Audiobook Review: “Journey” to “Rise of Skywalker” Starts With a “Spark”

Audiobook Review: “Journey” to “Rise of Skywalker” Starts With a “Spark”

If Lucasfilm was looking for a voice to epitomize the gee-whiz sense of hope and excitement Mark Hamill brought to the original Star Wars, they can thank Listening Library for casting Jessica Almasy as the narrator of Justina Ireland’s new juvenile. When voicing the thoughts of Rey, Almasy genuinely sounds like she’s just discovered that a “tiny spark of the Resistance” can “ignite the flames of rebellion.”

Although the audiobook is aimed at ages 8-13, it’s significant for Star Wars fans of all ages if they’re breathlessly anticipating The Rise of Skywalker, the upcoming movie billed as the last of nine installments in “the Skywalker Saga.” As with previous films The Force Awakens (2015) and The Last Jedi (2017), Lucasfilm is publishing a series of books leading up the movie. That gives Ireland’s book the two-colon title Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: Spark of the Resistance.

“Journey to” titles for the earlier movies introduced key characters and settings. For example, the YA book Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Leia, Princess of Alderaan took the young princess to the salty land of Crait and featured a young Amilyn Holdo. Does Spark of the Resistance offer any clues as to what’s in store for moviegoers on December 20?

Maybe. Today’s Lucasfilm is incredibly assiduous about maintaining in-universe continuity (Spark of the Resistance even references a just-published choose-your-own-adventure book), so the 241-minute story does canonically tell us something about what our heroes have been up to between The Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker.

In a publishing line where major character appearances are doled out sparingly (for example, a 2015 video game tie-in novel explores the backstory of Lando’s Return of the Jedi co-pilot), we get a generous collection of major Resistance players in this caper. Rey, Poe, Rose, and even BB-8 fly together in the Millennium Falcon to the planet of Minfar, where a race of subterranean sentients called for help when the First Order came sniffing after a weapon that can enslave with sound.

Hopefully the Echo Horn won’t be the new Starkiller, because it wouldn’t be too sweepingly cinematic to watch the Knights of Ren march around behind lines of sad captives wielding devices that essentially amount to remote controls for consciousness. The Zixon are richly imagined, though, particularly their underground cities lit by sunlight bounced off massive banks of aboveground mirrors.

Ireland, who also wrote the breezy Lando’s Luck (2018), also inserts some slick action scenes including TIE fighter escapes through rings of ice and canyons on the verge of collapse. The audiobook producers come through with authentic rat-a-tat sound effects (there must be a file marked “Falcon cannons”) and washes of John Williams’s score (although latter-day cues like Rey’s theme are conspicuously absent, presumably due to 21st-century licensing issues).

The characters, painted in bold strokes for young readers, reminisce about the events of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi — even including a reference to fallen icon Paige Tico. Will we be seeing more of the mysterious scientist Glenna Kip? Will there be any more Ewok-Village-style dance parties with the Zixon? We’ll have to wait and see what a-Rise-es next.

Jay Gabler