Book review: Star Wars – Resistance Born by Rebecca Roanhorse

(cover image courtesy Penguin Books Australia)

One of the more curious aspects of human nature is the lengths that people will go to, and the pernicious accommodations they will make, for the sake of a perceived peaceful existence.

Politicians, particularly those of a more authoritarina bent, of which the world has a surfeit right now, take advantage of this, selling each new erosion of human rights and freedom of expression as some sort of laudable addition to a grand plan to build an ever safer and more secure society.

But there’s always a trade-off for all this law and order and peace and quiet, and it’s only when the tight hand of authoritarianism has people in their grasp that most people realise that far from making a pact with god, that they have instead made an odious pact with the devil.

Star Wars: Resistance Reborn by first time franchise writer Rebecca Roanhorse returns to this ugly truth again and again in a rip-roaring, rollicking and highly emotionally-resonant romp through a galaxy where the First Order is, by coercion and more sly methods, drawing more and more planets into its brutalist hold.

To be fair, many of these planets have little to no say in the matter, either because they are militarily or economically vulnerable or because their leaders are, and before their inhabitants know there are stormtroopers in the street, sycophant collaborators in every workplace and public location and they have lost whatever freedoms they might have enjoyed.

People may chafe at these onerous restrictions but as Star Wars: Resistance Reborn highlights over and over, very few of them will lift a hand to right these calamitously dictatorial wrongs.

“Leia jerked awake, her head snapping back against the rough fabric of the headrest. Her hands grasped for purchase in the armless chair as she tried to keep herself from falling. She cried out, a small startled breath in the otherwise empty room, as her fingers clasped around the edge of the console table. It took her a moment for her senses to come back to her and for her to remember where she was. The low hum of machinery and the distant clank of someone doing repairs, even at this odd hour, told her she was on the Millenium Falcon.” (P. 7)

But those few people exist in every society and joined together they can be a mighty force indeed.

As Star Wars: Resistance Reborn opens however, the once-mighty resistance that brought down the Galactic Empire, of which Darth Vader was the black-clad poster child of oppression and death, and whose members formed the heart of the now-ailing New Republic, is facing bleak times following the events of The Last Jedi which saw much of their fleet wiped out.

The survivors which include General Leia Organa, Rose, Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron want to rebuild, driven by their still active impelling need to fight for freedom and justice, a calling ever more pressing in the light of the First Order’s significant advances, but they are down personnel, ships and resources and vibrant, peace-loving ideals will only get you so far in the light of these deficits.

So, the story of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn is all about how these tenacious, idealistic people, beset by self-doubt at times, and setbacks aplenty, rally and regroup to keep the fight going against the First Order and ensure that the founding of the New Republic is not for nothing.

(Interestingly, it has been noted that the events of the final trilogy of what is now called the Skywalker Saga bear a lot of resemblance to those of the middle trilogy, leading to charges of a lacklustre reinventing of the creative wheel, but there is some truth in this observation, the reality is, and you only have to look at the Arab Spring earlier this decade for evidence, that once mighty victories for freedom can crumble just as quickly as they arose, necessitating a renewal of the seemingly neverending fight for freedom.)

Rebecca Roanhorse (image courtesy official Rebecca Roanhorse Twitter account)

Moving between four interconnected stories, all of which see members of the surviving rump of the Resistance doing their part to gather the resources and people they need to take the fight back to the First Order, Star Wars: Resistance Reborn is not only a riveting action-thriller but one that, like the franchise of which it is a part makes a trenchantly quiet case for the power of belief to overcome evil.

It doesn’t of course pretend that these sorts of victories come easily or at all, and truth be told, during much of the events of the book, it’s highly-questionable whether in fact, truth justice and the Resistance will prevail at all with more than a few planets with which they are in contact or hiding on bowing to evil rather than rising to fight it.

But as Poe and his team which includes Finn try to get a precious list of possible Resistance leaders so they can bring them to safety from a contact on Corellia, while at the same time Wedge Antilles and his group are trying to liberate captives on the same planet and Shriv Suurgav leads a team to Bracca to steal more than a few desperately-needed ships, all while Leia, Rose and Rey remain on their temporary haven of Ryloth, it becomes readily apparent that there are enough people willing to stand up for what is right to put flesh and blood on these dreams of Resistance.

It’s not a dream without some obstacles and issues however, and some looming personal issues such as Poe’s guilt over his actions in The Last Jedi, but as the novel gathers pace, it becomes more and more clear that though the journey will be a challenging, the road to recovery for Leia and those she leads is not without real, firm possibilities.

“The last of the ships, this one not a starfighter but a small transport that looked more yacht than anything else, crossed over the desert and disappeared into the mountain below her [Leia]. She sighed. That was it, then. She’d counted ten X-wings, an A-wing, Poe’s loaner from the Hutt, two smaller civilian transports, and that yacht. Not a lot with which to fight your enemy but more than they’d had yesterday. And so it would go. Every day more than yesterday until they had a fighting force. Or at least that was the idea. She tried not to think about the losses they would take along the way.” (P. 121)

The reason Star Wars: Resistance Reborn works so well, and it is a page-turning, compulsive read, is because it remembers a number of key elements that make the Star Wars universe as a whole such a compelling place to be.

First it invests in well-wrought, real and believable characters who are as flawed as they are laudatory, people who want the very best but don’t always execute as well as they could on their intentions.

They are in other words very human and thus easy to identify with, imbuing what might be just a edge-of-your-seat adventure with some real emotional gravitas and import; the story then becomes about so much more than getting stuff – it’s about how these people, these gloriously imperfect, are willing to go to considerable, inspiring lengths to do what they need to realise their ideals.

Adding substance too is the deft ability of Roanhorse to weave real weight issues of freedom and authoritarianism into the mix in such a way that it doesn’t ever feel like you’re drowning under the weight of polemic ranting, with sage and incisive observations about the human spirit’s ability to be both collaborator and resistor quietly and elegantly written into a full speed ahead plot.

Star Wars: Resistance Reborn thus has heady adventure and philosophical weight in equal measure, brought to life by people you come to care deeply about, which is important as the book is intended as a lead-in to The Rise of Skywalker which releases this December. (Yes, you now have to prep for blockbusters; you have been warned – there will be a pop quiz at the end.)

It is a brilliantly engaging read that manages to serve its role as an introduction to the ninth and final film in the saga while being very much its own narrative beast, a book that should appeal equally to longtime fans and those simply looking for an entree into a galaxy a long time ago and far, far away …

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