Things were wild for Star Wars in 2012, what with the Disney takeover and the restructuring of LucasFilm, the game licence going to EA with the shuttering of LucasArts as a developer. And the announcement that a new trilogy of films was set to be released. The first teaser for that trilogy wouldn’t arrive until two years later, with the film arriving at the end of 2015. A few days later, the novelisation arrived.
I’d been wowed by the film, and even to this day I still regard it as the best of the trilogy. The novelisation was equally as good, with it extending some scenes and cutting a bit of clutter. Ultimately, though, the novelisation doesn’t add too much to the story, and in some parts also loses a bit of something.
One thing it does do, however, is bring a bit of new meaning to Kylo Ren’s line of “I’ll finish what you started.” The two sides of Resistance and First Order are hunting for Skywalker within the film, but that hunt within the book – the hunt for the piece of the map – feels like it takes on a new importance here. There’s a scene between Kylo Ren and Snoke where they talk of the failing of Vader and why it’s so important to find Skywalker.
Even the destruction of the Hosnian system, and the plan to eliminate the Resistance base, is all centred on stopping the Resistance from their own hunt for Skywalker. There’re even small scenes within the Resistance base with Leia to show her feelings and hopes for wanting Luke back in the fight. Of course, though, the main viewpoints for the Resistance side are Poe, Rey, and Finn.
Allow me, for a second, to talk of The Rise of Skywalker. It’s well-known there wasn’t much of a plan in place for the trilogy as a whole, with individual directors taking the story in their own directions, butting in with small changes to the previous film so it could lead better into their own. The result of that – Palpatine returns and Rey is his granddaughter. Before the ending film of the trilogy released to give those answers, throughout the entire trilogy, everyone was speculating about the lineage of Rey.
You can look for things to prove your own theories, being selective about what you see. Point is, even the authors of the novelisations didn’t know who Rey was, so she is left to stand on her own. One of the major changes for her comes near the beginning, with BB-8 in tow, and Unkar Plutt is interested in the droid. Instead of a fleeting moment of selling BB-8, she bargains with Plutt, hoping to make a fortune in portions of food, ready to settle down for a while without needing to work.
She is ready to give BB-8 away, not even thinking about its importance, until she comes to understand. Not that importance, but that by handing over BB-8, Plutt would be gaining more from the deal than she would. She could see that he was excited about getting his hands on it, an excitement that he normally doesn’t possess at any other time. Book and film the result is still the same, but the book has something a bit deeper. By pushing the deal, thinking selfishly – in other words inward, only about herself – the tells of the darkness are already there.
Much like Anakin, she struggles with control. She’s been trapped within a harsh environment, fighting to survive. Unlike Anakin, she has no-one. Both book and film do display that effectively, along with the first encounter with Finn and being taken aback by someone caring how she is. Within the Falcon she gets to prove her knowledge a bit more effectively than the film during the journey to Takodana, which shows her willingness to learn and survive. During the encounters with Kylo Ren, the events are the same, but the feel of them changes between book and film.
Rey is fearful of Ren during the interrogation when something within her allows her to gain control. With the film, it’s almost as though she’s trying to fight the fear within her to be able to resist the mind probe. Within the book, the fear becomes anger pretty quickly as Ren probes further within her mind. That she gets angered at Ren for stating what she doesn’t have shows again the struggle for control. She wants to attack back with the primal instinct she showed on Jakku.
With both book and film, though, she does attack back with her own mind, not fully understanding what she had done. But, still not fully understand the powers she has, she experiments in using her mind to convince the guard to set her free. While the book has it work almost instantly, the effect is still the same. She’s learning of the powers she possesses. The same goes during the lightsaber fight within the forest of Starkiller Base. Having been pushed by the power of the Force, she uses that same power to call something to her. The lightsaber that Finn had used to attack Ren. His act, however futile, to defend her. The lightsaber of Luke Skywalker.
The same thing plays out as happened in the interrogation room, but this time in physical form. Rey is scared of Ren, always backing away. At the same time, though, she’s fighting that fear within her. With the film, she is almost absorbed by that fear, and once Kylo Ren suggests to her that she has the power of the Force, she takes a moment to reflect. And turns her fear into a power driven by the darkness within her. While the same happens in the book, it is her decision to cast away the dark thoughts that ends the fight.
While Rey of the film is a good character, the book expands on her in a way it doesn’t really do for any other character. Finn’s motivations don’t really change at all. He’s still an ex-Stormtrooper trying to run from his escape who then faces his fears to do the right thing. Without the random calls of traitor, however, it feels more natural. He feels more natural in his actions. He’s not facing Kylo Ren from an accusation of being a traitor. He’s doing it to protect a friend. The Stormtrooper who calls him traitor sees the destruction Finn is causing with the ‘saber and launches into the fight without even stopping to call Finn out and show off a little.
Poe, for as little as he’s used, at least gets some clearer motivation in the beginning, where he’s grounded from a lucky shot, and hunts within the village for the parts he needs to perform fixes, until he reacts without thinking when Kylo Ren kills Lor San Tekka. Later on, he gets another moment to shine as we see his journey through the wastes of the Jakku desert. Does it need to be there? Not really, but it’s a fun scene to see play out. It does mean we know he survived, but the film ruins that surprise in the least inspired way.
Many scenes, particularly those action scenes, seem written for the spectacle of film. The space battle loses something in translating it to a book even with the smaller focus upon it. The pivotal points are all still here, and it is nice to know that despite the danger, they stayed to look out for the Falcon. Han Solo’s confrontation loses a lot in the translation, especially as it misses out the pivotal moment of Han showing he still cares about his son even when that son killed him.
The changes the book gives show some character to those who needed some, but otherwise doesn’t do too much to improve upon things. If I had to choose between the book or film for The Force Awakens, I’d have to go for the film. The small additions to the book, while good, are not exactly enough to choose it over the film. The spectacle that the film offers is also not replicated to as great a degree as I would hope. It can be done. The Revenge of the Sith novelisation is testament to that.
One thing I do suspect, though, is that The Force Awakens might be the only novelisation where I prefer the film, even if such a thing is a close choice. Future novelisations were delayed away from the release of the films to release as expanded editions. Not only does that allow for extra things to be added, it also allows the authors to understand scenes better and translate the action to written form so it all feels more natural to read.