A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Disney revived the Star Wars movie franchise, and the cultural landscape was once again flooded with the Force.
When Disney acquired Lucasfilm and the rights to Star Wars for $4 billion in 2012, they made a move that was controversial with many readers and rendered the vast library of Expanded Universe novels noncanonical—in other words, no longer part of the official overarching Star Wars narrative. Luckily for fans anticipating Episode IX, The Rise of Skywalker, coming to theaters next month, Disney and Lucasfilm are working with publishers to make new, canonical Expanded Universe books. There will be plenty of titles across the Star Wars timeline, and speculative fiction author Rebecca Roanhorse was chosen to write a prequel novel to Episode IX, Resistance Reborn (Del Rey).
Roanhorse, who is of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and African American descent, is a Nebula, Hugo, and Locus awards winner, as well as the recipient of the 2018 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her critically acclaimed Sixth World series was inspired by Navajo mythology, and, given its epic battles and expert world-building, Roanhorse’s style is a natural fit for Star Wars.
Still, Resistance Reborn had to fit within the parameters of one of the most famous franchises ever. Lucasfilm provided a few paragraphs of direction—no spoilers allowed—leaving plenty of space to do her own thing. “I came up with a 15-page outline that everyone involved at Lucasfilm and Del Rey had to read and approve,” she says, “and then they actually gave me a lot of freedom.” She asked her friend Daniel José Older (author of his own Star Wars book, Last Shot) for advice, and he told her to trust that Lucasfilm had picked her for a reason and to just go for it.
For Roanhorse, going for it meant lots of thoughtful character work expanding on existing themes of inherited trauma. “My way into the Star Wars universe was thinking of this as a war,” she says. “It’s a generational war. There are people who have been fighting this war their entire lives.” She mentions that Leia—a character in this book—has not only been fighting since she was a teenager but has lost her entire family. “When you start to feel that, it becomes very clear what these characters are dealing with, how Leia’s grief must just sit on her all the time, and how you can bring that through in a story.”
She also relished the opportunity to elaborate on aspects of the war between the First Order and the Resistance that the movies breeze by—like everyday realities in a fascist regime that takes political prisoners and sentences them to hard labor. While we see quite a bit of the First Order’s top brass in the movies, Roanhorse looks more into the middle management, with an ambitious bureaucrat and his two assistants who find themselves in charge of classified prisoners. They’re examples of what she thinks of as a “creeping sort of evil,” the sort of people who don’t want to rock the boat, who don’t care about atrocities that don’t affect them personally. Another of Roanhorse’s inventions is a shady organization called the Collective, which aligns itself with neither the Resistance nor the First Order, though it’s happy to steal political secrets and cause trouble for both sides.
As far as the plot goes, Roanhorse picks up about where the 2017 film The Last Jedi left off, with Leia, Poe, Finn, Rey, and what’s left of the Resistance trying to pick up the pieces and find a safe place to regroup. Along the way there are battles, spy missions, and all the thrills you’d want from a Star Wars story. In addition to the heavy themes of war crimes and grief, Roanhorse nails the films’ sense of humor, particularly when it comes to the dynamic duo of Poe and Finn (played onscreen by Oscar Isaac and John Boyega).
Roanhorse, like so many, grew up on the movies but is grateful she got the chance to dig into the Expanded Universe stories that give minor characters some much deserved attention. She’s enjoying the new Disney+ Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian, which is about a lone bounty hunter on the outskirts of the galaxy and shares a lot of the Western genre elements of her own work. Roanhorse is also contributing to an upcoming middle-grade anthology that focuses on the Clone Wars, which occurred towards the beginning of the Star Wars timeline.
Between the Disney+ series and all these new books, there is plenty of new Star Wars material that exists independent of the movies. “I feel so immersed in the series again,” says Roanhorse of the research she did to write Resistance Reborn. “There’s a lot of joy in [the Expanded Universe]—I really love it.”
Chelsea Ennen is a writer in Brooklyn.