Welcome to the Multiversity Star Wars Book Club! Based on a conversation in the Multiversity Slack, editors Matt Garcia and Brian Salvatore decided to start up this column, where we will be reading and discussing a Star Wars every month or so. So come, enter the ancient library and join us!
Written by Jason Fry
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Written with input from director Rian Johnson, this official adaptation of Star Wars: The Last Jedi expands on the film to include scenes from alternate versions of the script and other additional content.
From the ashes of the Empire has arisen another threat to the galaxy’s freedom: the ruthless First Order. Fortunately, new heroes have emerged to take up arms—and perhaps lay down their lives—for the cause. Rey, the orphan strong in the Force; Finn, the ex-stormtrooper who stands against his former masters; and Poe Dameron, the fearless X-wing pilot, have been drawn together to fight side-by-side with General Leia Organa and the Resistance. But the First Order’s Supreme Leader Snoke and his merciless enforcer Kylo Ren are adversaries with superior numbers and devastating firepower at their command. Against this enemy, the champions of light may finally be facing their extinction. Their only hope rests with a lost legend: Jedi Master Luke Skywalker.
Where the action of Star Wars: The Force Awakens ended, Star Wars: The Last Jedi begins, as the battle between light and dark climbs to astonishing new heights.
Matt: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi completely uprooted everything about Star Wars. It took chances with the material; it dove deep into the characters and gave them actual, personal obstacles to contend with; and it found a balance between the epic and the humorous.
I loved it.
So I guess, the biggest question I have is, how did you think the story works in this novelized form?
Brian: Well, on one hand, the bones of The Last Jedi are strong, so any retelling of that story has some of the same highlights that the film has. Plus, there are a few characters that get fleshed out a bit by our being able to look inside their minds a bit.
But I have to say, unlike almost every other new-canon Star Wars book I’ve read, I found this really tough to get through. I have a few reasons for that, which we’ll get to shortly.
How do you think it worked?
Matt: I’m not big on novelizations in general. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a book based off a movie that’s ever actually been any good. I think it’s because a novelization is mostly just the written down beats of a movie, unlike an adaptation which takes something from one medium and translates it into a new one. The prose is often stunted, the action unresponsive.
All of this I found true for The Last Jedi.
Jason Fry has mostly done Star Wars work for younger audiences or for the various visual guides. Both of these made it so the book was too breezy, too technical, and too undaring. I mean, props to him for trying to make Rey feel something or show us how she reached a decision or whatever, but none of it was stuff we couldn’t infer for ourselves watching the movie.
As for the fleshed-out background: some of it I found fine, other parts tedious and unnecessary. A lot of it wasn’t even original to the novel but more of a compendium from various comics or other sources that explored this narrative.
Did you find anything in this book that surprised you?
Brian: Surprise? Not really. But I have a little more affinity for novelizations, due to my age.
You see Matt, though I grew up with a VCR, the delay in films going from theaters to VHS, plus the cost of VHS films ($100 or so for a new film), plus limited cable options led to novelizations being one of the few ways to enjoy a film after seeing it.
So, as a kid, I had a bunch of novelizations: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace,, Ghostbusters 2, Batman. And what I would always wonder while reading them was this: why were certain choices made? I didn’t quite understand how it worked, but I used to see the novelization as the original text, and the film picked and chose what scenes to include.Continued below
But as an adult now, especially when I had the Blu-Ray to The Last Jedi less than a month after the novelization was released, and less than two months after the film was readily available to see in theaters, the whole idea seems a little outdated.
But I will say this: two characters that got slagged by a lot of (stupid) people, Luke and Rose, got a fair amount of extra information about them thrown out there. Like you said, almost none of that information is still that couldn’t be inferred from a nuanced watching, but we all know how people do with nuance.
My problem with the book is less about the new information, but instead with the retelling of things we’ve already seen. Some scenes seemed incredibly short compared to their filmed versions, where others seemed to languish for nine or ten years.
Did you more enjoy the new information or the retelling of what we’ve already seen?
Matt: Oh, definitely the new stuff. The strongest for me was the segments with Rose and Paige. For whatever reason, Rose seemed to be the character Fry most got.
But for all the background with them or Luke, there still wasn’t much with Holdo. Just a throwaway line to something from Leia: Princess of Alderaan if I recall correctly.
As for my growing up, we always had a VCR and video cassettes. I know you’re only a few years older than me but I can’t remember a time without our movies available to us. I still had various novelizations but they were more like a novelty even then. Though I guess in the ‘90s you didn’t have to worry about the books being pan-and-scanned.
I completely agree with you on the retelling elements, though. The throne room sequence, where Kylo Ren and Rey battle the Praetorian Guards was all kinds of tedious. It was a direction translation of the action, without any intensity or turmoil reflected in the prose itself. I also get why Rian Johnson and editor Bob Ducsay cut sequences. The party on Ach-To was a fun deleted scene but it slowed down the momentum on the story as a whole. And I don’t think Fry is a strong enough craftsman to get that thrill and clandestine tremor of Rey and Ren touching hands, not like how the movie pulled it off.
What parts worked for you better than others? Were you able to imagine the book on your own or were you just replaying the shots and compositions from the movie in your head?
Brian: As much as I tried to divorce my reading from my five or so times watching The Last Jedi, it was impossible to do so. There were a few sequences that read a bit differently – like the scenes at Canto Bight, for instance (catch the reference to the masseur from Canto Bight?) – and those were the ones I enjoyed more than the others. Like you said, Fry wasn’t doing enough to make most of these sequences all that different or enhanced than what we’ve seen before.
It’s funny you mention the party sequence with the Caretakers; that’s a deleted scene on the Blu-Ray, and I think it is actually an incredibly effective Luke scene for one reason: Luke pays Rey a complement. He says to her the equivalent of, ‘the Resistance needs people like you, who will do the right thing no matter what, not an old fossil like me.” Luke has far more respect for Rey in prose than he does on screen, and I think that worked well for him.
Similarly, before he ‘catches’ Rey and Ben in Rey’s hut, we are told that Luke is moved by the Force to leave with Rey. That was a new bit of information that I think, again, makes Luke a little more sympathetic. I think for a lot of people, Mark Hamill included, those little details would have made a big difference in their perception of Luke in The Last Jedi.
Did any sequences stand out to you?
Matt: I hear where you’re coming from with Luke but I think that takes away from Rey’s decision to run to Kylo Ren. She’s so desperate for validation and inclusion, while also being so headstrong, that I think those small moments would have been enough to keep her on the island. She saw a little bit in Ren and then ran off to try to turn him. So I think if Luke gave a little she would have picked and picked until he gave it his all.Continued below
I also think his softening took away from his final appearance at the end.
So I can see how they were nice moments for Luke but that wasn’t something Rey’s story needed.
I do wonder what draft of the script Fry worked from. There are plenty of cut scenes in the book but the Phama/Finn confrontation was the movie version and not the deleted scene, for instance. And I wonder if the more sympathetic Luke was an earlier pass at the story?
As for outstanding sequences? There were some interesting decisions with Fry’s approach to the story. I remember a lot from Holdo’s sacrifice scene, where it breaks down into the science of space travel for some reason. Other than that, most of my favorite scenes were reflected again in the novel. I did like how he ended it, with the slave kids on Canto Bight. I think that may have been one of the moments the book stood on its own as a book, rather than a prose version of the film.
Brian: One of the only true ‘new’ sequence in the film was Luke’s dream that opened the book. While I understand why that scene was written, it seemed to me to be click-bait for reviews/attention to the book, rather than something that added something. Am I being overly cynical?
Matt: I agree, because Fry never references it again. Luke’s regret comes from mishandling the Ben situation, not from going on some fantastic journey. If Fry had included more of Luke wishing to start over with a normal life, that sequence would have made a lot more sense to me.
Earlier you touched on how novelizations were a way to relive the movie back before home video was a thing. You also questioned whether a novelization was outdated now. I’d like to go back to that and wonder, what is the purpose of a novelization now and do you think it’s possible for them to still be relevant? Why is it so difficult to translate material from movies to books when so many books to movies make the hallmark of our media?
Brian: I think you answered your own question earlier, when you said that a novelization isn’t always an adaptation. The goal of a film based on a novel is to shepherd the novel into a new thing, to change the book in ways that better suit the screen. A novelization is meant to take one thing and just replicate it, not adapt it.
A novelization can’t really take away scenes that don’t work as prose, or even really add too many new scenes/characters to the story, because that wouldn’t be the film on paper. And, again, due to the speed that these things tend to come out, there hasn’t been enough time to yet give it a different take, built on sitting with the film for a few years, or based on fan reaction, or anything.
In that way, it’s the worst kind of recreation: it can’t learn from itself, so it can’t change.
What about you? Do you see a role for the novelization going forward?
Matt: I think all the tidbits and digressions this added has been covered in a wide variety of other texts. The visual guides, the novel prequels, the art of books. I think the novelizations for adults need to change the way they approach the material, make it more of an adaptation than a transcription. Even if it goes as balls to the wall like Back to the Future or something. Like Clarke’s 2001 novel goes into different places than Kubrick’s film. And the novelization of The Shape of Water runs on its own wavelength to the movie as well. And if the novelizations gave us a different view, a different approach to the story, I could see the reason for their existence. The Last Jedi struck me as a long Wookiepedia article.