Absolutely delightful. That is the easiest way I can describe my feelings about author Tom Angleberger’s junior novel The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear! From start to finish, I could not help but enjoy myself as I read about Chewbacca’s mission to the planet Ushruu. Accompanied by a young woman named Mayv, the rebel droid K-2SO (masquerading as a cargo droid), and a cadre of adorable tooka cats, Chewbacca and his companions set out on a perilous adventure to retrieve a Dark Side artifact from the depths of Ushruu’s terrifying forest.
At first believing his job is to deliver the mischievous tooka cats to one of Coruscant’s moons, Chewbacca quickly discovers that he has been set up by Alinka Aloo, the daughter of Sim Aloo, a high ranking Imperial official – an official who hopes to gift the artifact in question to the Emperor. With his friend Han Solo held captive by Alinka, our favorite Wookiee must face the deadly forest on Ushruu and find the artifact in order to save Han’s life. But he is not the only one who has been forced into this mission. Young Mayvlin Trillick must also confront the danger’s lurking on Ushruu so that, upon her return, Alinka will return to her a book containing the cultural history of the planet Oktaro, May’s home world. Quickly becoming friends, Chewbacca and Mayv find ways to work together – along with the help of K-2 and one very friendly tooka named “Goldie” – so that they will achieve success.
While I dare not spoil the book, and will keep some of the major moments for you to discover if you choose to read it, I will note that I particularly enjoyed the way the book is narrated. It is rare, in Star Wars books, to find a narrator who speaks so directly, and at times informally, to the audience. In a book with an older target audience this narrative style would probably be hard to stomach. But in The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear! the playful narration helps create a more vivid and humorous story, a story which young Star Wars fans will undoubtedly enjoy thanks to this more casual narrative style.
Offering a number of asides and tangential statements throughout the novel, the narrator clarifies aspects of Star Wars lore, ensuring they and the reader are literally on the same page. Likewise, the narrator swings back-and-forth between telling the story and offering their own thoughts about situations and moments. For example, the entirety of Chapter 5 is an aside in which the narrator lets the reader in on a secret they just HAVE to get off their chest right then (lest we find out later and are upset). More often though, the narrator injects him/herself into the story with a line or two here and there, offering a little quip or thought about something in the moment.
This is especially the case whenever Chewbacca speaks since the narrator must provide the reader with some insight into what Chewie is saying. Given that none of us know what Chewbacca is saying anyway when we watch Star Wars, the narrator does their best to ensure we have some basic understanding of what Chewbacca is talking about. The thing is, the narrator doesn’t offer a word-for-word translation. Instead s/he primarily offers the basics, a general sense of what Chewie is getting at and even presumes a handful of times that no translation is required.
Actually, there are quite a few times throughout the novel when the narrator just skips any translation at all, especially when Mayv, who begins to “understand” Chewie as the book progresses, is speaking with the Wookiee. That the narrator chooses not to translate every garbled statement Chewbacca makes in his native Shyriiwook is important. Just as Mayv begins to “understand” the basics of Chewbacca’s thoughts, we start doing the same (well, I did at least). While the reader cannot hear the inflection in the Wookiee’s voice, nor perfectly translate the difficult Shyriiwook language, like Mayv we are – thanks to context – capable of gleaning what Chewbacca is trying to get across. Plus, it helps that we can understand Mayv when she is talking to Chewie.
Speaking of Mayv, she is another big reason I found this novel so delightful. Resourceful, capable and funny, Mayvillin Trillick provides young readers with a role-model choosing to put herself in harm’s way as she seeks to return the Mola Oktaro – the aforementioned book containing the cultural history of her planet – to her people. Forced to make the deadly journey to Ushruu by Alinka Aloo (who is in possession of the Mola Oktaro), young Trillick quickly befriends the Mighty Chewbacca early in the journey, the two sharing in the pain of losing their worlds to the Imperial war machine. Further, Mayv’s pursuit of the Mola Oktaro is amplified by a curious cultural habit she engages in: painting symbols on her forehead which have different meanings. In one instance, for example, as Mayv and company are about to climb higher into the trees on Ushruu, Mayv paints the symbol for “gracefulness” on her forehead figuring that “it couldn’t hurt when I’m this far off the ground!” In response, the narrator offers younger readers an important lesson: “Whether this symbol – or any of them – worked, I can’t say. But Mayv believed, and maybe that was all that mattered.” Then again, that is a pretty good lesson for adults, too.
Truthfully, I would really like it if Mayv Trillick was to pop-up again in another Star Wars story. While I won’t be holding my breath, knowing that the likelihood of her re-emergence is small, I’ll never-the-less be holding out hope because she really is a fascinating character. Besides, given her fearless determination and dislike of the Empire, Mayv would make a great Rebel were she to join the Alliance. Who knows, maybe Chewbacca will recruit her into the cause at some point. Fingers crossed.
Finally, I will acknowledge that I was slightly skeptical about K-2SO being in the book, primarily because I thought the irreverent droid from Rogue One would be out of place. I was wrong. Dead wrong. Without K-2SO this book would have been wonderful. With K-2SO, it is absolutely fantastic. Angleberger brilliantly captures the voice of K-2SO, the droids sarcasm and dry-humor bleeding off the page whenever he speaks (especially in those moments when he forgets that he is pretending to be a cargo droid). And why is K-2 present you might ask? Well, he is on a mission for the Rebellion of course! But if you want to know more about that – and if you want to discover who makes a special, surprise appearance late in the story – you’ll just have to pick up The Mighty Chewbacca in the Forest of Fear! Trust me, you won’t be sorry. In fact, I guarantee you will be delighted.