Sunday 31 March 2024

Star Wars prequel Novelizations

Here is something I never thought I'd ever read, yet here we are.

The stories aren't that amazing, but I wouldn't blame the novel authors for that. My understanding is the books were written prior the films' releases, so the authors had access to visual material but certainly not the entire films.

Then again the scripts might have events and dialogue that were omitted from the films at the last moment, giving rise to the idea that known deleted scenes would have higher "canonical" status due to their inclusion in the films' novelizations.

Oh, and it's been a while already, but Disney decreed these as no longer "canon". B-b-but these are official film novelizations? It should teach people not to trust any such labeling, or preferably, forget the whole idea of canon.

Terry Brooks: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

The story doesn't start with the Trade Federation ships in vicinity of Naboo. Instead we're with Anakin the wunderkind on Tatooine. We get to see what he was up to before he appears in the film, and what kind of life he lived.

Whether these pre-prequel materials are based on something Lucas left out of his film, or were invented by the book author, I don't know.

In any case it's a good choice to have the story from Anakin's viewpoint, fleshing out the character a little more.

With the huge entourage moving around, the storytelling occasionally needs lists like "Anakin, Artoo detoo, See-threepio, Jar Jar and Padmé went this and that way", something that works more economically on film. Book-to-film transitions often reduce the amount of characters, but here I'm wondering if leaving a few out would have done good. 

Characters such as Watto and Sebulba, despite having descriptions of sorts, also remain unclear. Well, the films didn't flesh them out much either, but their appearance spoke volumes.

Star Wars might be considered "visual sci-fi" rather than science fiction proper, and stripped of this quality the story is lacking in science fiction of any kind.

After seeing the film, the book may feel like an improvement, especially where the text can include more helpful explanations and character inner motives, giving a little more clarity and purpose to the plot. 

Qui-Gon is more explicitly made to sound like a rebel Jedi, with by-the-book Obi-Wan having no clue as to why Qui-Gon would ruin his career so. Kenobi's a little like a PhD candidate just about to finish, thinking his supervisor isn't all that.

It's more apparent that Anakin continuously pines after his mother. Future events are in some ways better prepared, with Anakin saying he will eventually marry Padmé. You can also try to imagine Anakin just a little bit older.

What about some of the things that stuck out like a sore thumb in the film?

Jar Jar Binks in literary form isn't as annoying as his cinematic counterpart. Still, a lot of effort has been taken to reproduce his antics faithfully in text.

The droid army is more sinister as they don't go bumbling around shouting "roger roger!" In fact the regular droid troops say nothing all, possibly the literary form does away the need to personalize them in any way. 

Anakin's seemingly accidental assault on the Trade Federation ship has some more explanation behind it, and made to tie in more explicitly as evidence of him being the Chosen One. Tonally, it's still a kid destroying a battleship while yelling "whoopee!" while doing it.

The book doesn't offer a radically different interpretation to the events described in the film, but then again who'd expect that from a novelization.

Brooks famously wrote the Shannara series of fantasy novels. I once tried reading the first one but circumstances prevented me from finishing it.

R.A. Salvatore: Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

Padmé Amidala is to represent Naboo at the Galactic Senate, to vote against the Republic founding an army to counter the growing separatist faction. Continued assassination attempts force her to return to Naboo, but not without the Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker as her guard.

Again, the beginning of the book describes events prior to the film.

In this case, it's Shmi Skywalker, Anakin's mother, and the book gives details about her life with Cliegg Lars on Tatooine. Owen and Beru are also involved. We get more insight on how Shmi gets kidnapped by the Tusken raiders, how Cliegg lost his leg and why the farmer community could not be of more help.

Anakin's inner life is again described more, which actually doesn't make the romance portions much better. What does work are the parts with Padmé's sister and family on Naboo. This was quite interesting and added a further dimension to the relationship.

It was also amusing to read more about the interactions between the kid Boba and his father Jango Fett on Kamino. Jango is nothing but a proud father of the future best bounty hunter in the galaxy.

No less than five planets are featured: Coruscant, Naboo, Tatooine, Kamino and Geonosis. I never gave this much thought, but no wonder the story seems a little incoherent.

When the narrative turns to the finale on Geonosis, the prose becomes more minimal, almost to the point of being curt, with only little added detail. I'm wondering if anyone who hasn't seen the film gets what kind of world Geonosis is, what the war equipment and the clone troopers really look like.

I found this interesting:

[Count Dooku:] "And let me remind you of our absolute commitment to capitalism... to the lower taxes, the reduced tariffs, and the eventual abolition of all trade barriers. Signing this treaty will bring you profits beyond your wildest imagination. What we are proposing is a complete free trade." He looked at Nute Gunray, who nodded.

The separatists are not a veiled allegory, they are explicitly stated to be free-trade capitalists. Although the name "Nute Gunray" is known to be a composite of Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan, the scene perhaps also echoes Hitler's promises to the German industry.

There's a central mystery to all of this, but as nothing is really revealed in this installment, the threads are just left hanging around. Obi-Wan even comments on occasions how nothing makes sense, and I'm not sure if it's a meta-observation or not.

Count Dooku is a stand-in for the main villain, but as he features very little his characterization and motives remain unclear. The added material does little to remedy this problem, although it is fun to read about his lightsaber technique.

The overall plotting is something like this:

–The Sith Lord, who is not yet revealed, is pulling the strings at every possible stage.

–The Sith Lord is out to discredit the Jedi order entirely, and like a parasite picks up the Republic as the platform for power. The separatists are a bogeyman concocted to create disarray, bypass normal laws and to advance to a power position through technically legitimate means.

–It is the Sith Lord who ensured both the droid army and the clone army would be created.

–The Sith Lord is behind the assassination attempts, yet also ensured that Anakin and Obi-Wan would guard Padmé.

In absence of any other explanation, it's possible the Sith Lord made sure that Anakin alone would spend quality time with Padmé and had Obi Wan follow a breadcrumb trail to the discovery of the clone army, leading to its adoption.

Just to draw a line somewhere, I find it less credible that the Sith Lord fomented the Anakin-mother relationship, arranged Shmi's torture and the ensuing nightmares (such theories float around).

Rather these events were useful raw material for directing Anakin, and generally I find it more likely the Sith improvised and used emerging situations rather than planned everything beforehand.

A villain having a complex plot isn't always a great recipe for a movie plot, and despite the brave attempt it doesn't become much more compelling in literary form.

Salvatore is also an experienced fantasy author, with Star Wars novels in his resume.

Matthew Stover: Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

This novel is held in high regard (see here and here) so I also had high hopes for it. In fact this was one motive for reading the whole trilogy.

Stover takes far more liberties with the dialogue and detail, that's for sure. You feel you've almost read an entirely new interpretation, and not just something that retells the film with extras.

I was surprised that on the whole I didn't really like it more than the other two. I felt the author takes perhaps too many of those liberties, reinterpreting events using prose thick with bombast and references to other Star Wars media.

There are certainly some fun storytelling devices. Unlike the film, much of the rescue operation at the beginning is told from Count Dooku's perspective. He then doesn't mention silly things like R2-D2 setting droids on fire, and the hijinks in the lift are mentioned in passing, as something not worthy of note.

It can get little dense. There's a page (63 in this version) that makes no less than five references to Star Wars lore not actually mentioned in the prequel films, beginning from the worlds of Aargonar and Jabiim, name-dropping mynocks and Asajj Ventress, ending with a Krayt Dragon simile. Instead of pulling me into the world, it makes me wince like a Jawa trading a Bantha to a Wampa.

Dialogue and scenes are often greatly extended and modified from what must have been available even in the script. At the crucial moment Palpatine offers Anakin whatever his heart desires, there's a weird escalation as Anakin plays along and says first he wants a speeder.

Ok, I would have wanted to have this scene.

But it's not only about writing style. I disagree with the very idea that Kenobi's and Skywalker's heroic deeds are distributed to large masses via some supposed interstellar Holonet, leaving an impression on an entire generation.

If there's a space internet, I have to ask how are Jedi relegated to an "ancient religion" and barely known after 20 years? If anything, novel writers ought to have found ways to explain how the fame of Jedi diminished.

The novel must be the main distribution point for the theory where Emperor's deformed face is supposed to be his original Sith face. Any other appearance would be a mask or an elaborate disguise. The idea is presented vaguely here, but many take it seriously. No, just no. It's a stupid idea. Forget about it.

The author makes references to Tao Te Ching, as phrases such as "hope is as hollow as fear", "darkness within darkness" and "what is a good man but a bad man's teacher?" pop up here and there. It might even be the Stephen Mitchell translation specifically. Also, some of the scenes describing how Force "feels" to its user seems derived from Taoism, through western eyes at least.

This is another interesting idea. The Star Wars films are famously inspired by Samurai films and probably Wuxia too. Now this is a book, so why not take some eastern literature and philosophy in the mix? But it's one more of the liberties taken with the source material.

Revenge of the Sith is certainly a wild ride, brimming with ideas, ups and downs, hits and misses, and I can't help but think it would have been better had it been toned down a notch.

No comments:

Post a Comment