By Alan Dean Foster
The novelisation of the most highly-anticipated film of 2015…
Back in the mists of time (okay, September 1977), a paperback volume came out from Sphere Books. It had an intriguing SF title and cover painting, and was tied into a movie I’d been hearing about (and which I was being taken to as a Christmas present three months later). From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker was its subtitle, and it promised a great deal; mostly, this novel, “Star Wars”, delivered. Jump forward nearly forty years, and circumstances have meant I’ve still yet to see The Force Awakens – but I do have the novelisation. It seemed somehow appropriate to experience this rebirth of Star Wars in the same way I did the original…
Alan Dean Foster was the uncredited ghost writer of that first volume, but gets full credit on this. He’s now a hardened veteran of the novelising world, and is well used to the differences between what’s acceptable in an all-singing, all-dancing film and what can be got away with in print… and it’s not so much. When the reader is not distracted by the special effects, the music, the sheer zest of the film, they may well wonder, say, exactly how Han and Chewie managed to capture the beasts that later proceed to massacre rather a large number of people… or why a system that keeps a door from opening properly can five seconds later be relied on to save a character from being eaten… Foster can’t explain all of these but he tries! (He doesn’t have to reach quite the same levels of cynicism as John Gardner did when novelising the Bond film Licence to Kill though.)
As with any book that is being written while the film is being finalised, there are differences – I’ve seen enough descriptions of one of Harrison Ford’s key scenes to know that the book version misses out some key moments – and I will be intrigued to see if one of the scenes that feels like plothole fixing is actually in the movie. Little backstory is revealed in the book – not even the tie-in to Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath novel that I half-expected, given the appearance of a key character from that book in the movie – and the location descriptions are not as evocative as Foster has achieved previously. However, there are moments though that provide insight into the characters and remind us that Foster (author of the first original novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye) knows them very well – Han and Leia’s scenes, for example.
Verdict: The amount of plot and incident retread in the story is perhaps more noticeable in print than it is in the cinema, but once again, Foster has provided an intriguing alternate take on the material. 7/10