Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker did a lot of things—arguably too many things, depending on your love of excess. One of those many things felt like it came out of nowhere: the revelation that hotshot pilot/pretty boy Poe Dameron had a criminal past. A new novel shines some light on that past, and a few more details about a galaxy of crime after the Empire fell.
Alex Segura’s Poe Dameron: Free Fall dropped at the start of the month, giving insight into a troubled young Poe’s life on Yavin IV before he set himself on a path of adventure in an attempt to find some excitement in the galaxy far, far away. But while its lens is mostly stuck to Poe’s attempts to find his place in a big wide universe, Free Fall does some interesting things to expand on that surprisingly revealed past.
The novel also fleshes out some interesting details about the galaxy at large at a time when the New Republic has reached its apex—and how, despite reaching that apex, its weaknesses lead to a flourishing time for the criminal underbellies of intergalactic society. Here are a few interesting tidbits that the novel adds to Star Wars’ ever-growing canon in the process!
We knew from Charles Soule, Phil Noto, and Angel Unzueta’s Poe Dameron comic (and the Shattered Empire miniseries that preceded The Force Awakens) that Duros A-Wing pilot and Black Squadron star L’ulo L’ampar was an old friend of Poe’s thanks to his connection to Shara Bey, Poe’s mother. Shara and L’ulo flew together as part of the Rebellion’s Green Squadron, providing Poe with a link to his mother’s life and legacy as a pilot while they served together in the Resistance. But it turns out that L’ulo followed Bey and her husband-to-be Kes Dameron to Yavin IV after retiring from the Rebellion, joining Shara in the planet’s fledgling defense force until her untimely death.
After Shara’s death, which continues to haunt the young Poe in Free Fall, L’ulo almost becomes a second father to the boy as his relationship with his actual father rapidly deteriorates. He’s the one who tries to stop Poe from running away with the Spice Runners when the opportunity arises early on in Free Fall. More crucially, in a chance encounter later in the novel—when Kes and L’ulo attempt to find Poe without the help of the New Republic’s Security Bureau (more on them in a moment)—it’s he who pushes for Poe to find something to stand for in life. It’s a message he takes to heart by the end when he decides to sign up for the New Republic Navy after abandoning the Spice Runners.
One underlying theme through a lot of post-Return of the Jedi storytelling in the Disney era of Star Wars canon is that the New Republic’s fixation on the core worlds of the galaxy led to an open uptick in crime across the farther reaches. With the grip of fear the Empire used to keep systems and criminal structures in line gone, the New Republic’s answer to the old Imperial Security Bureau—which we’ve seen before in prior novels such as the Aftermath trilogy—is having a strenuous time trying to keep corruption in check.
Part of that is in the rampant rise in piracy and spice smuggling, an obvious focus for Free Fall as we follow investigator Sela Trune on her personal vendetta against the Spice Runners and their ilk. But Trune also mentions that the New Republic is having major problems with a rise in action from the Bounty Hunters Guild and bounty hunting in general as part of that lawlessness. It’s probably not an oblique reference to the events of The Mandalorian and the Guild’s actions there, given that Free Fall takes place about a decade after its events, but it’s a general indicator that even before the rise of the First Order, the New Republic was having a tough time. The Mandalorian does get one fun little nod in the form of the planet Sorgen: the swamp planet Din Djarin meets Cara Dune on, which was apparently also host to a Spice Runner base.
Spice running is a constant in Star Wars, a criminal undercurrent that has taken something shrieked about in fear by C-3PO in A New Hope and turned it into a seedy backbone that stretches across the entire saga, from the prequels all the way up to The Rise of Skywalker. With that comes a long fictional history, one that Free Fall dives into by explaining just why running Spice—the addictive drug mined on Kessel alongside the hyperfuel-creating coaxium—is still a valuable prospect in the age of the New Republic.
From the Clone Wars and throughout the Empire’s reign, Spice running was contained to the Pyke Syndicate crime family. The Pykes maintained control of the industry by force in the days of the old Republic, subsuming smaller crime groups into its protection to essentially eliminate competition. When the Empire came in and the Mining Guild took over “official” Spice trade, they kept order by allowing the Pykes to continue their efforts. All that changed when the Empire was defeated: the Mining Guild could no longer protect itself or the Pykes. Smaller families bullied into being part of the Pyke’s operations rebelled for their own piece of the pie, and so without official Imperial sanction, the Mining Guild fractured.
The Spice Runners of Kijimi rose to prominence by being one of the first groups of scoundrels to truly capitalize on this underworld chaos by essentially being pirates: they would raid anyone, Pyke, Guild, or otherwise who had Spice, taking it for themselves to fuel their own operation...
...which meant that by the time of Free Fall, and with the New Republic stretched too thin to tackle growing crime outside of the Core Worlds, the Spice Runners had become a potent force in the criminal underworld. But in Free Fall, it’s revealed they were planning, like the Pyke Syndicate before them, to form a larger conglomerate of affiliated smugglers to re-establish a sense of order to the Spice trade, with them at the top.
This move is spearheaded by the Spice Runners’ leader, who we learn in the novel is none other than Zeva Bliss, Zorii’s mother. In an attempt to earn her way up the Spice Runner’s ranks on her own merit, Zorii goes through much of Free Fall—and therefore her will they/won’t they not-quite-romance with Poe—using the name Zorii Wynn, hiding her relationship to Zeva to avoid getting preference from her fellow Spice runners. All that changes however when Zeva’s plan to unite a wider network of smugglers is actually a plan to eliminate the competition: calling allies and enemies to Kijimi under the guise of alliance, Zeva prepares to execute the gathered criminals and further solidify the Spice runners’ control.
Poe, at this point struggling with the morality of his brief tenure in the Runners (Free Fall takes place in just under a year, so he’s not with them for that long), refuses to go along with the plan and threatens to expose Zeva’s intent, leading to her trying to kill him, only to be stopped by Zorii. Poe ultimately refuses Zorii’s offer to join her and
rule the galaxy as husband and wife overthrow Zeva to run the Spice runners themselves, leaving Zeva’s operation heavily diminished. By the time of Rise, Zorii has indeed taken over from her mother, inheriting the masked helmet she wears in the film in the process, but given how Free Fall plays out, it was probably not a magnanimous inheritance.
The crowd of infamous scum and villainy that Zeva calls to Kijimi in her sneaky plan is full of cute references to Star Wars’ past canon—there’s smugglers and pirates from the old MMO Star Wars Galaxies, Resistance character Vranki the Hutt, and even some blink-and-you’ll-catch’-em’-on-Wookieepedia characters from Rogue One and Solo. But the most “recognizable” one is a legendary minor character from A New Hope: BoShek the smuggler.
A character so insignificant it took decades to even find out the actor who portrayed his seconds-long appearance in the film, BoShek took on a memetic identity as, actually, one of the most fundamentally important characters in all of Star Wars. You see, BoShek is the guy at the bar in the Mos Eisley Cantina that Obi-Wan is seen briefly chatting to—he’s the one that introduces the exiled Jedi to Chewbacca and Han Solo (in the old EU, BoShek was actually there to rub it in Han’s face that he’d just beaten his 12-parsec take on the Kessel Run) to charter them to Alderaan. Without BoShek’s recommendation, Luke and Obi-Wan would never have met Han, and Star Wars would never be the same!!!!
Good to see he’s still around, at least.
OK, this one’s less of a major groundbreaking fact and more like a weird oddity that comes with Star Wars’ slow but steady reclamation of its old Expanded Universe. The main ship Poe pilots throughout much of Free Fall, the ship of his and Zorii’s Spice runner cell, is the Ragged Claw, which is an XS Stock Light Freighter. They’ve appeared in the current Star Wars canon before, in reference books and as part of the now-defunct Galactic Defense mobile game, but the ship originated in Bioware’s still-running MMO, The Old Republic, as the default ship of smuggler players.
It’s not the only KotOR inspiration in Free Fall either: a cruiser variant of the Hammerhead corvette seen in Rogue One and Star Wars Rebels is used by the New Republic, itself inspired by the Republic Hammerhead-Class cruiser used by the, uh, old old Republic in the games. Given that The Old Republic has a dubious status in the current canon (along with its beloved predecessors, the Knights of the Old Republic games), it makes sense that some of its designs are simply lifted and transplanted thousands of years later in the canon timeline as a “new” thing. But it’s interesting to ponder that connection as some starship designs and ideas just truly standing the test of a long time in a galaxy far, far away instead.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.