Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster (book review).

January 17, 2016 | By | 2 Replies More

I’ve tried to be spoiler-free for this review, but I do recommend you watch ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ before looking at the novel and this review. You will get a lot more enjoyment out of seeing the film first and reading the book second.

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Alan Dean Foster is a name to conjure with. Author of the first ‘official-but-no-longer-canon’ sequel ‘Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye’, Foster is responsible for many different film novelisations, including the original ‘Star Wars’ novel, credited to George Lucas. Personally, I remember most his novelisation of ‘Alien’ not least because I took it into primary school to share all the swear words with my friends. My teacher commented that he knew ‘worse’ swear words than the ones found in that book. The liar, to this day I can think of only one.

Foster therefore was the perfect person to adapt ‘The Force Awakens’ and introduce readers new and old to BB-8, Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren. What follows is a faithful, if quite thin-on-the-ground adaptation of the film.

Let’s start with the positives, there’s a fair bit of extra content in the novel that can’t necessarily be derived from the film, unless you paid extra-special attention to the credits. Characters such as Max Von Sydow’s Lor San Tekka begin to make a little more sense on the page with the impression that he was involved in some way with Luke’s Jedi training academy. Similarly, the geography of Jakku seems a little more cohesive and the locations that we see fleetingly in the film, begin to feel more like real places.

Also evident are the scenes that ended-up on the cutting room floor or perhaps weren’t shot at all. Here we learn about a daring escape that Poe Dameron makes on Jakku with an itinerant trader named Naka Iit. Rey and Finn steal a snowspeeder to break into Starkiller Base, which itself is patrolled by droids we never saw on screen. Most tellingly, Leia is a much more prominent figure in the novel than the movie. She agonises over the Resistance’s next moves, sending her aide on Republic business that later sees her killed when the First Order activate their super-weapon. In the edit, however, Abrams decided to reintroduce his characters one-by-one and so Carrie Fisher gets half the time onscreen rather than what the book suggests was originally the plan.

According to the website www.makingstarwars.net, Foster was given a copy of ‘the screenplay plus some concept art and production visuals’ from which to write the book, while having to maintain contact with the Lucasfilm story group. This means some of the dialogue that got cut out of the movie gets left in the book. Some of it is very telling: ‘It IS you!’ says Kylo Ren to Rey during his climactic battle with her in the snow. We are told that Supreme Leader Snoke has his face ‘reassembled’ though why is not made clear. It also means that some of the more verbose and unnecessary dialogue is left in. For example, Finn uses the line: ‘Hey, hi! When are you off duty, mate?’ which seems to suggest Foster thought Boyega would play the character with a British accent.

The similarly awkward: ‘Finn smiled anew at the leader of the alien crew. ‘Give me a second or your equivalent time-part.’ also makes it in. Most dramatically changed is Kylo Ren whose dialogue was sensibly pared back in the finished film. Here he is given to lines like: ‘Look at it, Lieutenant. So much beauty among so much turmoil. In a way, we are but an infinitely smaller reflection of the same conflict. It is the task of the First Order to remove any disorder from our own existence, so that civilisation may be returned to the stability that promotes progress…’ [He goes on.]

Finn and Rey are fleshed-out well and crucially Poe Dameron gets a little more breathing space for his character. Others, though, such as General Hux and Captain Phasma, get relatively little page time, with these characters you feel like you knew them better from what you saw in the movie, rather than from reading the book.

My other key issue with the book was with THE pivotal moment in the third act and the consequences thereof. This is a major moment in the ‘Star Wars’ universe and, given it is referenced so quickly in the book, you’d have thought nothing had happened. The book could have done with dwelling on some of the significance of what had happened more, but it is likely that Foster had to slavishly stick to the script.

The novelisation of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is a fun and fast read and, while it fills in some of the gaps, it also leaves other areas of questioning bereft of answers. It, to me, at least feels a little underwhelming compared to the film with key moments over frustratingly quickly when they needed more time to breathe. A novel of reflection and restriction that could have been a lot stronger.

John Rivers

January 2015

(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 260 page with photo insert hardback. Price: $28.00 (US), $36.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-101-96549-8

(pub: Century/Random House. 397 page with photo insert hardback. Price: £19.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-780-89476-8)

check out websites: www.delreybooks.com, www.randomhouse.co.uk, www.alandeanfoster.com and www.starwars.com

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  1. avatar Eamonn Murphy says:

    Long ago I reviewed Alan Dean Foster’s adaptations of the Star Trek animated series. He did an introduction where he explained what a writer can add to screen material – more depth and characterisation. Where possible he does this – certainly did with the Star Trek stuff – so I guess any lack is down to the constraints of whatever system he’s working under. He can’t really be blamed for clunky dialogue in the script he’s stuck with.
    Who did the review? John Rivers or Geoff?

    • avatar UncleGeoff says:

      Hello Eamonn
      John did. Always read the end of the review.
      As to adaptations. It’s an odd balance of how much should be used from the script and how much to move away from it to ensure explanations are given, especially as there are no visuals to rely on when writing.
      There’s also the problem with the writer realised the script has a serious problem with, say its science, as I described with Asimov’s adaptation of ‘Fantastic Voyage’ who felt he had to because his reputation was also connected to it. Most novelisers don’t get that opportunity. It’d all in the contract.
      Geoff

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