Biweekly Book Review: The Force Awakens

With the sequels come the more “canon” novelizations. The ones published under the larger umbrella of unified storytelling. Did this one succeed in that regard? Sort of? Let’s dive into The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster.

I will admit, before getting into it, that I was a little wary of Alan Dean Foster after becoming aware of his lengthy episode 9 fan fiction he posted to his website, where among other things he suggests that the only plausible explanation for Rey’s force ability is that she’s…part robot. I know he wrote Splinter of the Mind’s Eye – the first EU novel – as well as ghost-wrote A New Hope, but that little revelation was my first real impression of him. How, then, could I expect him to treat Rey fairly?

I needn’t have worried, in a strange way, because everyone gets a very bizarre treatment in this one. But let’s start things off on a positive note.

Things I Liked

From a certain point of view (heh) I do understand the directorial choice to not show Leia in the film until her reunion with Han, if you want it to be that moment in theatres where the audience goes “*gasp* it’s Leia!”. But after the first couple of viewings, when the inner workings of the Resistance seem like a mystery – why, for instance, do we even have a Resistance if the New Republic is still in power, many asked – Leia’s presence in the earlier half of the film is sorely missed. Foster makes up for the loss here, incorporating all of Leia’s deleted scenes and making her instrumental to the action as it unfolds.

There are also little moments sprinkled in here and there that were absolutely, 100% unintentional, that nevertheless feel like an emotional gut punch in retrospect. Things like Unkar Plutt telling Rey that she’s nothing, and her protesting that she is in fact worth something. Or the strange, much more charged dynamic between Kylo and Rey, where they appear to have a better sense of each other than they do in the film. And this is a movie where the chemistry is already pretty damn good.

Things I Didn’t Like

Unfortunately, of all the novelizations I’ve read, this one was my least favourite.

First, there was the overall tone of the book. Foster seemed infinitely more interested in hearing himself talk and describe the environment than he was in engaging with the characters. The benefit of novelizations is that they let us get in the heads of the characters at any given moment we see onscreen. It adds that extra layer. Those types of introspections were few and far between. I am actively struggling to remember any such example that really jumped out at me.

Second, the depiction of the characters – particularly the new ones – felt off throughout. Granted, Foster was at a unique disadvantage, being the only novelist for the sequel trilogy novels who didn’t get a chance to fully experience how each character comes across onscreen. That said, he had this strange tendency of making all the characters talk too much, and with too elevated a language. He consistently used 25 words when 5 would suffice. A lot of the punchy dialogue from the movie is couched in redundant, unnatural-sounding sentiment.

To put it in perspective, think back to Hux’s speech on Starkiller. His elevated language is at odds with the way he and the other young characters speak the majority of the time. As a result, it sticks out and sounds all the scarier for how formal it is. But that’s how Hux, Kylo, Poe, and even occasionally Finn sound most of the time. Rey doesn’t share their speaking style, but she doesn’t have much of Rey’s heart either. I don’t think I fully appreciated how solid the performances are in the Sequel Trilogy until I read this. Jason Fry leans into their performances. Rae Carson does the same from the bits I’ve read.

But Foster is infinitely more interested in writing his own book, rather than adapting the movie for a novel form. Because that’s what these are meant to be at the end of the day: adaptations. Sometimes, tonal liberties are welcome (such as Revenge of the Sith) but at the end of the day, the heart of the story remains intact. I can’t say in good faith that Foster tried to keep the heart of The Force Awakens.

We all know how I feel about Ian Doescher’s adaptations, and I can say without a doubt that I preferred his take 100 times over.

***

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