When Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker was released last year, one line of dialogue that raised a lot of eyebrows was the revelation that Resistance hero Poe Dameron was once a spice runner. The YA novel Poe Dameron: Free Fall by Alex Segura, released last week, covers this period in Poe’s life and attempts to have it make sense in the wider context of Poe’s life.
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Poe Dameron: Free Fall opens with a sixteen-year-old Poe living with his father Kes on their Yavin 4 farm. Poe, much like Luke Skywalker years before, yearns for more than life on a farm. Worse, Poe has grown up listening to tales of the heroics his father (Rebellion soldier Kes Dameron) and mother (Rebellion pilot Shara Bey) got up to during the Galactic Civil War and he is desperate to prove himself. However, since the death of his mother, Poe’s father has become overly protective of their only child, meaning the teenage Poe feels suffocated on the small moon where everyone knows who he is. That’s why, when he finds a bunch of smugglers in need of a pilot sitting in a local tavern, he offers to fly them off-world himself, anything to get away from Yavin 4.
It’s only after their daring escape that Poe discovers exactly who he has fallen in with. No ordinary bunch of smugglers, Poe is now a pilot for the notorious Spice Runners of Kijimi, a relatively new gang making the best of the power vacuum left behind by the collapse of the Empire. Poe’s loyalties are immediately at odds with one another. He knows he should return home to his worried father and that becoming a Spice Runner is the opposite of what his beloved mother would have wanted for him, but here is an opportunity for a lifetime of adventure and daring that he could barely have dreamed of.
And then there’s Zorii Wynn, a teenage girl who forms part of the team Poe met on Yavin 4. Zorii seems wise beyond her years and the rest of the hard-boiled crew are oddly protective of her despite her obvious lack of experience. As Poe and Zorii’s relationship develops, he finds it increasingly difficult to walk away from the Spice Runners, even as their missions become darker and ever more deadly, forcing Poe into moral choices that often turn his stomach.
The book climaxes as Zorii’s secrets are finally revealed, forcing Poe into a final showdown where he will finally have to make a choice between two very different futures.
Poe Dameron: Free Fall is a book that has clearly been written out of necessity in order to explain away the backstory that was dropped bombshell-like into the final film. Author Alex Segura has had to write something that explains how a son of Rebel heroes could wind up working as a Spice Runner and then, equally difficult, how he could have escaped from that life. After all, notorious criminal gangs are not known for letting people simply walk away from them if they change their minds. The result is a book that feels forced and, unfortunately, struggles to work.
Poe’s initial decision to join the Spice Runners was probably the most believable part of his journey. Rather than a conscious choice to fall in with a bad crowd, Poe is simply an impulsive teen who takes an opportunity to get away from his responsibilities without really thinking through the consequences—something I’m sure most of us can relate to. However, the longer he stays with them, the less that rationale holds water. As Poe witnesses and even participates in more and more criminal undertakings, the more he becomes complicit in them and no amount of painful ruminations after the fact can alter that. In fact, the endless moral dilly-dallying became annoying after a while. Poe knew full well that he was in the wrong but continued finding reasons not to leave and my sympathy for him as a kid who made a poor choice wore away to almost nothing by the end.
There were, of course, good points. The inclusion of the adorable and hilarious Babu Frik in several scenes was a natural highlight—how could it not be—and new droid character EV-6B6 was a delight. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if, given the events at the end of the book, we eventually discover that she and BB-8 have more in common than simply belonging to Poe. I’m not a huge fan of pilot-themed books but reading about some of Poe’s more imaginative maneuvers was also a lot of fun, even if it did take some significant suspension of disbelief to accept they were pulled off by a cocky teen who hadn’t flown anything beyond a beaten up A-Wing before the start of the book.
I do also feel the need to talk about Poe’s relationship with Zorii. Ever since the release of The Force Awakens, fans immediately began shipping Poe with his fellow Resistance hero Finn, something actor Oscar Isaac would have been happy to see progress in the later films. Naturally, that never happened, and there have been mutterings that Poe’s relationship with Zorii in The Rise of Skywalker was specifically added in to derail those theories and make the film more palatable to less LGBTQ-friendly markets. Free Fall explores this relationship in more detail and it is clear that Poe does have feelings for Zorii. However, it is also made clear that having grown up on the backwater of Yavin 4 with almost no others of his own age around him, this is Poe’s first experience of anything even vaguely romantic and both his and Zorii’s actions can best be described as fumbling. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that there is nothing in Free Fall that precludes Poe from being bi or pansexual, and thus nothing here that could prevent StormPilot from becoming canon one day in a future book or comic. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking with it.
Taken with a pinch of salt, Poe Dameron: Free Fall is a fun adventure novel and I’m sure younger readers and fans of movie-Poe will enjoy it. For those of us hoping it would fix the canon issues raised by The Rise of Skywalker, I’m not sure it does. I was hopeful at the beginning but Poe’s journey throughout this book didn’t work for me and left too many issues for me to feel fully satisfied. This is one I probably wouldn’t recommend to anyone beyond die-hard Poe fans and Star Wars canon completists.
GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.