|The US paperback of the Star Wars novelization, which introduces|
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For half a million people in the US, the plot of Star Wars contained few surprises when the film came out in 1977 – because they already knew it as a novel.
George Lucas and his publicity and merchandising man Charles Lippincott had been proved right in their judgement that a book, published months ahead of the movie, would help generate interest in the film, especially among SF fans.
Star Wars, carrying the subtitle From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, was published by Del Rey of New York in November 1976 and by Sphere in the UK the following year. At the time, we fans were encouraged to think the novel was the holy word of George Lucas. Some time later, there came confirmation of rumors that the book had in fact been written by Alan Dean Foster. (Although he missed out on a credit for Star Wars, Foster became king of the movie tie-in novel for some time afterwards, adapting The Black Hole, Alien, Clash of the Titans, Alien Nation, Dark Star and others alongside his own original writing. In the 21st century, he returned to novelizations with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.)
Recalling Star Wars to Daryl F. Mallett and Kim Baltzer, in Fan number 8, January 1986, Foster said: “I had a contract where I couldn't say I was the author and had to lie to a lot of people about it. But a book about the making of the film came out and credited me with the book, so I got permission from Lucasfilm to be able to talk about it."
Lucas had initially offered the ghost-writing job to Don Glut, a University of Southern California pal with whom he used to watch Flash Gordon serials. Glut turned down the publisher’s terms – $5,000, no royalties and no credit. “And for the next few years, I kept kicking myself, like Lugosi after he turned down Frankenstein,” he said in John Baxter's biography of Lucas. Glut would eventually write the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back.
The fact that the Star Wars novel was intended to help generate interest among existing SF fans might explain its surprisingly rich vocabulary for a film novelization. Words like lambent topaz, remoras, loquacity, actinic, thermocapsulary, concatenated, arroyo, xenologist, mahouts, sussuration and chakedomy pepper the text. You would not want to play Scrabble with Alan Dean Foster.
The book generally follows the film pretty closely, but there are some differences, explained by the fact that Foster had to deliver his manuscript some time before the movie was finished. The Tatooine scenes with Luke’s friend Biggs and the other local youngsters are there, and they work well in the novel – almost certainly better than they would have in the film, where the need to get on with the plot was greater. Jabba the Hutt appears as well, confronting Han Solo in the scene dropped from the film in 1977 but included in the 1997 Special Edition, when actor Declan Mulholland was replaced by a CGI Jabba. The book avoids specifying whether Jabba is human or alien, describing him as “a great mobile tub of muscle and suet topped by a shaggy scarred skull”.
|The UK cover of the |
Star Wars novelization:
"With 16 pages of
The novel also contains a prologue which sketches in the fall of the Old Republic very differently from the story that was eventually to be told in the Star Wars prequels. The Emperor is named as Palpatine, but he is the latest in a succession of weak-willed Emperors whose power has been taken away by scheming bureaucrats.
Foster has a nice turn of phrase, and makes some impressive attempts at insight into the characters’ thoughts and feelings. There’s a teenage rage in the Tatooine-bound Luke which is not as obvious in the film. Leia is even feistier than in the movie, daring to spit on Darth Vader when she first encounters him. And surprisingly enough, we are given a glimpse into Vader’s train of thought as he formulates plans to sweep aside Tarkin and Admiral Motti, which would make sense given that he was supposed to be the story's scariest villain.
It's a fascinating read for historical reasons, but it's also an enjoyable novel in its own right – even if you don’t know a lambent topaz from a xenologist.