It has been a long time since I wrote a review for my website. This website brings in only a trickle of income so it's generally my lower priority. However, I finally finished reading "Before the Awakening" - one of the Star Wars books that acts as a prequel to the Force Awakens film.
I had grievances with Force Awakens. Generally, it felt as if there were no new ideas and the recycling of ideas not only came from the original trilogy which JJ Abrams sought to emulate but also from the prequels, which both critics and fans so intensely loathed, and from JJ himself. Kylo Ren, without his helmet, looked, behaved and fought just like Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith.
However there were differences and reading Greg Rucka's Before the Awakening illustrated what those differences were. We see stories featuring FN-2187, Rey and Poe, which show each character in experiences that shape their outlook and behavior in Force Awakens.
I found the story featuring Rey the most illuminating. Rey is a very, very different character than Luke Skywalker, despite outward similarities. She's female for one - and while there were a few moments of flirtation between her and Finn in Force Awakens, JJ Abrams accomplished something by not sexualizing Rey at all. She has an amazing outfit that barely shows any skin and most of all, she is portrayed as tough and resilient in a very hostile environment.
Whereas Luke Skywalker was a farmboy raised by his uncle in an environment that seemed like that of the rural United States or Australia, Rey seems like an orphan in an environment like Syria or Iraq - complete with bombed out ships.
In the story about her, she discovers the Millenium Falcon. Rucka does a good job of describing the ship enough for readers to know what it is without really spelling it out. In the process of trying to sell it, it gets stolen, something which she predicts from the thieves and the scavengers she makes friends with to help her get the ship going. She predicts that they will do this from the beginning:
She should trust them. She wanted to trust them.
But Rey couldn't. They would betray her. Try to trick her. Try to steal the prize, cut her out of the sale. As much as she wanted to believe otherwise, she was certain that Devi and Strunk would turn on her, and soon.
Poe is a more interesting character. Finn, Rey and Poe act as a strange remix of the characters of the original trilogy - Rey has the scavenger vibe of Han and the desert orphan character of Luke, Finn has the hopeless optimism of Luke married with a background as a stormtrooper, something alluded to about Han's past in much of the Star Wars canon (we see Finn taking on stormtroopers while in their uniform in Force Awakens much as we saw Han in the original Star Wars). Poe, interestingly, takes on the X-Wing expert persona of Luke Skywalker with the connection and knowledge of the previous trilogy's events that Princess Leia had.
Rucka's portrayal of Poe shows him talking several times with his father, who fought in the original trilogy's events, while also eventually meeting with General Leia Organa herself, discussing the rise of the First Order. Through Poe, we get a clarity of the plot we see in Force Awakens and how it came out of the hopeful events in Return of the Jedi. One of the most powerful exchanges, also, is when Poe talks to his father about fighting in the events of the original trilogy. His father admits that, while he was afraid during the war, he is most afraid now that is was "all for nothing."
There's still a host of books coming out to fill the gaps between the original trilogy and The Force Awakens. An entire generation of books actually were written to fill in this time gap but JJ Abrams has paved his own way with his own characters, meaning the expanded universe will have to adjust accordingly. I enjoyed Before the Awakening and I look forward to reading Bloodlines.