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.)
The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken (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 have 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 . . .
The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy
Alexandra Bracken’s take on A New Hope takes the approach of telling the first third or so of the film from the perspective of Leia Organa (the “Princess”). Upon reaching the destruction of Alderaan, the novel changes to the perspective of Han Solo (the “Scoundrel”), carrying on until the moments after the Millennium Falcon escapes the Death Star. The rest of the book takes place from the perspective of Luke Skywalker (the “Farm Boy”). These are sections told in third person limited, not first person.
The result of this is a combination of (a) needing to sometimes circle around within the narration to mention or explain events that Han or Luke experienced but a given section’s perspective character did not experience and (b) a chance to provide new scenes and insight that flesh out a given character’s activities during the film.
It is in (b) that the novel’s strength lies. By shifting focus so deliberately, Bracken has a chance to show us canonical scenes that provide a minor “Stover Effect” (so to speak) to ANH. If you have ever wondered whether Leia tried to escape the Imperials after being caught aboard the Tantive IV, what was going through Han’s mind during ANH (including in his brief interaction with “Jenny” from the deleted scenes of ANH), or perhaps why it was that Luke was able to quickly join the Alliance’s starfighter pilots with seemingly no training or testing, then this book has answers to those questions and more. It is not quite the Stover Effect impact that we saw with the Revenge of the Sith novelization, but this is not an adult novelization. For its age group and approach, I was happily surprised to see new scenes that added to ANH.
That said, I have to note that one major frustration that many find with adaptations raises its ugly head here in ways that seemingly defy rational explanation. Given that A New Hope has been around (in one film form or another) for nearly 40 years, one would expect that it would be relatively easy to make certain that the dialogue used in an adaptation actually matches the spoken dialogue in the source film. This was something that could be easily forgiven for Alan Dean Foster in 1976 or Matthew Stover in 2005. They and their fellow film adapters in between were using scripts that were still in production to create their dialgoue.
That is not the case with Bracken and ANH. Getting dialogue “right” should be as easy as popping any of a number of copiess of ANH into a preferred player and watching the film. Bracken seems to have done this in many cases with meticulous detail, right down to adding “ahs” and breaks in dialogue to fit with pauses in how the actors delivered their lines on film. She seems to have a good eye for that kind of detail.
In other parts of the book, though, the consistency goes off the rails. Sometimes, is is for legitimate reasons, such as adding in new lines to expand a conversation. That can be controversial, but it is no more invasive than the adult novelizations or radio dramas doing so for the films. Other times, though, dialogue changes from film accuracy for no apparent reason. One example that stands out is Han’s bragging about the Falcon‘s speed, wherein Bracken’s Han says that the ship will “make point five beyond the speed of light,” rather than “make point five past lightspeed.” Those type of changes that do nothing to add or clarify the dialiogue ring wrongly in the mental ears of readers and seem incongruous with Brakcen’s meticulous attention to detail in dialogue elsewhere in the book. It makes for a frustrating read, at times, for those who could probably recite the films in their sleep.
As frustrating as the minor pitfalls of The Princess, the Scondrel, and the Farm Boy can be, I find it a welcome new addition to the Star Wars library and a mostly faithful adaptation of A New Hope that gives us just enough of a “Stover Effect” to make me smile when certain scenes appear on screen, as I know what just happened off-screen and can better imagine the characters’ thoughts in key moments.
Sure, it’s a “kid’s book,” but it is a kid’s book that may be worthwhile for adults as well.
Recommended for: Those looking for a more modern adaptation of A New Hope that can provide just enough new content to provide a slight “Stover Effect” to the film.
Not recommended for: Those bothered by seemingly random dialogue alterations from a film that has had (mostly) unchanged dialogue for decades.
No review copy was provided for this publication. It was a standard retail purchase.