Star Wars: Resistance Reborn is in a difficult spot: ostensibly filling in the gaps between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker but also constrained by the mystery of the latter. It explains some of what happened after the battle on Crait, while Poe Dameron reckons with his actions during Episode VIII. As far as Star Wars novels go, this is a thoroughly average one from an accomplished author, and even if I didn’t love this book, I’d love to see more Star Wars from Rebecca Roanhorse.
With the Resistance down to only enough crew members to fit on the Millennium Falcon, General Organa calls for help. Her plan is four-fold: visit an old political ally on Ryloth; steal back captured Resistance ships headed for a First Order scrap yard; find some ex-Imperial contacts who have no love for the First Order; and rescue political prisoners who could bring the Resistance valuable leadership skills. Right in the middle of all of that is Resistance pilot Poe Dameron, whose mutiny during The Last Jedi leaves him in an uncertain place.
This isn’t an essential book, nor is it the most tightly plotted of the Star Wars offerings. There are more impressive moments than outright flaws, but the first half fails to create momentum. Description is sparse but the prose is fine. Rebecca Roanhorse’s original fiction combines social commentary with brisk story and exciting action scenes, but Resistance Reborn’s story doesn’t allow her to stretch those muscles. The best battle scene comes around the 3/4th mark, and it highlights the lack of momentum in the action elsewhere. Conversations feel muted. It’s clear from the movies the Resistance is in dire stakes, but how exactly that danger is going to present itself in the book isn’t strongly reinforced until we reach the villain’s point of view.
Some of those conversations are lovely: in particular, Rey and Leia have the same kind of endearingly awkward rapport they did in The Force Awakens. Finn and Poe also thoroughly charm, and Zay and Shriv from Battlefront II have energy and pathos. Rey in particular gets intriguing glimpses of characterization here, but they’re just glimpses. The book is a continuation of the Poe Dameron comic books in a lot of ways, and the interplay between the Black Squadron teammates is also written well.
When it comes to movie characters, the focus is on Poe and his controversial (in-universe and on Twitter) moves in The Last Jedi, as well as on Leia. Fans of the Leia-centric adventure Bloodline may find Resistance Reborn feels like a return to that Star Warshigh point. Leia’s voice as written by Roanhorse is wry and irreverent, evoking Carrie Fisher’s humor and depth of character without ever sounding out of place. Leia in this book is so tired but so strong, and her reactions to pieces of her past coming back into play are written with real heart.
The book also does a good job of showing day-to-day life under the First Order. A middle manager and his staff working at a shipyard on Han Solo’s home planet of Corellia are chillingly villainous because they don’t always think they’re villains: they just took an office job and stayed there when it changed hands. The primary antagonist is frightening because of his mundanity, not in spite of it. One of the themes in Star Wars lately has been how far into the evil machine do people have to go before they’re officially villains. When is too late to walk away?
As advertised, this is a book about digging into the canon expanded universe to find allies for the Resistance, and it’s finally fulfilling the promise of a unified canon. While book characters may only rarely end up on screen, giving them their own lengthy continuity makes the galaxy feel more real. The returning faces here are many, and EU fans will get some pleasant surprises when it comes to who exactly steps up to help the freedom fighters. At its best, it reaches the encyclopedic heights of James Luceno’s canon-spackling Star Wars novels, easily folding in new information and connecting disparate parts. Some conversations show the effect of the events of The Last Jedi on characters who were never in the movie, but would be deeply touched by the plight of the good guys.
But especially in the beginning, the dialogue isn’t strong enough to effectively light a fire under the many talky scenes. I like when characters take the time to sit down and talk, but this also seemed to be a case where the story was limited in what it could reveal about critical characters like Rey and Finn. There are some cool action scenes later in the book, but when a critical fight happened off-screen early on, I despaired that the book might capture the heart of Star Wars but not the sword-and-sorcery. Luckily, I was proven wrong later. A scene at a party is lush, but still lacks a strong sense of place. Maybe there isn’t enough sensory detail, or not enough time to settle into what is there.
Even if the details don’t always work, the story is well-constructed and eventually comes together. It has the problems most Star Wars books do — a silly line here, a surface-level conversation there. Poe’s arc doesn’t tread the same trails as the fannish discourse: this isn’t a book interested in blame. It’s interested in what his decision did to him as a person, a determined, hopeful person who tends to understand the world best when he is making big gestures. Star Wars fans interested in where some of their favorite characters ended up will find something to love here. The character arcs become more clear as the book goes on, making up, mostly, for the slow beginning.