If you’ve read any reviews of this book, what I’m about to say is probably something you’ve heard before: This is one of the best film novelizations I’ve ever read, if not the best. Oy, that sounds really hyperbolic, and to be fair, it’s really not a high bar to clear. People aren’t going around screaming for the next great novelization. They just aren’t. Also, the novelization for The Force Awakens was quite terrible, so psychologically speaking, pretty much if this one had been halfway decent I was going to enjoy it a lot, just as a contrast in opposite experiences.
But I also think those are just a couple of small factors that increased my enjoyment of this book. Mostly it’s just really effing good. If you liked the movie and don’t normally read novelizations, I would still urge you to think about checking this one out. Decent novelizations retell the plot of a movie in a coherent, enjoyable way, not detracting from the meaning or themes of the original work. Good novelizations add something to the process. Great ones go just a step further. For me this book is unquestionably a “great novelization*”. Alexander Freed’s writing adds nuance to an already nuanced story. It adds excitement and depth. It goes where the movie, by its nature, can’t. (Just as books can’t offer us sweeping visuals and beautiful soundtracks, or convey that ineffable quality a great actor has to pull you in to a story without realizing why.) He enhances the character moments by going deep into their heads, and the way he structures the narrative (books can’t really do jump-cuts and such) enforces the tragic yet hopeful nature of the ending. Like, I cried while reading this, and I didn’t even do that while watching the film.
*Whether or not a “great novelization” can also be a “great book” is an argument for another day.
I will give you an example. It’s small and probably won’t work as well for you if you haven’t read the preceding pages this sequence of lines are meant to cap off, but it’s probably the best way for me to show you what I’m talking about when I talk about the style of this book. Major spoilers ahoy for the end of Rogue One, so don’t read any further if you haven’t seen it yet.
So that scene in the movie when K-2SO sacrifices himself for Cassian and Jyn is one that got to me in the film, largely on the strength of the visuals and music, as well as Alan Tudyk’s voice work, three things which are obviously absent in a book. But Freed somehow manages to replicate the feeling the movie invokes in that moment by structuring that scene in K-2’s head as a series of simulations on the possibly outcomes. He runs through them in his head for several paragraphs, at which point violence breaks out, and we see that he’s doing all he can to remain functioning for as long as he can, even going so far as to go against his instincts (to abandon their mission and save his friend Cassian instead). Freed manages to convey K-2’s robotic nature, but also his “humanity.” And then he ends the scene, after K-2 has made his choice, knowing that he is about to die, and his friend will most likely die soon as well. The scene ends with the following two sentences:
“With one second left until total shutdown, K-2SO chose to mentally simulate an impossible scenario in which Cassian Andor escaped alive.
The simulation pleased him.”
It’s just so small and perfect a moment, and it’s a moment only a book could have given you. Freed plays the whole story like that, actually adapting the material and creating the feelings that the film evoked through filmic devices by using literary ones instead. It’s also pretty apparent he was working off a script, not the final cut, because there are scenes missing from the movie that are included here, or that are extended (like Jyn being confronted by a TIE fighter while trying to send the signal out, a scene which was in the trailer but not the movie).
Freed has previously written one book in the new Star Wars canon (Battlefront: Twilight Company), and I wasn’t planning on reading it before, but if it’s anything like his work here, I’m thinking I need to check it out after all.