star wars countdown

What We Learned About The Force Awakens From the New Star Wars Books

You may have heard that the Force will be awakening on December 18. To provide an outlet for our excitement, we’ve assembled another Vulture Advent Calendar — in this case, 25 Star Wars–themed stories, one per day until Christmas. None of them will involve midi-chlorians.

In September, Lucasfilm and Disney began their Star Wars marketing blitz with a book line cumbersomely branded “Journey To Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” a series of titles meant to prep audiences for or expand upon details in the upcoming film. I read through all of them — five novels, five short stories, four children’s books, and a four-issue comic book — to find out what they reveal about the upcoming film. None of what I uncovered warrants a Force Awakens SPOILER WARNING, but there it is anyway. I guess this does spoil some parts of the books.

Star Wars: Aftermath (Chuck Wendig, 366 pages)

Aftermath is the crown jewel of this whole effort, clearly meant to establish both the state of the galaxy in The Force Awakens as well as open up avenues for films further down the line. The main point of Aftermath is to emphasize that, despite the ending of Return of the Jedi, the Empire has not been entirely defeated.

Imperial leaders are gathering on the Outer Rim planet of Akiva to plot their next move. As the novel establishes, many of the Empire’s best are gone, “what’s left is, in part, dregs.” Former Red Leader Wedge Antilles is captured by the Imperials, but manages to send a distress call received by Norra Wexley, a former rebel pilot. Norra, her tech-wiz son Temmin, bounty hunter Jas, and an Imperial defector named Sinjir team up to stop the Imperial meeting.

What did we learn about The Force Awakens? A ton of stuff. The main narrative is mostly an excuse to set up world-building details: The Rebellion has transformed into the New Republic, which identifies itself as a democracy; and the new Galactic Senate is led by Mon Mothma. In the main story, a bunch of high-ranking Imperial leaders, save for one, Admiral Rae Sloane, are killed or detained. Later, Sloane reports to an unnamed fleet admiral who had set in motion the capture of the Imperial leaders in order to cull the Empire of weak leadership. He is likely a substantial villain in The Force Awakens (speculated by some to be Andy Serkis’s Supreme Leader Snoke).

More important than the primary narrative, however, are the interlude chapters, which provide short vignettes of life throughout the galaxy:

  • Two brothers on Saleucami are torn apart when one sides with the rebellion, the other with the Empire.
  • Chancellor Mothma is considering cutting the New Republic’s “military presence by ninety percent once we are able to confirm an end to this war,” though some are skeptical of that decision.
  • On Corellia, bounty hunters discuss their dying profession: “Bounties on the bounty hunters,” says one named Dengar. “We’ll see it soon enough. Even in my lifetime. Just you watch.”
  • There are Vader worshippers. On Taris, worshippers attempt to buy his lightsaber, though it’s almost definitely a fake. There is also graffiti of Vader, “a stencil of a familiar Sith Lord’s helmet with the phrase beneath it reading VADER LIVES.”
  • Level 1313, a seedy underworld on Coruscant, is now officially canon. (It was last seen in a canceled video game.)
  • Han Solo and Chewbacca head to Kashyyyk to free it from Imperial control.
  • There are still a lot of war orphans and refugees.
  • On Tatooine, we learn a couple of things: Boba Fett is dead, and someone buys his Mandalorian battle armor. The Hutts have still not figured out who will succeed Jabba.
  • In Cloud City, the oppressed rise up against the rich and powerful, some of whom refuse to believe reports of Emperor Palpatine’s death.
  • A man travels to Jakku in the hopes of avoiding war (he fails; more on that later).

Are there gay people in Star Wars now? Yes, there are. At least two gay couples are casually mentioned, and Sinjir at one point politely declines Jas’s advances because he is “not into” women. Unsurprisingly, some people are very mad about this.

Does the book contain embarrassing callbacks? Ha ha, oh man, it definitely does. Here are some real quotes from this real, published book:

  • “So why, then, can’t Ackbar shake the feeling that once again they were about to fall into a trap?” (GET IT??)
  • Hyperspace jumps make Han Solo “feel like his brain has been hurled through space while his guts are a dozen parsecs behind.” (GET IT???)
  • “Next time you wanna pretend to be a gunfighter, best to shoot first, talk later.” (GET IT??)

Does Aftermath contain any characters that deserve their own trilogy of feature-length motion pictures? Yes! Temmin creates a droid named Mr. Bones. He is a battle droid covered in rattling animal bones with half of his head missing and a telescopic red eye in its place. Here’s how he describes one fight: “I PERFORMED VIOLENCE.” Mr. Bones is very direct.

Is it worth reading? Yes. It’s a good novel, and it’ll help you understand the state of the galaxy. If nothing else, you can flip through and read the interlude chapters in an hour or two.

Star Wars: Shattered Empire (Written by Greg Rucka; 136 pages in the collected trade paperback form. Also available as four individual comics.)

Shattered Empire, much like Aftermath, is a clear retconning of the end of Return of the Jedi. Immediately following the destruction of the second Death Star, the Emperor’s death triggers Operation: Cinder, and the Rebel Alliance is tasked with wiping out Empire remnants. The story focuses on fighter Shara Bey and her husband, Kes Dameron, as they cross paths with the Star Wars characters you already know.

What did we learn about The Force Awakens? Lucasfilm/Disney want to make it very clear that the destruction of the second Death Star did not definitively end the war between the rebels and the Empire. It’s also pretty obvious that Shara and Kes are the parents of pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac in the film), though Poe is not mentioned by name.

Is it worth reading? Yeah. The story has some good beats, and the art is great. It hits the right notes of nostalgia while setting up the future.

Lost Stars (Claudia Gray, 551 pages)

Lost Stars is a YA novel about two kids, Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree, who grow up on the Outer Rim planet of Jelucan, graduate from the Imperial Academy as pilots, and head out to serve the Empire. Their duty to the Empire keeps them from expressing their romantic feelings for each other.

The book provides an alternative perspective on the events of the original film trilogy, including the Battles of Yavin, Hoth, and Endor. The destruction of Alderaan by the Death Star catalyzes Thane’s defection. Ciena is the person sent to retrieve Darth Vader from his adrift TIE Fighter afterwards. Thane is eventually recruited for the rebellion by Wedge Antilles.

What did we learn about The Force Awakens? The final chapters of the book occur during the Battle of Jakku, one year after the destruction of the second Death Star at the end of Return of the Jedi. Remember the crashed Star Destroyer shown on a desert planet in the Force Awakens trailer? That’s the Inflictor, which Ciena Ree crashed into Jakku in order to prevent it from falling into rebel hands.

Is it worth reading? Yes. Lost Stars is a fun way to refresh yourself on the key events of the original trilogy, and it provides good context for the Jakku setting of Force Awakens. I may have even enjoyed it more than Aftermath.

The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure (Jason Fry, 184 pages)

Weapon of a Jedi focuses on Luke Skywalker and takes place between A New Hope and Empire Strikes. Luke goes to an ancient Jedi temple on Devaron and learns to use the Force in his lightsaber combat. It’s presented as a frame story: It opens around the time just before the start of The Force Awakens, but looks back on past events. This one is told by C-3P0 to an X-Wing pilot, Jessika Pava. The back cover teases that “Hidden within the story are clues about the highly anticipated new film.”

What did we learn about The Force Awakens? Not a whole lot. Because the story takes place between Episodes 4 and 5, there’s not much that can be retconned in. All the potential clues are in the very brief framing chapters at the start and end of the book. I learned that C-3P0 has a red arm, though the reason why is not known. Jessika Pava is a fighter in Blue Squadron, but I have no idea if that will be in the movie. On Devaron, Luke meets two substantial characters. The first is Farnay, a mechanic’s daughter whom Luke later revisited on Devaron following the events of the book for unclear reasons. Luke also runs into the Scavenger, an electro-staff-wielding villain who tries to steal Luke’s lightsaber. Luke knocks the Scavenger into a deep pit but doesn’t kill him. I doubt either will appear in The Force Awakens, but the door has been left open for their return.

Is it worth reading? Probably not. It’s not a bad story, but it adds almost nothing and Luke is not very interesting. Sorry, Luke! If nothing else, you could just pick it up for five minutes and read the framing prologue and epilogue.

Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo and Chewbacca Adventure (Greg Rucka, 183 pages)

In Smuggler’s Run, a frame story set between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, Princess Leia tasks Han and Chewie with rescuing Lieutenant Ematt, an Alliance operative, from the planet Cyrkon. They are trailed by bounty hunters and Imperial commander Alecia Beck, who has a cool robot eye.

What did we learn about The Force Awakens? Just a bit more about the state of Han and Chewie, basically. But we do get to read about their misadventures, including bar fights and general high jinks. The book does introduce a character named Delia, an ally of Han and Chewie’s who runs a bar out of her ship. We also meet Ematt, who is important — but more on that later.

Is it worth reading? Yeah, it’s alright. It’s a middle-school novel, so you can burn through it in an afternoon. If that doesn’t appeal to you, you can just read the framing stuff. You can also skip it entirely.

Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure (Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry, 231 pages)

Moving Target is set just before Return of the Jedi, and is a frame story dictated by Leia to her droid. Leia leads a small crew around the galaxy, planting decoy beacons to distract the Empire so the Rebel Alliance can prepare for the battle of Endor.

What did we learn about the Force Awakens? For starters, there’s a new droid, PZ-4CO, who is a “tall, blue-plated protocol droid.” He seems to follow Leia around in the Resistance base. He is nicknamed Peazy. By the time of The Force Awakens, Ematt, rescued by Han Solo in Smuggler’s Run, has risen to the rank of Major and appears to work closely with Leia. The end of the novel mentions Poe Dameron, Oscar Isaac’s character. Leia describes the story she told as being about balancing commitments. “It’s something I learned battling the Empire, and now Poe’s learning the same lesson against the First Order.” Ematt describes Poe as “our best pilot.” Leia then asks about some situation on Jakku, which goes unelaborated upon.

Is it worth reading? Sure, it’s fine on its own, and like Smuggler’s Run, it’s very brief. Your best bet, though, is to read the Han Solo and Leia novels back to back to get the best sense of who Ematt is.

“The Perfect Weapon” (Delilah S. Dawson, 60 pages)

Skilled mercenary Bazine Netal is hired to track down an old Stormtrooper and recover the metal case he holds. Along the way, she is forced to drag along an inexperienced slicer (hacker) named Orri. They wind up on the planet Vashka, where they have to fend off a furious swarm of large-winged insects called apidactyls.

What did we learn about The Force Awakens? Not a whole lot. We learn more about Bazine, who’s slated to appear in the film at Maz Kanata’s castle, but that’s about it.

Is it worth reading? This one’s a short read, and it’s also only $2. If you like sci-fi starring femmes fatales, then, yeah, pick this up. If you’re unsure, see them movie first and then decide. You don’t need to read it ahead of time.

“High Noon on Jakku” (Landry Q. Walker, 40 pages)

On the desert planet of Jakku, Zuvio — constable of the Niima trading outpost — is tasked with solving a robbery apparently committed by the droid CZ-1G5. But is someone else pulling the strings? (Yes.) The book is essentially a Western, complete with a desert standoff.

What did we learn about The Force Awakens? If it’s not already obvious, Jakku is an important planet in Star Wars VII, and we learn (not much) more about Zuvio, who is a good but tough lawkeeper. We also learn that Jakku is mostly a hub for scrappers and traders, and Niima is the only substantial outpost on the planet.

Is it worth reading? It’s two bucks on Amazon, and I finished it in a single morning commute.

“The Face of Evil” (Landry Q. Walker, 40 pages)

A short story with a Frankenstein bent, The Face of Evil focuses on the notorious thief Ryn Biggleston, who seeks assistance at the castle of Maz Kanata on the planet of Takodana. Within the castle, Biggleston receives plastic surgery from Frigosian cryptosurgeons Laparo and Thromba to hide her identity.

What did we learn about The Force Awakens? This story mainly exists to introduce us to the setting of Maz Kanata’s castle, which appears in the film. It’s creepy, and it’s got two nonverbal plastic surgeons performing gross experiments on live subjects.

Is it worth reading? Again, the investment in both time and money is low. It’s a fun read with a decent twist, but definitely not essential.

“All Creatures Great and Small” (Landry Q. Walker, 40 pages)

In this story, an Nu-Cosian named Bobbajo thrills children with the tale of how he and his little animal helpers managed to blow up the Death Star. This didn’t actually happen, but again, he’s explaining this to kids.

What did we learn about The Force Awakens? We learn that Bobbajo, who appears in the film, is great at talking to animals. He dispatches the small creatures to take out Stormtroopers and pirates, as well as work ship controls.

Is it worth reading? Not to be a broken record, but it’s a short story that costs $2 and can be read in under an hour. It’s good.

“The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku” (Landry Q. Walker, 40 pages)

On the desert planet of Ponemah, treasure hunters and pirates race to the wreckage of a crashed ship said to have been carrying Count Dooku’s valuable collection of lightsaber crystals. Among the hunters is the crew of the Meson Martinet and its fearless captain, the Crimson Corsair.

What did we learn about The Force Awakens? We learned that the Crimson Corsair, who appears in the film at Maz Kanata’s castle, is basically indestructible. He gets attacked by a giant sand worm in the middle of a treacherous desert and manages to make it out alive.

Is it worth reading? This one is probably better enjoyed once you know more about the Crimson Corsair in the context of the film.

Star Wars: Ships of the Galaxy (Benjamin Harper, 30 pages)

Ships of the Galaxy is a book for children and nerds and, ideally, child nerds. It’s a picture book that tells you fun facts about spaceships from the first six films. In the back, a Force Awakens–branded foldout confirms ships you will see in the new film.

What did we learn about The Force Awakens? I learned about six ships that appear in the film, none of which are new models. They are the Millennium Falcon, an Imperial Shuttle (belonging to Kylo Ren), a Star Destroyer (called the Finalizer), an X-Wing, TIE Bombers (belonging to Black Squadron), and TIE Fighters (for Special Forces). There are blueprints for each of those ships included.

Is it worth reading? Only if you are a young child.

Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know (Edited by Ruth Amos, 199 pages)

Absolutely Everything You Need to Know is a reference book that features trivia and fun facts about the Star Wars universe. It’s meant for children, so it leans very heavily on characters and events from the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoon series. The final seven pages feature spreads of characters from The Force Awakens.

What did we learn about The Force Awakens? Nothing new or concrete. One picture features Finn and Chewbacca pointing weapons in the same direction, so I assume they’ll eventually be working together. Rey (Daisy Ridley) and BB-8 are pictured together, which seems to confirm the trailer’s suggestion that they’re also simpatico. I got a good look at the First Order Stormtroopers and the rifles they carry, and can report that they look like Stormtroopers. And there’s a neat picture of Kylo Ren.

Is it worth reading? Nope! Absolutely not! I learned next to nothing about The Force Awakes. Also, here’s a fun little disclaimer from the publisher tucked at the end that undercuts the entire book: “In 2014 Lucasfilm reclassified what is considered canon in the Star Wars universe. Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know draw mostly upon information from the Expanded Universe that Lucasfilm now considers to be ‘Legends’ — that is, stories beyond the original six films and the TV shows Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels.” In other words, this info is now useless.

Star Wars: Look and Find (Art Mawhinney, 20 pages)

Look and Find is a book for babies. It presents readers (presumably babies) with a large, detailed picture, and then readers (i.e., babies) have to find objects within that picture. You know how this works.

What did we learn about The Force Awakens? Two of the spreads depict Jakku, which has become a ship graveyard. Finn and Rey are both featured, so I assume this is where they meet. Rey is described as “a skilled desert scavenger. She looks through old junk and finds good, usable parts.” Remember how C-3P0 is sporting a new red arm? One of the objects readers are asked to find in the Jakku spread is a “droid arm” that looks suspiciously like C-3P0’s. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to infer that Threepio lost his original arm in the Battle of Jakku. I’m probably wrong.

Is it worth reading? I, an alleged adult, had fun with Star Wars: Look and Find, but, no, if you are over the age of 3, this is not worth your time.

Star Wars Droid Factory

This isn’t a book as much as it’s a papercraft kit for assembling figures of BB-8, R2-D2, and C-3P0. The box says it’s for ages 3 and up, but honestly, if a 3-year-old can do this crap, they deserve the Nobel Prize and a MacArthur Genius Grant. I hated every second of this.

What did we learn about The Force Awakens? Nothing.

What did we learn about ourselves? I hate papercraft so much.

Is it worth picking up? I don’t want to talk about this anymore.

What We Learned From the 18 New Star Wars Books