“You are the last Jedi, Luke. You are our only hope. Be patient.” – Ben Kenobi
The novelization of The Empire Strikes Back was released April 12, 1980, a month before the film itself came out in theaters. The novelizations of the first six Star Wars films all came out before the films themselves did, though it looks like that trend has stopped, as last year’s The Force Awakens novelization was released the same day as the movie. Though it is the second movie novelization, it is the fifth Star Wars novel to be released, after the novelization of the first movie, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, Han Solo at Stars’ End, and Han Solo’s Revenge. The final book in Brian Daley’s Han Solo trilogy, Han Solo and the Lost Legacy, was released four months after this. The Star Wars Expanded Universe was young, but growing.
This one was written by Donald F. Glut, and it is the only Star Wars novel he ever wrote, though he had previously written some issues of Marvel’s Star Wars comic series.
There’s not a whole lot to say about this one. It’s good. Not great. Not bad. Good. It is written well. No complaints with the writing style, or choice of words or anything like that. It’s just that there’s not much more to the novel than what we see in the movie. Like The Force Awakens novelization, this one is pretty much a straight retelling of what we see on-screen in the movie itself. There are, however, a few differences between the book and the movie. Nothing major, but it was fun to try picking all the differences out. For one, C-3PO is fluent in ten times more forms of communication than in the movies! “I’m fluent in over sixty million forms of communication!” Wow. What an upgrade!
One of the more obvious differences was the physical description of Yoda. From what I understand, Yoda’s appearance was kept tight under wraps even from those who were working on the novelization and comic book adaptations of the movie, so the Yoda we meet in the book isn’t quite the same Yoda we see on-screen. The book describes Yoda as a being whose “long white hair was parted down the middle and hung down on either side of the blue-skinned head. The being was bipedal, and stood on short legs that terminated in tridactyl, almost reptilian feet.” He was also described as having “bulbous eyes.” Though not drastically different than the green-skinned creature we know so well, it is still different enough to be noteworthy. Shortly after meeting Yoda, we get a fun peek inside Luke’s head as he thinks to himself “How could an elf like this know anything about a great teacher of the Jedi Knights?”
Luke’s training with Yoda is also expanded upon. We get to see more of Luke training, and we get to hear more of Yoda’s wisdom and teachings. These were some of my favorite parts of the novel, because they were some of the only “extra” scenes the book provided that the movie didn’t have. We get to see Luke actually training in lightsaber combat, which was fun. Yoda also has Luke make them dinner, and while Luke is busy trying to cook in Yoda’s tiny kitchen, Yoda ambushes him with training droids. It is fun to see this stuff, and it makes Luke’s training feel more real, because we hardly see any of it in the actual movie. The narrator tells us that “Yoda spent long hours lecturing his student about the ways of the Jedi. As they sat under the trees near Yoda’s little house, Luke listened intently to all the master’s tales and lessons.”
The Dagobah cave scene is also expanded upon slightly, and like in Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of the first Star Wars movie, Darth Vader is wielding a blue lightsaber. I’m not sure when it was officially made clear that his sword is supposed to be red. Today it is obvious to everyone that he has a red sword, but back then the coloring of the lightsabers was so bad that they all just looked white.
In the beginning of the book, after Luke is rescued from the wampa and put in the bacta tank, he starts mumbling to himself in his unconscious state. He says “Yoda . . . Go to Yoda.” Han and Chewbacca are in the room and the narrator points out that neither one of them has any idea what Luke is talking about. Uhh… Chewbacca would totally know what Luke is talking about. We all know that Chewie and Yoda were buddies 25 years back. Stupid narrator, unable to predict future pointless movie twists! It actually makes me wonder how the story would have turned out differently if Luke would have mentioned Yoda to Chewie, given what we now know about their past.
One thing that caught my attention was during the Battle of Hoth. There was a moment right before Luke and Han went separate ways where the author writes “The two friends, Luke and Han, stood looking at each other, perhaps for the last time.” This was interesting to me because I just recently read The Force Awakens novelization, where the author wrote similar things about Han and Leia, and Han and Chewbacca. The book made it much more obvious than the movie did that Han was saying goodbye to Leia and Chewie for the last time in both instances. Of course, here in The Empire Strikes Back, Han and Luke do get to see each other again. I just found it interesting because The Force Awakens novelization had two nearly identical moments, though in both cases, it really was the last time Han would see those characters.
There were moments of the book that left me wanting to know more. When Boba Fett makes an appearance we are told that “He was dressed in a weapon-covered, armored spacesuit, the kind worn by a group of evil warriors defeated by the Jedi Knights during the Clone Wars.” What? I want to hear more about that Clone Wars battle! Fett is wearing traditional Mandalorian armor, but I’ve watched all six seasons of The Clone Wars TV series, and the two seasons of the earlier 2d Clone Wars show, and I never got to see the Jedi Knights defeat a group of evil Mandalorian warriors. Somebody, make this story happen!
The Empire Strikes Back is the first time we ever get to see Emperor Palpatine. The prologue of the novelization of A New Hope does mention him, but other than that, this is Palpatine’s first appearance in Star Wars. One thing I loved about the Emperor in this novel is that Donald F. Glut really made the Emperor seem terrifying. Possibly my favorite parts of the entire book were just the descriptions of the Emperor. Here is an example:
Only one being in the entire universe could instill fear in the dark spirit of Darth Vader. As he stood, silent and alone in his dim chamber, the Dark Lord of the Sith waited for a visit from his own dreaded master.
As he waited, his Imperial Star Destroyer floated through a vast ocean of stars. No one on his ship would have dared disturb Darth Vader in his private cubicle. But if they had, they might have detected a slight trembling in that black-cloaked frame. And there might even have been a hint of terror to be seen upon his visage, had anyone been able to see through his concealing black breath mask.
. . .
The Emperor’s presence was awesome enough, but the sound of his voice sent a thrill of terror coursing through Vader’s powerful frame.
Even Darth Vader is terrified of Emperor Palpatine in this adaptation. I love this. The Emperor didn’t seem all that scary in the movie, but in this book you realize just how frightening the man really is. With all the backstory we now have about Palpatine and Anakin, it makes this description even more disturbing. Anakin and Palpatine were friends at one point. Now Anakin serves Palpatine, and he is terrified of him. Vader isn’t completely fearless. His own master is his worst nightmare.
It is interesting to note that when Luke fights Vader in Cloud City, it is not the first time they have fought in either the Legends continuity or in the new canon. In Legends, Luke first fights Vader in Splinter of the Mind’s Eye on the planet Circarpous V (also known as “Mimban”). In the new canon, Luke fights Vader (or at least attempts to) in the second issue of Marvel’s rebooted Star Wars comic book series. In the comic version, this is where Vader realizes that Luke is carrying his old lightsaber, and after learning from Boba Fett that Luke’s name is “Skywalker” he puts the pieces together and realizes exactly who Luke is; his son. In any case, Vader and Luke’s confrontation in The Empire Strikes Back is not their first confrontation in any version of Star Wars continuity at this point.
This book was an entertaining read, but like I said before, there isn’t much to it. I mentioned my main points of interest already in this review. I enjoyed the book, but will probably never read it again. There just isn’t a reason to come back to it. On the other hand, The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite movie of all time. I could watch it a thousand times and still love it. I’d say stick with the movie for this one, unless of course you’re like me and you just want to read everything Star Wars.
I’ll end this review with one of the more jarring differences between the book and the movie. The famous lines “I love you” “I know” are not uttered in this novelization. Instead, when Han is about to be dropped into the carbon freezing chamber, Leia says to him “I love you . . . I couldn’t tell you before, but it’s true.”
Han then replies, “Just remember that, because I’ll be back.”