‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ by Alexander Freed

Rogue One

I almost didn’t think there was going to be a novelisation of Rogue One, it was so late hitting the shops here in the UK. The movie had been out a couple of weeks before it appeared.

Anyway, now that it is here; is it any good? Alan Dean Foster’s novelisation of The Force Awakens was a hard act to follow; capturing the spirit of 1977 and reminding us all why we love Star Wars so much. Well, I’m pleased to re-port that it is very good indeed.

Alexander Freed has a background in the Star Wars expanded universe novels and I was afraid that this would be a novel full of unnecessary background detail; but my fears were unfounded. Rogue One sticks to issues that directly affect the plot of the movie and, as such, zips along at an impressive pace.

The main factor in the movie of Rogue One’s favour is that there was far less fan anticipation (fanticipation?) than there was for The Force Awakens. Sure, the die-hard fans were looking forward to it, but because it was outside the main continuity of the ‘numbered’ films, they could always ignore it if it didn’t meet with their favour. Of course, there were those with whose favour it did not meet from day one, because it contradicted established continuity… but since that continuity was from books and comic strips, it doesn’t really count (in this reviewers opinion),

The lead character Jyn Erson is an orphan-destined-for-greater-things in the classic Luke Skywalker/Rey mould, only she’s an orphan of circumstance, as her father – one of the principle designers of the Death Star – is still alive, snatched away from her in childhood and forced to work on the Empire’s ultimate weapon. It’s the desire to be reunited with her father that drives Jyn forward; she’s not really a devotee of the rebel cause, but in the pursuit of her own selfish ends, she is pivotal in the ultimate victory of the Rebel Alliance. You could say that she is the butterfly’s wing that causes the storm that will eventually bring down the Empire.

Along the way, she gathers a group of misfits, all in their own way equally disinterested in the rebellion, but all playing a part in its success, including Guardians of the Whills Baze Malbus and Chirrut ĺmwe, rebel Captain Cassian Andor and Bodhi Rook, a minor functionary defected from the Empire. The latter is a particularly interesting character because he wants to do the right thing, but is neither brave nor heroic, which isn’t something you see a lot coming out of modern Hollywood. Also defected from the Empire is K-2SO, a Imperial Enforcer Droid, whose reprogramming has left him with a deadpan delivery and droll sense of humour.

Tonally Rogue One is a very different movie to almost all of its predecessors. Star Wars is essentially a folk story with princesses and pirates and monsters, whereas Rogue One is very much a war story. It is not at all cosy; it bears more in common with something like The Dirty Dozen or The Magnificent Seven, where you’re never quite sure who (if anyone) is going to come out of this alive and the fact that you know from moment one that none of these characters has any future in the Star Wars universe only serves to hammer that fact home.

The principle villain of the piece is Death Star coordinator Orson Krennic, but but he’s almost eclipsed by the reappearance of both Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin from the original film. On the screen, both are recreated in one way or another with different actors, but in the written form no such sleight of hand is necessary.

The story flags a little in the middle, but that’s a fault of the original script and not the novelisation. Thankfully the written version skips a little more lightly over the slower elements, so the reader never loses interest. If I have one complaint about this novel, it’d be the ‘documents’ that intersperse some of the chapters. I understand why the author has done this, but they do tend to slow down the flow of the book and the one at the very end, intended to be poignant, just seems tacked-on and unnecessary. You wouldn’t be missing anything by just skipping them.

Rogue One is a novel well worth reading, whether or not you enjoyed the movie, but it’s unlikely that anyone would tackle it as a novel in its own right – which is a shame because, all things aside, what you have at the heart of Rogue One is a damn good science fiction novel.

‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ by Alexander Freed is published in hardback by Century (2016)

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