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Before the Awakening is a younger reader anthology book focusing on Rey, Finn, and Poe in the days, weeks, and months leading up to The Force Awakens. Split into three parts—one for each of the new trio—the book gives more depth to each character’s past and how they each became the person they are in the film.
Though a book for younger fans, the writing is relatively mature with no speaking down to the reader. Because of this, the book is short and without overlong descriptions or exposition, getting right down to the meat of the stories.
Finn’s part revolves around his training under the First Order, exploring his empathy and loyalty despite being an outsider to his own people. It’s a more humanizing glimpse into the life of a stormtrooper, something that’s not entirely new to the new canon (Twilight Company also puts effort into showing the people behind the helmets).
The stormtroopers are not unlike the clone troopers of the prequel era in some ways, giving themselves nicknames to make up for their “real” names being numbers, though differences lie in the FO stormtroopers being trained to prize the mission objective over the lives of their fellow companions, something that Finn struggles with.
As well as giving insight into the inner workings of the First Order—something we haven’t really had thus far—this part builds up Finn from FN-2187 into the man who refuses to kill on Jakku. Two of the other stormtroopers in his team are also part of The Force Awakens: Slip is the stormtrooper who smears Finn’s helmet with his bloody hand, while Nines, dubbed TR-8R by the fandom, is the man Finn fights on Takodana.
Rey’s part is largely heartbreaking, leading towards an ending that feels inevitable, all while shedding more light on the hard life Rey lives on Jakku and how she comes to be the girl who steals the Falcon. An exploration of her character and her interactions with others, including the creepy Unkar Plutt, this part clearly explains why Rey is as talented as she is in the film–why she can fly, why she’s so determined and brave, and why she knows her tech.
It’s a rough story, spent largely in isolation as Rey struggles to simply survive. Her past has been harsher in many ways than both Finn or Poe’s have been, and this part clearly illustrates the dangers of growing up on Jakku. (Worse than a childhood spent on Tatooine, that’s for sure.) Along with this is worldbuilding for Jakku, a place that we likely haven’t seen the last of, and some hints as to who Unkar Plutt considers himself to be to Rey.
Poe’s part is rather less depressing than those of the other two, though any who’ve read Shattered Empire might find parts a little tear-jerking, and it’s not all sunshine and rainbows the whole time. Written in away not unlike the X-wing novels (or so I’ve gathered, having read only the first so far), this part focuses more on Poe’s talented flying, while showing a little of the states of the Republic and the Resistance prior to the First Order showing their hand with Starkiller.
The Republic now, while still relatively young, is beginning to reflect the Republic of old, with corruption and greed taking hold. Of course, for those less interested in the politics of the prequels, these details are just handwavey background material, while others may find them more fascinating.
Rucka’s writing is as good as always, never lingering too much on any one aspect while still capturing moments with clarity. Before the Awakening makes a more exciting read than the adult The Force Awakens novel, partly because of its brevity, but also because Rucka understands the idea of saying a lot without saying much at all, especially with dialogue. This goes hand-in-hand with the book being for younger readers, but it works well.
For any who love the characters of The Force Awakens and want more backstory for each of them, or even a bit more insight into secondary or background characters from the film, Before the Awakening is near perfect. Coupled with Phil Noto’s gorgeous art, this book is a breeze to read (and re-read), leading right into The Force Awakens. A good new EU fix while fans wait for the new novels and comics set to come. Get it now on Amazon!