The Force Awakens left a lot of questions unanswered for our heroes. Before the Awakening, one of the many young reader books from the Journey to the Force Awakens line, gives fans a good look into the backgrounds of Rey, Finn, and Poe, plus some information about the wider state of the galaxy right before the film.
The three stories are entirely separate from one another and serve as neatly packaged vignettes that illustrate one aspect of each character. Finn’s empathy makes him stand out among the Stormtroopers of the First Order, and not in a good way. Rey’s resourcefulness wars with her desire to find her parents, and the unwillingness of the New Republic to fight the First Order grates on Poe. Before the Awakening is a fun, illuminating quick read, and for fans looking for answers about The Force Awakens, might even be more essential than the film’s actual novelization.
Purely in terms of facts about the Star Wars universe, Poe’s story is the most essential in the bunch. It isn’t the best story of the three—more on that later—but it does show us the most about the state of things. The Resistance is a small branch of the New Republic, one not so much sanctioned as tolerated by a senate that made a tenuous peace treaty with the First Order. The First Order is made up of a bunch of extremists, a branch of the Empire—and it’s still not quite clear what became of the Empire at large or which members of it may have founded the First Order.
Poe’s section has some of the best action in the book. The final space battle has a lot of short, simple sentences that could have come off as clunky, but instead do a good job of indicating how fast-paced and surprising the X-Wing combat is. The writing was smooth and bright elsewhere too: a tool makes “a strange singsong moan,” and on Jakku, Rey finds “small groups of scavengers working new wrecks.”
Speaking of Jakku, Rey’s section does a good job of fleshing out the desert planet. It shows that the Teedos—the native species—have their own language and religion. The chapter begins with stuff like the natives’ belief that all sandstorms are one storm, and that the natives curse using the name of their god. It’s a nice way to add flavor to Rey’s story.
Likewise, Rey herself is a delight—eking out an existence by trading scrap for food, she plays with flight simulators in her spare time. A minor aside about the flight simulator assuages any fans’ concerns about how she learned to fly the Millennium Falcon so well, so quickly—she created challenges for herself in the flight simulator when she got bored, including performing tricky maneuvers in a half-broken ship in atmosphere.
Finn, meanwhile, shows what life was like as a First Order recruit. Like the others, his story builds slowly up to the beginning of The Force Awakens, but even more so than the others. We see his characterization escalating. His turn from First Order enforcer to Resistance fighter on the run was critical, and we get some more of it here. There are still some questions—was he really in sanitation?—but it makes the First Order seem like a more established presence. In fact, Finn’s Imperial training is very similar to the Imperial training shown in Rebels or Servants of the Empire.
Finn was the best member of his squad. This makes sense, since he was eager to take charge in The Force Awakens, and it adds an extra layer of tragedy to his story. He left people that he liked—and he liked them better than Captain Phasma or the First Order did.
Before the Awakening doesn’t answer all of the questions one might have hoped after seeing the movie. It’s still not entirely clear how much Rey remembers of her parents, or the timeline of when the First Order began building Starkiller Base. The side characters are peppy but not particularly memorable, except for Rey’s compatriots.
I read Before the Awakening simultaneously with the novelization of The Force Awakens, and was surprised to find that the former actually provided more background on the characters than the latter. Disney has done consistently well with its Star Wars books, like the emotionally gripping Lost Stars or adventurous Weapon of a Jedi. Before the Awakening continues in that vein, with emotionally colorful stories that could appeal to both children and adults. If you have questions about The Force Awakens and an interest in reading more about the Star Wars galaxy in order to better understand the movie, Before the Awakening is a great place to start.
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.