I have a passion for collecting vintage Star Wars merchandise from the late 70's. Action figures, comics, trading cards etc - anything related to the first Star Wars movie. But why only until 1980? It's not that I don't love The Empire Strikes Back and beyond (I really do), but there is something about that first wave of Star Wars mania that really grips me, back when it was all fresh and exciting...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Star Wars - The Novelisation

I love how this bears the subtitle: 'From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker' as if 'Star Wars' is just the name of one chapter in an on-going series about Luke rather than the name of the franchise itself. Well, I guess that was kind of true in the early days before all the 'Episode IV, V, VI' business. Published on November 12th, 1976, a good six months before the movie was released, this novelisation was the very first piece of Star Wars merchandise. It includes several pages of stills from the movie which must have been exciting for those who hadn't seen it yet.

The front cover would have you believe that it was penned by George Lucas himself. Yeah, right. It was actually ghostwritten by veteran Sci-Fi writer Alan Dean Foster, who would go on to write the Star Wars 'sequel' Splinter of the Mind's Eye in 1978. Foster has also written a shedload of other movie tie-ins including Alien (1979), Clash of the Titans (1981), Krull (1983) and Pale Rider (1985) and is showing no signs of stopping having recently novelised Transformers (2007), Star Trek (2009) and Terminator: Salvation (2009).

Upon reading it, I was surprised by how closely the novel sticks to the film. Considering the amount of editing and rewriting that goes on during a film's production, I would have expected more deviations. There are a few differences, most notably the inclusion of stuff deleted from the final film such as the Anchorhead scenes between Luke and Biggs which were fun to read. The Jabba the Hutt scene in Docking Bay 94 is present too, although this was before it was decided that the character would be a giant slug-creature and Jabba is described as: "a great mobile tub of muscle and suet topped by a shaggy scarred skull". That sounds a little like the portrayal of Jabba by Declan Mulholland in the deleted scene from the film. Apparently Lucas wanted to insert a Harryhausen-esque stop-motion creature in post production. Of course that scene was dropped, but not before Alan Dean Foster had written it into the novel, seemingly using production photos like the one below as a guide.

A few other inconsistencies exist such as 'Red Squadron' (the X-Wings in the climatic battle) being labelled as 'Blue Squadron' in the book and 'Gold Squadron' (the Y-Wings) as 'Red Squadron'. According to starwars.com this is because blue markings on a ship don't work too well when the ships are shot against bluescreen. So in the film, Blue Squadron became Red, and Red became Gold. Even Kenner didn't get the memo as late as 1979 it seems, as their die-cast Y-Wing came with a red paint job having based the toy on early ILM photographs.

The other thing that really stuck out to me was how the Emperor is portrayed in the book. It is made clear on several occasions that the Empire is controlled by corrupt officials and corporations and the figure of the Emperor is merely an isolated puppet controlled by others. A far cry from the all powerful master of the force we would later see in Return of the Jedi.

All in all I enjoyed the book. It wasn't overly long, and yet it didn't skimp on the action or details. Having seen the movie way too many times, I found myself predicting the next line a character would say as the book sticks pretty religiously to the script. But I imagine that back in the days before home video entertainment, this was one way fans could bring the movie home with them and keep on enjoying it in some form or another.


Will Errickson said...

I read this over and over (as well as all the other novelizations) way back when! Loved the bits that weren't in the finished film, as well as the intro that states this story is from the "Journal of the Whills," whatever that is. Lucas never utilized it for his prequels. Maybe he should have.

John Scoleri said...

Love the blog! A great period of time in so many of our lives.

I wanted to add a few bits of trivia about the novelization. The first printing of the paperback featured Ralph McQuarrie's incredible painting of his classic Vader concept; one of many paperback covers he painted for Del Rey. It did not include the photo insert present in subsequent editions.

The first hardcover edition published was through the Science Fiction Book Club, which featured John Berkey art (like the later paperbacks). Due to the continued success of the novelization, Del Rey released a hardcover version in 1977 (publication date October) in a gold dust jacket. Far less common that the SFBC edition, when copies turn up they are often priced accordingly.

Keep up the great work!