When The Rise of Skywalker came out, one (of many) things that sparked a lot of questions and controversy was the reveal that Poe Dameron's past included a stint as a spice runner. It wasn't something that we ever learned from books that previously established his backstory, like Before the Awakening, so it was very new to all of us, and we had a lot of questions. Poe Dameron: Free Fall by Alex Segura answers those questions. In this book, we learn about Poe's time as a Spice Runner (capitalized for a reason) and his history with the mysterious Zorii Bliss from that same movie- and, we see a little bit of Babu Frik.
It was a good book that I really enjoyed, and I'd recommend it to any of my fellow Poe Dameron fans. It gives us a new look at Poe as a character, especially since this story takes place when he's much, much younger than when we see him in The Force Awakens.
Spoilers ahead for Poe Dameron: Free Fall by Alex Segura!
We start the book with a 16-year-old Poe on Yavin IV. We see that Poe at this age is in deep conflict with his father, Kes. Kes just wants to keep Poe safe, especially after the loss of Shara years before, and wants him to stay in their peaceful life on Yavin IV. But Poe doesn't want that. Not at all. What Poe wants is adventure, like the ones that he heard about his parents having. Poe takes Shara's old ship for a joyride but crashes it when the Civilian Defense Force catches up to him, getting himself in trouble- yet again- and Kes has to bail him out. But this time, after a tense fight, Poe doesn't just stay home with Kes. He runs.
We meet a family friend of the Damerons, L'ulo, who tries to help Poe. L'ulo finds himself stuck in a hard place. He wants to be a good friend to Kes and help him keep his son safe, but he also knows that this isn't the life that Poe wants, and wants to do right by him too. Poe runs from all of it, right into a shady little crew that needs a pilot for their ship. Poe eagerly volunteers, thinking that he's just got himself into a group of smugglers that can help get him offworld, but it's not until much too late that Poe realizes he isn't with a band of ordinary smugglers- he's gotten himself tied up into the Spice Runners, a dangerous, violent and very powerful crime organization. Poe is fearful, but also desperate for a new life, and afraid of facing his father's wrath should he go home. He reluctantly goes along with them, befriending the only other character close to his age, Zorii Wynn.
Throughout the book, Poe is brought on a number of dangerous adventures that drastically change his view of the galaxy. Poe is exposed to senseless violence and unceremonious death like he never has been before- and he has to take part in it. It comes down to a tense confrontation where the rest of their little crew- except for Zorii, Poe, and a new droid they picked up named EV-6B6- is killed. Being pursued by an ambitious New Republic officer named Trune, Poe and Zorii flee. After this, they are finally allowed to go to Kijimi- where Poe learns that Zorii is not a Wynn, but a Bliss- she's the daughter of the leader of the Spice Runners, Zeva Bliss. On Kijimi, Poe meets Babu Frik, who is able to fix a damaged EV-6B6, and Poe gets pulled into a mission with Zorii, surrounding a summit that her mother is holding with other crime lords in the galaxy.
Only, as Poe realizes, the summit is not for that. Zeva is using the false promise of unity to execute all of her competition. Poe tries to stop her, and has to fight Zorii to do so, rendering her unconscious. Zeva Bliss' plan begins to go wrong when Trune, the New Republic officer, arrives to confront her. Zeva is able to kill Trune, but then Poe throws himself into action to fight after EV-6B6 is destroyed for good. Zeva gets the upper hand over him relatively quickly, but luckily Zorii quite literally jumps in to fight her mother to defend Poe. Poe runs as the two Bliss women are locked in combat. He goes to Babu Frik, who provides him with a disguise to escape, and Poe looks for a way out. He doesn't know where to go, until he sees a recording of the inspiring Senator Leia Organa speaking... then he knows exactly how he wants to make his mark in the galaxy.
This book was really fun. It quelled my concerns about the Spice Runner backstory for Poe not lining up with the one already established for him, I think they fit this story in really well. I also really liked the bond that Poe and Zorii grow- it's tentative, and a little awkward, but comfortable for both of them, and clearly a relationship born more out of only having each other and not really anyone else. I thought the way that the criminal underworld was portrayed here was very interesting as well, it's something that Star Wars touches on very often but doesn't always fully explore. It was fun to get to see how things are going there after the fall of the Empire.
Poe, of course, being the main character, took a lot of focus. I thought he was written really well. He's only 16 here, so he's very obviously not the same person he is as a 32-year-old in The Force Awakens, but we can still definitely see the budding elements of the Poe that we know. He's still figuring out who he is, and after being stifled so long by his father, his desperation to just get out leads to him making many rash decisions, coupled with his fears as he unwillingly gets pulled deeper into the world of the Spice Runners. There's a really emotional scene later in the book where Kes, who has been desperately looking for his son who he believes was simply kidnapped, finally catches up to them. Their reunion is short-lived, because they need to run, but very sweet, as you can see that though Poe and his father didn't always get along, they have an incredible love for one another. Kes was pulling at every tiny little scrap of thread he had to try and find his son again, and Poe was so afraid of letting his father down if he knew what he'd been getting up to.
Another very interesting character was Trune, the New Republic officer with a vendetta against the Spice Runners- and for good reason, they killed her parents and baby brother while she was away from home. She's a young officer who rose through the ranks of the New Republic quickly, and she's tirelessly hunting the Spice Runners for revenge. We don't spend nearly as much with her as we do with Poe, of course, but when we did read from her perspective it was always intriguing as we learned more and more about her.
Zorii, of course, was also pretty interesting. Where she and Poe butt heads the most is their different perspectives on the criminal life. Poe resents the violence and immorality he has to engage in because of it, and sees it as a means to end- he used it to escape Yavin IV, and he's using it now as a stepladder into a better life. But Zorii is different. Zorii relishes in it all. She doesn't see it as a means to an end, she sees it as the life she wants for herself. And we know that being a Spice Runner is more important to Zorii than anything- even her own mother, the leader of it all. We never see exactly what happened in that fight that Poe ran from, but we do know that in The Rise of Skywalker, Zorii is wearing the helmet and armor her mother wore to signify her position as the leader of the Spice Runners- so we can only assume.
Finally, I have to talk about EV-6B6 and Babu Frik. Eevee is a very sweet droid, and in many ways like an opposite C-3PO. Both Eevee and Threepio are bountiful sources of information and happy to provide probabilities, but have very different attitudes. While Threepio is pessimistic and fearful, Eevee is extremely optimistic, to the point that it often annoys Poe and Zorii. She's a really sweet droid who just wants to be as helpful as possible, and I was really sad to see her destroyed. And then, there's also Babu Frik. Babu isn't in the book very much, but just like he did in The Rise of Skywalker, totally captured my heart when his little name was on the page. I could totally hear his voice through the written lines. He's such a fun little guy, and a helpful friend to Poe even when he can't officially help him due to Poe no longer being a Spice Runner. We all love Babu Frik here.
And that's my review! There is a lot that happens in it, I didn't begin to scratch the service of the multitude of missions Poe runs with the Spice Runners. It was a really great book, and one I'd definitely recommend so you can get the full scope of the story- it's certainly worth it.