Tie-in novels are great. Not only do they occupy a weird part of the production cycle most people don’t think about, but they also can add a lot of emotion and internal thought to characters we generally only see emote (barring some narration, of course).
I’ve always wanted to write a novelization or tie-in, truth be told, and not just because my fanfiction is awesome. It’s a challenge, it’s entertaining, it’s just plain fun to be able to describe these visuals on the page and to bring characters to life in a way they otherwise wouldn’t on the silver screen.
(if anyone at Del Rey is reading, call me.)
I’ve read a handful of novelizations in my time, not enough to call myself an expert, but enough to say that they have the potential to be decent. So in an effort to better understand the medium, the artistry, I picked up a few from my local library and got down to analyzing.
And holy wow what I found was… interesting.
(I also picked up The Shape of Water but that one turned out to be fairly decent and not really worth mentioning besides “It’s Good, Go Read It.”)
Star Wars (A New Hope)
The first Star Wars movie had a famously troubled production, to the point where there are multiple documentaries, fan films, and books about the affair. So it should be no surprise that the novelization is zero exception.
While I was reading, I noticed that it was actually pretty well-written. A little pretentious, perhaps (who says “essayed” anyway?) but not bad! For being credited towards George Lucas himself, it was better than I’d – well – hoped. To the point where I got suspicious. So I did my research and it turns out, it was ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster, who also wrote Star Trek: The Motion Picture (aka “The Bizarre One With the Computer Lady Who Has No Pants”) and the first Star Wars EU novel called Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (aka “The Bizarre One Where No One Told Alan Dean Foster That Luke And Leia Are Brother And Sister And This Is Very Awkward”).
Star Wars was also very famously very bad when it was first put together and only the expert editing of Lucas’ wife-at-the-time and her friends saved it from being a bizarre slushfest. (There’s a great YouTube video detailing exactly what got changed around.) The novelization, however, comes curiously in-between. The subplot with Biggs Darklighter remains – who here remembers who that even is? – there’s the scene with Jabba the Hutt that got CGI’d in to later editions, and Luke is very much a troubled kid. He lies, he sneaks out, and his Aunt and Uncle are genuinely very worried that he might be getting into some bad stuff like his father did.
Lightsabers are “still in use in some galactic quarters”, Chewie gets his medal, no they don’t say if Han Shot First, and it also has one of the only mentions of ducks in the Star Wars universe which Wikipedia tells me is notable.
It also mentions “The Journal of the Whills”, an early concept George Lucas invented. The idea is that the Star Wars films are actually a historical account by otherworldly beings, and that’s why the films start off with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”
Out of all of the OT, it’s the weirdest but most readable and most interesting. It’s also the longest by about 50 pages, even though it’s shorter than the other two movies.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Some people consider this the most perfect movie ever created which I disagree with strongly as I am busy getting a beer and nachos during the boring Hoth parts in the beginning. Those of you who do have this opinion, though, will be surprised to hear that the book is bad. Really bad.
For one thing, the author can’t seem to get away from real-world references and compound simile… things. Taun-tauns are “llamalike”. We also get “stiltlike”, “gazellelike”, “wedgelike”, and “skullike”, and many others I didn’t bother writing down. Oh and Star Destroyers are “mechanized death angels.” I wish I was joking.
It also seriously lacks in the emotion department which is really tragic considering it’s the most emotionally-charged of the three.
“Now, as she looked at [Han], he’d never seemed more handsome. But she was still a princess.”
Girlfriend, you are the princess of a bunch of blowed-up space rocks and you have bigger problems to worry about. He’s Harrison Ford. Literally what are you waiting for?
“No, no! That’s not true…” Luke said, refusing to believe what he’d heard. “That’s impossible.”
“Search your feelings,” Vader said, sounding like an evil version of Yoda, “you know it to be true.”
That’s it?! That’s all you can conjure when it comes to the inner turmoil Luke must be facing, discovering not only is his most hated enemy his own father? That’s all? Evil Yoda. That’s all we get.
“I love you,” [Leia] said softly, “I couldn’t tell you before, but it’s true.”
He smiled his familiar, cocky smile. “Just remember that, because I’ll be back.”
Yeah, I’m glad these lines were improvised because yeesh.
Yoda is blue and so is Vader’s lightsaber which they keep calling a “sword” (this bothers me for some reason), and they keep calling Han “Corellian” but Lando is only called “black”. The 80s had issues, why are we so nostalgic again?
Star Wars Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
Okay, I fully admit to being kind of tired of this book-chunk by the time I hit Jedi so I skimmed it because also who really likes this one anyway? It’s not the worst written, it’s not the best, it sits firmly in the middle of being “okay”, both the film and the book.
The opening is hilarious because the opening of the movie is a pan over empty space and then WHOA THERE’S A DEATH STAR I THOUGHT WE BLEW THAT THING UP IN 1977 WHAAAAAAT?!?!?!?!?
The first time I read this, I was super confused. It seems stilted, it seems kinda dumb, and then I realized what they were going for and I guess it makes sense?
Luke spends the whole book switching back and forth between this faux-eloquent “wise Jedi” talk and being a whiny “youth” (oh yeah, all three books continually call him this and it’s weird).
“Goodbye, dear sister – lost and found. Goodbye, sweet, sweet Leia.”
When O-Ben-Wan Kenobi’s ghost shows up, he talks for a LONG time about what actually happened to Vader, which is alright for a reader, I suppose, but wouldn’t fly for a moment onscreen. He actually talks about how Anakin “fell into a molten pit” and emerged as Darth Vader, making me wonder how early the lightsaber battle on Mustafar was planned out.
Leia has a complete meltdown when she finds out she’s Vader’s daughter, like a total blue screen of death that Han has to snap her out of and they imply they’d been having a relationship for some time offscreen. Aww.
There’s a really cool point-of-view chapter for Palaptine detailing what his worldview (worldsview?) was really like which was also, as the internet tells me, a criticism of Nixon. Neat.
Also, there’s an INCREDIBLY WEIRD part at the very end where Luke cries on an unmasked Vader’s face and he says how he LIKES HOW THE TEARS TASTE WHAT.
[Luke] saw the old eyes focus on him. Tears burned Luke’ cheeks, fell on his father’s lips. His father smiled at the taste.
Yes, there… he felt a raindrop on his lips. He licked the delicate droplet… but wait, it wasn’t sweetwater, it was salty, it was… a teardrop.
You thought I was making this up.
I think I’mma gonna puke up my bantha milk.