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 The Rise of Skywalker: Expanded Edition.
Though Star Wars fans know that nothing and no one is ever really gone, the end of the Skywalker saga still rocked us all with its sense of finality, leaving nothing short of an emotional asteroid field in its wake. Initial reactions to Episode IX from fans were highly polarizing, making it seem as if one had to choose a side: either love The Rise of Skywalker…or hate it. It was a deep rift every bit as fierce as that between the Jedi and the Sith. In many ways, it was a real-world reflection of the Light Side and the Dark.
Amidst this emotional maelstrom as rough as the seas of Kef Bir, Rae Carson navigated her metaphorical skimmer to complete a seemingly impossible task: craft a novelization that would do justice to the entire saga of Star Wars, remain true to the source material, and somehow once again unite the fandom.
Despite that seeming impossibility, after finishing the last page of The Rise of Skywalker: Expanded Edition, I felt a profound sense of contentment which told me that Rae Carson just may have found a way to doit.
Novelizations are tricky by nature. For most, if not all readers, the plot is no surprise. There are no twists. No turns. We’ve all seen the movie a time or…seven.
And so, we tend to judge novelizations by their expanded content. That may be a new line of dialogue or an entirely new scene. The Rise of Skywalker: Expanded Edition has plenty of both.
Bear in mind, if you’re coming to this review with the hope that Carson managed to “fix” your least favorite parts of the film, you’ll be disappointed. I can’t tell you that because Carson never had that option.
A novelization is a re-telling, not a re-writing.
So whether or not you agree with the fact that Rey is a Palpatine or that Ben Solo died, you have to instead focus on the small tweaks and flourishes that were within Carson’s purview that undoubtedly added another dimension to the story. I am, of course, referring to such embellishments as Kylo Ren’s interrogation of Chewbacca, Zorii Bliss’ time with her spice running crew on Kijimi, or even just the handful of lines that we actually hear Luke utter to Leia from beyond the grave.
To be entirely fair, The Rise of Skywalker didn’t have time to explore all of these ideas, and its already blistering pace would have only been exacerbated by even more story. The sheer amount of ground that needed to be covered to wrap up both a trilogy and a 9-part saga was staggering, and often felt overwhelming in the theater. But with the written medium, the story is given room to breathe.
One can navigate the scenes at his or her own pace rather than be whipped along for the ride like a jump to lightspeed without a seat belt. With that newfound stamina, it’s delightful to explore new plot points and achieve a deeper understanding of the story as a whole.
Quite honestly, that’s exactly why we need novelizations like this, isn’t it?
From a character standpoint, Carson’s biggest success was managing to place the reader inside the heads of the major characters of The Rise of Skywalker. She navigated plot points and worked around pre-existing dialogue to practically deliver a story within a story. To tell the reader everything that couldn’t be told by the film.
By far, her biggest success was with the character of Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. His heart practically bleeds on the page as he wrestles with his demons. The overwhelming fury and violence of the character are every bit as evident as they were in the film, but there is a much clearer demonstration of his self-doubt and longing for acceptance throughout the story. The decision for Kylo Ren to once again become Ben Solo is not a sudden occurrence, but rather a slow, steady process of tearing away his inner darkness to reveal a noble soul.
Carson is equally effective in depicting Rey’s converse journey of recognizing the darkness within herself and learning to accept it without giving in to it entirely.
Of course, neither hero could have made these self-discoveries without the love and tutelage of General Leia Skywalker Organa Solo. While the film had to work around Carrie Fisher’s untimely passing, the novelization had no such restriction. Carson used this fact to her advantage and crafted a much more in-depth and therefore satisfying conclusion for our princess.
Outside of the main characters, Carson also managed to flesh out some of the seemingly haphazard additions to TROS. After all, it's not easy to make me feel like I actually know Klaud and Beaumont!
By definition, novelizations can’t be all that original, right? They’re adaptations. They’re stories that have already been told.
But Carson didn’t just translate a story from the screen to the page. She actually managed to improve it by injecting it with her own thoughts, hopes, and humor. Without changing a single plot point or contradicting the novel’s on-screen counterpart, she actually elevated the story.
So how does one address the originality of a novelization? By focusing on the small moments, because sometimes, it’s the small moments that truly make a difference.
In fact, several of those moments not only improved the story, but literally left the fandom buzzing. For example, The Ghost reporting in for the final space battle at Exegol or Palpatine explaining how he survived his seemingly mortal fall down the reactor shaft at the end of Return of the Jedi. And, of course, I would be remiss not to mention Ben Solo’s final words to Rey after becoming one with the Force: “I will always be with you.”
I’m getting chills just thinking about it.
Without this novel, those moments never see the light of day. Without it, fandom is robbed of all of the heart-wrenching, fist-pumping, jaw-dropping emotions that came along with them. Without it, The Rise of Skywalker is frankly a lesser story.
Rae Carson has been a steady contributor to the written word of Star Wars for some time now. While she started out with short stories in From A Certain Point of View and Canto Bight, she graduated to writing a full-length novel with 2018’s Star Wars: Most Wanted that was perhaps one of the most pleasant surprises out of Star Wars publishing in the past few years.
She has repeatedly proven herself more than capable, and with her work on The Rise of Skywalker: Expanded Edition, I’m prepared to start referring to her as Rae Skywalker.
She has earned that mantle.
From the first glance at the cover of this book, with Rey and Kylo Ren poised for battle atop the wreckage of the Death Star, electricity crackling around them, there is no doubt that the story is going to be epic.
Whether you like the story or not, there is no denying its ambitiousness.The resurrection of the Emperor and his never ending quest for supremacy, the formation of a dyad in the Force not seen for millennia, the amassing of a galaxy-wide Resistance to take on the largest Sith fleet ever assembled, and countless callbacks to every episode of the saga along the way…are you not entertained?
Too often, we as fans can get bogged down in the minutiae of technicality and expectation, but Carson reminds us throughout the novel that Star Wars is, and always will be, a ridiculous amount of fun.
Whenever a major Star Wars release is announced, you can pretty much guarantee that Marc Thompson is on the short list of potential narrators. His enthusiasm for the material coupled with his skillful vocal range make him an obvious choice for a project as important as a saga film’s novelization.
With this particular project, Thompson brings an incredible intensity to his performance. He is able to portray blind rage in one sentence and heart-rending fragility in the next. He beautifully exhibits the passion that the finale of a saga as important as Star Wars deserves.
Furthermore, Thompson’s impersonations of certain characters are wildly impressive. At times, they are so spot-on that you might actually find it hard to differentiate it from the real deal. Naturally, he particularly excels with male characters. One notable shortcoming is his performance of Rey. Where Daisy Ridley’s work epitomizes nuance, strength, and struggle, Thompson’s portrayal can sometimes come off as weak and scared—veering more towards infantilization than inner conflict. That’s likely more of a commentary on what it’s like to hear men portraying women in the audio format. It is in no way related to Thompson’s intent. However, as I listened to the entirety of the audiobook, I couldn’t help but double down on my hope that more projects will utilize multiple narrators of multiple genders in the future.
Overall, the TROS audiobook again shows why Star Wars audiobooks are unparalleled when it comes to production and gravitas. Thompson’s narration and creature work is explosive, and the sound designers absolutely nail the insertion of the various sound effects. Each layer of the finished product will immerse you further into the story from the crashing waves in the background of the fight atop the Death Star wreckage to the subtle use of some of John Williams’ most famous themes. Listeners will practically be transported to a galaxy far, far away.
If you’ve been a fan of Star Wars audiobooks for years, you’ll find this one to be a fine addition to your collection.
One special additive that only the audiobook listeners will understand...the genders of certain secret pilots seem pretty clear when you’re hearing them through your headphones.
For many, this novelization was about redemption. Not just redemption of its characters, but the redemption of a film that left them wanting. For me, it was never about that. It was about the addition of small moments and enhancing my enjoyment of the bigger story. In that respect, it is an immense success.
Ultimately, if you loved The Rise of Skywalker, Carson will make you love it even more. If you hated it, you’ll probably find a million reasons to hate this novelization, too.
Love it or hate it, Light or Dark, the message of the story cannot be denied.
We all have darkness. We all have light. We must choose which path to follow not just once, but each and every moment of each and everyday. And no matter how much darkness you’ve chosen, you can always turn back to the light. It will be there waiting for you.
We can all be redeemed.
Any story that reminds me of that fact is, to me, a resounding success.
The final chapter in the story of Skywalker may be closed, but its message is eternal.
It will always be with you.