Star Wars: Rebel Rising
By: Beth Revis @bethrevis
Release Date: May 2nd, 2017
*Beware: Spoilers ahead for Rebel Rising, Rogue One, and Star Wars IV-VII!*
When Jyn Erso is eight years old, her mother is murdered and her father taken from her to serve the Empire. But despite the loss of her parents, she is not completely alone. Saw Gerrera, a man willing to go to any extremes necessary to resist Imperial tyranny, takes her in as his own daughter and gives her not only a home but all the abilities and resources she needs to become a rebel.
Jyn dedicates herself to the cause—and the man. But fighting alongside Saw and his people brings with it danger and the question of just how far Jyn is willing to go as one of Saw’s soldiers. When she faces an unthinkable betrayal that shatters her world, Jyn will have to pull the pieces of herself back together and figure out what she truly believes in…and whom she can really trust.
Jyn Erso has lost everything to the Empire—her home, her parents, her freedom. All she has left is Saw Gerrera, a family friend and freedom fighter who claims Jyn as his own and teaches her to fight back against the tyrants who destroyed her life. But Saw’s brand of rebellion isn’t what Jyn expected, and suddenly the only home she’s known for the eight years feels less like home and more like the headquarters for a war Jyn isn’t sure she wants to fight.
When she finds herself on her own again, Jyn must fight to survive the rule of the Empire as well as the dangers of the Rebellion. Intelligent and skilled, she manages to get by until the Empire’s strong arm pushes her into a life she never wanted, forcing Jyn to finally choose: will she keep living just to get by, or will she choose to hope?
I’m probably not alone in saying that Rogue One is not my favorite Star Wars movie. I’d even venture to say that upon initial viewing, a lot of people, myself included, decided they didn’t really like the movie.
I know, shun the non-believer.
But honestly, Rogue One felt so empty to me. Who were these people? How did they end up where they were—prison on Wobani, the Rebel base on Yavin 4, the holy city on Jedha? And why should I care about any of them?
Yes, it was sad that everyone died at the end, but those deaths weren’t nearly as impactful as Han’s or even Vader’s death. I’d known these new people for just over two hours, and I had no idea of their history or their motivations or any general reason to actually care about them as characters other than the fact that they’re the good guys and we’re supposed to cheer for the good guys.
Rogue One’s failure is the result of backstory, or more specifically, the lack thereof. We get a vague notion of who Jyn Erso is, but we have no real clue as to why she obviously hates her father, why she’s initially so reluctant to help the Rebellion, or why she knows Saw Gerrera. Sure, we get hints, but nothing is fleshed out, and while I initially thought they may build her character more in another movie on in the TV series Star Wars Rebels, Jyn’s death made it obvious that that wouldn’t be the case. And that left me with my original problem: without any history for Jyn, I didn’t really care what happened to her. I wasn’t in any way interested in her current story, and that made me not care for the movie in which she’s the main character.
And then Rebel Rising was released. I don’t know if a lot of this story was material cut from the movie so it could be released in another format or what, but I do know that Rebel Rising should’ve been released alongside Rogue One. Rebel Rising is Jyn’s story, and it fills in her character so well. This was what I needed to care about Jyn, what would’ve made me care about Rogue One.
Jyn Erso has a rather tragic backstory. We see the beginning of this in Rogue One—her mother killed, her father taken by the Empire—but it’s much sadder than that. Jyn’s pushed to become a fighter, is abandoned again, has her one chance at a normal life destroyed, and is betrayed by the Empire. It’s a depressing journey, but one that Beth Revis writes well.
There’s a very natural progression for Jyn from orphan to rebel-in-training to full-fledged Rebel. Saw trains Jyn to fight as much as because he doesn’t know what else to do with her as to prepare her to help him in the future. For Jyn, it’s something to do, and she doesn’t initially see it as fighting the Empire. Nor does she see her work forging scandocs or Imperial flight codes as any real threat. She’s just helping Saw, the one person she has left in the world, and getting to show off her technical skills. In the early stages, Jyn’s not
fully aware of Saw’s missions, so it’s clear she’s helping because she wants to help Saw himself more than to help his cause.
Even once Jyn decides she actively wants to join Saw in his work, she has to prove she’s capable. Jyn makes mistakes, but eventually Saw agrees to let her go on a mission. And while Jyn’s ecstatic to go, she quickly learns that Saw’s form of rebellion isn’t necessarily one she agrees with. She hates the indiscriminate killing, and she can’t bring herself to kill anyone, especially not just because they work for the Empire. These early missions plant the seeds of Jyn’s disillusionment with the Rebellion and especially to Saw’s version of rebellion.
And then Saw pushes Jyn further away from him and his rebellion by abandoning her. Saw had been the person to save Jyn when her parents were gone, and she always believed that he’d be there for her. On top of that belief, Saw promises he’ll return for Jyn, so it’s a further break of Jyn’s trust to realize he’s lying. Now Jyn’s been abandoned by both her father figures, and the girl who had issues trusting people before practically refuses to trust people now.
That changes, however, when Jyn gets the chance to live a normal life. Jyn’s time with Akshaya and Hadder Ponta is fun, and it allows Jyn to relax for the first time in a long time. There’s no training, no spying, no missions to keep her moving, and in the year or so that she’s on Skuhl, Jyn is a normal teenage girl, albeit one with some ace forgery skills. She has a family again, she falls in love for the first time, and she begins to hope that she might have a happy future. But then the Empire arrives, and in a battle against the Rebels, the Pontas are killed. Jyn’s lost everything again, and this time it was the Empire and the Rebellion that took it from her; it’s not unexpected, then, that Jyn ends up hating both sides of the fight, and that’s when she begins to give up.
Everyone she’s ever loved has been killed or has left, and Jyn just doesn’t care anymore. She does jobs for anyone who will pay—including the Empire—just to survive, and although she does occasionally work against the Imperials, it’s to save innocent lives, not because she’s trying to stick it to the Empire. Everything she does is just to get through another day. There’s no joy and no love, and by the time she’s betrayed and thrown into a prison labor camp, Jyn’s essentially lost all hope. After a few months in the camp, there’s no ‘essentially’ about it; Jyn’s hopeless and apathetic, waiting to either die on the job or to be killed on the whim of the Empire.
So when she’s rescued and taken to the Rebels, it’s not a surprise that Jyn’s reluctant to help. The fight between the Rebels and the Empire has destroyed her life, and she’s willing to help only because they’ll let her go free when the mission’s over. But then Jyn sees the hope the Rebels have, the hope that she can help them, and it’s been so long since anyone believed in her. So she makes a choice. She remembers all the terrible things she’s seen the Empire do, all the things she herself has been forced to endure at the hand of the Empire, and she chooses to help. She’s the only one who can help, and the Rebels’ hope in her rekindles a small flicker of hope in Jyn herself, one that burns all the brighter for having been snuffed out. The Rebels are offering her a choice to help right her wrongs or go down trying, and Jyn’s ready to try.
Like I said, Jyn’s journey is truly depressing, but it’s utterly believable, and it ends on a hopeful note. Having seen Rogue One, I know how things turn out for Jyn, but knowing her story showed me that Jyn got the happiest ending she could’ve hoped for. She reconciled with Saw, she saw her father and learned the truth of his decision to leave her years before, she helped the Rebels against the Empire, and she found someone who came back for her, even just to be with her at the very end. Yes, Jyn’s story has a sad ending, but it’s a powerful one; Jyn had faced and overcome so much heartbreak and despair and yet still made the choice to fight, and her retrieval of the Death Star plans gave hope to thousands of people across the galaxy in their fight against the Empire. Because she was able to find hope again when it mattered, she became a beacon of hope to so many others, and her sacrifice helped save the galaxy.
But if you haven’t read Rebel Rising, you don’t see that ending. You just see another group of Rebels sacrificing themselves for the cause, and yes, it’s sad, but it’s rather meh. But now that I’ve watched Rogue One again knowing Jyn’s backstory, the ending kills me. It’s like watching an entirely different movie once all the holes have been filled in—seriously, the number of holes Rebel Rising fills in is pretty astounding. Rebel Rising explains:
- Why Jyn pretended her father was dead
- Why Jyn was so stunned when they asked her about Saw
- Why Jyn wears that scarf
- How Jyn learned to fight with truncheons
- Why Jyn is so disenchanted with the Rebels
- Where Jyn’s nickname ‘Star-dust’ comes from
- Why it’s so heartbreaking when Jyn calls Galen ‘Papa’ as he’s dying
- Why Jyn fights so hard to get the Rebels to go after the Death Star plans
- What it means when Jyn tells Cassian, “I’m not used to people sticking around when things go bad.”
- What’s special about Jyn’s necklace
Tell me that knowing the reasoning behind all those points wouldn’t change the way you see Jyn. Tell me that knowing her story wouldn’t change your opinion of her, the one you made based on her cardboard character in the film, the one not even Felicity Jones’s fabulous acting could truly bring to life.
In my opinion, Rebel Rising is required Star Wars reading. It answers so many questions about Rogue One and A New Hope. It also does a wonderful job of showing the growth and the power of the Empire, how it broke people and destroyed worlds and prompted the rise of the Rebellion. Rebel Rising is the backstory of the Rebellion as much as it is the story of Jyn, but it’s Jyn that shows us that tyranny cannot destroy hope, not completely. The tragedy that Jyn faces reminds us that people do terrible things, but it also reminds us that there are always people fighting for what’s right. Jyn Erso chose to be on the side of right, and in doing so, she became one of the most important people in the Star Wars Universe. Thankfully, I had Rebel Rising to show me that.
(Side note: I’ve heard that the novelization for Rogue One fleshes out some points of Jyn’s history. I haven’t read it myself, so I can’t say how thoroughly we get backstory in that novel, but I know it can’t be as extensive as what we see in Rebel Rising.)
Stray Thoughts and Observations:
- That dedication! Love it.
- This book actually made me sort of like Saw Gerrera. He’s still too far gone on the extremist spectrum for me to ever love him, but his interactions with little Jyn are so sweet. He’s far from a perfect guardian, but he tries so hard, and even once his crazy side really comes out to play, he tries to keep Jyn safe. He goes about it in completely inexplicable ways, but he tries. Seeing that he can actually care makes Saw seem more human, and that makes his reunion with Jyn and his decision to stay behind on Jedha much sadder.
- Lyra Erso was so forward thinking and badass. I need more of her story.
- I love that Jyn is so technically skilled. Go STEM ladies!
- Catalyst by James Luceno should also be required reading. It’s Galen’s story, explaining his research and how he came to work for the Empire before realizing what his research was being used for. It’s a slower read than most Star Wars books, but it fills in more holes. There are flashbacks to scenes in Catalyst in Rebel Rising, and seeing them from two points of view makes them more special. You won’t be missing anything in those scenes for not having read Catalyst, though, no worries.
- The legend of the starbird is beautiful.
- That pilot from Tamsye Prime is gonna be important at some point, I know it.
- Jyn and Hadder got real close real fast, but I can believe it. It’s the first time in years that no one has expected anything from Jyn, and it’s the first time she can relax enough to have real fun. You’re sure to develop some feelings for the person who lets you be free.
- Good question, Jyn. How does the Empire keep finding such horrible people? Are people growing more horrible because of the Empire’s influence, or were these people already around and waiting for the chance to use their horribleness to benefit themselves?
- Should I know who this blonde admiral is? Her description is very distinct, but I don’t know anyone who matches that profile.
- I’m assuming that pilot at the end was Cassian, but was Jyn’s sense of familiarity meant to imply that Cassian was the pilot from Tamsye Prime? Do we know much of his backstory? I’m definitely gonna pretend that they were the same person unless I’m proven otherwise.
- Jyn closed he eyes. She could still hear her father’s voice. Jyn, whatever I do, he’d said, I do it to protect you. And then he had gone with the man who killed Mama.
- “The Empire learned how to fight in a war against droids,” he said. “Droids and clones. It helped them to forget that war is about people.”
- “I have seen freedom fighters survive in battles against blasters and laser cannons,” he said, not even blinking. “And I have seen rebels take down armies with nothing more than rocks and sticks.”
- “Just because you don’t want to hear a truth doesn’t make it less true.”
- “If I had known you’d let me join you on missions as soon as I beat up a boy, I’d have done it a long time ago.”
- Jyn spent so much of her life hoping she could be different from her father, sometimes she forgot how much she wished she could be half as brave as her mother.
- And I choose this, she thought. I choose the stars and peace and you.
- “If you were so interested, why didn’t you say anything sooner?” “Because if you didn’t want me, you would break my heart and potentially my body.”
- “You never know. Something small and broken really can be powerful.”