Image Courtesy of Lucasfilm
“Dad, can we go out into the backyard tomorrow and look for junk? I want to build a speeder just like Rey!” I’ve never been great about yard work, but there was little chance of my daughter finding any junk buried in the dirt and weeds back there and even less chance that she’d be able to build anything resembling a speeder with whatever she did find. That wasn’t the important part though. The important thing was that we had just read that Rey had built her own speeder out of scraps of metal and rusty bits of long obsolete technology, and now my daughter hoped that our backyard somehow held that same adventure for her. What is a dad to do except tell her, “Sure sweetheart. We’ll go look tomorrow morning.” Rey’s Survival Guide, written by Jason Fry, is the newest in a series of in-universe journals that have previously spotlighted Ezra and Sabine from Star Wars Rebels. It is written from the point of view of Rey as she teaches a poor, unknown soul (the reader), who has found themselves stranded on Jakku, how to survive. The journal reads as part survival manual, part travel guide to what Rey must consider the junkyard of the galaxy, and part journal recounting the struggles of a girl who has lived the majority of her life fighting to survive as she waits for her dream of being reunited with her family to come true. It’s also one of the first chapter books my daughter and I read together where we both would look at each other and say, “Let’s read just a few more pages.”
In The Force Awakens very few people really want to go back to Jakku. They are driven there by necessity. They must rescue a friend, who just happens to be the cutest little spherical droid in the galaxy, or they must return there to wait for the family they long to be reunited with. They don’t want to be there, but as a viewer, I found myself intrigued by Jakku. Amid its dunes and the corroding wrecks of Star Destroyers were various interesting locations, creatures, and aliens that I wanted to know more about. They were the Tusken Raiders, Jawas, Banthas, and Jundland Wastes of a new generation. While the movie could not afford to linger there because of its pacing, Jason Fry’s text is unafraid to dive deep into the dunes of this desert world and invite readers to sift through its sand and wreckage to uncover the tales that lie buried beneath.
In addition to providing information on the formation of Nima Outpost, where salvage trader Unkar Plutt is always willing to provide scavengers with unfair portions, Rey’s Survival Guide also provides Rey’s thoughts on many locations not committed to film. Some of my favorites are the various sights along the Happabore trail called Pilgrim’s Road. In this section, Rey’s curious nature is on full display. She wonders why the Teedos might give a womp rat's care about a being known only as The Sitter. She ponders where the closest thing Jakku seems to have to a barkeep, a woman named Old Meru, got her tattoos. Through Rey’s description of these various oddities, Jason Fry is able to not only reveal the curiosity that led Rey to wander into the depths of Maz Kanata’s castle in search of an all too familiar girl’s cries; he is able to make the reader wish that they could have spent more time on Jakku. My daughter and I both found ourselves wishing for more adventures there. We want to see Rey meet The Sitter and question him about what he was doing up on that pillar. We want to watch Old Meru drive off the lookie-loos who make the mistake of staring at her ink just a little too long. We want to see Rey uncover the truth about the Dead Enders and what rumors say may be an old Imperial outpost. In the pages of this journal, Fry helps rescue Jakku from being Tatooine 2.0 and proves it has more to offer than just the junk buried in the sand.
In Star Wars, almost all of the planets we love are favorites not just because of their locations but also because of the creatures and characters we find there. Jakku is no exception. Many of us fell in love with the odd, cybernetic mixture of the Luggabeasts and the bulging, bulbous form of the Happabore. In addition to providing more information about those two creatures, such as how Luggabeasts are made or the uses, temperaments, and deworming strategies of the Happabore, Jason Fry also has Rey provide details about numerous other creatures not featured in the film. Rey instructs us on how to survive the threats of ripper-raptors, gnaw-jaws, and nightwatchers. We also are treated to Rey’s impressions of many of the inhabitants of Nima Outpost, such as Sarco Plank and Constable Zuvio. A particular favorite of my daughter and I is a power droid named AMPS, who will weld things for Rey in exchange for a joke. The added depth and new additions to the creature cavalcade and degenerate denizens of Jakku reminded me of a much sparser version of one of those short story anthologies from the old Bantam Spectra days of the Expanded Universe where the smoky interiors of the Mos Eisley Cantina and Jabba’s Palace were explored and the backstories of its inhabitants told.
Rey’s Survival Guide would have appealed to fans like me who horde details about creatures, scum, and locations in our brains like golden nuggets of information, but it most likely would have left its target audience (children) cold without the sections telling us more about the life of Rey. These were the parts of the journal my daughter loved the most. We zoomed through these sections as she requested page after page be read to expand on her knowledge about things only briefly glimpsed or mentioned within the film. She wanted to know about the simulator programs Rey used to learn how to fly, the marks she made to show the passage of each day, and the X-wing helmet she wore as she ate. We also got to see how building her own speeder gave Rey a new sense of freedom in the same way that cars did in the days of George Lucas and continue to do today. My daughter got to hear one of her new heroes speak to her and share thoughts about life with her in a way that friends do. It was as if Rey had invited my daughter into the fallen AT-AT that is her house and asked if she wanted to see her room. By having these scenes be told from a first-person point-of-view, Jason Fry is able to create a sense of intimacy between the audience and Rey. It helps children and adults to feel connected to this desert girl who crawled into our hearts, just as she climbed into the wreckage of the Star Destroyers.
One reason why the Star Wars universe is so well-loved is because it feels like a living, breathing, real place. For my daughter and I, Rey’s Survival Guide gave us another avenue in which to spend time with Rey as her advice and experiences breathed more life into Jakku. While Rey longed to be reunited with her family and leave Jakku, her descriptions (deftly provided by Jason Fry) only made my daughter and I want to spend more time on Jakku, taking in its oddity and beauty. If you want to go back to Jakku, the trip is only a book away.
What creature, non-Rey character, or scene from Jakku do you like the most? Please share with us on Twitter at @mapplebee7567 and @farfarawayradio.
If you would like to purchase Rey's Survival Guide, you can do so here.