Before the prequels, George Lucas spent years trying to develop a live-action Star Wars series about the galactic underworld. In the eight years since he sold the franchise to Disney, The Mandalorian is just one of the ways the new canon has explored the shadier side of life a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
There were the criminal syndicates whose machinations set the scene for Solo; there’s Maz Kanata and her web of extralegal contacts; and there are the Spice Runners of Kijimi, who we learned in The Rise of Skywalker taught Poe a lot of, as Finn put it, “shifty stuff.” The details of the Resistance hero’s split from those snow-flecked scoundrels were left undisclosed in the film, leaving it to Alex Segura to parcel out that juicy history in his new young adult novel Poe Dameron: Free Fall.
Rise made clear that there’s a lot of ground to cover in Poe’s past; Free Fall covers, if not all of it, at least the top headlines with respect to his involvement with the Spice Runners. We learn how an adolescent Dameron left his single dad on Yavin 4 and got involved with the illicit drug trade; how he met and betrayed Zorii Bliss (“Thought, ‘He’s not stupid enough to come back here'”); and how their (PG-rated) personal relationship developed.
We even discover how Poe learned to lightspeed-skip (a trick he shows off early in Rise) and where Zorii got that slick Deco suit. Oh, and we learn what it’s like to have an extended conversation with Babu Frik — who initially, in an, er, intriguing twist, sparks Poe’s romantic jealousy regarding Zorii.
We meet some other colorful characters along the way, but they all kind of fade into the background — even Poe’s heartbroken, hapless farmer father. Zorii’s parentage turns out to be a matter of more substantial interest as Poe struggles with the kind of ethical dilemma that characters in Episodes IV-IX didn’t have to worry about: what does it mean to live outside the law when you actually respect the source of that law? Poe’s parents fought for the Rebellion, breaking his dad’s heart when the young man defies the New Republic.
Segura is a relatively economical storyteller by Star Wars standards, and the inherent interest of the story (at least, for anyone who was intrigued by Zorii’s role in Rise) keeps the pages flipping — or the audiobook minutes flying by, in a rousing production narrated by Sean Elias-Reyes. Free Fall is both written and read by artists who, like actor Oscar Isaac, are Latinx; the recent Star Wars audio original Doctor Aphra was similarly deliberate in its commitment to diversity from character through to narrator.
The reader does a killer Isaac impression, although it’s somewhat easier to check what Zorii sounded like as a teen.