The Force Awakens (Novelization)
This review includes movie spoilers!
For everyone wanting to dive deeper into Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there are a lot of books to choose from. There’s visual dictionaries, cross-sections, art-of-books and even short story tie-ins. However, there is only one adult novelization, and its penned by the same author who started the whole Star Wars literary universe. Alan Dean Foster takes the script and story elements he was given, and turns it into a fully formed novel. That said, there’s some flaws with the book, many which may be well out of the author’s hands. The primary issue is just how much the novelization contradicts or differs from what happens in the movie.
Diving into the novelization, I was looking forward to explanations for what happened on screen, backstories for the characters and places, and bonus scenes not included in the movie. It’s probably safe to say my expectations were too high. The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster is no where in the same league as Matthew Stover’s Revenge of the Sith. For starters, the first 132 pages included no new scenes. Up until that point, I was very disappointed with the story. There was no extra insight into the characters or the film, nothing new that was worthwhile, and what differences there was simply contradicted the content of the movie, making the book apocrypha. Foster describes Finn as ordinary and unexceptional, yet in Rucka’s TFA tie-in work, Finn is at the top of his class in training with high expectations from Captain Phasma herself. In Rey’s conversation with Unkar Plutt, she actually turns BB-8 off and barters with Plutt for more food in exchange for the droid. The scene where Rey looks across from her part cleaning table to see an old woman doing the same thing is completely absent. Instead she looks off in the distance and sees a mother with her child coming down a ship ramp. Even after this point in the book, the differences go on and on. It’s quite evident that the script Foster was given to work with was an early version of the script which received numerous rewrites and reworkings afterwards. Nevertheless, the first 132 pages were rough. Thankfully, page 133 delivers the first new scene of the book.
Regarding the new content, it’s interesting, and some of it expands upon elements of the film. On the other hand, if these were scenes being considered for the movie, I can honestly say the movie is a lot better without these extra scenes. It’s easy to see how most of them would have bogged the story down or taken it in directions that didn’t need to be included. The overall story works better without them. That said, you get to see Leia learning about the attack on Jakku, tasking 3PO to track down BB-8, sending her envoy Korr Sella to Hosnian Prime, and learning BB-8’s location on Takodana. You find out more about the buyer for the Rathtars, Poe has an entire chase scene on Jakku as he wakes up from crash—which is probably the best of the new scenes—and Chewbacca tears off Unkar Plutt’s arm at Maz’s castle. Maz gets an extended scene with Finn where she says she now sees the eyes of a warrior, which was actually a really nice line that should have been included in the movie, and there’s a scene where Leia tells Poe to retreat after they’ve destroyed the oscillator for Starkiller Base. That’s most of the new scenes, none of which are ground shaking.
There’s also a few key differences that are interesting and contradictory. In this version of the story, Han does not touch Kylo Ren’s face. Kylo blocks lightsaber blows with his hands. The fight between him and Finn is far less violent. Rey’s Force vision does not include a scene with her on Jakku with Unkar Plutt holding her back. During the battle on Starkiller Base, Hux orders the deployment of seekers which will cause casualties on both sides, thus adding to the callousness of his nature. Again, most of these changes don’t add anything positive to the story and they only hurt the credibility of the novelization. It’s hard to accept this book as canon when so much of it is wrong. How are readers supposed to know what they can consider true? I get that there was secrecy, time tables, and last minute changes, but the end result leaves a lot to be desired.
On the plus side, there were some explanations in the book that will interest fans. There’s a pretty good explanation of how the Starkiller weapon works involving dark energy, quintessence, phantom energy and sub-hyperspace. The written breakdown of Rey’s Force vision allows readers to thoroughly understand what Rey was seeing. There’s additional and alternate dialog for Snoke which might hint at his side of things including the possibility of other students beyond Kylo. Plus there are bits involving Kylo and Snoke that hint at something familiar and of key importance with Rey. There’s also an explanation for how Rey learned to use a Jedi mind trick. So through the book, there are some answers for questions fans have been asking.
Yet the question is whether the small amount of new material and the handful of explanations and answers outweighs the contradictions to the film and the sometimes awkward prose. Most of the book is very readable. After I got through the first third, it started to zoom along, but occasionally there’s odd lines that just break the moment and the rhythm. Whether it’s “the odds sucked”, “peep of a beep” or “his countenance underwent a grave shift”, the wording just gets a little off in places. Overall, the story just doesn’t have the same great flow or sound as the actual film did. In a way, I’m glad the movie is way better than the book, but I was hoping for a bit more from the novel.
In the end, it comes up shallow with Foster missing a lot of opportunities to add depth to the story and the characters. Perhaps the situation was beyond his control given the restraints put upon him, but the result remains the same. The Force Awakens novelization is kind of mediocre. If you’re really looking for answers, there are better books to check out like DK Books The Force Awakens: The Visual Dictionary or Greg Rucka’s Before the Awakening. However, the hardest hurdle to overcome is whether we can take anything in this book to be truth when there is so much that is outright false. It’s hard to use anything in this book to support an argument when there’s so much that is flawed and wrong. Thus, I give The Force Awakens novelization a three out of five metal bikinis. It has it’s enjoyable moments, there’s some interesting stuff in there for completists, but it’s still a very flawed story. Hopefully they can work out some of the bugs for the novelizations that will follow.
Reviewed By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.