Tie-ins have a bad name. The term isn’t neutral, and it frequently suggests low quality, or stories that are simple cash grabs. Discussions of the recently-released Galaxy’s Edge tie-in novels Crash of Fate and Black Spire have occasionally focused on references to locations and objects from the parks that come across almost like product placement or commercials for the Disney Star Wars theme park. To be certain, corporate synergies are at play when designing and creating products that tie into other aspects of a multimedia franchise, whether it’s a theme park or a newly-released movie. But are Star Wars tie-in novels published by Disney-Lucasfilm Press and Del Rey just commercials for other Star Wars products? I don’t think they are.
A lot of my favorite Star Wars novels published over the last few years have been tie-ins. Del Rey’s Battlefront novels are among the highest-regarded of the adult canon Star Wars novels, and they have the name of a video game plastered on the front of them. The Servants of the Empire series tied into the Star Wars Rebels television series, but they’re among the highest-quality middle-grade novels in Disney-Lucasfilm Press’s repertoire of high-quality middle-grade novels (I will always say that you should never miss out on the Star Wars young adult and/or middle-grade novels, because they are almost always superb). Heck, Rogue One was surrounded by well-regarded books from the film’s novelization to companion stories like Catalyst, Rebel Rising, and Guardians of the Whills. And I haven’t even mentioned any of the Marvel creations here because I’m focusing on the Del Rey and Disney-Lucasfilm novels.
These tie-in novels exist to do more than just promote a film or theme park, more than just making a quick buck out of people who are excited about a related product. They are genuinely good stories that flesh out and expand characters and locations from their baseline story. Think about the Canto Bight novella collection: we got a series of great stories about random characters we might see for just a moment in The Last Jedi. Those great stories are what you’re paying for.
But I don’t want to just talk about tie-ins in general. I want to talk about the two aforementioned Galaxy’s Edge novels released this month: Disney’s Crash of Fate by Zoraida Cordova and Black Spire by Delilah Dawson. I loved these stories. Specifically, I loved the characters in the stories and the situations they were in – independently of anything to do with Galaxy’s Edge the theme park. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say that the stories work very well together as two different takes about two different sets of characters in the same location. Crash of Fate takes place over the course of a single day, and has the feel of fantasy romance to it, except that the characters know their situation is sort of surreal and can’t believe they’re in it. Black Spire is a spy adventure that develops over a period of time.
I’ve described both novels as almost like Star Wars RPG sessions: Crash of Fate is a one-shot adventure giving an inside view of Batuu, while Black Spire is an adventure played over multiple sessions where the GM isn’t afraid to get dark but will indulge the players when they want to have zany shenanigans too.
I should say at the outset that I have in fact visited the Galaxy’s Edge park. That’s a big part of why I think these tie-in books aren’t just commercials — they might look like product placement at times, but much of what they’re fleshing out is the theme park’s backstory. There’s no mention at all of Coca-Cola or advertisements for building lightsabers — at most you’ll get mentions of food items, and that’s pretty harmless. You’re not going to book a trip to Galaxy’s Edge just to eat the funky colored popcorn.
Crash of Fate and Black Spire work really well as complementary tie-ins
Black Spire Outpost on Batuu is supposed to be a real location in the Star Wars galaxy – a trading post on the edge of Wild Space. In reality, it’s a Disney theme park themed around Star Wars. In order to maintain the conceit of being a real location in Star Wars, Disney did things like removing the “Star Wars” branding from merchandise and licensing Aurebesh-labeled Coke bottles. But in order to make the park more interesting than just a middle-of-nowhere planet (imagine a Jakku theme park and shudder), Disney gave us things like Savi’s lightsaber shop or Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities. They’re improbable shops full of awesome Star Wars things we’d expect to see, instead of what would more properly fit a strange, distant planet.
That’s where the tie-in novels come in. To be clear, the role of these novels isn’t to “explain Galaxy’s Edge” or “make the park make sense”. They’re not lore entries in an encyclopedia or fix-it articles on a website. They’re stories – that’s their purpose and reason for being. But in the midst of the story, you get a sense of the character and feel of this place called Batuu – and why a strange nowhere world might still have things of interest. At a certain point you still have to suspend your disbelief: no book is going to ever explain why an Ithorian black market dealer has Ahsoka Tano’s lightsabers or the Emperor’s cane, and the books don’t even try. At the end of the day, the answer is: it’s a theme park.
As I alluded to earlier, Crash of Fate and Black Spire offer different but complementary takes on Batuu. Crash is essentially a local point of view: the two main characters are from Batuu, though one of them (who has the awesome name of Izzy Garsea) left the planet as a child and returns as a young adult. This framing is important: we get to see Batuu from a local perspective, while still getting to benefit from audience stand-in Izzy discovering the planet anew as an adult. It’s a good framing; we learn about the world just as Izzy is learning about who she is and what she wants as a person (including her values and her relationship with her estranged childhood best friend Jules).
On the other hand, our primary point of view in Black Spire is a complete and total stranger to Batuu. In many ways, the perspective of Vi Moradi is the same as your standard Star Wars fan’s. She’s used to the high drama of the fight between the First Order and the Resistance, and she comes from a vast and cosmopolitan galaxy. She’s not a fancy-pants Core Worlder, but next to the denizens of Batuu, she may as well be one. In a section that almost reads like a tour of the theme park, Vi marvels at the simple homespun nature of the planet and their strange ways of life, including how even basic goods from a galactic standpoint are hugely expensive. This might be a cute reference to Disney merchandise being expensive, or it might just be a good characterization of how stable, advanced technological goods are hard to come by on a frontier world controlled by a criminal element.
Both books frequently mention Batuu-isms that any attendee of the theme park would recognize: the ever-present greeting of “bright suns!” (lampshaded in Black Spire) and the use of spira as a local currency. In the real-world theme park, the spira is a metal near-field communication gift card. One of my favorite moments in Black Spire is when Vi has to do running conversions between credits and spira in order to buy essentials. In the theme park, Disney is perfectly happy to take your dollars. In the fictional trading outpost, merchants are perfectly happy to take standard galactic credits – just like any international town with business from all over the world. It’s a nice bit of verisimilitude: in a trading town, most money is good and most merchants will provide conversions for you. They might rip you off a bit, but hey, they’ll take your money.
Even though these are tie-ins, you don’t need to care about Batuu to enjoy the story
I’ve talked for a bit about how the stories relate to the theme park but let’s suppose you don’t intend to go to Galaxy’s Edge anytime soon, because it’s not feasible or because you don’t care. Why should you be interested in these stories?
Well, it’s because they’re about more than just the theme park. Yeah, they might namedrop Ronto Roasters, Oga’s Cantina, the Docking Bay 7 restaurant, and even the names of specific food and drink items available for purchase at the park. But these are fleeting references, examples of how coordinated and built-up the lore of the park is. In truth, all these references barely amount to a fraction of the books. Most of the references are to background lore for the park: folks like Savi and Oga might be visible in the names of the park’s facilities, and referred to by Cast Members, but you’ll probably never see them in the park. I definitely didn’t. Visiting Galaxy’s Edge myself showed me just how little these books serve as “commercials” for the content of the park – they really are just about fleshing the place out.
The big exception here is Vi Moradi, of course. She’s an active character in the theme park, and the main character of Black Spire. But she’s also as far as you can get from a cynical merchandising connection. For one, there is no Vi Moradi merch. There probably couldn’t be at an in-universe park – she’s a Resistance spy on the run from the First Order, who in their right minds would sell merchandise related to her? I still want them to make a Black Series figure of her regardless (Hondo has one, after all), but that’s beside the point. The real point is that it’s actually really flippin’ cool that a character who made her start in the novels (Phasma) is a living, breathing character in the park. Seriously, if you ever do get to the park (or just find a video on YouTube), just watch Vi in action. She’s amazing and wonderful. Especially around kids. The fact that she can pull off great interactions with guests despite not being a recognizable film character like Rey or the stormtroopers is something astonishing.
But okay, enough about the park. Let’s look at Crash of Fate for a moment. The setting of Batuu is really immaterial – or rather, it’s significant, but not because it’s a theme park setting. Crash is a personal story – about family, about romance, about action and adventure, and most importantly, about finding yourself. The setting is vital, but because of how it specifically relates to the characters and their ideas about home and belonging. What I really love about Crash of Fate is that it’s a young adult romance novel that fits squarely in that genre and gives the characters a lot of agency to explore who they are. This is something that I’ve liked about the young adult genre over the past several years: the focus on taking teenagers and young adults seriously, addressing what are to them life-changing events, and giving them credit for their maturity. It’s fanciful at times too – specifically because so much gets resolved in a short period of time – but the characters know it too.
Black Spire is different. Not because it’s an adult novel, but because of the different perspective I mentioned earlier. It’s an outsider’s perspective, about a military mission. The pacing is very different, more methodical. Some of it is intentional to the operation, some of it is because stuff happens. But the pacing changes as the story changes, and you get invested – not just in Vi Moradi, but also in her partner, the former Captain Cardinal (who I think many of us have a soft spot for). Vi meets some new folks too, and I particularly love the new characters who join her. I’m not going to spoil any of them but they remind me of a fun and slightly dysfunctional pen-and-paper RPG party. They’re perhaps not the best suited for an action-heavy adventure, but that’s where the fun comes in.
On a more serious note, Black Spire also provides a serious look at oppression and how people respond to it. The out-of-the-way setting of Batuu provides a great backdrop for exploring the idea of keeping your head down and being too small and unimportant for the fascists to notice. Vi has to struggle to convince the locals that the thing about the First Order is that they want to control everything, and that they (the locals) should wake up to the threat. But at the same time, we see that the lure of credits and illusory order might lead some to mistakenly support the First Order. But the book’s not just dark and grey – there’s some discussion of heroism, spirtuality, and the Force that I found really compelling. I’m not usually a Force-y guy, because superhumans with glowing swords don’t interest me — but the impact the spirituality of the Force has on regular people? Sign me up for more exploration of that. Hope is central to Star Wars, after all.
These books are worth your time
So look, what I’m saying is that the “Galaxy’s Edge” label shouldn’t stop you from giving these books a try. Especially if you enjoyed other backstory books like Canto Bight or if you’re fond of the characters from Phasma, because these books will be right up your alley. Personally, I found Crash of Fate to be a literal page-turner and I could hardly put it down. I started slowly with Black Spire and then breathlessly read to the end. I think it says something that my reading pace matched the narrative pacing of the books: these are just well-crafted stories. If you like politics and war stories, try Black Spire. If you like coming-of-age stories and stories about regular folks, try Crash of Fate. Or go with the reverse, and see how the stories surprise you, too – Black Spire is about regular folk and Crash of Fate has something to say about galactic adventure.
Tie-in fiction isn’t always good. Sometimes they really are phoned-in stories. But I think we’re pretty lucky with Star Wars, especially over the last few years. Disney-Lucasfilm Press and Del Rey have turned out some pretty great tie-in stories that handle some pretty weighty topics. They also showcase how tied together the experience is – if you ever do go to Galaxy’s Edge or have already been, maybe these stories will enhance your experience. And if you haven’t gone or never plan to – you can still get a sense of Batuu, too.