Review by C.J. Bunce
In a parallel universe where Star Wars: A New Hope might have been snubbed by moviegoers and gone the way of obscurity like Logan’s Run and The Black Hole, another sequel to the original Star Wars was already penned. Alan Dean Foster had access to George Lucas’s scripts and original story treatment from 1973, titled The Journal of the Whills. Foster was commissioned to write the follow-on story, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, in case Star Wars did not make it as a hit at the box office. But Star Wars would have a different fate: more money and a bigger budget was available for a scriptwriter for The Empire Strikes Back, and Splinter would never see the screen.
Along with so many good decisions for the Episode VII release based on nostalgia (like a poster commission from classic Star Wars poster artist Drew Struzan) sci-fi author Alan Dean Foster was tapped to return to Star Wars and has adapted the film into the Star Wars: The Force Awakens novelization. Fans of Splinter will no doubt rush to read Foster taking on the galaxy of Star Wars again, and he has even brought the title of the original George Lucas 1973 story Journal of the Whills into the post-Disney Star Wars canon by referencing that work in his prologue, just as he referenced it in Splinter. If you missed Splinter, you can still pick up a copy here, but it’s not for fans who would cringe at the thought of a Luke vs. Darth Vader confrontation before the critical confrontation in The Empire Strikes Back. But the nostalgia factor will be high for fans of Splinter, which was published in 1978 as the first expanded universe Star Wars novel.
In the days before DVDs a fan’s primary source to revisit favorite films was the novel or comic book adaptation. Today fans are seeing The Force Awakens multiple times in the theater and the film has broken all the meaningful box office records. But the DVDs and Blu-rays aren’t available yet, so this novelization is still another way to access the story in-depth. Better yet, as with many adaptations, Foster expands upon concepts only touched upon in the movie, and lends some insight into backstory fans can otherwise only speculate about.
For example, you might have thought that Poe Dameron did not actually survive his crash on Jakku to join the Resistance since he miraculously appears out of nowhere in the film without explanation. Maybe Poe was some kind of super trooper himself, or even a clone that we will learn about in Episode VIII? Not so, the scene explaining his survival was simply not in the film. Also missing was a scene with Rey piloting a snowspeeder, and a scene where Unkar Plutt (the Jakku junk dealer who had stolen the Millennium Falcon) visits Maz Kanata’s lair to track down Rey and BB-8 only to have his arm removed by Chewbacca. Also expanded upon is Finn’s motivation for walking away from the First Order, and Finn and Rey getting to know each other beyond their brief, whirlwind encounters on the screen. If you’re not drawn to Rey from the movie, you certainly will be by the end of the novelization. Unfortunately, just as we found in the movie, the characters of Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Luke Skywalker still get short shrift. As with most Star Wars novels, Chewbacca is treated as a howling animal without the full human spectrum of feelings and emotions of his counterparts.
These excerpts are good examples of why Foster’s The Force Awakens is a worthy read for the average Star Wars fan:
So much beauty among so much turmoil. In a way, we are but an infinitely smaller reflection of the same conflict. It is the task of the First Order to remove the disorder from our own existence, so that civilization may be returned to the stability that promotes progress. A stability that existed under the Empire, was reduced to anarchy by the Rebellion, was inherited in turn by the so-called Republic, and will be restored by us. Future historians will look upon this as the time when a strong hand brought the rule of law back to civilization….
With a shock, the trooper who had arrived to render aid to his fallen comrade recognized the one whose life was now bleeding out inside his armor. They had trained together. Shared meals, stories, experiences together. Now they were sharing death together.
Interestingly, Foster seemed to have a prescient finger on the pulse of the current Star Wars trilogy, as written in his prologue to Splinter of the Mind’s Eye in his references to the “New Order” and “resistance”:
…Having exterminated through treachery and deception the Jedi Knights, guardians of justice in the galaxy, the Imperial governors and bureaucrats prepared to institute a reign of terror among the disheartened worlds of the galaxy. Many used the Imperial forces and the name of the increasingly isolated Emperor to further their own personal ambitions.
But a small number of systems rebelled at these new outrages. Declaring themselves opposed to the New Order they began the great battle to restore the Old Republic.
From the beginning they were vastly outnumbered by the systems held in thrall by the Emperor. In those first dark days it seemed certain the bright flame of resistance would be extinguished before it could cast the light of new truth across the galaxy of oppressed and beaten peoples…
From the First Saga
–Journal of the Whills
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is available this month in a hardcover edition with photo insert pages including stills from the movie. Pick up your copy now of Alan Dean Foster’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens novelization here or his Splinter of the Mind’s Eye here at Amazon.com.