Friday, May 5, 2017

Read, You Must: Guardians of the Whills

For fans of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, learning more about the new characters and worlds from the movie is a welcome treat. The duo of characters Jyn Erso encounters in Jedha City, Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus, have particularly intriguing pasts only hinted at onscreen.

Now those two are the stars of their own middle-grade novel from Disney-Lucasfilm Press, Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka (Before the Awakening, Smuggler’s Run).

Baze and Chirrut were a part of a group called the Guardians of the Whills, sworn to protect the sacred Kyber temple on Jedha. They are not Jedi themselves, but they do seem to be sharply attuned to some aspects of the Force, especially Chirrut. Since the Empire has taken over Jedha City and closed the temple, the two men are uncertain of their purpose or their future.

The story takes place before they meet Jyn or Cassian Andor. Under Imperial rule, Jedha City is getting worse and worse. Violence is escalating while food and water are becoming scarce. People are scared, hungry and losing hope. Baze and Chirrut find themselves helping an ever-growing group of children who have lost their parents in the conflict.

In order to protect the orphans they make a risky agreement with the potentially dangerous Saw Gerrara and his rebels. They all want to get rid of the Empire but Saw has some drastic ideas of how to fight them.

Also by Greg Rucka
Author Greg Rucka treats the story very seriously and doesn’t soften it for young readers. Where on TV Star Wars Rebels gives some idea how planets suffer under Imperial control, here readers get much more a real sense of that suffering. This book is difficult to describe without making it sound overly bleak. There’s tragedy, hardship and fear all around. That is the reality of war even in a fictional galaxy.

Chirrut is the main voice of hope though and his strong faith is uplifting when others around him feel so defeated. Indeed the story is at times heavy but the overall serious tone is very effective in building the tension right up to the final moments!

There’s no real reason to expect a happy ending, but Chirrut and Baze never lose hope that trying something nearly impossible is still possible. There’s always hope, a key theme of Rogue One, and Star Wars overall.

Some readers looking for lighter fun and adventure may want to look at books like Join the Resistance and the Adventures in Wild Space books. Guardians of the Whills is a complicated story about two aging men of faith and their struggles to find meaning. They deal with complex issues like when, if ever, is violence justified? The answers don’t come easy as Chirrut often points out, the cost may be too high.

Rucka particularly shines during the dialogue between Chirrut and Baze. He has perfectly captured their voices as they spoke in Rogue One. Chirrut always has a deeper twist in his sometimes puzzling statements. Baze is no-nonsense and quick to the point. They debate like only two life-long friends can.

Guardians of the Whills is a philosophical Star Wars novel and a captivating character story. It will certainly appeal to young readers who like to ponder the big questions of life, and probably a lot of adults too.

(Publisher’s Recommendation: Ages 9+)

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