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Review: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” by Alan Dean Foster

Title: The Force Awakens
Author: Alan Dean Foster
Series: Star Wars: Episode VII
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2016

Okay, let me be incredibly clear about this: the rating above applies to this novelization only! I loved the movie, with just a couple minor quibbles to complain about. It was incredible. This book? Sadly mediocre.

Hey, look at that! I managed to make this review almost spoiler-free even without trying to!

Thirty years after the events of The Return Of The Jedi, it seems that the more things change the more they stay the same. The Rebellion has become the New Republic, now the dominant power in the galaxy…at least for the moment. After the death of the Emperor, the Empire fell prey to numerous revolutions and uprisings, signing a peace treaty with the New Republic before melting away and reforming in the Unknown Regions as the First Order. Now, faced with a Senate that is unwilling to risk war and mounting evidence of First Order skulduggery, Leia Organa has formed the Resistance in the image of the Rebellion of old, a private military force to keep an eye on their old enemies. This would be so much easier if Luke was anywhere to be found, but in the wake of a particularly heart-wrenching family tragedy both he and her husband Han have disappeared….

I’m not sure what happened here. Alan Dean Foster is an accomplished author, both of original works and novelizations of films. As I noted above, I absolutely loved the movie. So what went wrong with the book? Let me put it this way: if I hadn’t seen the movie already, this would prove far from satisfactory. While I projected the amazing performances from the film onto the characters as presented in the novel, even managing to carry that through the “deleted scenes” as it were, they would have been fairly uninteresting if I were experiencing them here for the first time. The writing was fairly (though not completely) emotionless when it came to exploring the characters, or perhaps it just pales in comparison with the onscreen performance backed by John Williams’ score. (EDIT: I think this was a huge part of my issue. A number of my favorite moments in the film weren’t captured in full effect here, possibly because Foster was working from a screenplay and not the finished film, which would of course not reflect any added nuance of character injected by the actor. Other scenes are more fully rendered.) Part of the problem is that we almost never get into their heads. That’s why I was so excited to get my hands on this–there are a number of places in the movie where I really wanted to know what a given character was thinking. Normally, this would be the province of the novelization. Not this time. We get a couple snippets of thought, but mostly obvious stuff. Was this a forced tactic by those in charge of maintaining the secrets yet to be revealed? Maybe. I’ll admit that I was hoping for more clues on certain theories, especially Rey’s backstory.

Of course, there are good things to find here too. Numerous sequences that were cut from the film, such as more with Leia, Rey’s first encounter with snow, or a scene where Unkar Plutt tracks down Rey and the Falcon on Takodana. Usually these scenes offer illumination to other moments in the film, such as Rey reminding herself to flip the safety off on her blaster before firing. Too, Foster puts in a valiant effort when it comes to making other elements feasible. Starkiller Base gets a pseudo-scientific explanation for its power and firing mechanism, and Finn has trouble figuring out which tools Rey needs because of their disorganization, not because he’s unfamiliar with mechanics. Then too there are a few more hints regarding the resolution of certain mysteries. Kylo Ren finally realizes Rey’s true identity just before they commence their battle (meaning he’s still one up on us), and Snoke drops several more hints regarding his origins that still fall far short of revelation.

Bottom line: I’m not telling you to give this one a miss, but I am telling you to see the movie first. That experience will add some much-needed flavor to this one.

CONTENT: Mild to no profanity. Mild violence, occasionally heart-wrenching. You know the part I mean. Little to no sexual content.

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Review: “Star Wars: Shattered Empire” by Greg Rucka, Marco Checchetto, Emilio Laiso, & Angel Unzueta

Title: Shattered Empire
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artists: Marco Checchetto, Emilio Laiso (Issue #2), & Angel Unzueta (Issues #2-3)
Series: Star Wars (Official Canon)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Marvel Comics, 2015

Did you ever wonder just what happened to our heroes after the credits rolled and The Return Of The Jedi was over? Yes, yes, I know, they foiled an invasion by the Ssi-Ruuk. But that was the alternate universe of the Legends canon. I’m talking the new, rebooted canon leading up to Disney’s triumphant (we hope) entrance into the franchise. Well, wonder no more! Marvel has brought us Shattered Empire to answer some of those questions and help set the board for Star Wars–Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Now, I know this is a four-issue miniseries, but I want you to try something. Instead of thinking of it as a unified story, think of it as a themed anthology, a collection of shorter tales all featuring the same main character with numerous side characters along for the ride and all loosely tied together by a common end goal. If you can do that, this earns the four stars I took the liberty of giving it–possibly even a fifth. If you can’t, if you go into this expecting a single unified story, that rating probably seems incredibly generous as the episodic plot rambles all over the place and sprawls out over a three-month period with sometimes little connective tissue between adventures. So please, go into this book with the proper expectations, because it really is worth the read.

Our story opens during the climactic moments of The Return Of The Jedi. While Luke engages his father in an epic lightsaber battle and Han’s commandos prepare to destroy the shield generator protecting the second Death Star, the Rebel fleet battles for survival between the Imperial Navy’s hammer and the Death Star’s anvil (or is that the other way around? Doesn’t matter, moving on.) Our protagonist, Shara Bey, is an A-Wing pilot caught in that battle, while her husband Kes Dameron is with Solo’s strike team on the surface. Following the battle, they get a brief respite during the victory celebration, but then it’s once more into the breach as comm traffic reveals a holdout Imperial base on the far side of the planet. Striking that base reveals a sobering fact: the war is far from over. The Emperor had a slew of contingency plans, and the Imperials control the airwaves. Palpatine may be dead, but most of the galaxy doesn’t know that. We then jump to several weeks later, as the Rebels work hard to liberate world after world. Off the front lines on light duty after her fighter is disabled, Shara accompanies Princess Leia to Naboo on a diplomatic mission to gain allies for the fledgling New Republic. Unfortunately, as the Emperor’s homeworld, Naboo is one of the prime targets of Operation Cinder, the Emperor’s program of vengeance from beyond the grave….Meanwhile, Solo’s strike team takes on an Imperial Security Bureau black site. Finally, we jump again to about three months post-Endor, as the grave reality is finally settling in for everyone involved–despite their recent victories, there is no end in sight for the ongoing war. Struggling with the question of whether or not to muster out and settle down with her husband and son, Shara joins Luke Skywalker on an undercover mission to recover an artifact of the old Jedi Order.

Like I said, if you come into this with the proper expectations, it’s solid gold. The writing is top-notch, and the art is incredible. In the middle the series gains a couple backup artists, I assume to help with backgrounds and such given the compressed publication schedule (the whole thing was published over the course of a month and a half), but it was surprisingly not an issue. The whole book is full of delightful blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gems, such as a sly, almost imperceptible reference to the fan theory that the Ewoks were serving roast Stormtrooper at their celebration party, a brief exhibition of Leia’s fledgling Force sensitivity as she feels “cold” when crossing paths with Maul’s imprint, and another semi-appearance of Commander Beck from Han Solo’s Smuggler’s Run (also by Greg Rucka, now that I think of it.) The ties to The Force Awakens range from the obvious (Poe Dameron is the son of Shara and Kes) to the more foundational, such as the war not ending where we all assumed it did. Bottom line: Find this, read it, and enjoy it. Just know what you’re in for.

CONTENT: Moderate violence. Minor to no profanity. Mild sexual content (Shara and Kes wake up together in one scene after one of their rare chances to be together.)

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