Justina Ireland elevates her audience by creating a story that is fun, interesting, and full of tidbits that will make you even more excited for The Rise of Skywalker.
Throughout the past year, we have been gifted with a thankfully excessive amount of Star Wars content. We have read books about fighter squadrons, Resistance spies, Grand Admirals, and more. We have poured over comic book pages featuring the most eccentric archaeologists, the most fearsome dark lords, and the bravest smugglers and farmboys imaginable. All of these characters have warmed our hearts in their own way, but as I dove into Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Spark of the Resistance, I realized exactly what I’ve been missing since the year began.
New adventures with my favorite sequel trilogy characters.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have been absolutely floored by the quality of storytelling that Star Wars has put out this year, and if you’ve been reading my past Youtini reviews or listening to us on The Living Force Podcast, you know what kind of impact new characters like Wyl Lark have made. Nevertheless, there was something unmistakably exciting about seeing the phrase “Rey, Rose Tico, and Poe Dameron” on the first page of Justina Ireland’s latest work.
I’ve missed these characters. I’ve missed their voices. And not only does Ireland capture them perfectly, but she throws them into an adventure that may be aimed for slightly younger readers but will assuredly entertain fans of all ages!
The pitch for Spark of the Resistance is that of a classic Star Wars adventure. After their decimation at the harrowing Battle of Crait, Rey, Rose Tico, and Poe Dameron of the resilient Resistance are hard at work gathering allies for their continuous fight against the First Order. In the middle of a supply run, the trio encounters a mysterious distress signal from the planet Minfar; the First Order has come and are attempting to enslave the native Zixon. During their investigation, our heroes discover new friends, new enemies, and a new weapon that threatens to turn the tide of the entire war.
How fun is that, right?!
While Spark doesn’t necessarily infuse the Star Wars Canon with unheard of story elements or mind melting plot developments, it simply doesn’t need to. Ireland leads the reader through classic adventure tropes, and thanks to clarity and efficiency of her writing, I found myself screaming through the chapters faster than I thought imaginable. I had to find out what happened next.
As this book is marketed toward readers between the 3rd and 7th grade reading levels, the plot density reaches nowhere near that of an Alphabet Squadron or a Thrawn, but at the risk of sounding redundant...it simply doesn’t need to. Spark features everything from fearsome chase scenes to fireside dance sequences to exhilarating fighter battles to invigorating chapters full of espionage.
The variety of scenes in Spark is wonderfully enticing, and their quality is significantly heightened thanks to Ireland’s marvelous grasp of character.
Clearly, the major highlight of this book is the opportunity to spend time with our favorite characters from the sequel trilogy before the release of Episode IX this coming December. As the cover states, Spark of the Resistance is a part of the Journey to The Rise of Skywalker book line, and Ireland does a great job of connecting Episode VIII to the future film by showing us just a bit of evolution with each major character that she writes.
In contrast to her strong showing of Force power on Crait at the end of The Last Jedi, Rey is having some trouble tapping into that well throughout this book. This uncertainty in her abilities puts Rey in an especially vulnerable position with the title of leader weighing heavier on her shoulders each day, and the way that she perseveres despite that fear is admirable.
Rose has likewise ascended to a more prominent leadership well as she finds herself a crucial part of the “away team,” and it was refreshing to see her assume more responsibility with the crew while also maintaining her sense of innocence and wonder that made us love her so much in her initial introduction. Her naming of the Falcon porgs was a wonderful touch.
Rounding out our squad of familiars is Poe Dameron who maintains the arrogant flyboy persona that has always made him so endearing while also showing the growth and maturity that began to expose itself in the Crystal Fox Caves. If you had a feeling that Poe’s leadership would become even more evident in the upcoming saga film, this book all but confirms it.
Finally, the new cast of characters that spilled forth from Ireland’s pen is absolutely electrifying, Glenna Kip, a scientist who finds herself working alongside the First Order, was my favorite addition. Without giving too much away, Kip’s personal agenda drives her into her own narrative of scientific espionage, and the results can’t help but bring a smile to your face. If you’ve been waiting for Doctor Aphra to arrive in a novel, this is as close as we’ve come thus far.
Throw in the remarkably fun and outrageously arrogant Commander Spiftz and the indescribably cute yet capable Zixon race led by Jem and Lim, and you have a cast that will keep you reading no matter who winds up in your chapter.
Before I began reading Spark of the Resistance, I was admittedly a bit hesitant. I’ve read a few novels that were promoted in similar ways like Smuggler’s Run and Weapon of a Jedi, and neither of those really caught my attention due to their somewhat elementary writing style. As opposed to something like this year’s Star Wars Myths & Fables, it seemed to me that these books were talking down to their younger readers just a bit and sacrificing intensity of story in the process.
Luckily, that is not the case with Spark of the Resistance.
As stated above, Spark does not contain nor require the density or complexity of some other novels in the Star Wars Canon, but Ireland’s writing has no problem propelling you through chapters with remarkable ease nonetheless. The technical skill she possesses is frankly unquestionable, and I hope we get plenty of additional bite-size Star Wars stories from her in the very near future.
Spark’s originality lies in the new pieces that Ireland has placed on the table of the Star Wars Canon. The planet Minfar is practically a character in and of itself with its incredible variety of both biology and wildlife. Throughout the novel, Glenna Kip extolls her love for the planet’s ecology, and it’s easy to see why. The planet is rich with bioluminescent plant life, vigorous wildlife, and shimmering obsidian rock formations that seamlessly weave together to form a coherent picture of one of the more vibrant worlds we’ve been gifted in quite a while.
Habitating this Pandora-esque world are the Zixon, another new creation from Ireland’s mind. The Zixon initially give the impression of tall, green, fuzzy rabbits, but they are so much more than that simple description can possibly convey. Ireland enriches this species with their own culture, outlook on the galaxy, and even fighting style, and if you aren’t willing to lay down your life for one of these adorable companions by the end of the book, I’m not sure if we navigated through the same pages.
In addition to both of these unique factors, Justina Ireland’s prose introduces use to the Echo Horn, a weapon of devastating power. Not only does this new weapon give us a terrifying new tool to play with, it also inspires a dialogue between our heroes about the responsibility of power. Is there a point where we can sacrifice our morality to potentially save the lives of others? Where does the line exist?
This Minfarian sandbox answers all of these questions and more amidst its gorgeous landscape, and I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of this potential paradise.
If the rest of this review isn’t enough of an indication, this book is an absolute blast to breeze through. Even though we know from the start that our heroes will make it out of this story relatively unscathed due to the fact that they have quite an important movie premiere to attend later this year, the adventurous fun of Spark of the Resistance never falters.
Ireland successfully navigates tense action scenes, intimate character moments, and adventurous hijinks to create a story that is not only perfect for new, young readers, but also thoroughly enjoyable for lifelong fans of the franchise. If you’re looking for a book that will instantly throw a smile into your lunch break or onto your child’s face right before bed, you don’t need to look any further than Spark of the Resistance.
For the first time in my reading career, I combined the physical novel and audiobook during my first experience going through Spark of the Resistance. If I was driving to work, I’d throw on the audiobook, and when I got home, I’d pick up right where I left off in the actual novel. Switching between Jessica Almasy’s narration and my own could have been a bit discombobulating, but I’m pleased to report that this method was not only efficient but intensely enjoyable.
Admittedly, it took me a couple of chapters to adjust to Almasy’s voices for the more recognizable characters like Rey, Poe, and Rose. I’ve spent two full movies with the majority of that team, and Daisy Ridley’s performance shines so brilliantly that another interpretation of the character can be jolting at the start. However, I quickly gave in to Almasy’s performances because she infuses a marvelous energy into the product.
If you are a regular listener of Star Wars audiobooks, you’ll note that the production value of Spark of the Resistance remains stellar with its use of music and sound effects throughout to convey the intensity of the action. Almasy’s energy rests at a similarly high level, so the product is an audiobook that avoids the somewhat common trap of low-energy meditative reading in favor of explosive, kid friendly narration.
If you have been burned before by some of the younger offerings in the Star Wars Canon but still want to follow along with the story, I think that you’ve found your salvation in Justina Ireland. Rather than looking down on her audience, Ireland elevates them by creating a story that is fun, interesting, and full of tidbits that will make you even more excited for The Rise of Skywalker this December.
If that’s even possible.