Skywalker: A Family at War by Kristin Baver is an unusual book. Unlike the majority of Star Wars novels, it is presented in the style of a factual biography that follows the Skywalker family from just prior to the events of The Phantom Menace to the end of The Rise of Skywalker.
Please note: This post contains affiliate links. Potential spoilers ahead for all previously released Star Wars material.
First, a very quick overview of Skywalker: A Family at War as a whole. The book is divided into three parts: The Father, The Twins, and the Dyad. Part one is the longest and begins with a brief look at Shmi Skywalker’s life before diving straight into Anakin’s childhood. From here, we follow him during his years on Tatooine, through his Jedi training, the Clone Wars, and his eventual transformation into Darth Vader. Part two picks up with Luke and Leia as children and follows them through their respective youth on Tatooine and Alderaan and the events of the original trilogy, while part three begins with the birth of Ben Solo and follows the events of the sequel trilogy through to Ben’s death on Exegol.
Almost nothing new is added to the Skywalker story at any point so don’t go into this book expecting page after page of new revelations, but what this book does well is two things. First, it brings together events from a multitude of different sources into one, fairly comprehensive narrative. There are events covered here not only from the films but from the Clone Wars and Rebels TV shows, many of the novels, and also the various Star Wars comic book series. For those interested in learning more about the key characters of the Star Wars movies but who don’t have the time or inclination to work their way through dozens of novels and comic series, you really couldn’t ask for a better overview of everything we know about the central characters so far.
Second, Skywalker: A Family at War explores the major events in these people’s lives in detail, allowing for pauses to reflect upon how they affected the characters we known and love and shaped their later choices. By focusing so specifically on these few characters and following them from birth to death, we get to see how their lives were molded by events in the wider galaxy, and how they themselves impacted the wider galaxy in turn. This bringing together of story fragments from so many different sources allows us to explore, for example, how the ramifications of an event from a novel would shape a character’s perspective on something that happens in a movie taking place many years later in their lives. In one example, Leia’s betrayal by a former boyfriend during her teens (as seen in Leia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray) is referenced when she is once again betrayed, this time by Lando on Cloud City during The Empire Strikes Back.
It is worth remembering that the book only really looks at events we are already aware of – at least those of us who are trying to keep up-to-date with the ever-expanding canon. My comment earlier about “everything we know so far” is very relevant here because the gaps we had in the canon prior to this book’s release are largely still there now. This is especially obvious in Luke’s story. While Anakin’s life has largely been explored across most eras thanks to the prequels, original trilogy, and his ongoing comic series, and Leia’s life has also been covered in some detail thanks to the two Claudia Gray novels, there are still huge gaps in Luke’s story – especially his youth on Tatooine and the years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. While these areas are touched on a little, they are largely passed over. Personally, I hope to see the former gap explored in the forthcoming Obi-Wan series on Disney+ which is likely one of the reasons why this book wasn’t allowed to explore this time period any deeper. Ben Solo’s story is also very vague up until The Force Awakens, with only a loose framework of a few known events so far.
Before I conclude, I want to acknowledge two problematic elements in Skywalker: A Family at War. In the early chapters, some of the depictions of Shmi use language very similar in tone to that which is often used in the trope of the “happy slave” – depicting enslaved people as being happy with their lot. Shmi is described at one point as “content” and seemingly satisfied with small pleasures, her situation casually referred to as merely “misfortune”, and at one point the author refers to Shmi being able to perform some duties at the “comfort” of a private work station. All these examples come together to paint an inaccurate yet familiar rose-tinted image of slavery. Later on, there are also several examples of language that conflate physical deformities with bad character traits or personality. Palpatine’s physical transformation at the hands of Mace Windu is described as, “his placid features replaced by a withered and scarred visage that matched his dark heart,” as if physical scars somehow reflect how a person is inside. Both of these are small elements of an otherwise good book, but it is hugely disappointing that such language was allowed to slip through.
I enjoyed Skywalker: A Family at War for the most part, even though I did feel throughout as if I were simply re-treading old ground. Having the events of so many books, TV episodes, comics and more brought together into one structured timeline helped me make sense of how these things related to one another, and I felt as if I came away with a better understanding of these characters than I went in with. I know this is a book I will be referring back to many times in the future.
For those reading their way through the current canon, this may not necessarily be worth the read except for the sake of completionism or a better understanding of events. The people I would really recommend this to are those looking for a first step into the Star Wars universe but who feel overwhelmed by the dozens of books that are already published. For them, this is the perfect stepping on point.
GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.