Gather round young Jedi, Sith, and bibliophiles. The latest Star Wars film novelization holds some surprises.
The Last Jedi is the third of the Disney Star Wars movies and along with it, the third novelization. A little history first: when Lucasfilm rebooted the Star Wars franchise after the Disney purchase, the only things to carry over to the new canon were the 7 movies (including The Clone Wars movie), the Clone Wars TV series, and the novelizations of the movies. However, the novelizations of the movies were only canon in the parts that matched up to what was on the screen. So in essence, the only parts of the novelizations that were canon acted as a glorified screenplay. This means that all the behind the scenes magic that made The Revenge of the Sith novelization so good were wiped away with the other remnants of the old EU.
Then comes the Disney novelizations starting with the novelization of The Force Awakens, where DelRey got famed original Star Wars scribe Alan Deen Foster to write the novelization. This was followed by a fairly new Star Wars writer to pen Rogue One, Alexander Freed. And finally we have the prodigious Star Wars scribe for The Last Jedi, Jason Fry.
Generally, I detest novelizations. Most of the ones for the original six movies were a slog to get though. Each one I trudged through one and I was fairly annoyed each time they didn’t line up with the movies. These inconsistencies were definitely understandable, since the novelizations needed to be written as the movie was in production, leading to some late changes in the movie that could not be corrected in the novelization. But they were irritation nonetheless, especially years and decades after they were written. On top of that, all of the six original novelizations were released far in advance of the movie, usually a month, allowing for “spoilers” to get out for anyone wanting to read the book.
But then we come to Disney again, who took this approach and changed it. First, the novelizations would no longer be released early. For both The Force Awakens and Rogue One, the novelizations were released day of release, hoping to prevent early spoilers from getting out. But this didn’t prevent some discrepancies occuring between the movies and the novelizations, such as which side did Kylo cut Finn with the lightsaber in The Force Awakens? Was it the front or the back?
So like I said, generally I detested the novelizations. Revenge of the Sith was by far the best of the original six movies, and probably the only one I would recommend. I greatly enjoy the writing style of The Clone Wars novelization writer, Karen Travis, and I feel her retelling of that movie greatly enhanced it. But when we come to The Force Awakens, I felt that Foster just phoned it in. He didn’t really provide anything overly exciting or new to the story. It was just a glorified rewriting of the movie. Which is fine, but basically the reason I detest these things in the first place.
Then comes the release of the Rogue One novelization and all bets are off. This is by far my favorite novelization to date. It took a movie I enjoyed, filled in the parts I didn’t realize I was missing, and expanded the content for the movie in a way that I found mesmerizing.
So can The Last Jedi satisfy my new craving for novelizations that Rogue One has spurred? Well first, they held back the release of the novelization almost three months from the movie release. My guess is to make sure that everything was in line with the movie and we didn’t have any of those discrepancies. I can approve of this, especially since I’m generally not very on top of my Star Wars reading list to begin with. Second the author that they chose, Jason Fry, is a very prodigious Star Wars author, penning tens, if not over a hundred Star Wars stories over his long career with the franchise. However, most of his prose work has been in the younger reader categories. So how would he translate to the adult circuit?
Well I’m happy to say that I greatly enjoyed the novelization. Trying to quantify my enjoyment of the novelizations runs into some problems though. Personally I loved The Last Jedi in movie format and it is probably my favorite Star Wars movie (at least the moment). So how does one dissect what came from Rian Johnson, the movie’s director and writer, and Jason Fry? Well I focus on the in-between scenes and the added content.
By far one of my favorite scenes in the book and the one that instantly had me hooked was the opening scene. Working in the Star Wars mythos for so long, Fry has a rare in-depth knowledge of the canon (and Legends) and he uses that to his advantage. Even his opening scene of the book is a call back to a deleted scene from A New Hope. By using the Toshi Station deleted scene, Fry has effectively returned to canon what was removed when canon was rebooted. Fry uses that old scene by playing a “what if” scenario. What if Luke went and got R2 the night he escaped to go find “Ben”? Where would Luke’s life be now? This added scene is also where we got one of the many rumblings in the fandom, where it was rumored that the novelization would give Luke a wife. Many diehard Legends fans hoped that the wife was to be Mara, his wife from the now defunct Legends. But that was not to be. His wife here was Camie, from the cut scenes. And it makes sense once you realize where Fry is going with this. Based on the book, Fry resurrects the deleted scene and lives in it, moving that scene forward in time to the The Last Jedi perfectly.
Next Fry ties in one of the prequel books Cobalt Squadron, which is a fairly short, young adult book about Page and Rose Tico prior to the movie. I never ended up reviewing it because I felt it was a bit outside of the adult book realm but it’s a quick read if you want to check it out. Fry makes use of this book and even copies some of the dialogue from the end of Cobalt Squadron. What Cobalt Squadron and Fry together produce is a much more rich view of Rose and Page’s relationship, something I felt the movie greatly lacked. This novelization made me like Rose much more because of this. Not that I didn’t like her in the movie, but I felt like her relationship with her sister was given short shrift in the movie to the point of being almost non-existent. Fry brought it back and expanded it to allow for Rose to become a fully fleshed out version her character, solving a problem I’ve heard people repeatedly mention about the movie.
From there we’re transported to the world of the movie. And like I said, as a huge fan of the movie, it is difficult for me to divest my love for the movie with what Fry added for the book. Fry greatly expanded on scenes that probably needed expanding. He also added in background and motivations that were a popular complaint of the movie. He enriched the movie to a point that I think will allow people who are on the fence to would be pulled over. And not only did he add in the A New Hope deleted scene, but he referenced many other works of canon. When they were talking about Crait, he referenced both previous times it’s been mentioned in canon; the Marvel comic (Storms of Crait) and the Leia: Princess of Alderaan novel. At other points in the book, Poe’s youth is mentioned, something that had been fleshed out in other books and comics. These along with many other references are seamlessly interwoven with the plot to provide background, but not bog down the reader.
Fry’s writing is also just fun. His ability to turn a phrase is unmatched. You can tell he has been at this a long time by how well the prose flows. He gets inside the character’s head and adds much needed depth to what the character’s motivations are. If there’s an issue at any point for many people in the movie, Fry adds depth and character to the scene to help clarify those points. We get a much more emotional sense of grief from Luke over Han’s death, we get more of Rey’s Jedi training, and we get explanations for how the ships are supposed to be cloaked (tying back to Cobalt Squadron again). I’d say the only issue I have with the writing is the sometimes overly technical jargon that gets thrown in here and there. It’s not often but it is definitely noticeable and jarring.
For my reading I again chose the audiobook, read by Marc Thompson. Marc is another veteran of the Star Wars franchise. Having read so many audiobooks of Star Wars stories that he’s almost become synonymous with Star Wars audiobooks. And most importantly he does a fantastic job. Getting loud and excited in parts where it was warranted and quiet and somber where needed. The audio mixing of Snoke and Kylo were exquisite and felt like the movie audio (making me love Kylo’s voice modulation all the more). But (I’ve said this before) his female voices are rather rough. While he can mimic the male voices very well, his imitation of the female voices sometimes sounds like a parody of a female voice. And while Rey is probably the worst off in this regard, the listener could probably get over this due to the outstanding quality he presents otherwise.
Overall, if I had to rate this novelization I would place it as my second favorite behind Rogue One and that is only because the novelization of Rogue One lifted that movie so much higher than it had been before. The Last Jedi novelization “suffers” from the great baseline of the movie, which (in my opinion) it would be difficult to greatly improve upon. But Fry manages, and much to the betterment of the movie. If you have a loved one on the fence about The Last Jedi, or perhaps you are one yourself, then take a dive into the novelization, it will likely pull you through to the light side of the Force.