting that made no sense to me. Why leave Jyn on Tamsye Prime?? It’s crawling with Imperials and has a munitions factory being bombarded by star destroyers. It has a population based on indentured servitude so (MOTHERFUCKER AS I TYPED THIS I REALISED SOMETHING*) so has way more people than ships to get the people off-planet. It seems like an unnecessary gamble to leave the girl you’re trying to keep hidden from the Empire right there in the thick of things; it’s not like it takes the next people Jyn meets long to figure out that’s where she’s fled from, after all.
Oh god, I’m going to have to talk about those people, aren’t I?
It’s not enough, apparently, for Jyn to have lost her parents and Saw: third time’s the charm! So Revis gives her an idyllic year on Skuhl, living with Akshaya and Hadder Ponta. The former is the archetypal mother figure: over-protective, huggy, and very caring. The latter is the strangest seventeen-year-old boy I’ve ever heard of: polite to his mother, an excellent cook, seemingly unemployed for a whole year after he’s finished school. He’s so sweet he even gives Jyn a cute little rodent to pet after they have sex in a field.
Is this kind of barftastic romance a thing that needs to happen in YA novels? I mean, I’m glad Hadder’s a nice person (and explicitly described as not white — the representation in this novel is actually great, even if nothing else is), and I guess I’ll take it on faith that some seventeen-year-old boys in the galaxy are that nice, but did Jyn’s life of grief and loss really have to be redefined all over again by another male?
She goes from seeking Saw’s approval, and viewing him as a heroic figure, to seeing great things in Hadder’s future. What did she see in her future? Was it really just settling down and being homely on Skuhl?
I think Rebel Rising suffers greatly from one major problem: no one laid out what this story is meant to be for.
Rebel Rising needed to take us to meet the Jyn Erso of Rogue One, to show us how she became what she is. Code-breaking and hacking don’t feature in the story of that Jyn Erso at all; nothing in Rogue One relies on her forgery skills. What she does in Rogue One, is somehow light up a room so that people will follow her into certain death (look, if you didn’t get this from the movie you’ll have to take my word for it; plus it’s spelled out in the Freed novelisation). Her skills are in combat and leadership, even if the latter barely gets fully realised before she dies.
Although her combat skills feature in Rebel Rising, and they’re some of the most satisfying scenes, she’s largely kept from doing anything too unpleasant by being assigned the hacker girl role. Cue lots of looking to the men for affirmation. Ugh. Additionally, because she’s made into a works-alone hacker, we never really see her take on a leadership role. A prime example Revis could have used is the previously canonical story of how Jyn actually got arrested: trying to steal weapons and destroy a dictator’s ship on Corulag. It’s all there on Wookieepedia; fandom’s been drawing on it for months for their fics. But Revis chooses to throw that out, squeezing Jyn once more between the Rebels and the Empire, forcing her into a betrayal whilst also conveniently implying that she might have come round and joined the Rebellion herself, left to her own devices.
Revis’ characterisation of Jyn’s dislike of the Rebellion is heavy-handed, and all ultimately comes back to the deaths of Hadder and Akshaya, which may, or may not, have been the fault of the Rebels. I’ve seen Jyn’s professed dislike of the Rebellion in the movie (her scene with Saw, and her argument with Cassian) used as a stick with which to beat her in bits of fandom: oh she’s apolitical, she doesn’t care, she’s only doing this for her father. Although Revis tries to maintain nuance — Jyn does The Right Thing(TM) with the slavers — in trying to make Jyn too nice, too likeable a person, she doesn’t do her any favours. Jyn never really does anything wrong, she doesn’t make any mistakes, she’s not cruel or sharp in the way that she’s become by Rogue One — in the scenes with Saw and Cassian I read it as a case of her saying what she thinks will hurt them most, rather than saying what she genuinely thinks or believes.
I don’t know about you, but as a seventeen-year-old, with access only to the nightlife of Hull, let alone a whole galaxy of troubles, I was able to make quite a lot of mistakes. Also, having grown up in a remote bit of countryside, I can tell you that in the days before the internet you could get a bit weird over long summer holidays playing on your own — let alone spending three years on a remote planet with only your parents for company, then living in a cave that was occupied only by an old, paranoid partisan for 75% of the time. Basically, Revis’ Jyn is far too well-adjusted for me to believe in her.
Ok, it’s a YA novel, we don’t want to make it too dark. But, representation aside, couldn’t we have had something a bit more imaginative? I’d have told Jyn’s story completely differently to this. I know a lot of other fic writers who would have. In fact I could name at least half a dozen whose versions of Jyn’s backstory I’d rather have seen. I’ve written in blogs here before about how, as a medievalist, you get used to multiple versions of a tale existing. You learn to embrace the variants, the different interpretations. But you’ll still have versions you prefer.
For now, I’m keeping my headcanons, and discarding Rebel Rising.
* What occurred to me as I typed that: Revis is implying Cassian is the boy from Tamsye Prime. No, this makes no sense in canon, nor does much else about this novel. But he supposedly reminds Jyn of someone she can’t place when she’s in the command centre on Yavin 4, and there’s no one else in Rebel Rising this could be referring to.