The Force Awakens couldn’t have been more appropriately named. Leaving the theater, I was filled with hope and a suddenly insatiable appetite for all things Star Wars. In the following days, I read the film’s novelization, perused numerous articles that I’d previously avoided as I hoped to (and successfully) saw the film spoiler-free. But, even after all that, I craved more.Enter Before the Awakening, a young adult novel that takes you to the time immediately prior before the film perhaps weeks or even days. While it didn’t answer larger questions such as "Who is Rey waiting for on Jakku?" or "How did Finn come to be a Storm Trooper?" it did offer me new insights on the trio I’d just been introduced to on the big screen.
At a little over 200 pages, Before the Awakening is a quick, easy read, divided into three distinct sections. Author Greg Rucka focuses on Finn, then Rey, and then Poe with each section running longer than the previous. None of the sections are specifically tied to each other, but they clearly lead us directly to the moments we meet them in The Force Awakens.
The section on Finn takes us into the world of storm trooper training, a look at the day to day activities happening behind those steely walls. Finn is top of his class yet his unorthodox choices in combat exercises tests the patience of his superior Captain Phasma. His exchanges with her, in particular, bring another facet to their interactions in the film and Finn’s eventual actions. The book takes us inside Finn’s head. We experience several training exercises with him and learn his views on those he stands beside in battle and of his personal struggle to understand why he doesn’t fit in. We also discover why Captain Phasma selects him to be part of the Jakku mission.
In Before the Awakening we are reminded that both Finn and Rey are lonely and isolated without being truly alone. The section on Rey demonstrates the depths of her isolation. She is forced to rely on only herself for survival within the harsh environmental conditions of Jakku. She has no one to trust as she scavenges the ruins of large fighters and cruiser scattered across the desert for parts to trade for food. We discover that tinkering is a valuable skill as working parts garner more food and we learn how she can be so comfortable behind the controls of Millennium Falcon. And she demonstrates her total commitment to remain on Jakku awaiting her parents return.
Poe’s section is the largest of the three and offers the greatest exposition of the event sequence that directly leads to these three crossing paths to save the galaxy. Poe is the son of Rebel fighters. His father wasn’t shy about sharing war stories although he focused on the heroic efforts of others while his mother didn’t share her stories of the battle wanting him to know instead that she had was more important than what she had done. This impressed upon him that they couldn’t watch others hurting and do nothing. In later years, however, he would uncover the depths of her true heroism.
His admiration of his parents and her words ring out as Poe (now a Commander in the New Republic) grows concerned by evidence of increased First Order incursions. The hotshot pilot views these as more than simple pockets of Empire loyalists and frustrated by The New Republic diplomacy he starts poking around giving us a chance to learn more about the history of his flying prowess, a glimpse at his flyboy bravado and the camaraderie among his team. His actions and their discoveries bring the Commander face to face with General Leia Organa. Through his exchange, we uncover more about the Resistance seen in The Force Awakens, Leia’s role and how Poe winds up on his secret mission to Jakku.
Reading through Before the Awakening, I could hear and see the characters I’d just met on the big screen. Sadly, BB-8 makes only a minimal experience as Poe opts to leave him safely behind during his daring antics. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find Leia among its pages and greatly appreciated a deeper understanding of her role within the Resistance.
Author Greg Rucka's descriptions held true to the Finn, Rey and Poe we met in the film and illuminated more of their motivations. I look forward to bringing these insights to future viewings of The Force Awakens.