Cover art (Courtesy of Penguin Random House)
By Sarah Hayes, A&E Editor
A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, except it was only late last year and the galaxy was actually a movie theatre nearby, the newest entry in the “Star Wars” series hit the big screen. It introduced the latest generation of heroes who will take part in the war between the Republic and the First Order, including the fearless scavenger Rey, ex-Stormtrooper turned resistance fighter Finn, and ace fighter pilot Poe Dameron. It has been smashing box office records and raking in lots of money based on ticket sales and merchandising, so naturally, a novelization of the film was bound to happen.
So now we have the book version of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” written by sci-fi author Alan Dean Foster, who is no stranger to the novelization process. Foster has written up numerous TV and film books in the past, including several in the “Star Wars” print canon. It becomes obvious from reading the “The Force Awakens” novel that Foster is also intimately aware of the depth of the fictional universe he is writing for. However, the level of writing he brings to the 2015 film’s story seems at times superfluous and off-putting.
The basic story is still there: everyone is searching for the droid BB-8 who holds the key to finding the elusive legendary Jedi leader Luke Skywalker; Rey and Finn realize they have a greater destiny in the universe as they dodge blaster fire, rathtar claws, and malfunctioning starships; old heroes such as Han Solo and Leia Organa retake the stage only to hand the baton off to the younger crowd; the villain, Kylo Ren, grumpily hunts for the droid and its two new owners while thrashing innocent machinery with his big red phallic lightsaber.
What Foster does in his novelization of “Force Awakens” is take the breakneck pace of the two-hour-plus film and slow it down to a more suitable pace for verse. It is still a quick read but it now has layers that the film did not have, including additional character insight and missing scenes. Suddenly, the Starkiller weapon makes sense due to a quick physics lesson in the text, Rey actually learns how to use her blaster, and the relationship between Stormtroopers is explained somewhat, among other additions. The narrative takes the time to look into the characters’ heads, humanizing those like Poe Dameron who had considerably less on-screen time than others.
However, what is lost is the spark of the acting, the interaction between characters that feels genuine and spontaneous and that only the camera can capture. Foster keeps some of the cleverer moments dialogue-wise, but some smaller moments are lost—including, surprisingly enough, the duel between Finn and his ex-Stormtrooper brother in arms. This is the danger of letting an author who was not intimately part of the original story process write the book: Foster clearly has a different idea of which scenes were important to the overall story than J. J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, who worked on the screenplay.
Foster is also in love with pulling from a collection of vocabulary that would be better suited for a high octane Scrabble game to describe the more mundane aspects of “Star Wars” in ways that make me suspect he is writing for a different target demographic than the book is actually for. Instead of being ready, for example, Finn responds to events with ‘alacrity,’ a word which seems foreign to the story’s vocab set. Other scenes attempt to raise the intelligence of the story, but read flat. Leia, who has never had an open fondness for droids, goes on a slightly out-of-character tangent on how useful and clever BB-8 is. Rey and Han Solo’s rapid fire rapport on the mechanics of the Millennium Falcon is lengthened to the extent that it becomes technobabble.
The “Force Awakens” novelization is not bad, per se. If you loved the film and want to comb through the additional material for further clues and nuggets of deeper character moments, or just want a textual distraction populated by familiar faces, Foster delivers, although with caveats.