The Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker novel might make you like the movie more

Spoiler-free book review: Rae Carson's adaptation of the final movie in the Skywalker Saga addresses some of its flaws by giving the story time to breathe.

Sean Keane Former Senior Writer
Sean knows far too much about Marvel, DC and Star Wars, and poured this knowledge into recaps and explainers on CNET. He also worked on breaking news, with a passion for tech, video game and culture.
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Sean Keane
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Book cover for the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker novelization

Rae Carson's novelization of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker gets into the heads of Rey and Kylo Ren.

Penguin Random House

After my first viewing of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker back in December, I didn't know what I thought of it. It was a wild roller coaster, but I couldn't process everything I'd seen and felt mildly unsatisfied. I enjoyed it more on subsequent viewings, even if it glossed over some plot points more than I'd like.

It turns out what I really needed was Rae Carson's satisfying novelization, which is available on shelves and in audiobook form Tuesday. Right from the beginning, Carson (whose non-Star Wars work includes the Fire and Thorns series) brings us into the heads of Jedi-in-training Rey, her master Leia Organa and their Resistance allies as they prepare to face Kylo Ren, Emperor Palpatine and the totalitarian First Order.

Over the novel's 250 pages, the story has a chance to resonate far more than it does in the movie -- which was released digitally on March 13 -- as Carson offers delicious insights into the evolving nature of Rey's and Kylo's inner conflicts and details about Palpatine's rebirth.

However, the clearest benefit of this adaptation is that Leia's arc feels complete in a way it couldn't have in J.J. Abrams' movie due to actress Carrie Fisher's 2016 death. It follows the same beats, but you won't be distracted by the use of archival footage to resurrect Fisher, and Carson subtly expands her role to a degree that'll please fans.

Watch this: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - Official Trailer (2019)

On the dark side of the Force, this novelization manages to make Palpatine even more disgusting than he was in the movie. Through her descriptions of his rotting physical form, Carson makes it clear that returning from his death in Return of the Jedi came at cost and adds a dramatic weight to his scenes.

We also get a few more scenes with Zorii Bliss and her band of rogues as they try to flee Kijimi. It's a nice addition that reveals more of Zorii's skills and the cruelty of the First Order, but isn't terribly impactful.

Kylo Ren's Force FX lightsaber shines in Hasbro's Star Wars: Black Series

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Unfortunately, the novel doesn't offer much more insight into Finn and Poe Dameron, or give us much more time with underserved characters like Rose Tico and Beaumont Kim -- a few extra subplots involving them would've been a welcome addition. And Maz Kanata remains as much of a non sequitur as she was in the movie.

Carson's colorful writing offers a nice contrast to Abrams' quick cuts in the story's action scenes, particularly in the lightspeed skipping sequence and the chase with Passanna. She also builds nicely to the final battle, which has a clarity it lacked in the movie as it jumps smoothly between perspectives.

If you had fundamental problems with the movie, this novelization isn't ambitious enough to change your mind. If you just wish the movie had taken more time to let its events resonate and answer some of your lingering questions, this is the book for you.