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Solid adaptation of a classic story
on March 26, 2007
This novelization of the first Star Wars film is the alpha ancestor of the entire Star Wars universe. Published several months before the release of the film (which was simply titled "Star Wars" in 1977, picking up the "A New Hope" signifier in the 1979 theatrical re-release), the book was a success on a small scale but did not take off until the film became a phenomenon. George Lucas is credited with authoring this novel, but as he acknowledges in his introduction, the book was ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster based on Lucas' screenplay. Foster went on to write two more Star Wars novels, Splinter of the Mind's Eye in the late 70's and The Approaching Storm in 2002.
Credit must be given to Foster for capturing a Star Wars "feel" in this novel without any preceding Star Wars material to work from and without knowledge of the scrutiny every scrap of Star Wars literature would eventually be subjected to. He follows the screenplay quite faithfully, and except for the inclusion of a sequence on Tatooine that was shot but cut from the film late in the editing process, his novel follows the film's sequence of scenes exactly. He does toy with the dialogue to an extent, re-writing lines throughout. To a modern-day Star Wars nut, this can sometimes be jarring, as everything about this story is so familiar. It's interesting in movie novelizations how the authors often change dialogue but nothing else: I like seeing a little more experimentation, such as that in Matthew Stover's superb novelization of Revenge of the Sith.
Foster is a descriptive writer and this story flows along briskly. One quirk that happens multiple times is he often uses comparisons rooted in our own mundane Earth to describe something, such as "like a dog padding on plastic," "like an Oriental poppy in a sea of oats, " and "like the damping rods in a nuclear reactor." Foster definitely had his work cut out for him in trying to describe such a visual universe before any visual media had been released to the public, but the dozen or so Earth allusions often shatter the otherworldly feel of the story.
As I mentioned earlier, the book contains a sequence set on Tatooine that did not make the final cut of the movie. It occurs early in the story with Luke observing the capture of the Tantive IV in orbit and rushing off to Anchorhead to tell his friends about the battle. When he arrives at Tosche Station, he has an unexpected joyful reunion with his old friend Biggs Darklighter. This segment with Biggs plants the seeds of sympathy toward the Rebellion in Luke's mind and also heightens the impact of Biggs' death during the Death Star attack at the end of the story.
The novelization of Episode IV is a serviceable rendition that does not add too much to the film. It would be interesting to see a new interpretation, either by Foster or another author, written in the modern day that could incorporate material from the prequels and the Expanded Universe material that has been released since 1977.