Thursday, January 12, 2012

Shepherd492 reviews: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back (Donald F. Glut)



Plot

Like the novelization for A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back offers little in the way of new material, only featuring one significant new scene.

The scene in question is actually a handful of scenes that show more of Luke's training with Yoda. The scenes are excellent because they show his training process a bit better than what was in the film. The dialogue between Yoda and Luke is excellent as well, and one of the highlights of this particular segment is that it is one of the few places within the book where we actually get inside of a character's head. We learn about Luke's growing confidence and improving abilities, in addition to his deep feelings of duty and loyalty to his friends. In short, nothing we didn't already know, but presented in a great way and unique in the context of the book.

Other than that, the book is a pretty close re-telling of the movie. There are only two other variations in the plot that significantly vary from the movie. Firstly, Hoth is significantly more bloody than in the movies. The author explains, in graphic detail, the deaths of various Rebel characters, including a sharper focus on the troops on the ground. This paints the scene in an entirely different light, and the rebel forces are definitely more sympathetic in this adaptation, if only because it does a better job of connecting the Alliance grunts to the reader. The end of this scene also features a major deviation for Expanded Universe purposes as Hobbie Klivian rams his speeder into the AT-AT of General Veers, killing two characters of some importance in the media beyond the films.

Despite the lack of anything new, the book does shine in some key moments. The duel between Luke and Vader, though not even close to being as amazing as the one in the films, is nevertheless captured extremely well. Far and away the highlight of the book, the scene does a great job of playing up the tension between both sides, while showing Luke get slowly over matched. This scene also features some minor variations, such as Luke being caught in mid-air by the Falcon.

A scene that loses nearly all its potency is the bounty hunter scene on the bridge of Vader's star destroyer. Unlike the films, the author makes just about every one of the hunters into a human. Bossk's signature throaty growl is absent, and Vader's dialogue is somewhat altered. As a result, there is nothing intimidating or impressive about the scene.
On the whole, the book is a competent, but not noteworthy rendition of Empire Strikes Back. It reads quickly (214 pages in paperback), and only adds a tiny amount of detail to the events of the movie. It is fantastic because of the strength of the original, but it is not something that die hard fans necessarily have to read.

Characterization

The book's rapid fire, dry retelling of the movie does little to the characterization of the important characters, though there is some effort put into exploring the main characters. Most of this effort concerns Luke, in the aforementioned training scenes, but Leia and Han's relationship is also fleshed out a bit.

The book also spends a fair amount of time in the villain's heads. This usually shows up in the form of a point of view from a random side character, but it actually does a good job at painting certain characters and situations in a different light. Of particular interest is the scene where Captain Piett views Vader's bare head from behind, an experience which frightens and intrigues him. There are other scenes, particularly early on, that employ this technique, and it is usually effective. The only drawback is that we don't spend as much time in the heads of the main villains- Vader and Boba Fett.

The author also tries to show how Han and Leia develop a connection with each other while on the run from the Empire. This effort isn't a hardcore, all out attempt to explain the relationship, but it is good enough. The romance is a bit less effective than the movies, but taken for what it is, it is quite competent.

Lando's role as a traitor/savior is also given an interesting adaptation. Through brief views into the heads of other hero characters, we learn of their ever changing views on Lando's actions. This concept of using other character's feelings to explain a given character's personality is a major aspect of characterization in this book, which is kind of interesting.

On the whole, there just isn't that much to the characterization here. Most of it is going to be no major revelation to the reader, and there is nothing in depth enough to recommend, yet nothing wrong/offensive enough to criticize. Perfectly bland for the most part.

Prose

Despite featuring a different author, The Empire Strikes Back features a very similar writing style, albeit one that is marginally more in step with the modern Star Wars universe.

The familiar tropes and oddball phrasing to describe science fiction concepts are back in mass, though thankfully the author managed to not name check things that do not even exist in Star Wars. This phrasing dates the book quite a bit, though luckily there is nothing as immersion shattering as what was featured in A New Hope.

The action scenes are great here, from the desperation of the Battle of Hoth to the final duel between Luke and Vader, every action scene manages to achieve a sense of urgency and importance. The only disappointment here was that the author spent quite a few scenes building up the probe droid's appearance, only for it to meet with the same quick, unexciting end as in the movie.

Descriptive phrasing is not very good, the book is heavily dependent upon you knowing the movie in order to form the settings in your head. Generally only a line or two will be spent vaguely setting the upcoming scene. It isn't really a problem, but some excellent phrasing or powerful imagery would've really helped this book stand out from the rather bland novelization that came before it.

Like A New Hope, there are quite a few humorous alterations to character's appearance. This time around, Vader has a blue lightsaber and Yoda is blue instead of his signature green. It's hard for me to picture Yoda as blue, but this was still an interesting treat. The aforementioned bounty hunter scene also features some major differences, though Boba Fett's appearance is pretty much the same.

The dialogue is also quite a bit different. From Vader's compliment of Luke's ability ("The Force is strong with you young Skywalker, but you are not a Jedi yet." becomes "Impressive. Your agility is impressive.") to a significant alteration of Han's carbon freezing scene (Han actually comes out and tells Leia that he loves her, prior to being frozen, as opposed to right before it happens) the dialogue is substantially different. None of it works better, though depending on your view of the dialogue from the movie, it has probably managed to make at least one scene sound significantly worse.

Conclusion

The novelization of The Empire Strikes Back is competent, but it doesn't add very much to the finished product from the movie. If there is one reason to buy this book, it is because of the excellent description/re-imagining of the Battle of Hoth. More hardcore fans will also enjoy picking out the significant variations between book and film. Overall, this is a mediocre adaptation of a fantastic movie, with little in the way of new or insightful characterization, and only a choice amount of deleted scenes.

Final Score

65/100

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