Published by: Del Rey
Release date: December 20, 2016
Author: Alexander M. Freed
The last time I read a novelization of a movie, it was nearly two decades ago. My dad had taken me out of school early to see the newest Godzilla movie, and to say I was excited is an understatement. Shortly after, I picked up the paperback novelization. While I’m sure I enjoyed it as a kid, it didn’t leave a lasting mark on me, especially not enough to convince me to pick up any others.
I bring this up because when the Rogue One novelization was announced, I wasn’t excited. Even a few weeks before the release of the movie, I still was on the fence regarding the purchase. It’s not that I’m against reading—my office will prove otherwise. Rather, I simply was not aware of what the experience could offer. After seeing the movie, I made the decision to give it a chance, to see what the commotion was about.
It’s safe to say I’m glad I did.
Since it’s safe to assume we have all seen the movie at this point (some people have reached double digits by now, I’m sure), I don’t want to spend the review detailing the plot, as the core remains the same. The dialogue is different throughout, but I never found myself distracted or disengaged because of the variances. If anything, the additional dialogue (which I assume was largely based on previous scripts) helped bolster the story and character development.
Freed also did a great job detailing each of the locations without spending too much time trying to explain every single detail. The benefit here is that we are reading about a movie we have, more likely than not, already watched numerous times, so there is less of a need to spend on these descriptions. However, even if one has not watched the movie yet, there is enough to keep the story going. When we are introduced to Cassian, for example, we get an idea of what the Ring of Kafrene looks like by describing its original function (mining colony), the inhabitants (“…men, and women, and nonhumans of indeterminate gender…”), and the somber nature of the locale by cluing us into its unofficial slogan: Where Good Dreams Go Bad.
Freed’s writing truly shines when he gives us a glimpse into each character’s thoughts, whether they be hopes or fears, oftentimes filling in the blanks many noticed in the movie. There are numerous instances of this, but I want to focus on two:
Lyra Erso. While there are still some things about the prologue that can be hard to swallow, the novelization helps give us some insight regarding Lyra’s decision to shoot Orson Krennic. To be fair, James Luceno’s Catalyst does a lot of the heavy lifting here when it comes to character development, but even though I read Catalyst, this scene in the movie was a bit jarring. It seemed rash, even for Lyra. Thankfully, Freed helps us peer into her head a bit: she felt this confrontation was going to keep Jyn safe, especially if it went well. Going into the confrontation, Lyra was confident things would go one way, but as things progress, we witness her demeanor change. She tells Krennic to let them go, to stop following them, and even though Krennic seems to acknowledge her demands, she realizes he has changed since they last met, or that she underestimated his resolve. In her final moments, she realizes even though her life is about to end, she’s confident her daughter will still be safe. “You’ll never win.”
Bodhi Rook. One of the more jarring moments of the movie was the introduction of the Bor Gullet. It made sense, considering Saw’s extremist tendencies, but we didn’t really get to see what happened to Bodhi, why he was in such a broken state. Thankfully, Freed manages to put us in Bodhi’s shoes and fill us with the dread of having your memories ripped out of your mind, only to be unsure of reality once the monster had its way. For the remainder of the novel, we witness Bodhi struggling to pull himself back together, complementing his portrayal in the film. While this might seem like a minor addition, it added a substantial amount of depth to the character for me, and I am confident it will improve future viewings.
Some other memorable additions include Mon Mothma’s exchange with Jyn (“I wanted to say… I won’t forget what we did to you”) and getting a glimpse into the final moments of various Jedha citizens, including a few Stormtroopers who did not manage to evacuate in time. It helped add gravitas to the destruction of Jedha, something that managed to impact me more than A New Hope ever did with Alderaan. I also found the interludes to be intriguing, especially the conversation between Galen and Shaith Vodran, the Death Star Engineering Operations Manager, leading to the installation to the infamous thermal exhaust port and bypassing protocol safety procedures in the process.
There are certain scenes that do not translate well into novel form, however. The one that stood out the most to me was at the end, when we witness Darth Vader taking down the Rebel soldiers. While Freed is not at fault here, I doubt there will ever be a way to fully describe the horror and dread most of us felt witnessing the wholesale slaughter on the big screen. The same goes for the larger destruction scenes, including the moment when Jyn and Cassian are awaiting their deaths. Again, Freed did a great job with the source material, but there is no substitute for witnessing the destruction enfolding around them. (To be fair, it should provide closure for those who somehow thought they walked away alive…)
Conclusion: Rogue One was a great movie, and thanks to Freed’s obvious knack for writing, it received the novelization it truly deserved. At the time of writing this review, out of 92 reviews, there were only two three-star ratings; everything else was rated higher. As a comparison, Luceno’s Catalyst, which was released a month before Rogue One, has 44 three-star reviews, 20 reviews that are lower. This is not to imply Catalyst is a lesser novel, but that the reaction to Rogue One, by and large, has been positive, and I am happy to add to the praise.