Hey gang! It’s me again, returning from what I had expected to be the final installment of my Star Wars Read-A-Thon to talk about the brand new novelization for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I had the opportunity to see the new movie twice in theaters, and had an absolute blast both times–it exceeded my expectations entirely, and that’s saying something.

However, as much as I love repeat viewings and analyzing every scene while waiting for the next installment (2017 is so far away!!), I can only afford so many in-theater experiences, and Alan Dean Foster’s contribution to the new Star Wars literary canon will do in a pinch.

Released this January, the new novelization follows pretty much the same path as the movie, so if you haven’t seen it yet, this is where the SPOILERS begin. . .

The New Republic is the current governing body in the galaxy, but the remnants of the old Empire–a splinter faction of loyalists called the First Order–are still clinging to the Dark Side of the Force, and have fostered some powerful allies. The group dedicated to stopping the First Order, an elite task force called the Resistance led by General Leia Organa, is searching for the one person who might be able to tip the scales in their favor: Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi, who vanished and severed contact with everyone who knew him.

Now, I had a hunch Luke would be going into hiding, but I didn’t expect it to be the main plot engine of the story. Still, the main protagonists here aren’t Luke, Leia, and Han Solo. Instead, we’re focused on a new generation of survivors from three different walks of life: Poe Dameron, an ace pilot sent to retrieve a clue to Skywalker’s whereabouts; Finn, a former stormtrooper for the First Order who has a change of heart during his first assignment; and Rey, a scavenger who’s waiting for someone, and has an intriguing but maddeningly vague connection to Skywalker’s past.

The biggest criticism I’ve seen towards The Force Awakens is that it’s too reminiscent of A New Hope. Which is fair: it’s a character-driven adventure with most of the same beats, lots of action, and a fairly simple premise. A lot of the excitement over this new installment is fueled by nostalgia for the original trilogy, with fans hoping it would live up to the old movies, and that it would be superior to the prequel trilogy. It certainly delivers on both expectations, but there is not much new here apart from the characters. The characters, however, are brilliant, and Rey is rapidly displacing Luke as my very favorite one.

For the most part, Foster’s novelization covers the same ground as the movie, with a few extra scenes and pieces of dialogue. One neat moment explains how Poe survived when his stolen TIE figher crashed, which I had been wondering about. Also there’s a fun moment when Rey and Finn steal a snow speeder to maneuver their way around the Starkiller base–an action-packed sequence that I’m surprised was cut out of the movie, assuming it was in the final shooting script. I was hoping for more detail in the scene in which Rey finds Luke’s old lightsaber, and the flashback vision that follows, but all we get are a series of snapshots that go by very quickly, so anyone looking for additional insight there will probably come away disappointed.

Of course I can’t get into this episode without talking about the new villain, Kylo Ren. The biggest difference for me between the movie and the book is how much sympathy it generates for this guy. Kylo Ren really wants to be the next Darth Vader, but his anger management issues and insistence on wearing a mask for purely aesthetic reasons (yeah, there’s no respirator in there–he has it because it looks cool) has made him a figure of mockery in the Star Wars fandom. People make fun of his temper tantrums, his misplaced desire to be as scary and respected as the former Dark Lord, along with his continual failure to do so. However, since so many of his scenes in the book are written from his point of view, you see how honestly conflicted he is. There is good in him, and he resents it because he thinks it’s making him weaker. Also, he immediately likes Rey, is genuinely sympathetic towards her, and wants to be her friend, although he is terrible at expressing that. The movie had me laughing at him and rolling my eyes; the novelization makes me eager to see where his storyline goes next.

That sums up my feelings overall towards The Force Awakens: eagerness and expectation. I prefer the pared down dialogue used in the movie, and some of the scenes have a few too many points of view clamoring for focus. It has that in common with the novelization for A New Hope, reading like a somewhat fleshed-out screenplay more than a traditional novel. Still, I love this story, and cannot wait to see what happens next.

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