A Long Time Ago: A New Hope by George Lucas
The Star Wars Expanded Universe is a big place, and one that is easy to get lost in. That is why it is my mission to help to guide you through the EU with (generally) chronologically ordered reviews of Star Wars novels. Today, it is my honor to introduce you to the novel that started it all: Star Wars by Alan Dean “George Lucas” Foster, later to be renamed Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope Novelization.
“Even a duck must be taught to swim” “A duck?”
Those who have done research into the Star Wars saga and the original films know that the Star Wars that millions have come to know and love is not the first movie filmed to carry the Star Wars name. After several script rewrites, during which Annikin Starkiller of Utapau transformed into Luke Skywalker of Tatooine, the LucasFilms team started filming The Star Wars. It was this script that made its way both to Marvel comics and to Alan Dean Foster, who wrote the novelization in George Lucas’s name. After virtually the entire film was shot from this script, George Lucas took over the over-budget and behind-schedule project, reshooting to yet another new script. The re-edited and newly shot footage made its way to the big screen as Star Wars: A New Hope, while the originally distributed script made its way to somewhere deep in the LucasFilm archives, rarely to be seen or heard from again.
Except in the bestseller, Star Wars. This is one Star Wars book that must be entered with a completely clear mind to understand properly. You must unlearn what you have learned. Anthony Daniels does not voice See-Threepio; indeed, he was slated for what I understand is much closer to a Jason Wingreen (Boba Fett) type voice than the final product. In fact, I don’t think the cast was even set by the time this novel was written- or if it was, Foster was kept removed from them. With this in mind, let’s dig in to the first entry, not only into the Expanded Universe, but into the Star Wars universe itself (cocurrent with the opening issues of the Marvel graphic novelization).
I don’t think anybody who is reading really needs a plot summary, but I will dive a bit into some of the story differences for those unfamiliar with the cuts. There are a few notable differences between The Lost Tapes (as the original edit is known) and the final version of A New Hope. First is Anchorhead. This is our first view of Luke Skywalker in the novel. Luke glimpses the battle taking place overhead, rushing into a room where his friends are located. We meet his friends, and special care is taken to inform us of the sensual stretching of tanned beauty Camie. It’s clear that Camie and her boyfriend are not very tolerant of the boyish Luke (though they did request a song with his nickname in the title at an event outside this novel), and even his other friends seem less than inclined to pay him much attention. The only close friend Luke seems to have is Biggs Darklighter, who has left for the Imperial Academy.
Biggs is actually here on Tatooine, though, and we get a touching reunion that gives us little in the way of details but tells us everything there is to know about the brotherly relationship these two have. Biggs informs Luke of his plans to join the Rebellion, to which Luke remains politically silent but wishes he could be off Tatooine in general. This matches the Luke in the final movie, but is a little surprising here for reasons I will explain when I get to the characters.
The biggest change from the movie here is Blue- that’s right, Blue, not Red- Squadron. Most of the ending battle is from the Point of View of Blue Leader- the man who became Red Leader in the film. Otherwise, the story adds little to the theatrical film. In The Lost Cuts, both Obi-Wan’s infiltration of the Death Star and Biggs meeting back up with Luke both get considerably more attention than they do in the final version. They don’t get quite as much here, though Foster does nod to Obi-Wan’s use of the Force to remain hidden, and some of the dialogue of Luke and Biggs’ Yavin reunion is preserved. If you’re reading this novel looking for a story, I am sorry to say that you’d be better off watching the movie.
Back to dealing with Obi-Wan aboard the Death Star… Despite destroying it multiple times, I’m not yet free of its grasp. And if the Death Star is here, it might mean…
“Yes, Lord Iurus. It is I,” a voice drifted from the shadows.
Starthriller! I thought I destroyed you!
“I am not the Starthriller you know. I am Ralph McQuarrie’s original vision of The Starthriller!” He loomed out of the depths of space, a horned creature from a different universe, looming nearly three meters high and wielding a spiked lightsaber in each hand and four hanging from his belt. He killed two Stormtroopers as he strolled over, his now purely mechanical face grinning.
It’s in characters were this novelization really shines. That is not to say they are the exact same characters as the film, but you still get a look into characters’ heads that you never could on the big screen. This is the reason why I almost always prefer a novelization over the original film.
Luke comes off as a slightly different twist on the character- definitely a different voice than the one Hamill gives him. While film Luke was politically indifferent, forced into the Rebellion and forced into being an outlaw by outside forces, this Luke is already sympathetic to the Rebellion as a means to prevent the Empire from “instituting a full reign of repression”. He also comes across as a bit more adult, a bit more official than Hamill’s Luke- nothing big, but little lines like “refuse units” instead of “garbage mashers,” things that were probably changed to appeal to a wider audience rather than for characterization. As far as dialogue in general goes, without the influence of ad-libbing, you can see strong hints of the choppy dialogue that would plague the Prequel Trilogy here.
Princess Leia, rather than being a cross between spunky and bitchy, comes across as mostly bitchy here. Maybe she is supposed to be a standard teen, but without any body language or ability to see her, we get only the “well, somebody has to save our skins” side without the “Alderaan’s a peaceful planet” side. I was a bit taken aback when this young princess, speaking via recorded hologram to a veteran of a war fought before she was born, emphasizes, “Do not fail me,” as though that’s far more important than failing the Rebellion.
Another character who is decidedly gruffer is Threepio. I mentioned earlier that Anthony Daniels’s voice was not intended for the role at this stage, but it is still difficult not to try and imagine Threepio’s characteristic pitch when he’s speaking. There are some lines, however, that a fan of the films simply can not picture Threepio saying, and this is where the original character peaks through. “No, sir- versatility is my middle name. See Vee Threepio- Vee for versatility- at your service.” Threepio also curses- though we don’t actually get to “hear” the “e chuta” that we know is implied here- something that really sets this different, yet similar, character apart from the one that has withstood the test of time. This really is an even darker, more steam punk galaxy than the one we are familiar with.
The character these changes do the least for is Darth Vader. Despite being confident in his superiority as the Dark Lord of the Sith, he questions himself, coming off as indecisive. In fact, Anakin Skywalker shows through far more here than any other version of the full grown Vader, both in his internal thoughts, and the Sith Lord’s dialogue.
Emotionally, Star Wars: A New Hope, the novel performs on an equal level with the movie. While the first time I read this it felt stilted and drawn out, the differences in some attitudes ruining some of the emotional impact of the story, once I cleared my mind and was able to read it for what it was, I found myself shocked by the overall level of emotions conveyed here. It does not add to what was already an extremely iconic and long-lasting story, but neither does it lose any impact in the transition to text.
That is where the novel stands. It’s on par with Episode IV in any other incarnation, which makes it a masterpiece against the overall backdrop of the world of movies, novels and comics. The dialogue could use some improvement, something that to this day can be said of George Lucas’s work, but that is not a huge detractor from this action-driven piece. To a Star Wars fan, though, this doesn’t really add much to the experience- its primarily value is that of a nostalgic aid, bringing up memories of the movie while being presented in an older, even more nostalgic format. Sadly, this cannot even be considered a canon novel, at times actively going against the canon stated in the films.
Cupping my hands to my mouth and calling upon the Force, I summoned the will to make the call of the Krayt dragon. I overshot, however, making a call with much more enthusiasm, and instead made the call of a Producer concerned with budget. With the first cry, Starthriller stopped, and blinked. With the second, he shook his head. Steam poured from his joints, and a soft “Nooooo” issues from his mouth. With the third, he was gone. Just in time for Luke Starkiller- I mean, Skywalker- to send a proton torpedo right down the exhaust shaft in which he was standing. Wisely, I evacuated in my moment of triumph. I think the Starthriller underestimated my chances.