Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Star Wars Bookshelf # 1: Star Wars – From The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, the novelization by George Lucas/Alan Dean Foster

The US paperback of the Star Wars novelization, which introduces
"The year's 
 best movie"

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
fabulous colour" 
Another difference is that on the Death Star, Tarkin joins Vader in the interrogation of Leia in her cell, issuing the threats and apparently seeking to satisfy some sadistic curiosity in torturing her. And in the climactic battle, there is more about the Rebels’ tactics, with Luke’s squadron initially trying to inflict enough damage on the Death Star to cause a distraction while another wave of fighters attack the exhaust port.

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.


Gary Dalkin said...

Like you I gave in and read the novel some weeks before the film came out. I probably read it around November '77. Somehow knowing every detail of the story didn't spoil the experience of seeing the film one bit. Yet now I try to avoid spoilers once I know I want to see a film, which means avoiding just about all that film's publicity.

John White said...

I saw the film knowing nothing of the story I'm happy to say. I don't know when I got the novel - maybe early 1978?

I loved it. I re-read my ancient, battered, childhood copy a couple of years ago because of my own SW comic and some of the odd things my comic contained - which I wanted to track the sources of. I see now that it's patchwork of styles. In one paragraph it'll verge on a technical shooting-script style: Exterior, evening, Ben Kenobi's home - then in the next it'll lapse into something more poetic like lambent topaz etc.

I find it weird how George had to have his name on everything. I just can't really understand it. I doubt that there's a simple explanation for it however much we might be tempted to give one.

It's funny how the additional bits added to the story by the novel, the comic, the storybook, the radio series etc., merged in our imaginations. It was a film that we replayed in our heads and shared in conversations with our friends. My friend Niall a couple of years ago was absolutely convinced that he'd seen the Treadwell/Luke in the cinema!

Darren Slade said...

Yes, it is odd that Lucas wanted his name on everything. Maybe, with the success of American Graffiti behind him, he thought a book with his name on it would get noticed more. Or maybe he was already astute about building the Lucas "brand". He was also determined to be the sole credited writer of the screenplay, even though he eventually asked Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz to give the dialogue a polish.
And yes, it is really interesting the way different versions of the story merged in our imaginations. Some people will swear blind that the Biggs scenes were in the film they saw.

Orcus said...

This book is an awesome read

Seeing_I said...

Sure, we want to know who Rey's parents are. Sure, we need to know more about the Kessel Run. But what Star Wars fans REALLY want to know is...what's a duck, and where in his travels has Ben encountered one??