Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Star Wars Trilogy Review – part two

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope 
Written by Alan Dean Foster based on a screenplay by George Lucas

Whether you’re the biggest Star Wars fan around or a more relaxed fan, reading the novelization of the movie is an interesting, and overall enjoyable, experience. It’s also a bit odd. The book provides interesting “extended scenes” type material that embellish or further contextualizes the events of the movies. It’s quite the treat even if the book can be very frustrated at times either because of the differences between the movie and the novel or because of Foster’s strange (or lack of) descriptions throughout.

The story is rather simple. For some reason it seems simpler than it did in the movie. The main elements lacking from the book are the visual elements. There is an odd lack of description of people and objects in the book which is probably a result of the book being written before the release of be film. From what I could find online the book was released several months before the movie was released in theatres. It's possible he final look of many of the iconic ships and sits and masks weren't finalized when Foster was writing the book. That being said, it's not really a bad thing for modern audiences. I imagine if someone is reading A New Hope novelization today they do so because by love Star Wars and are already familiar with the movies. Foster doesn't need to explain to me what a TIE fighter looks like but I imagine it was frustrating reader the book before the release of the movie.

A big part of what makes Star Wars work for me, and I imagine many other fans, is the importance given to the visuals. I’m not simply talking about special effects, though that does play a considerable part in it; I’m talking about the iconic imagery. I’m also talking about the sound effects. When Luke first lights up the lightsaber, it’s incredibly impressive. The glowing energy sword, the humming sound effect, it makes it look like a formidable weapon. It’s still pretty cool in the novel but without the signature hum and the visual elements, the impact is lessened. Similarly, Darth Vader has nearly no depth as a character and much less as a villain. Again, I blame the lack of visual description for this. It’s not all bad, though. Since I have seen the movie, I had all of those great visual and audio elements playing in my head while reading the book. I’d be curious to know what a person would think of the book if they read it before ever seeing the movie.

One of the stranger aspects of the novel is the weird references that are made about Earth. They all seem out of place and it raises several questions, some pertaining to the writing and some pertaining to the fictional universe of Star Wars. Does Earth even exist? Didn’t this happen “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”? If so, Earth is most likely extremely far (even by light speed space travel standards) and is more than likely populated by dinosaurs if at all. The ducks and pandas Foster refers to likely don’t exist at the time of the story. More importantly, it feels forced and it sucked me right out of the story. I think that Foster added a few Earth references to help ground the reader in a space setting where Earth exists. I’m not sure why he thought this would be a good idea because the only effect it had on me was to remind me how earth has nothing to do with Star Wars and that giving the reader points of reference that belong to Earth serves only to cause confusion.

One of the elements of the book I really liked does not appear in the movie. It’s the conversation between Luke and Biggs regarding Biggs’s decision to join the rebel Alliance. It’s refreshing to see that the people who are part of the rebellion choose to be there. They want to fight the Empire because it represents something they don’t believe it. The Empire itself is not an incarnation of evil but it is an incarnation of something the members of the Alliance consider to be evil. The Alliance is fighting for an alternative form of government. They wish to reinstate the Republic but unable to do so politically they are doing it militarily. When Biggs tells Luke he wants to join the Alliance to fight for something he believes in, something he considers important, he not only shows us that he’s a thinking individual, but he’s humanizing both the Alliance and the Empire to a certain degree. Yes, of course, Palpatine is evil but the guy serving food in the Death Star’s mess hall isn’t necessarily. It’s great that this conversation takes place on Tatooine is that you’re surrounded by people who don’t seem to care too much about the Galactic Empire of the rebels trying to overthrow it. You’ve got farmers, you’ve got the bar owner at Mos Eisley, etc. Foster succeeds in showing us that there is more to just the Evil Empire and the Good Alliance in the world of Star Wars and that’s something that’s potentially missing in the movie.

Luke's feelings for Leia are much more obvious in the novel. This is due in part because of the internal monologue. The book allows us to be inside Luke's head. If Lucas was aware of their familial relation at the time he didn't make it apparent in the script nor did he mention anything to Alan Dean Foster. Luke clearly has a big crush on his twin sister and is rather jealous when Leia pays any attention to Han.
Luke seems more immature in the book than he does in the movie. I think it’s because of the way Foster describes Luke’s thoughts. The conversation he has with Biggs also had an impact in demonstrating his maturity level. Luke is a young adult of not quite twenty years old but he doesn’t act like that. He’s clearly got his head in the clouds and when talking about the Alliance and the Empire with Biggs he comes off as much younger and wide eyed than Biggs. It’s not very surprising considering he grew up in near isolation working on the farm with his uncle but it still works as a part of his character arc for the second and third parts of the story still to come.

The novelization of A New Hope continuously has to work against its movie counterpart. Star Wars relies so heavily on iconic imagery and signature sound effects that the novel in comparison can seem like a second rate version of the story. In many ways it is. Oddly enough, its reliance on the movie is only its primary strength. While reading A New Hope I could hear Threepio’s voice in my head. When Foster told me Chewbacca was growling sadly or angrily I could hear him in my head. In other instances, such as descriptions Darth Vader’s appearance, telling me he wears a mask seems like a grossly incomplete description. I don’t mean to sound too harsh on Foster because he probably wrote the book without knowing a lot of the details regarding the look of the movie since it the book released several months before the film. Besides, Star Wars was just a science fiction movie, a genre that didn’t fair too well in theatres until after the film release of A New Hope. Considering the daunting task of writing the novelization of one of the most successful movie franchises of all time without knowing what the final product will be, it’s relatively easy for me to cut Foster some slack.

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