Some of us read books and see them as movies in our mind, but books and film are two very different mediums of storytelling. For one, books often get more into what goes on in a character’s head. We can be directly given more information about a scene that would require greater observation or looking around the frame in a movie. When a movie is adapted into a novelization, it’s an opportunity to expand, to linger, to bolster.
The novelization of The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster takes advantage of this opportunity in a few cases, some more effective than others. I was very eager to read this book because I, like many others, have fallen in love with the new characters we meet in the movie and keep finding myself wanting more time with them.
The Force Awakens is a movie intended to engage with a broad audience. This novelization? Not so much. Beyond being intended for adults, it is written at a higher reading level than the new canon adult Star Wars novels that have come before it. Several word choices may require a dictionary or Google on standby while you read, regardless of how big a vocabulary you have. As for other adult elements, there’s only one scene that’s more graphic than the movie though and it actually makes the bloody handprint on Finn’s helmet make more sense.
Despite third person omniscient narration, Foster often holds the characters at arm’s length. If I’d read the book first, I probably wouldn’t find it so strange. But after several movie viewings it feels a little odd to think of these characters as the pilot, the subject, the trooper, or the passenger.
The dialogue extensions are often to the boon of the First Order. Kylo Ren, General Hux, and even Snoke have some interesting expanded thoughts and conversations. Captain Phasma also has more to say and while it doesn’t add much to the overall story, it does make her character have more of a presence.
Added dialogue is less beneficial for the good guys. In Star Wars movies exchanges are typically succinct. I started to miss that when certain characters spoke in the book. It also morphed those characters in ways that make them more difficult to rally for, so if you found any of the heroes too perfect – you might enjoy them in the novelization more. In particular Finn came off less like a guy joking around to cope with his situation and more like someone who just doesn’t get it. Rey’s thoughts in particular about Unkar Plutt and a longer version of the scene in which Plutt offers to buy BB-8 actually go so far as to make our heroine seem greedy and rather speciesist – at least if she finds someone ugly-looking.
There are contradictions on purpose and some that don’t seem as intentional, which don’t help the story. If you’re sensitive to patterns like I am, Foster exhibits a tic with descriptions that might slowly annoy you too. That being said, this novel also holds some truly beautiful and poignant turns of phrase. Furthermore what’s very welcome is more scenes that make the galaxy’s political situation much more clear. Some of these scenes were presumably cut from the original script at some point during production or in post and leaving even one of them in the film would have helped make the movie’s setting more clear. We also get to see Leia earlier, which does a great service to her character in addition to the previously mentioned world-building.
All in all, the novelization of The Force Awakens is not a bad read, but it isn’t indispensable either – unless you want to know where all the lines the toys said that weren’t in the movie were supposed to go. Otherwise The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary by Pablo Hidalgo can provide some of the same answers.
The publisher provided FANgirl Blog a copy of this book.
Kay reviews Star Wars books for FANgirl in addition to movies of several genres with a heart for storytelling and a mind that likes to analyze. She also writes about fandom reflections and fashion as well as co-hosts the Hyperspace Theories podcast. She has been known to make appearances on other podcasts including Fangirl Chat, Nerd Lunch, Disney Vault Talk's Rebel Yell, and Assembly of Geeks.
Currently a voice actor, photographer, and artist who also consults in communications and marketing, Kay spends the little bit of free time she has reading, writing, learning and, of course, making pew pew noises. She would pick up more jobs and hobbies if she was a Time Lord.