Saturday, January 2, 2016

Read, You Must: Before The Awakening

Hot on the heels of middle-grade adventure novels featuring Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo comes another great Star Wars book from Disney/Lucasfilm Press for strong young readers: Before the Awakening.  As the title suggests, this book is set shortly before the events of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The cover art makes it clear that the focus here is on Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron, the three younger stars of the new movie.

Instead of one novel-length tale though, Before the Awakening is actually three stories by Greg Rucka (Smuggler’s Run, Shattered Empire), each featuring one of the new main characters. All three adventures are set before these characters have ever met so there are no interconnecting threads to unite the stories. Feel free to read them in any order you wish but watch the movie first even though this is set before the film. There's a reason it wasn't released before the movie.

Even my friends call me FN-2187
Before the Awakening is a good way to learn more about these new characters and what they were doing in the months and days before The Force Awakens. There’s a lot to enjoy here but don’t expect this book to answer all of our questions about Rey’s mysterious past. Hopefully that will come in the next movie!

Finn’s story takes place before Poe Dameron ever gave him that name, so he is only called FN-2187 here as Rucka details his First Order Stormtooper training. FN-2187 is one of the best, if not THE best Stormtrooper currently being trained but he shows signs of caring too much about his fellow soldiers and not enough about following the orders of his commanders. For a leader like Captain Phasma that can be a problem. The story shows the beginnings of Finn’s behaviour in the movie.

For those who wished Captain Phasma – the chrome-coloured Stormtrooper leader – had more of a presence in The Force Awakens, she plays a bigger role here.

Also by Greg Rucka
Rey’s story takes place entirely on Jakku and emphasizes what a lonely misfit she is there. It’s a sad tale at times about Rey struggling to survive on her own in a very hostile place. She tries to trust others and that can be a dangerous thing in a region of scavengers. Her impressive knowledge of technology and piloting are explained in detail. It’s great to have a few answers to a character that leaves any viewer of The Force Awakens with a LOT of questions.

The third story focuses on pilot Poe Dameron and how he came to join The Resistance. Poe’s first formal meeting with General Organa (Leia) is detailed here along with a lot of space combat and scenes of ace piloting. Poe is considered one of the best pilots in the galaxy and this book makes it clear why. 

Fans of BB-8 (and who doesn’t love BB-8?) will be happy to know the little rolling droid features in Poe’s story too!

One thing that really struck me was how serious this book is yet it is in keeping with the previous three novels (we need a name for this series, Disney!). Humour is minimal and drama is emphasized. Poe’s story does offer some thrills with the adventure but both Finn and Rey’s stories could’ve used a little more light moments. Then again, considering their unpleasant lives before The Force Awakens certainly laughs would’ve been sparse.

With select scenes beautifully illustrated by Phil Noto, Before the Awakening is an important companion to the film and a fitting fourth book in this set. Hopefully someday all questions about Rey and others will be answered but until then here’s a good start!

Publisher's Recommendation: Ages 8 - 12

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