The Challenge! http://blogs.starwars.com/kaitco/2
😀 – The Force is strong with this one.
🙂 – I’d read it again.
😐 – Meh…
🙁 – I have a bad feeling about this.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope by George Lucas/Alan Dean Foster
My rating ~ 😀 – The Force is strong with this one.
I have to begin by explaining that I had my doubts going into this. From a young age, I had the idea of the science fiction novel as a genre as being full of poor writing styles and being likened closer to flash fiction than anything significant driven home in most, if not all of my English classes, so when I first began reading, it was with pursed lips and a skeptical brow. I came to find, however, that my initial assumptions were correct: Mrs. Whatever-her-name-was’s tenth grade Literature class was not the be all and end all of fiction and science fiction is not necessarily “bad.”
On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed my first real foray into the Star Wars Expanded Universe and my first film novelization. Alan Dean Foster’s writing style took some time to grow accustomed, but once I got a feel for the rhythm of novel, I was able to fall into the fictional world easier each time I began reading. The beginning did start out a bit slow for me since I was not really sure what to expect or how to re-visualize what I reading.
The first few chapters went by nauseatingly slow, even with the first descriptions of Vader, as my mind tried to figure out what it was reading. The memories from watching the film began to fight with my own mental images as one side of the brain said, “I think Tatooine looks like this” while the other side said, “But this is how it really looks!” Once that hurdle passed, I still found myself just wanting the novel to get on with it to the point that I was halfway through it and wondering if I had really bit off more than I even wanted to chew. The only thing to really keep me going were the small details that were either changed from the films or left out entirely.
The novel started to pick up speed, however, once Han Solo hit the scene; there was just something about his character that was very “readable.” All of his quotes seemed all the more quotable in writing and he was the one character who seemed livelier on the page than in the film.
I really enjoyed how Luke’s movements were described during the lightsaber training aboard the Millennium Falcon and also how Kenobi described the elusive and magical nature of the Force. For a brief moment, you begin to fully fall into the fictive dream about how the Force works.
I did not, however, feel fully engaged with the novel until we (Luke, Han and Ben) saw what had become of Alderaan. The destruction of Alderaan was far more profound when described in writing. It was almost as if one could feel the magnitude of what happened far more when one is within the collective conscious of Han, Luke and Ben. I cannot count the number of times I have watched Episode IV, but it never really hit me until I read the novelization, that the entire planet, that is, an entire population, ecosystem and way of life was destroyed in an instant and, it was not until this point that Empire appeared as heinous as the film’s characters had been telling me.
“And while he would have preferred the company of equals, he had to admit reluctantly that at this point, he had no equals.”
What brought the novel from “Meh” into the realm of “I’d read it again.” and beyond were just a few lines of Vader’s thoughts. The one thing missing from the original film was little to no insight on Vader’s thoughts apart from dialogue, which I am unwilling to cite as a true flaw in the film since I am not sure how one is really supposed to convey subtle unspoken emotion through an opaque mask. I will concede they managed to get it done towards the very end of Return of the Jedi, but nothing in the vein of the above quote can be executed on screen without the help of a voice-over. It is not until one can “hear” Vader’s thoughts for some magical, grandiose scheme or the flat out notion that he knows he is the greatest of his kind that one fully realizes how sinister he is and, in hindsight, how far he has fallen.
“If he had miscalculated the degree of arc in their swing, they would miss the open hatch and slam into the metal wall to either side or below it. If that happened he doubted he could maintain his grip on the rope.”
The bridge scene with Luke and Leia was very gratifying and it was at this point in the novel that I could finally appreciate the purpose of a film novelization. For once, my imagination and my memory were not struggling for omnipresence. With a clear image of what had happened, my imagination filled in any gaps that may have been missed and the excitement increased as I got to focus on the moment instead of both re-creating the mental image from scratch and the focusing on the prose.
There were two points in the novel that simultaneously had me glad I could envision the scene purely as written and could also draw from what I had previously watched; the first being when Vader and Obi-Wan meet and the second when Luke is asked if wanted a new Artoo before the battle.
The exchanges between Obi-Wan and Vader were just splendid and, even if I did not have knowledge of all their past history together, I still got the sense that there was a far greater story between the pair than even the characters were letting on at that point.
When Luke is asked if he wanted another R2 unit in the novel, I could appreciate what I read, forgetting that I ever saw the prequels, but having the images of Artoo as a “friend” of Anakin Skywalker from the prequels and from Clone Wars made the question and answer pull a smile to my face.
Chapter Twelve held the entirety of the Battle of Yavin and it was INCREDIBLE! The action was intense and I loved every minute of it. I had to let out a sigh of exhaustion when I finished because I was so absorbed in what I was reading. The dialogue and prose were even perfectly paced to match the excitement I experienced from the film.
It was at this point in the novel that philosophical questions started to bounce in my head, particularly: What else in life have I been missing? If science fiction action could be this gratifying, what other completely awesome things have I disregarded? What greater things could I be experiencing at that very moment?!? Fortunately, the novel’s action kept me from pondering on any of this for too long and I was able to get through the remainder of the book. 🙂
“‘I met your father once when I was just a boy, Luke. He was a great pilot. You’ll do all right out there.'”
As I said earlier, I truly enjoyed reading the novel, but I did have a few disappointments with it that brought me out of the fictive dream, the first of which being the interlude with “Blue Leader” prior to the battle.
This character, described only as “older” and “war-worn,” and his dialogue with Luke left me with so many questions that I had to put down the book for a moment and tear through my memory in a wild attempt to place him somewhere. How did Blue Leader know Anakin was a great pilot? If he was “older” then how young could he have been to not only have been old to enough to be “war-worn,” but also young enough to meet Anakin as a boy and know he was a great pilot? Did he fight in the Clone Wars? If so, how did he not know, or at least see fit to mention, that Vader and Anakin were one in the same?
I feel that there is some explanation I have yet to uncover because I am just starting this journey and have barely perused the comics, but I know an answer must exist other than, “Whoops! Foster wrote this before anyone knew how far the expanded universe…expanded.” which leads me to another point…
In traversing about the Star Wars universe, I have heard theories and counter-theories regarding if Lucas had the entire story of Anakin Skywalker in mind at the time of ANH or not. Reading this now definitely makes me wonder. There were scenes that leaned towards the idea that Lucas did have a master plan in place, such as Han and Luke discussing Leia. It is not experienced to the same degree in the film since we do not have any insight to Han’s thoughts, but the novelization alludes to “something” between Han and Leia in that very scene.
Also, the dialogue between Obi-Wan and Vader sounded as if it had been written fresh from watching the last hour of Episode III. On the flip side, there is the above issue with Blue Leader which leaves many questions unanswered for me, at least for the meanwhile. I also wonder if maybe the edition I have has been “updated” to account for later changes in the EU, but if that is the case, why leave all the little kisses between Luke and Leia?!?
My only other slight disappointment with the novel had to be the description (or lack thereof) for Princess Leia. When I hear phrases like “indescribable beauty,” I cannot help but roll my eyes. How am I supposed to imagine something when the author tells me it cannot be described? It is like telling a long story and stopping every few minutes to say, “Well, man, you had to be there.”
Even in a novelization, things as basic as eye and hair colour are just plain necessary. While I understand the necessity of keeping a protagonist as blank as possible to fit every type of John Q. Everyman out there, the “damsel in distress” should give the reader some kind of imagery. I did, however, really like the prologue from Leia which gave a lot of insight on Jedi and the Republic, which could have benefited the films (but then there would have been little need for prequels and then where would we be?)
All in all, I was quite pleased with A New Hope. It started out a little rocky as it battled through my own prejudices, but it pulled a beautiful story out of my initial experience and helped me enjoy what I had already loved to an even greater degree.
Next up: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. 🙂