"Better a life of foolish hope than one of committed oppression."
While the opinions exhibited in this review are primarily those of the writer, input was provided by the entirety of the Youtini staff. SPOILERS AHEAD for Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire
Writing a novel is difficult.
Writing a Star Wars novel can be even more difficult.
Writing a Star Wars novel that serves as an unofficial sequel to a previously loved novel that introduced a fan favorite character while introducing the masses to an entirely new planet that is also a theme park attraction is...well...you get the idea.
Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire presented all of these obstacles and more to author Delilah S. Dawson, and thankfully (and unsurprisingly if you know her work), she handled them all with grace and ease. Her plot takes us through the inner workings of Black Spire Outpost as well as the surrounding wilds of Batuu, and each character that we meet along the way is introduced with a flavor all their own that incorporates them beautifully into the crew.
Dawson also succeeds in addressing a number of hard issues that Star Wars has perhaps acknowledged in the past but never with such fervor or dedication. Vi’s constant struggle with PTSD is ever present throughout the story, and the ease with which some of the Batuuan locals turn a blind eye to the extremism of the First Order is both alarming and harrowingly familiar.
Within the pages of Black Spire, Dawson presents a thrilling adventure novel that tackles the effects of trauma, the importance of friendship, and the dangers of looking the other way in the face of tyranny.
The final moments of The Last Jedi set the scene for the desperate world in which we find our heroes at the start of Black Spire. After the Battle of Crait, the Resistance finds itself limping along mere inches from total annihilation. They need a place to hide. They need allies.
And General Leia Organa needs her best spy.
Vi Moradi is ordered by the general to explore the distant world of Batuu and its main hub, Black Spire Outpost, to determine its worth as a potential base and refueling port for the Resistance. Black Spire is known to be a haven for smugglers and mercenaries, alike, so it sounds like the perfect spot to lay low while Leia and her allies regroup. However, this by the books mission hits quite the predictable number of snags, beginning with the introduction of Vi’s new partner: Archex.
Fans of Delilah Dawson’s Phasma novel know Archex by his former name, Captain Cardinal, because that book is where Cardinal (then a Captain in the First Order) continually tortured Vi in order to obtain crucial information about the whereabouts of the Resistance. Phasma ends with Vi turning Cardinal against his former masters, and after a period of rehabilitation in a Cerean facility, the newly named Archex plunges into Black Spire as Vi’s second pair of eyes on their mission to Batuu.
All of this initial exposition is absolutely crucial to the plot that follows in Black Spire Outpost, but some of our staff did find these introductory segments to be rather slow paced. While the information is undeniably necessary, you may find yourself wondering when the real meat of the plot will kick in for the first forty or fifty pages, but once Vi (literally) crashes onto Batuu, you better strap in.
Once planetfall is made, Vi and Archex are jolted out of unconsciousness to find that all of the gear General Organa had supplied for the new Resistance base has been stolen by scavengers. This leads Vi to make her way toward the nearby outpost, and finally, the main crux of the adventure begins.
Our spy needs money to buy back the equipment that was stolen from her, and in order to acquire said funds, she’ll need some help. This leads her to meetings with a number of wonderfully colorful faces in the Batuuan streets including the likes of Salju the mechanic, Mubo the droid shop owner, Savi the scrapper, Oga Garra the gangster, and more. Some of these folks are far friendlier than others, but after a marvelously detailed orientation of the outpost, Vi receives a legitimate scrapping job at Savi’s and a slightly less legitimate job from Oga Garra to investigate ancient ruins in search of a mysterious artifact.
Naturally, Vi’s only obstacles couldn’t come directly from the planet, itself. That would be far too simple for such an adventure. Dawson adds another layer of complexity by introducing Lieutenant Wulfgar Kath and some particularly nasty members of the First Order who are hellbent on discovering the elusive Starling who broke Captain Cardinal out of their clutches.
On the whole, the plot of Black Spire follows the twists and turns of a classic adventure story, and once we arrived on Batuu, I found myself absolutely tearing through the pages. The action is compelling, the stakes are grave, and both the emotional and physical pain the characters experience is particularly harrowing at times to balance the overall sense of levity that populates the book.
Since the installment of the New Canon, I have noticed the propensity to base new Star Wars novels on the evolution of characters rather than the intricacies of plot, and I am pleased to say that Black Spire generally rides a similar line. The emotional connection that I created with each of the main characters solidified a marvelous foundation for the journey Dawson crafted.
While the world that Dawson created (with remarkable effectiveness) in Black Spire is populated with a truly astounding amount of characters, a few stood out brilliantly from the rest.
Surprisingly, the most mixed reaction we had was surrounding the protagonist, Vi Moradi. Some members of our team didn’t find her the most exciting character to follow while others found her particular struggles unique and deeply relatable. This split comes from Vi being one of the more unique characters we’ve seen in the Canon, and she inhabits a number of characteristics that initially appear contradictory. She’s a victim of intense PTSD that is quite outgoing during the day as she cries at night, she’s the best spy in the Resistance that appears rather outgoing about her mission, and she cares so deeply about her friends while not hesitating to put a couple shots into the back of stormtrooper necks.
Vi may be a divisive force as more and more people make their way through this novel, but her distinctive voice and remarkable resilience shines through every page, nonetheless. Finally, Vi is the first canonically acknowledged asexual character in the Star Wars universe, and we applaud Dawson enthusiastically for this additional level of inclusion.
Vi’s counterpart, Archex, may not reach the level of co-protagonist in Black Spire simply due to his page count, but his journey and character evolution was unanimously loved by every one of us here at Youtini. Many of us are fans of the aforementioned Phasma, and when he was first announced as a major player in Black Spire, we were admittedly skeptical.
How can I empathise with someone who tortured Vi so rigorously?
How could she ever forgive him?
Needless to say, all of those fears were assuaged as Dawson took us down the road of Archex’s recovery from the trauma he suffered both physically at the hands of Captain Phasma and mentally at the hands of the entire First Order. Any healing process can be extremely personal and delicate both in fiction and in the world around us, and Dawson allows Archex to tread his own path in a way that feels both legitimate and frankly, interesting.
We see this man constantly try to push down the programming that he has been receiving since birth. We see this man struggle to put one leg in front of the other after a life of striding majestically in armor. We seem him yearn for the approval of a friend after years of commanding as an officer. And I loved every single moment.
Archex begins the story by ardently refusing the title of Resistance Fighter, and throughout most of the book, he remains steadfast in that belief. However, as his compatriots become friends and his mission becomes something a little bigger, more of the pure soul of the man who was once Archex begins to shine through the exterior of Cardinal. Despite this being a spoiler-filled review, I’ll let you witness his full arc in Black Spire, yourself. You’ll thank me later.
In addition to Vi and Archex, Dawson populates the burgeoning Resistance group with some of the most likeable and occasionally adorable original characters that we’ve seen in quite some time. Pook, Vi’s PK droid, Kriki, the Chadra-fan mechanic, and Zade Kalliday were some of my absolute favorites (Zade’s fabulous entrance into the story should be studied for years to come), and I can honestly say that I was never disappointed about a character entering a scene.
Delilah Dawson created some of my favorite characters in this book, but more than that, she created an entire world that I was happy to inhabit for pages and pages on end.
While not entirely original in the scope of its overall story, Black Spire deserves a high amount of praise for its bravery in tackling issues that have rarely been seen in Star Wars. As stated above, a large part of this book surrounds the ideas of trauma, healing, and forgiveness, and Dawson writes about these concepts with a level of care, delicacy, and accuracy that is no less than astounding.
Vi is not crippled by her past traumas, but they never leave her. Archex is not defined by his sins, but they’re never forgotten. Together, these two people help each other heal step by step, and in doing so, they inspire the team around them to become the best people that they can be.
The current world is filled with people trying to escape the traumas of their past or forgive those that have wronged them, and in a Star Wars book like Black Spire, they may just find the inspiration that they need.
Delilah Dawson is a master of her craft.
I could honestly end this section right here after saying that, but the work that she does in this book demands far more recognition than that simple sentence. Often when writers attempt to weave in and out of different tones, a book can begin to feel unbalanced or confusing. Black Spire, on the other hand, does an admirable job of covering comedy, drama, action, adventure, and espionage while maintaining the cohesive nature of the narrative. Every character reacts appropriately to the constantly changing circumstances, and even when comedy is employed, the stakes of the situation are never diminished.
Additionally, like Zoraida Córdova before her, Delilah Dawson deftly deflects the idea of writing a book that is purely a map of a theme park. While Vi definitely peruses her fair share of shops throughout the introduction of the book, she never needlessly visits them for the sake of Disney marketing. Despite worries to the contrary, Black Spire continues the streak of Galaxy’s Edge stories being far more than theme park advertising in nature.
The stakes are high. The characters are fleshed out. And the issues presented may help far more people in the world than those simply on the page.
Simply put, Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire is outrageously fun. While it may initially seem like the book may be about spies and espionage, Vi and Archex’s adventure on Batuu is exactly that: an adventure. There are hidden ruins with ancient traps, firefights in the street, heroes that get captured and rescued, and the bonding of a newfound family in the face of destruction.
You can practically hear the John Williams score (and you actually can if you choose to listen to the audiobook) as Vi races through the streets of Black Spire Outpost, and there were plenty of times that I was laughing right along with the crew at one of Pook’s dry comments. While I treasure all of the complexity and care that went into the plot and character development, I can also appreciate how unabashedly fun this book is.
It’s Star Wars. There’s a new world. New characters. New obstacles. And new peril. But it’s Star Wars. And what’s more fun than that?
Since it was first introduced to me, Star Wars has proven to be an escape from my every day life. Whether my days were good or bad, they were always made better by jumping into the Falcon onscreen or flipping through the pages of the latest adventure through the stars. Black Spire inspires these feelings of wonder and joy while also hitting on something just a bit deeper.
Because even our heroes go through trauma. Even our heroes need to grow. But that never stops them, and it should never stop us either.
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