he Rise of Skywalker fed us a feast of new information regarding the characters we’d grown to admire over the first two installments of the sequel trilogy. We learned the truth about Rey’s bloodline. We discovered Finn wasn’t the only soldier to defect from the First Order.
We also learned Poe Dameron used to be a spice runner -- information that led our heroes on a dangerous mission to translate the script on an ancient dagger with the help of one of the newest, smallest, and cutest additions to Star Wars.
This fragment of Poe’s past opened up dozens of questions about where he came from and how he came to join the Resistance. Who was he affiliated with before serving under General Organa? How did he and Zorii Bliss meet? And why lightspeed skipping?
We figured a future book or comic would explore Poe’s mysterious backstory … and we were right.
Alex Segura’s Poe Dameron: Free Fall is the latest addition to the growing collection of canon young adult Star Wars novels, and it’s a thrilling adventure you do not want to skip.
Free Fall locks itself firmly into its position as an action-adventure narrative from the moment the first word leaps off the page. The chaos captures the reader’s attention immediately: Poe’s ship is going down. He’s in trouble. Can he get out of it? Probably not.
But really, we’d expect nothing less from the famously adventure-hungry Poe Dameron. Crash a starfighter? Sure … as long as I do it while celebrating my victory.
Our hero’s motivations are clear from the start: He wants off Yavin 4. Away from his father; away from the people who have known him his whole life. He has big dreams! He doesn’t quite know what they are, but he has them, and he’s going to go find them.
He falls easily into the trap of believing a life among strangers will mend all wounds. So he soon finds himself off-planet, zipping through space with the exact kinds of people to whom you probably shouldn’t entrust your life.
Along the way, Segura makes a great effort to land Poe at as many figurative crossroads as one might expect to find while smuggling spice from place to place. Every questionable situation Poe finds himself in, he always finds a way out -- but you don’t always know how he’s going to manage it until he’s already free. As the pages turn, you start to feel more and more like this is a story you can predict in some elements … but certainly not in all of them.
Every critical choice a character makes not only carries the plot smoothly forward, but also guides them along their carefully laid out arcs. Being a primarily character-driven story, the plot came second to its subjects, which serves it well in this particular case.
Things don’t happen TO our characters. Our characters act, and the story responds.
It’s challenging enough to create an entirely new character within the Star Wars universe and warm audiences up to them within a single book, movie, or TV pilot. Telling a fresh, interesting story about a character whom audiences already know and love is a different game entirely.
Poe Dameron has already extended beyond the films with his own comic series and major roles in books such as Resistance Reborn. Having seen him in different mediums and at different points throughout his character development, Segura had to figure out how to write Poe as if he were an entirely new entity waiting to be discovered.
The good news? He absolutely nailed it.
Free Fall still gives us bits and pieces of the Poe we know. Reckless. A little defiant. Much inclined to jump into any and every situation before considering the consequences those around him might endure. But there are differences, too. This Poe is much more fearful. Far less sure of himself. And much more dependent on others to get where he needs to go.
This younger, less experienced version of the pilot we know so well makes for a story you know for certain is going to end up in a vastly different place than where it begins. If your worry is a potential lack of character development in a protagonist we’ve already seen grow to astounding heights, you’re free to leave your concerns to rest.
Unlike the task of making a familiar character feel new, writing Zorii gave Segura the chance to take a character with a very small role in one movie and compose a backstory that will leave readers desperate for an entire series with this woman on the front cover.
Intriguing to the point of almost overshadowing Poe is his love interest, who doesn’t go by the name Zorii Bliss you might recognize from her debut in The Rise of Skywalker. Her alternate last name immediately creates a stir of curiosity within the reader: Why is her last name different? What is she hiding … or whom might she be hiding from?
Without giving away the twist, Zorii’s arc is complex and about as coming-of-age as a young adult novel can get. It juxtaposes perfectly with Poe’s desire to distance himself from the past from which he has always longed to escape.
Where Poe wants nothing more than to craft his own story among the stars, Zorii wrestles with her deep-rooted attachment to her origins -- and what they may have in store for her future.
While the vast majority of the side characters in this story pale in contrast to the main players that drive the narrative, this also means they don’t distract from Poe and Zorii’s growth. The book revolves around not only their individual development, but also their relationship with each other, which delightfully adds to the delight of their banter many years later.
Free Fall’s originality stems largely from its third act, where we learn about Zorii’s troubling past and the unique villain our protagonists unexpectedly find themselves forced to confront.
As a whole, though, the story rings familiar perhaps in a few too many ways. A story can be exciting yet predictable when you analyze the entire project, and Free Fall does suffer slightly from the disadvantage of featuring two characters with preset backstories we’ve seen in Star Wars before.
Which leads us to ask: What makes a story about a smuggler on the wrong side of the fight unique? Have we tired out the trope of a young wanderer in search of bigger things ending up with the wrong crowd for the right reasons?
Perhaps this is a pain point that will resolve itself now that the Expanded Universe is beginning to explore completely new eras (The High Republic). It was already established that Poe Dameron was a former smuggler, and though the story didn’t necessarily need to be told, as a whole, it ended up part of a larger story that serves as a worthwhile read for any Star Wars fan looking for a fast-moving adventure.
Segura took what he had to work with and made something delightful. Even with the constraints of characters born of other storytellers’ imaginations, he created a story that feels like your favorite meal. These are ingredients you’ve tasted a dozen times before. But you’re certainly not mad about it.
In the near future, authors may have more freedom to create their own backstories for a variety of characters and circumstances to keep things fresh and exciting.
Every author faced with the monumental task of writing a Star Wars book comes to the table with unique experiences painting, expanding, and even creating worlds and universes with words.
Segura, best known outside of Star Wars for his crime novels, brings his knack for crafting page-turning action sequences that balance perfectly with slower, more intimate dialogue and prose -- only to gradually build up suspense just in time for more edge-of-your-seat thrill.
Segura’s biggest strength of all ended up being the dialogue between characters -- particularly between Poe and Zorii. If you’re going to sell readers on a relationship, you have to go all in, and the author does just that -- with plenty of the usual awkwardness that always seems to find its way into budding romances between teenagers.
This brilliantly mirrors the feats of Star Wars authors such as Claudia Gray and E.K. Johnston, who both frequently use dialogue as a meaningful tool to craft real, relatable relationships between potential love interests in their stories.
Free Fall is, first and foremost, an absolute blast to dive into. If you go into it ready and willing to have a good time, you’re going to enjoy the story even if you’re not happy with the way everything plays out in the end.
What makes this story enjoyable is its authentic Star Wars feel. Some stories are set in the Star Wars universe -- it’s on the cover; you know it’s Star Wars. But something about their tone or the characters just doesn’t feel like the full galaxy far, far away experience.
Segura absolutely nails it, though, taking readers on a multi-planet journey where danger looms even in corners you’re sure couldn’t possibly betray you. We start out on Yavin 4, a place that’s as Star Wars as can be, and end with Poe Dameron listening to a particularly stirring speech from one of the most inspirational figures imaginable. Even when we’re lightspeed skipping across the galaxy, it feels like the Star Wars we’ve come to expect, in a good way.
A Star Wars book that spins a thrilling tale you can’t wait to relive a second time is a success in our book. Even if you might be able to predict how it ends, there will be moments during which you question yourself -- and plenty more that will leave you demanding more Poe Dameron.
There’s no such thing as too much Poe.
One of the many things that makes a Star Wars story great is its sound. Reading a book, you don't get the background noise of space battles or the atmosphere that distinguishes a cantina. Thanks to audiobooks, some of the familiar music and sounds that make a story feel even more like Star Wars is added back in for an even richer listening experience.
Narrated by Sean Elias-Reyes with the masterful music and sound effects Star Wars audiobooks always bless upon us, the Free Fall audiobook creates the exact feelings of angst and adventure Segura was going for. During the intense moments, the music blares, things often explode with an appropriately-timed boom, and you feel like you're right in the middle of the action. When things calm down a bit, John Williams' melodies beautifully accompany the more intimate exchanges.
As always, giving each character a distinct voice really draws the listener in, and Poe's voice was spot-on. And if you're a fan of droids, there's a new one in this book made all the more delightful in audio form.
Free Fall is the perfect bridge between the Poe Dameron of rebellions past and the Poe Dameron we meet in The Force Awakens. As with any coming-of-age story, this one introduces us to a lost, uncertain character and ends with a slightly less reckless, much more guided soul.
He may not know exactly where he’s headed. But he knows where he’s been, and everything he learned that got him to where he stands as the novel comes to a close.
This is a story constructed for anyone who has ever felt as though the life they’ve been living is no longer the life they crave. For anyone who has ever left the comfortable and familiar behind in search of purpose; of acceptance; of hope.
It’s not generally recommended that you become a spice runner to aid your journey of self-discovery. But whichever method you do choose, you can follow Poe Dameron’s example in one significant way: Never doubt the person you can become because of the person you’ve been.
Also: Be kind to droids. They deserve better.
For more info about Poe Dameron: Free Fall, visit our Official Book Profile where you can find additional staff comments and user reviews.