This article contains spoilers for Rogue One, both film and book.
Alexander Freed’s novelization of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is, without doubt, the best film novelization I have ever read.
I don’t mean, “It’s good for a novelization.”
I mean it exceeds my expectations for novelizations so much, to even call it a “novelization” feels like a slight.
Elegantly crafted, full of compelling characterizations, and enhanced by creative use of “primary sources,” Freed’s Rogue One is a completely satisfying novel in its own right.
Rogue One Is a Good Novel
Freed is an unpretentious wordsmith who draws readers along, seemingly effortlessly, from first page to last. That’s hard work, and should be celebrated. Freed’s prose seldom calls attention to itself, but we sense we’re in a master storyteller’s hands throughout.
Note passages like these:
He was almost stumbling over his sentences, forcing each out before he lost his nerve. Like a man wrenching a dislocated limb into place, one agonizing pull at a time.
The hatch inside Jyn’s mind shattered like baked clay. The things inside the cave, damp and soiled by darkness, seeped unwelcome into her brain. Foreign thoughts spread like stains, obscuring everything else…
Freed pays close attention to diction, cadence, sensory detail, evocative vocabulary… And makes it all look easy.
I cannot stress it enough: Rogue One is far better written than any film novelization has a right to be.
Inside the Characters’ Heads and Hearts
Freed commits to what your high school literature teacher called the “third person limited point of view.” At any given moment, Freed relates only what one character sees, feels and knows, even at the cost of holding back information for later (for example, it takes a while to learn Baze Malbus’ name).
Freed’s disciplined narration gives us the time to get to know each character better than we could in the movie theater. For instance, we sense how deep Orson Krennic’s delusions run by “hearing” his internal monologue after meeting with Darth Vader in the dark lord’s castle:
Krennic smiled a giddy, unpleasant smile as he limped away. Vader had let him live. Vader had judged him too valuable to kill – and, by extension, the Emperor recognized his value as well.
Or consider K-2SO’s demise from the droid’s own perspective:
He loosely projected eighty-nine ways to prolong his own existence (for periods ranging from point-eight milliseconds to forty-three days). Suspecting all of them would involve the capture or execution of Cassian Andor and Jyn Erso, he dismissed them without detailed study… With approximately three seconds until total shutdown, K-2SO listened to Cassian’s voice cry his name one last time. Then, without regret, the droid turned his weapon on the console.
Freed takes full advantage of a novel’s freedom to place readers directly in its characters’ minds, with entertaining and rich results.
Creatively Expanding the Universe
As many novelizations do, Rogue One contains scenes either left on the cutting room floor or invented by the author to fill in narrative gaps and flesh out characters. Freed weaves such passages into his text so skillfully, it’s hard for me to tell, after only one viewing of the movie, what happened on screen and what didn’t. I know some of the material is new (the dust jacket’s front flap tells me so), but everything feels like it belongs.
But unlike many novelizations, Freed builds on the film’s foundation in the form of “supplemental data.” Rebel Alliance intelligence memos, archival commentaries about Jedha pilgrims, passages from Mon Mothma’s memoirs – these pages, semi-illustrated and set in a different typeface, break up the narrative at key points but don’t feel like unwelcome interruptions. Like the appendices in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth books or the “chapter heading” quotations in Frank Herbert’s Dune, these passages add texture add depth to the story’s world.
My favorite piece of “supplemental data” shows exactly how Galen Erso managed to sneak his fatal flaw into the Death Star’s design, by capitalizing on and manipulating the Empire’s love of bureaucracy. It’s a warning to single-minded paper-pushers everywhere!
Can you enjoy Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the movie, without reading Alexander Freed’s novelization of it? Of course.
But why would you want to?
Full disclosure: I was not provided a review copy. I spent my own money for the book, and would gladly do so again.
Any fan of Rogue One will want to read Alexander Freed’s book – and likely more than once. It captures all the magic of the movie, and then gives you so much more.
Have you read Alexander Freed’s Rogue One? What did you think of it? Let’s compare notes in the comments below!
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Entertainment Earth, Inc. its owners, officers, employees, affiliates, subsidiaries, partners, vendors, customers or licensors.