I liked The Last Jedi. Rian Johnson sold me on the cynical Luke, and Rose Tico — with her iconic martyr sister, Paige — is great. The hardest thing for me to swallow, though, was the situation I described in a review I wrote shortly after seeing the movie for the first time: “the heroic rebels still struggling under the oppressive might of the First Order, despite having destroyed three Death Stars, two Sith lords, and the galaxy’s most notorious gangster within the span of 40 years.”
It got worse. By the end of that movie they were down to basically just the Millennium Falcon, while the First Order still had a military might that could threaten the galaxy. The last time the forces of good were anywhere near this desperate was at the end of Episode III, when the Jedi were slaughtered and even Yoda had to retreat to Dagobah.
So when author Rebecca Roanhorse, making her Star Wars debut, sat down to write a novel called Resistance Reborn, she had her work cut out for her. To paraphrase Obi-Wan Dylan, they not busy being born are busy dying.
The book is part of Lucasfilm’s “Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” publishing series, the crown jewel adult novel in a series that also includes juveniles like Spark of the Resistance and the forthcoming Force Collector. Roanhorse gets to pique the interest of fans eager for the final installment in what’s now being referred to as the nine-movie “Skywalker Saga” — but she can’t tread on any ground blocked off for the film itself.
That means there’s no Lando Calrissian in Resistance Reborn, but with several marquee heroes gone, the new novel is a shining moment for the kind of characters who existed on the fringe of being action-figure-worthy in the first movies. (Alert: character appearance spoilers ahead.)
The big one is Wedge Antilles, who made it through Episodes IV-VI and even got to “Celebrate the Love” with the Ewoks, but who’s been laying relatively low for the Disney-era canon, appearances in the Aftermath novel trilogy and the Rebels TV series notwithstanding. Resistance Reborn finds him living an agrarian life, though he and his wife Norra aren’t finding much to talk about with their MAGA (Make Akiva Great Again) neighbors. Roanhorse drafts Wedge back into action, and actor Denis Lawson is reportedly reprising his fighter-pilot role in The Rise of Skywalker.
Then there’s Nien Nunb — surely you recognize the name of Lando’s Sullustan copilot from Return of the Jedi — and Carlist Rieekan, the commander of Echo Base in The Empire Strike Back. Actor Bruce Boa, who would now be 89, died in 2004, so his dialogue from that movie (“You’re a good fighter, Solo. I hate to lose you.”) will have to serve as Han’s epitaph.
After an early heart-to-heart between Leia and Rey, the latter largely retreats into the background for this story, which splits into three raids for ships, personnel, and intelligence respectively. While Leia and her scant forces regroup on Ryloth, Wedge returns to his home world of Corellia, where he has his eye on a well-known ship model a little larger than the Resistance’s light-freighter flagship. If you’ve been keeping up with your Battlefront video games and related media, you’ll recognize some of the heroes who head elsewhere to liberate some scrap ships for the Reborn armada.
Kylo Ren is nowhere to be seen; his climactic confrontation with Rey seems set to be a showpiece of Episode IX. That movie presumably won’t have much room for Poe’s haunted conscience, which Roanhorse explores in a speech the disgraced commander delivers to his motley forces, addressing the fact that he led a mutiny in Last Jedi. “My father was Darth Vader,” inserts Leia. “Is there anyone who wants to question my loyalty to the Resistance.” Mic drop.
Speaking of mics, Random House recruited their marquee Star Wars narrator, Marc Thompson, for the Resistance Reborn audiobook. The uncanny imitator, particularly of male voices (even if he makes Finn sound a little like Michael Keaton’s Batman), has a knack for squeezing the last drop of melodramatic emotion from every line.
Thompson’s real chance to shine here, though, comes not with any of the movie stars but with a pathetic First Order functionary who gets sucked in above his head and shows his true colors as a petty tyrant. In the frustrated figure of Winshur Bratt, who thinks he deserves a world of privilege he didn’t earn, Roanhorse and Thompson introduce a gritty, all too recognizable character to the ranks of Star Wars villains.
For those who are just dying to know what will happen to the people on the poster in Rise of Skywalker, the juiciest detail might involve romantic — or potentially romantic — relationships. I’ll say no more except to say that Resistance Reborn will have fans rushing to their ships.