Star Wars novelizations prior to The Last Jedi were a great way to experience the saga multiple times shortly after the film’s release without venturing back out to your local cinema. However, the final two Skywalker saga novelizations — including the latest, The Rise of Skywalker — were held for release closer to the home media release date. Moreover, the novelizations offered additional sequences that sometimes appeared as “deleted” scenes among the home release extras. Frustratingly, in this book, author Rae Carson’s interpretation of Rey and Ben’s final moments together and additional information revealed about Rey’s father were spoiled by headlines before I had a chance to get the book. Despite that, there was plenty of new story left to enjoy.

With the opening paragraphs, it’s clear the novelization of The Rise of Skywalker – Expanded Edition is not directly married to the movie and will offer us storylines beyond those presented directly on-screen woven among interpretations of the film’s content as advertised. While J.J.Abrams’ film opens in the desolate forests of Mustafar with Kylo Ren fiercely battling robed warriors, Carson’s novelization opens on the lush, green forests of Ajan Kloss. Initially a familiar scene of Rey hovering in a meditative state as from the film, the actions evolve beyond the sequence of Rey’s training with Leia into an exploration of Leia’s experience training under her brother, Luke. A delightful exchange that climaxes with Luke telling his sister “You’re going to make me a better teacher.” Luke speaks of Leia’s natural abilities and his adaptation to aid her developing those innate skills. We discover that Leia is continuing on that foundation with the expectation that Rey will carve a new path for the Force sensitive.

Numerous storylines touched on within the film are more deeply explored through the novelization. For example, Leia’s concern over Rey’s readiness to combat the Dark Side, her continued hope for her son Ben, Rey’s own doubts regarding her ability to withstand the pull of the dark side are elaborated on as is the arc of Kylo Ren as he discovers the deception he has been living under and wonders if his redemption is possible. Through the novelization, we also become more acquainted with Beaumont (the character portrayed by Dominic Monaghan), find out a little more about Rose’s role and experience Zorii’s adventures after aiding Poe’s mission off the planet. Luke and Maz Kanata both play stronger roles in supporting and guiding Leia’s choices than the movie established. In fact, I really enjoyed most of the additional material relating to Leia.

At times I felt the author perhaps leaned too heavily on the possibility that readers had seen the film. The rich visuals of Pasaana’s colorful festival were not elaborated such that it came to life, and I’m not sure I would have known orbaks resembled husky horses without having seen the film. However, I did greatly appreciate her interpretations of emotional moments. The choices she made when inferring motivations from a glance or the emotion behind a phrase, such as when Rey was struggling to save Chewie. In that moment she is pulling at the transport the author wrote, “She drew on her rage at Kylo, at the First Order..She drew on her terror for Chewie’s life…” These words and others expounded the internal struggle between the light and dark within her.

A particularly heart-warming addition through the novelization was the revelation of Ben Solo and Chewbacca’s relationship. During his capture, Kylo Ren probes the mind of the Wookiee and discovers memories and moments that shake his stability within the Dark Side. Later, holodisc images Chewie kept in his cabin aboard the Millennium Falcon further reveal their unique bond that was never unveiled in the films.

Reading The Rise of Skywalker-Expanded Edition deepened my understanding of the character’s motivations and connected me more deeply to their journey than I had felt watching the film. I think you’ll find it a good companion to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker whether or not you loved the film.