Saturday, December 24, 2011

Shepherd492 reviews: Star Wars: A New Hope

A New Hope (George Lucas)


Plot

The New Hope novelization closely follows the plot of the original movie, though in many cases the alterations detract from the overall experience. The plot has only two significant variations, an early scene introducing Biggs and some of Luke's other friends, and an extended and substantially altered Death Star attack run.

The first of these scenes, in which Biggs returns to Tatooine after going to the Imperial Academy, is a great addition that serves to enhance the dynamic between Luke and Biggs later in the book. It also shows some of Luke's aspirations, and his envy of Biggs. The friends don't add much, but their view of Luke's constant day dreaming and excitement helps paint a picture of a social outcast that wasn't shown in the movies.

The second major alteration is the extended Death Star battle. Besides a minor naming difference (Luke is now in Blue Squadron instead of Red like the movies), the scene features several new characters and a revised attack plan. In the book, trios of X-Wings continuously attempt to fly down the infamous trench, only to be shot down by Vader and his wingmen. Luke also makes two passes down the trench, being forced to bail on the first occasion. The meandering pace of this section is a bit contradictory to the rest of the book's blazing fast, play by play style pacing, and overall the segment feels drawn out and loses the sense of urgency that made the original so great.

Another alteration that is minor for the purpose of plot, but extremely important for characterization is Obi-Wan's duel with Vader. In the movie, Obi-Wan seemingly dares to Vader to strike him down, while sacrificing himself for the safety of Luke and company. In the book, the dialogue is largely the same, but without Obi-Wan relinquishing his fighting stance and allowing Vader to kill him. This seems to suggest that Obi-Wan was simply defeated by Vader, which strongly clashes with the movie, and dampens Obi-Wan's sacrifice.

The story itself is a true classic, and it remains intact enough to enjoy here. There are several insignificant changes that will be a challenge for Star Wars fans to pick out, and these help to make up for the lack of deleted or additional scenes. The only truly additional scene is the encounter with Biggs on Tatooine, and while it is good, it doesn't add nearly as much content as the novelizations of the first three movies do. Also featured is Han's dialogue with Jabba on Tatooine. Though this scene has been included in releases of the movie since the Special Edition in the 90s, it was entertaining to see yet ANOTHER portrayal of Jabba that is contradictory to what we know today.

Characterization

The extremely fast pacing leaves little time for characterization, and as such our glimpses into the minds of the heroes are few and far between.

That isn't to say that no effort is made to get a deeper look into our character's heads. Luke has a few passages that expand on things we already know, such as his desire to leave home, be a hero, and make a name for himself. After he does leave, the author does a good, but not great, job of capturing Luke's slow but steady growth from uncertain, whiny kid to confident Alliance hero.

Obi-Wan is also captured well. The book does a good job of conveying his regrets and desire for atonement, in addition to his relationship with the other main characters, and his underlying wit. The one disappointing aspect of Obi-Wan is the aforementioned end to the duel with Vader. Other than that, the characterization doesn't go deep, but it does enough.

Han, Chewie, and Leia are probably the ones most negatively affected by the quick pacing. Han seems extremely one dimension, existing only to spout off one liners and serve the plot. Leia's role as princess-in-peril is never expounded upon, and most of her characterization consists of the very basic themes of defiance and courage seen in the movies, and nothing more. Chewie is always a hard character to convey, but it seems like little effort was made here. He is the simple sidekick, nothing more.

Vader is hard to pin down in this book. While at times he resembles the Vader we know and love, at others he is more of a cheesy villain prone to expository monologues and extremely long sentences. Vader isn't usually big on words, and his occasionally long passages present a less menacing character than the one in the movies. Part of Vader's failure here is due to the fact that the character at the time of the novel's publication (right before ANH released) is not the same as the one in the later movies, and in many ways his role in Episodes V and VI shape his role in IV. The character in New Hope is more of a traditional villain in a cool suit of armor, and little more. Subsequent revelations in the next two movies add a layer of intrigue and depth that the author (not actually George Lucas, but Alan Dean Foster) could not possibly know to pick up on.

This book won't give you any spectacular insights into the characters that Revenge of the Sith or Attack of the Clones will, it simply isn't written that way. It's acceptable, but not extraordinary when attempting to get into the character's heads.

Prose

The prose in A New Hope will bring smiles to many a Star Wars fan. It is antiquated, and when seen through the lens of a Star Wars reader in the modern day, awkward. Classic lines ("Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope", "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away") are changed to little effect ( "Obi-Wan Kenobi, help me! You're my only remaining hope", "Another galaxy, another time"), and several real world references (dogs and pandas, neither of which exist in the Star Wars universe in their real world state) date the books and clash sharply with what Star Wars fans know. Minor differences in scenes, descriptions, and names are also easily noted. These discrepancies are harmless fun, and give the book an entertaining angle that few other Star Wars books can boast.

The writing itself is extremely cinematic and rapid fire. Setting descriptions last only a few sentences, and character descriptions often last fewer than that. The book moves from set piece to set piece with reckless abandon, and frequent cuts and jumps (more often than the movie) keep the plot rolling along. The action is occasionally spectacular and thrilling, as in the escape from the Death Star, but sometimes comparatively drawn out and lifeless (Death Star attack, and Obi-Wan's duel with Vader.) The book clocks in at 220 pages, which makes it easily the shortest Star Wars book I've read (the novelizations for episodes 5 and 6 are even shorter, though I haven't read those yet.)

While length doesn't make quality, this book definitely could have done more to highlight settings and flesh out characters. The only setting that gets any real love is Yavin, which is actually more effective than the all too brief glimpse we had in the movie. Mos Eisley and the Death Star are skimmed over, and never develop the same atmosphere that they had in the movie.

Conclusion

The writing is fitting for Star Wars in some respects, but I've come to expect more from novelizations. The novelizations of the prequel trilogy were excellent adaptations of largely sub par movies. While the original plots were terrible, enough was done with the characters and additional scenes that the book was worth the read. This book is just the opposite. The excellent story is neither expanded upon or ruined by this novelization, though some hardcore fans may balk at the liberties taken in describing so many of the beloved characters and settings from the film. I can't recommend buying this book, it isn't bad, but it doesn't add enough to justify its existence, stick to the movie for this one.

Final Score

55/100

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