he Rise of Skywalker changed the course of Star Wars forever.
The burden of rounding out the third trilogy of a saga that spanned over four decades was undoubtedly felt by everyone involved in the final film, and after its release, their time with this story was over. The costumes were packed away, the sets were torn down, the press tours uploaded and analyzed endlessly online.
An era was officially over.
Well...except for one last piece.
Rae Carson’s novelization of The Rise of Skywalker was the final piece in the puzzle of the final movie in the Skywalker Saga. Some fans wanted Carson to fundamentally change the directions of the film while others wanted her to expand on the bedrock of the story to create something slightly more fulfilling or enriching.
Regardless, expectations were unbelievably high for this project, and after flipping the last page and letting the back cover rest gently on the story I had just completed, I’m here to tell you that Rae Carson accomplished something quite impressive with this novelization. While I don’t believe it will sway the harshest critics or the deepest fans of the film, Carson’s The Rise of Skywalker: Expanded Edition lives up to its promise by respecting the storytelling of the source material while also sprinkling on enough originality to please those who wanted a bit more as they watched the credits roll.
From the moment the book begins, you are exceedingly aware that Rae Carson has been given some liberty to further mold the story of Rey, Kylo, Poe, and Finn beyond the structures of the film, itself. Rather than following the movie’s approach of opening on Kylo’s search for Vader’s wayfinder on the fiery fields of Mustafar, we open instead on Rey being trained by Master Leia Organa.
This is perhaps the greatest gift of this novelization to its reader. Because of the harrowing, untimely death of Carrie Fisher, JJ Abrams and crew were severely limited in the amount of screen time that they were able to give to our fallen princess. Through extra footage from The Force Awakens, Carrie does have a presence in the film, but because of their respectful unwillingness to recast the part, Leia’s dialogue in Episode IX is limited to takes from 2014.
Rae Carson immediately addresses this issue by fleshing out the scenes between Rey and Leia from the get go. Rey asks Leia in depth questions about her time as Luke’s apprentice, and the two are able to solidify a Master/Padawan bond that never quite comes to fruition in the movie. Unfortunately, Carson’s expansion of their relationship is so interesting that the actual dialogue from The Rise of Skywalker occasionally sticks out as seemingly unnatural.
That criticism, while most evident with Leia, can also be attributed to the rest of the book’s characters as the story progresses. Carson’s unique scenes (which I will not spoil in this review - stay tuned for our spoiler-filled review next week) flow so beautifully, and her created dialogue rings so true that the words written by JJ Abrams and Chris Terrio often feel out of place. As I read the novel, I often found myself wondering what an entire book of Carson’s own dialogue would have produced, but such thoughts quickly evaporated as I progressed to the next scene.
Dialogue aside, the novelization progresses much like the movie, itself. Major story beats are not changed, continuity is not disrupted, and critics of the film will likely find similar criticisms within the pages of the novel. For my part, I find that the movie struggles to pull me in completely until our heroes find their way to Kajimi, and the same pattern rang true for the novelization.
That being said...once we arrived on the snowy planet, I proceeded to finish the rest of the novel in a single sitting. The only other time that I have done that was with Rae Carson's previous canon installment, Most Wanted. Unsurprisingly, she continues to be a master of pace.
Once Kajimi enters the story, you really start to see Carson’s ability to flesh out story beats on full display. We get to experience more of the criminal underworld through the eyes of Zorii Bliss, we understand more of Kylo’s journey as he hunts for Rey amongst his Knights, and some of Rey’s pensive moments that flew by me during the viewing of the film are given their full weight thanks to Carson’s words.
This is perhaps no more evident than the end of the book, which, to reiterate, I will not be spoiling in this review. Whereas the end of the movie left me satisfied enough, the ending of this novel gave me chills and had me holding back tears in a way that I had never expected. Carson employs such care and compassion with the characters as their journey comes to an end, and that work left me with a sense of resolve and completion that I was frankly unprepared for when I put the book back on my shelf.
On the whole, The Rise of Skywalker novelization will not completely revolutionize anyone’s opinions on the film. If you perceived some flaws in the film, you will likely see them mirrored here, and if you loved every moment, then you will be intensely rewarded. However, if you wanted just a few more beats and scenes to expand your enjoyment of the movie, this book will serve you beautifully.
Next week, we’ll be posting our full, spoiler-filled review of The Rise of Skywalker: Expanded Edition where we will dive deeply into the details and easter eggs that can be found in this novelization. If you want to catch up before then, be sure to order the book HERE or pick up the audiobook (narrated by the illustrious Marc Thompson) at youtini.com/audible.