Book Review | The Force Awakens novelization

Book Review | The Force Awakens novelization

A passable product to fill bookstore shelves and give the studio an opportunity at another market space. Unless you’re really interested in Starkiller Base, just watch the film.

Cover | Image Credit: Wookieepedia

Author: Alan Dean Foster
Publisher: Del Rey
Length: 272 pages
EE Critic Score: 4/10

The novelization of The Force Awakens was written by Alan Dean Foster and was released in January of 2016, a few weeks after the film.

I’m going to skip any synopsis since this is just a retelling of a film I’ve already reviewed

Analysis

If the author’s name seems familiar to you, it’s because Alan Dean Foster is a well-established sci-fi novelizer, having written the book forms of the Aliens franchise, The Last Starfighter, The Chronicles of Riddick, Terminator: Salvation, Transformers, Star Trek, and others. Most relevantly, in this case, Foster was George Lucas’s ghostwriter for the original Star Wars novelization that was released ahead of the film in late 1976. Additionally, he adapted Lucas’s concepts for a low budget sequel to A New Hope into the novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which is sometimes regarded as the true start of the old EU. Such an impressive resumé makes it no wonder why Foster was brought back to novelize The Force Awakens. Sadly, the book he wrote isn’t very good.

Novelizations occupy a weird position in the world of books, to be sure. But, in the case of Star Wars, they can be and have been quite good. They add scenes, internal monologues, and detail about the world that couldn’t be effectively delivered in the films. But even if this book were simply a straight retelling of the film, it would honestly be better. Not only does this book add very little to the story already told in the film, it tells that story generally worse than the film.

Reading through this book, the thing I was struck by was how needlessly verbose it was. There were a few scenes added to the book that weren’t in the film, but a lot of the difference in length between a novel and a feature film is made up by expanding the dialogue. This is most noticeable in Kylo Ren. In the film, Ren is blunt and direct in his words. Take this scene, from early on, where Ren is interrogating the captured Poe Dameron.

Kylo Ren: I had no idea we had the best pilot in the Resistance onboard…<pause>…Comfortable?
Poe Dameron: Not really.
Kylo Ren: I’m impressed. No one has been able to get out of you what you did with the map.
Poe Dameron: You might want to rethink your technique.
Kylo Ren: <reaches out into Dameron’s mind through the Force> Where is it?
Poe Dameron: <struggling> The Resistance will not be intimidated by you.
Kylo Ren: Where is it?
Poe Dameron: <screams>

That’s thirty-nine words total spoken by Kylo Ren. Contrast that with the same scene as it appears in the book.

Doubtless his inquisitor could sense his determination. Was the masked figure smiling? There was no way to tell. While his interrogator’s greeting was far from challenging, the sarcasm underlying Kylo Ren’s words was plain enough.
“I had no idea we had the best pilot in the Resistance on board. Revealing yourself through your futile attempt on my life was foolish. Revenge is little more than an adolescent concession to personal vanity. Even had you not been slow and ill-prepared, Tekka was already dead. Comfortable?”
Poe did his best to sound nonchalant. “Not really.” He gestured as best he could with a shackled hand. “The accommodations leave something to be desired.”
“I regret the necessity. They are gratuitous in my presence. But those others who have made your acquaintance possess only the most primitive abilities, and further defiance on your part would demand their unnecessary exertions.” He bent toward the prisoner. “None of this unpleasantness need be necessary. We both wanted the same thing from the old man. Perhaps he was more forthcoming with you than he was with me.”
Poe made a show of seriously considering the proposal before replying phlegmatically, “Might wanna rethink your technique. Hard to get cooperation from a dead man.”
Ren stood back, looming over the prisoner. “A truism on which you might personally wish to reflect. It is pathetic, though. Is it not? You and I, both in pursuit of a ghost.” His tone darkened. “Where did you put it?”
Poe stared up at him innocently. “Where did I put what?”
“Please. All time is transitory, and mine especially so. This will go more quickly and less awkwardly if we dispense with childish nonsense.”
Poe readied himself. “The Resistance will not be intimidated by you.”
“As you wish, then. There is no ‘Resistance’ in this room. Only the pilot Poe Dameron. And I.”
A hand extended toward the shackled prisoner. Silent agony followed soon after.
“Tell me,” Ren murmured. “Tell me.”

Kylo Ren blathers on like a YouTube personality trying to a) sound smarter and b) fill time enough to earn another ad break. And even Poe’s dialogue has a lot of unnecessary lines added.

Everyone in the book speaks at length about everything. In one of the added scenes, Poe Dameron is rescued from the Jakku desert by a character who describes himself as “very fond of words”, who I determined must be an author self-insert.

Not only does this anti-summarized dialogue make the book a drag to read in many places, it kind of ruins a few moments. Like, remember when Finn and Rey escape Jakku aboard the Millennium Falcon, and they get found by Han Solo and Chewbacca, but they don’t know what’s going on and scramble to hide?

“What do we do?” Rey was saying beside him. She kept trying the controls, to no avail. “There must be something.”
He still could not look in her direction. “We can die.”
She refused to accept it. “There have to be other options besides dying!”
He sighed heavily. “Sure. We could run — if the engines could be powered up. We could try and fight — if the blasters would function. We could step into the matter transporter — if such a thing existed.” He shook his head dolefully. “No, we’re dead. We don’t even have hand weapons to try and hold off a capture te — ” He stopped abruptly. Now he did turn to her.
“Earlier, when you were working below: You said something about volatile chemicals? Mixing to create poisonous gases?”
She eyed him uncertainly. “Yeah, but I fixed that. There’s no blending now.”
His tone was deliberate, his stare unflinching. “Can you unfix it?”
“This’ll work on stormtroopers?” she wondered as she manipulated the tools she had used earlier and left behind.
“Standard issue helmets are designed to filter out smoke, not toxins. To cope with the latter, a trooper needs to engage one of several special filters, depending on the specific contaminant. Identification is the province of one or two squad leaders. Having brought this ship on board theirs, I doubt anyone will think to check for airborne pollutants. It’s not like leading a ground assault, or forcing entry to an enemy warship. This is just an old freighter. Any kind of internal defense, much less something as nebulous as a gas counterattack, would be the last thing a squad sent to take its crew into custody would expect.”
Rey was plainly impressed. “You Resistance guys really know your stuff.”
He smiled uneasily. “You know what they say: Know your enemy.”

Having Finn take the time to explain how the stormtrooper’s helmet filters work, beyond the single line he was given in the film, kind of kills the suspense of the moment.

Or, remember “That’s not how the Force works!”, that great line that everyone laughed at and then quoted for months afterward and laughed at again? Here’s the book’s take on that:

“I don’t know how to take out the shields, Han,” Finn admitted. “I’m here to get Rey.”
Han turned a slow, frustrated circle. “Anything else you’ve overlooked? Anything else you’ve forgotten to tell us?” Nearby, Chewbacca added his own groaning comment. “People are counting on us! The galaxy is counting on us!”
“Solo,” Finn shot back, “we’ll figure it out! We got here, didn’t we?”
“Yeah? How?”
Finn smiled encouragingly. “We’ll use the Force!”
Han rolled his eyes. “Again the Force. Always the Force.” His gaze returned to the hopeful Finn. “I haven’t got time to explain it to you, kid, but — that’s not how the Force works.” He looked up and around. “Where’s that patrol droid?” Chewie growled back at him. “Oh really? You’re cold?”

The Force Awakens stands out as by far the funniest Star Wars film. This book isn’t ever funny; all the moments of humor are overwritten and padded, and their timing is thus ruined.

Where Foster’s style works is in the description of the technical parts of the world, especially the “science” (such as it is) behind Starkiller Base, as well as the chronology of the climactic battle, which is much clearer here than in the film.

Recommendation and Rating

Certain passages aside, this book is pretty much a directly worse version of the film. Foster is a talented and accomplished author, but he’s also the guy who wrote the novelization of Carpenter's The Thing (which was already an adaptation of a written work). This book seems like that: a passable product to fill bookstore shelves and give the studio an opportunity at another market space. Unless you’re really interested in Starkiller Base, just watch the film.

4/10 — With enough positive worth to be recommended to viewers with particular interest, as part of the broader pursuit of that interest. Not to be taken as an endorsement to general audiences, and certainly not to be taken as the best of a field by any means