Contributor: Rick McGimpsey
Welcome to the first entry in a series of reviews on the Star Wars Expanded Universe or EU for short. I shall be going over books, comics, games, and even Television shows and films that have spawned in the Star Wars universe for the past 40 years. And yes I will do a review of the notorious Holiday Special in the future.
Now while I am a big fan of the Star Wars universe, I must confess that I am just now recently getting into the EU. Aside from the films which I have seen dozens of times since I was a little kid I have explored very little of the expanded media Star Wars has to offer. I have played both KOTOR games and watched bits and pieces of the TV shows, but I never really got into the books or comics until recently. I am not a big fan of the idea of Expanded Universes in general as I said in a previous post of mine, but with The Force Awakens splitting extreme fans of the EU and fans excited for the new movies I have decided to give a closer examination of the EU and see what the fuss is all about.
Now one could ask why I am daring to work on a review project like this if I have no experience in the EU. Well, the reason is because I thought it would be a good idea to produce a series of EU reviews not as a long-time fan, but as a newcomer giving first time impressions. Most reviewers of this stuff are long time fans and I wanted to give the readers of this blog a bird’s eye view of someone exploring the EU for the first time and see his observations as he goes along. This means my reviews will come out as I myself move forward in reading and watching (or playing) the various EU stories that have accumulated in the past 4 decades years and so I won’t be reviewing from the angle of someone who knows what comes next or what to expect later on. As of this writing I have not read the Thrawn Trilogy or the New Jedi Order. I know virtually nothing of Dark Empire, Crimson Empire, Dark Forces, or Tales of the Jedi. And I do not have an opinion about Grey Jedi, Jaina and Jacen Solo, or Yuuzhan Vong (whatever the hell those are). But I will learn about them and the reader will see my own progress as I publish these reviews. Bear in mind that this will undoubtably cause these posts to be sporadic in their production schedule. I am not even gonna try to fool myself or anyone else by declaring this a weekly or monthly series like I did with the Top 5 Things series which has gone on indefinite hiatus. Be prepared to wait. I read a lot of different things and I get busy and with the massive amount of content to go through in addition to other personal commitments this will take some time.
That all being said here is the first review beginning with the novelisation of the first movie published in 1976.
A common misconception that needs to be avoided regarding this book is the notion that George Lucas is one who wrote it. Pretty much every copy of this book you find will have him named as the author and this has led people to think he penned it.However, the truth is that this was actually ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster who among other things later wrote Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and The Approaching Storm. Lucas indeed wrote the script for the film and this story is without a doubt his own, but it was Foster who actually penned the novelisation. Now with that out of the way I can go on.
One of the things that stands out the most about this novel is the differences it has between itself and the actually movie that was released nearly 6 months later the following year. Much of the dialogue is subtly different with phrases and words not being exactly how they were said in the film. This is not a big deal, but if you are like me and grew up with the movie to the point you can say back the dialogue word for word the differences can be jarring to a reader who finds himself stumbling on the differences if he makes the mistake of trying to hear the movie’s dialogue in his head as he reads this.
Another difference that is quite shocking is the prologue. Instead of the text of the opening crawl as seen in the movie we get a strange excerpt from a fictional book called From the First Saga: Journal of the Whills. Now I do not know what this book is, but the claims it makes in the excerpt are interesting to those of who have seen the Prequels. The prologue gives a brief summary of the Empire and how it arose. In one passage it says, “Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic….Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of the people for justice did not reach his ears.”
This gives the reader the impression that Palpatine was just naive and easily manipulated by flattery and his own ambitions rather than the conniving, manipulative Dark Lord of the Sith as we see in Return of the Jedi and the Prequels. Also note that he became “President of the Republic” rather than Supreme Chancellor as the Prequels clearly state.
And speaking of the Sith this book refers to Darth Vader as a Lord of the Sith which of course is correct, but the word Sith was not used in any of the films until the Prequels came out and it is interesting to see that the term has existed in George Lucas’s mythology this early on.
There were some differences that I really liked. Many of the deleted scenes only watchable (legally) on disc 8 of the Blu-ray set are included in the novelisation. I am fine with the scenes removed from the film because they would have slowed the movie down, but in this book they are a welcome sight. We get to see Luke and Biggs at Tosche Station just before Biggs tells Luke about his plans to join the Rebellion. What’s great about this scne is that it explores a side of their friendship making the scene where Biggs dies during the assault on the Death Star more meaningful. In the original version of the film Biggs is introduced right before the assault begins so there is a complete lack of character development that leaves us wondering why Luke was so shaken by his death when so many other X-Wing pilots perished before him. The book helps explain that.
The scene where Han confronts Jabba the Hutt in the Docking Bay is also included. We never got to see this on film until the 1997 Special Edition and the scene is just as unnecessary and repetitive in the book as it was in the film. In fact, in the book it is even worse because Jabba is described as jumping with surprise when Han Solo approaches him (a feat obviously impossible for a Hutt). It is apparent that a very non-canonical vision of Jabba is implied in this book’s text and this is later confirmed in the Marvel comics adaptation which I will review in the third entry of this series.
Other differences are mild. Some of the names of the Imperial staff in the conference room scene are different and instead of the Red Squadron X-Wings attacking the Death Star as in the film they are described as Blue Squadron. These are minor though and do not really affect my enjoyment of the book.
Overall the book is a very faithful adaptation of the film with some added content and differences to make a curious reader have something new to look forward to. Otherwise the book is not essential reading and watching the movie is really all you need to do.
Some complaints I have is Alan Dean Foster’s prose. I am not extensively read in his work, but his writing is not that good here in my opinion and some of his ways of describing things is bad and ineffective.
The book is,however, an interesting curiosity; but I think it is in the large scheme of things fairly skippable.
Be sure to check in next time for my review of Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and may the Force be with you.