What’s the ultimate guilty pleasure? Some people like late-night runs to their local Taco Bell, where they can devour stale nachos and tacos filled with watery ground beef; other (read: demented) people might enjoy watching Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides; still more might take solace in the musical stylings of Mumford & Sons. But there’s one guilty pleasure that trumps all of these, something so sad and strange that only the nerdiest, most pop culture-obsessed dare attempt it—reading movie novelizations. Put another way, reading the novelizations of recently-released or upcoming blockbusters is an often unfulfilling way of suckling sadly from the teat of our hyper-capitalized pop culture.
But I love them. They’re the cheapest, pulpiest combination of two things I adore—reading and over-the-top blockbusters. And sometimes you get lucky and stumble across a novelization that makes you appreciate the original movie more by adding real depth to the story and characters. Because of this, I’ll be putting out a series of reviews, beginning with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, looking at some of the latest movie novelizations to see how they compare to their source material and to determine whether they’re worth your time.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi Novelization Review
Novelization: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Author: Jason Fry
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Movie & Author Background
Star Wars: The Last Jedi was the highest grossing film of 2017 (but was still considered a financial disappointment), the second entry in Disney’s new “sequel trilogy” for the beloved science-fantasy franchise, and the most divisive Star Wars film to date. Many long-time fans of the saga took issue with the direction the film took in regards to plot points established by its predecessor, The Force Awakens (2015), its humor, its utilization and expansion of the series’ iconic mystical power, the Force, and the direction it took with the original protagonist of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), in his first big-screen appearance since 1983’s Return of the Jedi. Despite this fan backlash, the movie was a critical darling, and it has found an audience amongst the existing Star Wars fandom as well. The original script was written by Rian Johnson, who also directed the film.
Jason Fry, author of this novelization, is an old hand at writing for Star Wars—he’s written or co-written more than 40 books and short stories set in the galaxy far, far away. The Last Jedi is his first foray into novelizing one of the films in the franchise, but his website provides a bibliography of his contributions to the series and they’re as impressive as they are extensive. In addition to his work with Star Wars, Fry has his own series of young adult space-fantasy novels, The Jupiter Pirates. He has an extensive background in journalism and co-writes Faith and Fear in Flushing, a blog dedicated to the New York Mets.
Something that sets this novelization apart from many others is the timeline for its publication. Star Wars: The Last Jedi hit theaters on December 15, 2017, but the novelization wasn’t released until March 6, 2018. Most novelizations release nearly simultaneously with the blockbuster they’re based on, and it’s exceptionally rare for one to be held for nearly three months after the movie’s release. There could be any number of reasons for the delay, from Disney wanting people to have no choice but to return to their local theater if they wanted to experience the story for a second time to run-of-the-mill production and deadline issues with the adaptation of the screenplay.
As far as the raw adaptation is concerned, Fry does a great job translating what audiences see on the screen to the page. Because novelizations often accompany blockbusters, which rely heavily on massive set pieces that devolve into an orgy of flashing lights and Wilhelm screams, having that same energy and excitement make the jump to the page can prove tricky for some. This is where Fry’s background in Star Wars comes in handy—he has an inherent understanding of the jargon, knows how to convey the flashing of lightsabers and screaming of TIE fighters, and can instead focus on adding depth to the material where he has room to do so. The dialogue is basically lifted word-for-word from the screenplay. There may be some deviations here and there, but if you hear the characters say something in the movie, that’s almost certainly what they’re going to say in this novelization.
The problem with the parts of the story that make the move from the movie to the book more or less as-is is that the things that didn’t work in the movie still don’t quite work in the novelization and vice versa. The entire Canto Bight sequence is still a slog (and, unfortunately for the book, doesn’t have Benicio del Toro to make it better), “Space Leia” is still ridiculous (but works slightly better on the page than on the screen), and some of the jokes still feel out of place.
The Unsettlingly Beefy
Everyone’s favorite scene, featuring the beefcake that is shirtless Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), also makes the jump and will cause an intense sensory overload as you recall your first exposure to the sculpted torso of Adam Driver that may require putting the book down to collect yourself for three to five minutes, depending on your individual constitution.
This novelization is filled with moments—some fleeting, some more expansive—that didn’t make it into the finished film for one reason or another. Bits that ended up as deleted scenes in the DVD extras for The Last Jedi appear in sequence here, including Rey (Daisy Ridley)’s third lesson from Luke Skywalker and Finn (John Boyega)’s run-in with a stormtrooper who recognizes him from his days in the First Order (played by a lamentably underutilized Tom Hardy in the film). It’s fun to see these flow as part of the narrative, rather than as individual two-minute clips that were only barely saved from the cutting room floor.
Readers are also treated to the memorial service for Han Solo, shown from General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher)’s point-of-view, as she attempts to inspire the remaining Resistance fighters as they mourn Solo’s death and honor his legacy. There’s also more buildup to the First Order’s attack on the Resistance base/fleet than we see in the film, as we spend more time with Paige (Veronica Ngo) and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and other members of the Resistance during the buildup to the movie’s action-packed opening sequence.
The Luke That Might Have Been
One of the most interesting additions to the source material is the scene that opens the book. The novel begins with a vision of Luke Skywalker as he might have been if he’d never left Tattooine in A New Hope (1977). This Luke is older, married without children, and a farmer. The Empire was never overthrown in this alternate history and Luke sometimes wonders what may have become of him if he had accompanied two strange droids on their quest to find Obi-Wan Kenobi for Princess Leia—who, in this timeline, was executed. Readers will realize fairly quickly what’s going on, but it’s a cool way to kick off the story, one of those things that works well on the page but wouldn’t have translated as well to film.
For Better and For Worse: Luke & Rose in the Novel
One thing novelizations allow that movies don’t (for the most part) is the opportunity to get inside characters’ heads. Fry takes advantage of this to varying degrees of success, the most polarizing examples being the characters of Luke Skywalker and Rose Tico.
Many fans were outraged that Luke Skywalker grew up to be a hermit rejecting his own legacy and living out his days on an obscure planet while the rest of the galaxy descends into chaos. Seeing as how both of his mentors, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, did something very similar (albeit for different reasons) during the Empire’s reign, it’s more likely that this is just what’s going to pass for Jedi retirement in this franchise and everyone should respect that these space-samurai/monks have a fallback plan for when they need a break from saving the galaxy.
Wherever you came down on Luke in The Last Jedi, rest assured that he’s better in the novelization. Fry does an excellent job filling in Luke’s rationale—and Rey’s thoughts about Luke—and does the Jedi right with his work. In fact, the entire section of the story taking place on Ahch-To seems to work better in the novelization than it did on the screen. We’re even blessed with a moment where Luke teaches Rey how to dance at a party being held by the local fish-nuns, which isn’t necessarily the most exciting addition to the story you’ll find here, but it’s a touching moment that I enjoyed immensely for absolutely no discernible reason beyond the fact that it made me smile.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Fry’s work with Rose Tico. This was another controversial character in the film, with some being won over by Rose’s optimism and tenacity while others found her annoying and superfluous. Fry delves even deeper than the movie did into Rose’s bond with her sister, Paige, providing us with some of their background and showing how much Rose’s actions are influenced by her sister throughout The Last Jedi.
However, Fry also takes her budding affection for Finn and uses it to turn Rose into a jealous and temperamental brat who starts fuming anytime Finn mentions Rey. It’s unnecessary and makes the character come across as more childish than innocent or optimistic. It’s hard to tell how much of this characterization came from the version of the screenplay Fry worked with and how much is him taking certain liberties with the material, but it drags an already divisive character even further from grace.
Last Word on the The Last Jedi Novelization
Overall, this is an engaging novelization that transcends a lot of the shortcomings these adaptations usually display by building on, rather than simply reporting, the events of The Last Jedi. The added and expanded scenes mean there’s something here for everyone; those who enjoyed the movie will appreciate the added depth the source material receives (with the exception of Rose’s reactions to literally any mention of Rey) and those who came away less impressed by it will have the opportunity to see if the new scenes make the story more engaging for them.
Jason Fry’s experience writing for Star Wars serves him well and the novelization will slot in nicely with the franchise’s existing books as far as style is concerned. While some sequences aren’t improved by being put to the page, many are, and part of the joy for readers will be seeing what’s better or worse for them in this adaptation.
And so, it should come as no surprise that I’m giving this novelization an enthusiastic recommendation for the movie’s fans and detractors. Pick up a copy at your local bookstore or online from Barnes & Noble or Amazon and revel in another excuse to take a trip to a galaxy far, far away.
Read, Watch, or Skip: Read & Watch
Main image credit:
Photo taken by Austin Zook.