Review: Rebel Rising by Beth Revis

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It’s hard to put into words how much this book meant to me. As a Jyn fan since my very first viewing of Rogue One, I was always going to find this book extremely compelling. Although there is action aplenty, Revis has managed to create a deeply personal, unflinching account of one of the most complex characters I think we have seen so far in Star Wars.

Rebel Rising is as uncompromising as Jyn Erso herself. Following our taciturn and reluctant hero on her journey from a young, frightened girl to hardened partisan fighter, Rebel Rising gives us a glimpse into some of the most defining moments of Jyn’s rather unhappy life. After watching Rogue One and subsequently reading Catalyst by James Luceno, I was desperate to find out why Jyn had become the indifferent, somewhat apathetic person we see at the start of the film and Rebel Rising provides a lot of the answers.

We all know that Jyn was raised under the paranoid eye of Saw Gerrera. In Rebel Rising we learn just how great an impact he had on her life. Revis goes a long way to humanise Saw and bridge the gap between the idealistic freedom fighter we meet in the Clone Wars to the radical activist we re-encounter on Jedha. Saw clearly cares a great deal about Jyn and gives her all the tools he possibly can to help her survive in the universe. I liked how Jyn gradually came to see him as something of a surrogate father for her, especially as her feelings towards her own father darkened over the years.

It was heartbreaking to watch Jyn come to the worst possible conclusions about Galen, knowing that he was of course waging his own silent war against the Empire. “I like to think he’s dead, makes it easier” – this isn’t an opinion Jyn formed lightly. Galen’s seeming act of betrayal, abandoning his only daughter to work for the Empire gnawed at Jyn for years. Revis masterfully portrayed Jyn’s deep insecurities and abandonment complex as her mind constantly returned to the dark cave where she hid alone until Saw came.

I got the impression from this book that Jyn almost hero-worshipped Saw – and who could blame her? She saw him as the only person who had stuck by her, the only person who looked out for her in an uncaring and hostile galaxy. Saw clearly isn’t evil, even though he has done some terrible things in the name of good. In Rebel Rising we see his slow descent into radicalism as his strikes against the Empire becoming more and more violent until he reaches the point where he is even willing to accept civilian casualties if it means victory against the Empire.

Yet I do believe that in spite of his gruff nature and increasingly fanatical ideals, Saw cared deeply for Jyn and loved her as though she was his own daughter. He knew of the violence and tyranny of the Empire and imparted on Jyn everything he knew about survival in such dark times. He saw to it that she was skilled fighter, a crack shot with a blaster and a capable slicer – in short, he ensured Jyn’s survival so that even when he ended up abandoning her, she would find a way to persevere.

Even in her very darkest moments, Jyn always finds a way to survive and I think so much of this determination and resilience actually comes from her mother Lyra. I felt Lyra’s presence throughout the whole novel and when she is at her most vulnerable and hopeless, Jyn always turns to her mother’s teachings. Unlike Galen, Jyn’s memories of her mother were never tainted.

“The only thing Jyn knew for sure was that her mother had believed hope was the most important thing in the universe”. It’s funny that although this is a dark and gritty book, as you would expect from a story of Jyn’s upbringing with Saw as his partisans, the message of hope resonates throughout Rebel Rising. Although Jyn sinks pretty low as her distaste for both the Empire and the Rebel Alliance intensifies, she never actually completely loses hope. She keeps the kyber necklace on at all times, a poignant reminder of her mother’s faith in her. When Jyn chooses to help the Rebels in Rogue One, she does so because of her mother’s limitless hope, rather than to atone for her father’s apparent failures.

All this being said, there are some lighter moments in this book for which I was grateful. Jyn gets to experience some slivers of happiness, even for a short while and I’m so glad Revis chose to include these moments. Jyn certainly didn’t have a happy life by any stretch, but she was allowed small moments of peace and comfort – little islands of content in an otherwise stormy sea.

Jyn isn’t perfect, in fact Rebel Rising goes a long way to show just how flawed a character she is. She can be bitter, and this bitterness often gives ways to a kind of cool detachment which makes Jyn seem cold and hostile. However this is all an armour which she wraps herself in so that she doesn’t have to feel the pain and misery which seems to follow her throughout her life. I certainly won’t view her clashes with Cassian in Rogue One the same way again, as I know she is just desperately trying to hide any possible trace of vulnerability behind bravado. She is a good and kind person, but she almost sees this as a flaw, something that might get her killed, so she seeks to hide it. Yet somehow, this flawed and imperfect woman became a hero of the Rebel Alliance. I think Jyn can be summed up in this one beautiful line in Rebel Rising as Galen explained the chipped kyber crystal necklace to her – “You never know. Something small and broken really can be powerful”.

Ha! That turned into more of an Ode to Jyn rather than a book review right?! Well I suppose that’s because that’s what Rebel Rising is all about. It’s immersive and deeply personal character study of Jyn Erso and an emotional look into her sad and lonely past. Of course, there is still plenty of action here – Saw and his fighters were extremely busy and violent people who dared much on freedom’s behalf. But not only that, Rebel Rising tells of how even the smallest, most downtrodden person – who had so much injustice heaped upon her – was able to shake all of that off to become arguably one of the most impactful and important figures in the Rebel Alliance.

Overall: Rebel Rising brilliantly sets the scene for how one girl with a sharp stick was able to take the day in the sands of Scarif, and pave the way for Luke Skywalker to destroy the most terrible weapon the galaxy had ever seen.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Death Stars

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