It’s been a week since I saw Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. There were things I loved about it, and things I wasn’t so on board with, and things that I was simply baffled by. I’ve now had some time to process and sort out my emotions regarding the conclusion of this epic saga. I’ve read Twitter threads and thinkpieces and watched YouTube essays that solidified and deepened my views, plus some that made me examine them more closely, and I’m ready to move on.
And how do I move on from a deeply moving cinematic experience? With books! If you, like me, want to further explore an element or concept you found compelling in The Rise of Skywalker, or the Star Wars saga in general, you can probably find what you’re looking for in a book.
I don’t think I should even have to say this, but just in case:
SPOILERS FOR TROS AHEAD!
If you like the exploration of interplanetary politics:
There wasn’t as much politics in the sequels as in the prequels, but there was a little bit. We hear about the New Republic (but don’t actually see it before it’s destroyed) and the vague workings of the First Order.
If you’re keen to explore non-Earth, fictional governments in more detail, try a space opera with political inspirations, like classic of the genre, Frank Herbert’s Dune, or the more recent The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi. Court fantasy might scratch that itch, as well, like Erika Johansen’s Queen of the Tearling, or even A Song of Ice and Fire, if you haven’t already read it.
If you love the friends on a quest plot:
One of my favorite elements of TROS was Finn, Rey, Poe, Chewie, and the droids teaming up to go on a quest to save the galaxy (I’m still angry Rose didn’t get to go, and for the most non-reason ever, but anyway…).
The ragtag band of misfits on a mission is a common fantasy trope, probably most famously employed in The Lord of the Rings, so there’s a good place to start. I also recently listened to the audiobook of Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, a book which I’d previously expressed indifference for. But in the audio, each different point of view section is narrated by a different voice actor, which helped a ton in distinguishing each character’s voice, and I really enjoyed it this time around.
If you think Rose should get her own show about life in the Resistance:
There’s no two ways about it, Rose Tico was unfairly sidelined in The Rise of Skywalker. Director Jon Chu, best known for the 2018 film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians, has proposed a Disney+ series about Rose and starring Kelly Marie Tran; no word yet on if that’s actually happening or not, but I would be on board!
In imagining this hypothetical Rose series, I have to wonder what the story would be, and I actually think it would be really compelling to do sort of a prequel or mid-quel (at least to the sequel trilogy) series, showing Rose’s life as part of the Resistance during the reign of the First Order. Her sister Paige could be in it, too. A small but passionate resistance faction fighting an evil totalitarian regime reminds me a lot of several great YA novels, like The Hunger Games, for the obvious choice. One that’s more fantasy than science fiction is An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir; its heroine Laia even reminds me a little bit of Rose.
If you love the monomyth/fairy tale DNA of Star Wars in general:
It’s well-documented that George Lucas was heavily inspired by the work of Joseph Campbell, and particularly his writings on the Hero’s Journey, when writing A New Hope. Other installments of the saga have built on this structure, the “monomyth” as Campbell calls it–Rey has a textbook Hero’s Journey arc across all three sequel films, as does Anakin in the prequels, though his is inverted–which is what gives Star Wars the feel of modern mythology.
A lot of traditional European-based, “sword and sorcery” fantasy follows the Hero’s Journey pattern, but you can find this mythic structure in non-European fantasy, too. One of my favorite books of recent years is S. A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass, based on Persian and Arabian myths and featuring one of the most compelling Call to Adventure scenes I’ve ever read.
If you (like me) really want to know what’s in those Jedi Texts:
If you’re fascinated by the Jedi religion and want to explore more in-depth how religions can function in and influence fantasy worlds, there is a lot of great speculative fiction out there that does just that. I particularly like this list of recommendations from Tor.com, though it doesn’t include one of my favorite books of all time, Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. Speaker and its sequels, Xenocide and Children of the Mind delve into a Jesuit missionary’s quest to recontextualize the Catholic religion for a sentient alien species.
There’s also the officially licensed guide The Jedi Path by Daniel Wallace if you are interested in the Jedi in particular!
If you’re a Reylo in mourning:
Here is where I admit that I, too, am a Reylo, though a somewhat reluctant one. Maybe reluctant isn’t the right word, but it’s less me actively ‘shipping Rey and Kylo Ren, and more me just acknowledging what’s in the text. Do I like it? Yeah, I do. Because I love “Death and the Maiden” stories. (They’re exactly what they sound like–Hades and Persephone is probably the OG.)
I also love what are sometimes referred to as “female gaze” stories, which sometimes overlaps with Death and the Maiden, but not always, and in which the heroine has to accomplish feats to win or free her love interest from the antagonist. Famous female gaze stories are the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche, the Norwegian fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” the Scottish folktale “Tam Lin,” and to a somewhat lesser degree, “Beauty and the Beast.”
This is what I was hoping The Rise of Skywalker would contain, that Kylo Ren’s redemption arc that began in The Last Jedi would continue with Rey’s influence and heroism, that she would defeat the Dark Side, or contain it somehow, or maybe even learn how to accept both Dark and Light, bringing balance to the Force. And that through this feat, Ben Solo would be brought back and redeemed. That’s… not exactly what we got, though.
My disappointment isn’t even necessarily about Ben’s death (and I’m not fully convinced that he’s actually dead, anyway–I mean, we never see his Force ghost, so…), but about how it was handled. If the storytelling choice was made for Ben to sacrifice himself to save Rey, that is great! That’s a great narrative risk to take, and it could have been done in a way that is cohesive with the narrative choices that came before it, but it wasn’t. (But really, the whole movie was full of incoherent narrative choices, so I don’t even know.)
But I digress. This post is about book recommendations! An enchanting Death and the Maiden story I read recently was Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. A young woman in 1920s Mexico has to help a Mayan death god reclaim his crown in the underworld. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
#BookTwitter has also been recommending books in the last couple weeks to soothe Reylos’ broken hearts, and here is a list I’ve compiled so far that I fully endorse, that are all female gaze, Death and the Maiden, or both:
- Cruel Beauty, Rosamund Hodge
- Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo
- The Star-Touched Queen, Roshani Chokshi
- The Winternight Trilogy, Katherine Arden
- The Folk of the Air series, Holly Black
- Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik
Plus a few I haven’t read yet, but are on my TBR:
- Wicked Saints, Emily A. Duncan
- Heart of Iron, Ashley Poston
- Deathless, Catherine M. Valente
If you were hoping Baby Yoda would show up at some point:
I don’t know what to tell you, I’m disappointed, too!
Shameless plug: My podcast Pop DNA did an episode on the literary and historical roots of Star Wars about a year ago that is worth checking out (though our sound quality has improved a lot since then!). Our next episode will revisit and expand on those ideas, plus explore new ones, and will be available at the end of January!
What did you think of The Rise of Skywalker? What books do you read to scratch the Star Wars itch? And what do you think is next for this saga?
Thanks for reading, and may the Force be with you!