“I met your father once when I was just a boy, Luke. He was a great pilot. You’ll do all right out there. If you’ve got half your father’s skill, you’ll do a damn sight better than all right.” – Garven Dreis, “Blue Leader”
Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, or Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, or just Star Wars. I don’t know what to call this book, because all of those titles are accurate. This is the novelization of the original Star Wars movie, and as such, it is the first Star Wars book ever written. After seeing The Force Awakens this past weekend (twice!) I thought it felt like a good time to look back on where this all started.
From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker was written by Alan Dean Foster and released in 1976, before Star Wars premiered in theaters. In later editions of the book George Lucas wrote a short introduction, and said this about it:
The world’s first glimpse of Star Wars happened with little fanfare, and this first edition of the novel sold modestly. It wasn’t until the official ‘tie-in’ version of the book that it sold millions of copies and broke records, much like the film was doing in theaters.
It was the first Star Wars book ever written, and the world’s first glimpse into the galaxy far, far away. Foster later wrote two other books in the Star Wars universe; Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was released two years later, and The Approaching Storm, was released 24 years after that. Foster just recently returened to the Star Wars universe as the author of the novelization of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, which is currently only available as an eBook, but will see a physical release on January 5th. Though that book is a part of the “new Star Wars canon” and will not be considered a part of the Expanded Universe or “Legends” like his previous works were, I am excited that they chose an author who has already proven to be able to write good movie novelizations to write the new one too.
So, let’s get into this book. For this review (and every other review) I’m going to assume everyone has already seen episodes one through six of Star Wars. If you haven’t, I will be spoiling parts of multiple movies in this review (don’t worry, there is absolutely nothing about The Force Awakens in this review. You’re safe to continue). Since the book is a movie novelization I am going to spend a good chunk of the review comparing the book and the movie(s).
With that out of the way, let’s start from the beginning. The book opens with a short prologue that will feel very familiar to any Star Wars fan in 2015. The prologue is essentially a two-page summary of the events of the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. It summarizes the extermination of the Jedi Knights and the fall of the Republic through the deception of Senator Palpatine and his rise to power as the galaxy’s first Emperor. It mentions how a small number of systems decided to rebel against the new Empire despite being vastly outnumbered. It tells you what happened in the past, and sets you right up for the story of Episode IV. Right off the bat this is one of my favorite parts of the entire book. Keep in mind that this book was released 23 years before The Phantom Menace came out, and almost 30 years before we saw Revenge of the Sith and saw Palpatine’s rise to power in live-action. In later editions of this book that include the introduction by George Lucas, he writes:
As this special hardcover edition of the original Star Wars novel goes to press, I am once again immersed in writing new episodes of the saga. It fills me with a sense of déjà vu, because the outline for the new trilogy of prequels is actually contained in the first two pages of this book, the prologue. I suppose I have come full circle as I return to the beginning and start again.
Today, having watched the events described in this prologue happen on-screen, I enjoy reading this even more. Strange to think that for the few people in the world who actually picked up this novel before Star Wars was first seen in theaters, their very first exposure to the universe we now know and love was actually a summary of the Star Wars prequels. The prologue to this book is actually enhanced by having watched the Prequel Trilogy, and I love it.
Chapter one starts exactly where the movie starts. The giant Star Destroyer is chasing down the hopeless rebel blockade runner. It’s an extremely familiar scene. You will have to get used to a few odd word-choices like ‘droids’ being referred to as ‘robots,’ the stolen Death Star plans constantly referred to as ‘tapes,’ and escape pods being referred to as ‘lifeboats’ among other things. This novel makes plenty of references to animals and things from Earth that feel a little weird, since later Star Wars books avoid this. The book mentions dogs, mice, peas, piranhas, dinosaurs, pandas, lemons, elephants, capybaras, baboons, pencils, and other things that feel out of place in a galaxy far, far away. Usually these things are only mentioned by the narrator. However, my favorite Earth-reference in the book comes out of Obi-Wan’s mouth on Tatooine. While explaining something to Luke in his desert hut, he casually says “even a duck has to be taught to swim.” To which Luke responds “what’s a duck?” Yeah, seriously, what is a duck?! How would anyone in Star Wars know what ducks are? I guess Naboo probably has some ducks. Obi-Wan has been there. I don’t know, I’m just making stuff up now. Getting back to the opening scene of the book, aside from the word choices that you will have to get used to, this is essentially the same scene we all know and love from the movie. And for the most part this book continues to remain faithful to the film throughout its entirety.
Chapter two is the exception to that rule, however. The second chapter introduces Luke Skywalker to us much earlier than the movie does, and we get a little peak at what life was like for him on Tatooine before C-3PO and R2-D2 show up and turn his world upside down. He’s pretty miserable, working on his uncle’s moisture farm, and very lonely, as most of his friends have left Tatooine to join the Imperial Academy, including his best friend, Biggs Darklighter. The people he now hangs around with don’t really respect him and don’t really seem to be his friends (as a side note, having just barely played through the video game Star Wars: Republic Commando, I found it interesting that one of these “friends” is named Fixer, a name shared by one of the Commandos of Delta Squad) and that probably contributes to why Luke wants to get away from Tatooine and join the Academy so badly. Biggs comes home and pays Luke a surprise visit, telling him that he is going to “jump ship” and join the rebellion. Luke is thrilled to see him, and you can tell that these two really are great friends. This makes Biggs’ appearance later in the book much more gratifying, and makes his death at the Battle of Yavin much sadder. This little glimpse into what Luke’s life was like before we meet him in the movie is another one of my favorite parts of the book, and most of it actually was filmed for the movie, but was eventually cut out for some reason.
Another deleted scene from the movie that appears in the book is the scene were Han Solo talks to Jabba the Hut (spelled with just one “T” in the book) outside his ship on Tatooine. This scene was included in the Special Editions of the movie, but in the book it happens as it was originally filmed: with Han speaking to the man Jabba. Jabba the Hutt is a human being in this scene. Personally, I love it in the Special Editions of the movie when Han says to the giant slug “you’re a wonderful human being.” It’s not as fun of a line when he actually is a human.
The rest of the book follows the movie very closely. The only real differences are very minor things, like somebody saying a line slightly differently than the way they said it on-screen, or odd inconsistencies like people referring to R2-D2 as “Detoo” instead of “Artoo,” and C-3PO saying “our last master was captain Colton” instead of “captain Antilles.” Luke flies with Blue Squadron instead of Red Squadron. Obi-Wan smokes a pipe. Luke says “damn” a few times, which I found funny. Honestly, part of the fun of this book is trying to find everything that doesn’t quite match up with what we see in the movie. But none of the inconsistencies are so drastic that it negatively effects the story in any way, unless you’re obsessive about continuity.
Many minor details in this book are actually enhanced by having watched the prequel trilogy, and, in some cases, are even enhanced by having watched the Special Editions of A New Hope. Some of the Special Edition changes that people love to complain about actually appeared in this novel first. In the Bluray release of this movie, Artoo hides from Tusken Raiders in a cave behind some giant rocks that were added in digitally that were not there in any previous versions of the movie. What a pointless change, right? Well, that’s actually how it is in the book. Artoo is hiding behind rocks here too. A very random thing to notice, but with all the outrage over the little changes made to the movie it was hard for me not to notice this detail in the book.
The scene where Obi-Wan tells Luke about his father and the Jedi of old is another one of the moments that is actually explored deeper in this book than in the movie, and for that reason it was another big highlight of the book for me. While speaking of the Jedi, Obi-Wan says “In many ways they were too good, too trusting for their own health. They put too much trust in the stability of the Republic, failing to realize that while the body might be sound, the head was growing diseased and feeble, leaving it open to manipulation by such as the Emperor.” Again, having watched what he is describing here unfold on-screen in the prequels, reading this makes so much sense and in a way it feels like it ties the prequels into this story much better than the movie does.
In the same chapter, in one short sentence that probably would have gone completely unnoticed by me (and it actually did the first time I read this book) the narrator casually mentions that Obi-Wan does not believe in predestination. This one line may seem unimportant, until you think about the events of the prequel movies. Obi-Wan trained Anakin, his best friend, to be a Jedi Knight against his better judgement, simply because he was “The Chosen One” who was prophesied to bring balance to the Force. The last thing Obi-wan says to Anakin after his fall to the dark side in Revenge of the Sith is “you were the chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! Bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness!” Hmm… no wonder Obi-Wan doesn’t believe in predestination after watching his best friend, who was predestined to destroy the Sith, actually join the Sith and destroy the Jedi instead. The prophecy did not come true, and Obi-wan has no way of knowing that it is still to be fulfilled.
There is a point in the book where Darth Vader refers to Tatooine as “a miserable outpost world.” That holds a little more weight coming from him knowing that he spent his childhood on the planet as a slave.
An interesting thing is that the book points out that lightsabers cauterize wounds, despite that not happening in the original movie, where Obi-Wan chops off an arm in the cantina and blood is spilled everywhere. In some instances this book is actually more consistent with the rest of the Star Wars universe than the film is.
I could go on and on about why having seen the prequels makes this book more enjoyable, and about the great scenes that go into much deeper detail than the movie does. This book is a treat and reading it actually helps you to understand parts of the movie that you may not have realized you misunderstood before. Alan Dean Foster did a great job with this one, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I’m excited to go back and re-read his second Star Wars book (and the second Star Wars novel ever written) Splinter of the Mind’s Eye next after having recently finished this one again. This book is very well written, and when you take a moment to realize that this is the first Star Wars book ever written, and that it came out even before the first movie did, you can sort of give it a free pass for the little continuity errors and just sit back and enjoy the novel.
Keeping in mind when this was written, and giving it a free pass on weird stuff, I want to leave you with a short quote from my favorite part of the entire book. Luke just learned from Obi-Wan that his father was Jedi Knight, and he wants to learn more. He decides to ask Obi-Wan a question, and this is how the book describes this little moment:
“How,” he asked slowly, “did my father die?”
Kenobi hesitated, and Luke sensed that the old man had no wish to talk about this particular matter. Unlike Owen Lars, however, Kenobi was unable to take refuge in a comfortable lie.
“He was betrayed and murdered,” Kenobi declared solemnly.
This short section of the book had me bursting out in laughter after I read it, though it was obviously not meant to be funny at the time it was written. Immediately after the narrator tells us that good ol’ honest Obi-Wan is not willing to lie to Luke, Obi-Wan lies to Luke. I couldn’t help but laugh.
If you like A New Hope, and like Star Wars books in general, you’d like this book. But if you’re a huge stickler for 100% accurate continuity, this one might drive you a little crazy. This book has my recommendation though. I’m very glad I decided to pick it up and read it again.
Oh yeah, and Chewbacca actually gets a medal at the end of this book, along with Luke and Han. Aww.