Star Wars fans know that George Lucas' magnum opus underwent several rounds of changes in the process of getting from script to screen--and more since, including acquiring the subtitle A New Hope, a special edition face lift, and countless digital tweaks.
The official novelization of the original film, entitled Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, serves as something of a time capsule; a snapshot of Star Wars in mid-evolution.
Ghostwritten by veteran SFF author Alan Dean Foster from an early draft of George Lucas' script, the novel provides convincing evidence for Daddy Warpig's thesis that Lucas mined the then largely moribund pulp tradition to inform his iconic space opera.
Pulp DNAAside from visual elements present in the movie such as the lightsaber--which can be traced back to the works of Edmond Hamilton and Fritz Leiber, among many others--Foster's novel emphasizes pulp hallmarks that are more difficult to show on film.
- We get a stronger sense of Luke's romantic feelings for Leia, which are a major part of his motivation. And yes, Return of the Jedi retroactively makes this even creepier.
- Since we get a look inside Vader's head, his evil is far more chilling than in the movie. Instead of playing the heavy to Tarkin and Palpatine, the Vader of the novel is a coldly calculating Machiavellian who holds the Emperor in contempt and very much has his own agenda. There is a truly unsettling moment when the Dark Lord surveys a star map and notes that Alderaan's destruction didn't visibly affect an infinitesimal fraction of the galaxy. He then contemplates his grand vision to make an indifferent universe notice Man: one that will see the Dark Side succeed where the Death Star failed.
- Conversely, Luke's high moral character gets more focus than in the film. When he tells Leia "I care," in response to her complaint about Han's selfishness, and when he rebukes Solo for leaving the rebels to fight the Death Star without him, the glimpse we're given of his thoughts shows that he's sincere.
- Obi-wan is similarly stated to be 'the greatest Jedi" and is depicted as utterly selfless and in harmony with the force.
- Leia's beauty and regal status as a space Princess are also highly emphasized. Like in the movie, she is hardly a damsel in distress, and she's not above grabbing a blaster to defend herself and her friends. Yet she always remains feminine.
There can be no question. George Lucas and Alan Dean Foster consciously drew deeply from the classic pulps to animate the world of Star Wars. There is indeed a strong argument to be made that, after years of "realistic" hard sci-fi, Star Wars' return to the more fantastical, morally confident, and adventurous pulps greatly contributed to its success.
Differences from the Movie
Having teased about the Star Wars saga's ongoing development leading to marked differences between the print and film versions, I'd be remiss not to note some prominent points where the novel and the movie diverge.
- Instead of "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." the novel opens with "Another galaxy, another time..."
- The book's into differs significantly from the film's opening crawl. Most importantly, Emperor Palpatine is depicted as an aloof ivory tower elitist; not an evil Sith mastermind.
- The Empire's superweapon is only referred to as a space station; never as the Death Star.
- On the other hand, the Sith, plus the TIE, X, and Y-wing fighters, which go unnamed in the film, are explicitly named in the book.
- Lightsabers in the book are flat disks atop metal handles. In the movie, they're basically cylindrical.
- In the novel, three aliens accost Luke in the Mos Eisley cantina instead of two. The novel's Kenobi cuts one alien in half before severing another's arm.
- A great deal of the book's dialogue differs from the lines as spoken in the film, likely due to further editing and actor improvisation. The movie's dialogue is far better, since the novel gives the impression that Foster always has his characters say two or three sentences more than they should.
- The novel's portrayal of the force is even murkier than in the films. In both versions, Kenobi calls the force an energy field generated by living beings. The book tries to have it both ways by saying that, while the force is composed of energy, scientists can't fully explain its origins, so it might be mystical. Ben follows this non-explanation up with ample "but nobody knows for sure" hand-waving. Good enough for punk rock.
- Chewie rightfully gets a medal in the book.
On the whole, Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker is an enjoyable read that still largely holds up despite period-normal overwrought dialogue and exposition. Worth the read for Foster's thrilling--and surprisingly graphic--action scenes alone.
Lucas may have driven Star Wars off a cliff, and then Disney tossed a grenade after it just to be sure, but there are growing ranks of authors working night and day to bring you the kind of pulpy goodness that Hollywood and the Big Five don't want you to enjoy.
Speaking of which, check out The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III, my pulpiest offering yet: