With recent events leading to a backlog of recorded episodes and episodes to record very soon, Star Wars Beyond the Films‘ Nathan P. Butler will be posting short, non-spoiler reviews for new releases. Spoiler-filled discussion will follow in the weeks thereafter on the podcast. (In the case of minor releases, that discussion may be kept for a Year in Review series of episodes.)
Beware the Power of the Dark Side! by Tom Angleberger (hardback, 2015)
Preface (Found on My Reviews for All Three of the New Novelizations)
Novelizations for Star Wars have been a mixed bag over the years, an oddity in Star Wars publishing. In 1976, 1980, and 1983, the novelizations of the Original Trilogy were released. They did not expand upon the films they adapted to any large degree, and they were plagued by being based on scripts with stories and characters yet unseen, leading to plenty of inconsistencies between the films and the novelizations.
The same inconsistencies could be found in the Prequel Trilogy novelizations in 1999, 2002, and 2005, but as time went on, writers became bolder in adding to the films they were adapting. Attack of the Clones provided a look into Shmi Skywalker’s activities and capture prior to the film, while inadvertently (or on the sly?) giving the Legends continuity a hint as to Anakin’s birthdate within his birth year. Later, Matthew Stover’s Revenge of the Sith novelization went so deeply into character motivations (especially those of Anakin Skywalker in relation to why not being a Jedi Master when on the Jedi Council was more than just an insult but a barrier to saving his wife) that it prompted me to eventually coin the “Stover Effect” – when an adaptation of a story provides so much more detail on that story that the overall qualiity of the story is raised. (For years, I have considered Revenge of the Sith one of my two favorite Star Wars films, less for what Lucas put on film and more for how the story is so much deeper with the background and intricate details that Stover added to its context.)
As the years (then decades) have gone by, there have been frequent calls to release new, updated novelizations of the films in order to make them more true to the films and help them adhere to new context provided by other works, such as The Clone Wars or simply the other films themselves. That has never taken place for the adult novelizations, but we have seen very young reader books from Scholastic that tried to be more accurate to the films than their adult counterparts.
Now, in 2015, shortly after Force Fiday, a new trio of Original Trilogy novelizations has joined the Story Group’s Canon, and they are offbeat to say the least.
The three new novelizations are The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy (for A New Hope), So You Want to Be a Jedi? (for The Empire Strikes Back), and Beware the Power of the Dark Side! (for Return of the Jedi). Each is geared toward somewhat younger readers (big print and all), wrtitten by an established author for younger readers, and includes illustrations by Ian McCaig. These new novelizations each take an unusual approach in an attept to retell the stories of these films in a fresh way.
That being said, let’s take a look at the specific book in this series for this review . . .
Beware the Power of the Dark Side!
The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy gave readers an odd take on A New Hope that split perspectives for three acts between Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker. So You Want to Be a Jedi? broke all the rules for an adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back and left readers thinking, “What the heck was that?” After those two novelizations, one could be forgiven for being rather wary of Tom Angleberger’s adaptation of Return of the Jedi, entitled Beware the Power of the Dark Side! (Again with the friggin’ punctuation marks at the end of titles! What is this, Marvel Comics, circa 1977?)
As it turns out, Angleberger’s version of ROTJ is the tamest of the three new adaptations and, for me at least, the most enjoyable. Beware the Power of the Dark Side! follows ROTJ in a third person, unlimited, present tense format. The narrator describes events “as they happen” with knowledge beyond that of the characters focused on at any given moment. Angleberger makes his way through the film in the most faithful recreation of scenes and dialogue (right down to Huttese and Ewokese) of the films that we have seen in quite a while.
The book is not without a few tweaks to dialogue, and it does make the odd choice of moving Vader’s arrival at the Death Star from the beginning to after the heroes leave Tatooine, while also managing to call the Executor the Eclipse. However, these flaws pale in comparison to the accuracy of the majority of the book.
Generally, though, an accurate novelization is a boring novelization. We already know the film’s story and can often recite its dialogue, so why bother reading a mostly-accurate adaptation?
Angleberger’s take on ROTJ does not offer many extra scenes to create a “Stover Effect” (my term for when an adaptation adds new depth to the source material through new scenes, facts, etc.). The only truly notable extra scene involves Leia and Mon Mothma discussing whether Leia, like Mon Mothma, should sit out the Battle of Endor in safety as a leader of the Rebellion. Otherwise, few new additions exist.
However, the narration manages to add more to the context of the film than its lack of new scenes would suggest. For instance, we learn that Jabba never intended to pay “Boussh” after agreeing to 25,000 as the bounty on Chewbacca. We get an extra couple lines of dialogue to allow Luke to ask the spirit of Obi-Wan about his mother. We learn that Asha (from the Ewoks cartoon series, which is not Canon under the Story Group at this point) is indeed a big part of the Battle of Endor from the Ewok perspective. Small additions like these are welcome touches.
(The narrator also uses frequent footnotes to add odd asides that are sometimes amusing but often superfluous.)
Perhaps the books best moments come in its portrayal of Luke’s last moments with his father and the sacrifice that Anakin made in relation to his role in the prophecy to bring balance to the Force. If nothing else, a curious reader should check out Chapter 70 to see those moments in a new light.
After hearing that this was the weakest of the three new adaptations, I found Beware the Power of the Dark Side! the most refreshing. It was a welcome surprise.
Beware the Power of the Dark Side! may not add a great deal to Return of the Jedi, but what it adds is interesting and provided in the most true-to-screen adaptation of this “oddball” novelization trilogy. It is a welcome addition to this fan’s library.
Recommended for: Those who prefer adaptations to be film-accurate, and fans who like little details to add to the films, rather than many new scenes.
Not recommended for: Those seeking many new scenes to “enhance” their Return of the Jedi viewing.
No review copy was provided for this publication. It was a standard retail purchase.