When I was about ten years old, I had an omnibus edition of the original Star Wars Trilogy novelizations that I read so many times it fell apart. I have memories of accompanying Mom to work, and hiding in tucked away corners of the hallway with that book propped up on my knees. For a little while, I was no longer an awkard school kid waiting for my Mom to finish working; I was a Jedi in training in a galaxy far, far away. That was one of my first donations to the library, before it dawned on me that any book in such poor condition would probably be thrown out. I had to buy another copy of course, and my shiny new omnibus is what I’ve been re-reading this year.
General warning: I’m assuming most people are at least a little familiar with Star Wars, at least the ones who would be interested in this read-a-thon, so there will be Spoilers below.
In this review:
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, by George Lucas
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, by Donald F. Glut
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, by James Kahn
If you’ve never read a Star Wars book before, the original trilogy novelizations are the easiest place to start. The story and setting are very similar to the movies, and they are all fast-paced and easy to read. On the off-chance that you haven’t seen these movies before, a quick summary: the original Star Wars trilogy, labeled Episodes IV, V, and VI, follows the adventures of Luke Skywalker, a young man eager to leave his boring but relatively safe life on Tattooine and become a Jedi Knight like his father. It’s a classic Hero’s Journey plot set in outer space.
In the first book, A New Hope, written by director George Lucas himself, Luke befriends and trains with aging Jedi Obi-wan Kenobi, then joins ace pilot Han Solo and the captured Princess Leia, ultimately joining the alliance against the Empire and destroying the Death Star battle station. This entry reads like a Hollywood screenplay. It is nearly identical to the movie, whether you’re watching the original theatrical version or the extended director’s cut. Like most purists, I am not a fan of the director’s cuts of the original trilogy, but honestly there’s nothing wrong with the scenes by themselves. This book adds dimension and clarity to those scenes, and brings back one of my favorite minor characters, Biggs Darklighter, who was mostly cut out of both versions of the movie. He’s one of those characters, like Wedge Antilles or Boba Fett, that casual fans of the movie might not even recognize. However, superfans like me get very attached to these types of characters, so it’s nice to see them take a bigger part in the story than they had before.
The second book, The Empire Strikes Back, by Donald F. Glut, accompanies my favorite episode in the trilogy. Here, our heroes are on the run from Empire still, and Luke seeks out the Jedi Master Yoda to train himself more. This is where he, and we, find out that Darth Vader, the Emperor’s right hand and one of the most feared villains in the galaxy, is actually Luke’s father, Anakin Skywalker. It was one of the most infamous plot twists of all time, and had people talking and speculating for years when it was originally released in theaters. It’s both better and worse as a novel, with more insight into what all the characters are thinking and feeling, but enough bizarre differences between the movie and the book that I started wondering whether it’s based on an early screenplay that got scrapped. Again, this reads like a screenplay, which is fitting since Glut has a background in screenwriting for film and television, although it’s not as close a representation of the movie as the first. For that reason, it’s probably my least favorite of the novelizations.
Finally, Return of the Jedi, written by James Kahn, is the strongest of these books on its own. Here is when Luke finally confronts the Emperor and persuades Darth Vader to come back to the good side, and then father and son both defeat the Emperor together. Kahn is a compelling writer, which makes sense as he’s an experienced novelist, rather than a movie or television writer like the previous two. On the other hand, this novel doesn’t hold up as well if you’ve seen the prequel trilogy, and it’s clear that the saga hadn’t been fully fleshed out at the time this was written. For example, it’s heavily implied that Luke and Leia–who are revealed to be twins at this point–actually spent part of their childhood together, and remember being children in their mother’s house. In the movie, one could make the argument that Leia remembers not her biological mother, but her adopted mother, and that’s where those memories are coming from, but here it’s very clear that the two of them spent some time together in childhood before they were separated for their safety. This didn’t become a problem until the prequel trilogy, where it’s just as clear that Luke and Leia’s mother died in childbirth, so she couldn’t have raised them for any amount of time, plus they were both split up immediately as infants. That’s just one example, but continuity snarls like this combined with Kahn’s stellar use of the craft make this a frustrating, yet fascinating read. It is undoubtedly the best written book in the original trilogy, but it will make you scratch your head in a few places if you’re familiar with the saga as whole.
I cheated and read ahead for the prequel trilogy, but I won’t say anything about it yet except for this small teaser: I had the exact opposite reaction to the prequel novelizations that I did reading the originals. When it comes to the cinematic experience, the original trilogy cannot be beaten, but as written adaptations go, the prequels absolutely blew me away. Join me next time, and I will tell you why!
Next in the queue:
Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace, by Terry Brooks
Star Wars Episode II: The Clone Wars, by R. A. Salvatore
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, by Matthew Stover