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From the very first trailer for Episode VII: The Force Awakens, I fell in love with Poe Dameron. It was only one shot, but for some reason I had to know more. Maybe it was the black X-wing. Through three movies, we didn’t get nearly enough of Poe, especially his backstory. Fortunately, we get that in spades with the young adult novel Poe Dameron Free Fall by Alex Segura.
The galaxy has enjoyed relative peace for several years, but that peace of mind escapes 16-year-old Poe Dameron. Still reeling from his mother’s death, teenage rebellion has set in. Poe is itching for a way off Yavin 4 and the farm life his father has settled into, not unlike a young Luke Skywalker. While in a cantina escaping the consequences of his most recent escapade, a femme fatale named Zorii Wynn convinces him to join her crew. Just like FN-2187 in The Force Awakens, they need a pilot, and Poe’s just the boy for the job.
Little does Poe know he’s just joined up with the increasingly infamous Spice Runners of Kijimi. Poe quickly shows his skills on missions, earning the trust of the crew and winning over the heart of an otherwise cold and collected Zorii. The missions get increasingly hairy as the New Republic Security Bureau is hot on their tail. A betrayal, a surprise meeting, and a meeting of rivals later finds Poe forced to choose who he really wants to be: the criminal he’s become, or the hero his parents raised.
An Noir Origin Story
The reveal that Poe was once a Spice Runner in Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker left many fans upset. Their gruff but flawed boy scout had a dark past! But just like Han Solo, his past isn’t as dark as being a spice runner, the Star Wars equivalent of a drug cartel, sounds. The entirety of the novel details Poe’s life as a spice runner, and while it’s not all dual sunrises and rainbows, Poe is far from the bad boy drug dealer Finn and Rey’s reaction on Kijimi paints him to be.
At its core, Poe Dameron Free Fall feels like a noir story. It has the action and adventure you’d expect from any Star Wars story, but there’s always an undercurrent of mystery. None of the characters are who they appear to be, including Zorii. It features several betrayals, twists, and reveals as well, making it feel like a Star Wars version of a 1930s gangster film. This makes sense as author Alex Segura is best known for his neo-noir Pete Fernandez Mystery series of novels.
The mysterious Zorii Wynn is none other than Zorii Bliss [not a spoiler, she’s on the cover in her Episode IX look]. Like many a femme fatale, Zorii plays the doubting good girl well. She fills Poe with confidence when she needs to, but flips that confidence on Poe when she needs to get the job done. The way Segura sets up her eventual conflict with Poe is fantastic. You know it’s coming, but the how is handled incredibly well and really helps explain why Zorii was ready to shoot Poe without a second thought nearly 20 years later in the streets of Kijimi.
My primary criticism of this entire book is that nothing really happens. Yes, we learn more about Poe’s shady past, but the events at play are – so far – very small scale to the grander Star Wars mythos. No one had ever heard of the Spice Runners of Kijimi prior to The Rise of Skywalker, and by the time of the film there’s hardly anything left to them. The larger criminal syndicates like the Pykes, the famed spice runners from the Clone Wars era, or even the Hutt cartel, are ignored.
The Spice Runners are an up-and-coming outfit, but by the end of the book seem to have grown a lot in power. Perhaps the fallout from the events of Poe Dameron Free Fall are being saved for a sequel, but I really would like to know why what seemed to be a growing force in the Star Wars underworld ends up being just a disbanded crew by the time Poe returns to Kijimi.
Hey hey, more Babu Frik!
Apart from more Poe, the real highlights of the novel are the scenes where we get more of Babu Frik. Babu is every bit as funny as he was in The Rise of Skywalker, but in Poe Dameron Free Fall he gets more time to shine. Each Babu scene is quick but shows he’s more than just a cute throw-away meant to sell toys (not that he really got a good toy). Babu’s a valued member of the Spice Runners and acts almost like a loving uncle to Zorii. He’s loyal to a fault but quickly comes to care for Poe. The way he treated Poe in Rise as if he’d known him for a long time makes a lot more sense after reading Segura’s expansion of the relationship.
We also several more examples of Babu’s unique way of speaking. Like Yoda, Babu Frik doesn’t speak in a traditional style. He repeats words just as he does in the film, but his style isn’t nearly as odd as Yoda’s. The film gives Babu a child-like quality, but in Poe Dameron Free Fall, Segura presents Frik as more eccentric than anything else.
Understanding and Expanding Characters
What Segura does incredibly well in Poe Dameron Free Fall is matching the films’ characterization of Dameron, Zorii, and Babu while expanding on each. Even though Poe is a teenager in the entire novel, you can see the bold but sometimes brash leader already. It’s not quite fully developed, but this time period is an important one in Poe’s life for forming his character. Zorii is also well handled, as you get equal parts cold and warm in her relationship with Poe. Suddenly it makes sense that she goes from holding a gun to his head to helping him a minute later to sharing a heartfelt rooftop chat.
Dancing in the Grey
One of the rumors surrounding The Force Awakens was that Poe would ultimately end up being a villain, which explained why we didn’t see much of him in the trailers. It turns out that was more to his character originally being killed off in the TIE Fighter crash early on. Oscar Issac convinced J.J. Abrams to give him a larger role. Thank the Maker for that!
That tease of villainy finally pays off in Poe Dameron Free Fall in a great way. Like young Han in Solo: A Star Wars Story, you get a young man confronted with the fact that the space between good and evil isn’t always obvious. Life isn’t black and white. Poe was raised to make his own choices but was done so by two legitimate heroes of the Rebel Alliance. Deep down, he knows right from wrong.
Still, Segura gives Poe plenty of opportunities to, as he puts it beautifully in my favorite line of Poe Dameron Free Fall, “dance in the grey areas of life.” This ultimately has a massive influence on Poe, as we see throughout the films. His upbringing could have easily turned him into a Luke Skywalker-type boy scout, but instead, he ends up being more and more like Han Solo. He’s going to make the right choice in the end but may cut a corner or two if it makes sense.
I went into reading this book knowing I’d like it because it was more Poe Dameron content. What surprised me was just how much I enjoyed it. In my first night reading, I’d devoured nearly 20% of the book because it hooked me so fast. More impressive was after my day job prevented me from reading for over a month, I was still able to pick it back up without feeling like I was lost. Some may see that as a criticism, that the events are forgettable. While that is somewhat true, Segura’s mastery of the characters makes each new scene feel authentic so that even if you missed a detail nothing feels out of place because of it.
Poe Dameron Free Fall reads quickly, but at nearly 400 pages isn’t necessarily a one-sitting book either. My copy was digital, but the physical book will be the same size as the Ahsoka novel and other young adult books published by Disney. You can probably read it in one long session, or at least a long weekend of reading. As the summer winds down, Poe Dameron Free Fall is a great way to escape into a familiar character and learn more about how he really ticks.
Poe Dameron Free Fall hits stores on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. It is available for pre-order from Amazon and other online retailers.
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This is the Poe story I’ve wanted for a long, long time. The novel goes beyond his origin story and digs into his motivations as a character. Much like Solo: A Star Wars Story, you see how the sequel trilogy’s lovable scoundrel formed his sense of right and wrong, and how it ultimately drives him to join the New Republic. Nothing major happens, but Segura’s character study is a joy to read.