Star Wars: A New Hope, by George Lucas

star-wars-a-new-hope-by-george-lucas coverGenre: Star Wars
Publisher: Ballantine
Published: 1995
Reviewer Rating: five stars
Book Review by Jack Crane

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After watching the latest Star Wars prequel, Attack of the Clones, for the second time, recently, I left the theater feeling wistful and wishing for the good old days. Suffice to say, I am one of those now grown adults who as a youngster fell in love with Lucas’ magic and eagerly awaited each installment of the ongoing Star Wars saga.

Unsure of whether it was Lucas or myself who’d lost that old romantic excitement, I prowled through my stash of paperbacks and dug up the original Star Wars novel, cracked it open with some trepidation and thought, here’s a test to see whether or not I’ve outgrown this type of story.

Two hours later, I put the novel down, completely satisfied that the magic was still there, and , in fact, quite impressed with how the Star Wars story succeeds in print almost as powerfully as it did on the big screen.

The magic is not gone–at least for me, personally–and the novel Star Wars demonstrates just how potent Lucas’ original vision was and still is for anyone willing to crack open this fast paced narrative.

Foremost among the differences between the movie and the novel is the need for Lucas to convincingly disseminate his exposition without sacrificing the thrill-a-minute pace of his story. This he does with great aplomb, and it is no easy feat considering the intergalactic scope of his epic, the sizable cast of characters, and the exoticism of his settings and scenery.

Lucas’ prose is utilitarian and tasteful. He has some difficulty portraying the ‘droid characters in his story because 1) it is difficult to write about non-human characters, for any writer, and 2) his ‘droids, while strikingly original, visually, in terms of the movie, are simply anthropomorphized robots in the novel and much of the humor, wittiness, and warmth of these endearing characters is simply untranslatable within the scope of his narrative abilities.

Other characters like Darth Vader are portrayed with great skill, though one can see that Lucas may not have had a full-vision of what the characters would ultimately evolve into when he wrote the original novel. Darth Vader originally appears in the story described this way:

Two meters tall. Bipedal. Flowing black robes trailing from the figure and a face forever masked by a functional if bizarre black metal breath screen — a Dark Lord of the Sith was an awesome, threatening shape as it strode through the corridors of the rebel ship.

An awkward passage and one that sheds some light on Lucas’ somewhat underdeveloped concept of the Dark Lord of the Sith. In fact, Vader in the novel is a less powerful, somewhat more passive character than in the original movie. He is portrayed more as a lap-dog to the Emperor, which ironically, seems to increase his pathos and tangentially creates a latent sympathy for him in the reader, as well as a dread of the shadowy Emperor.

Obi Wan Kenobi is a much more earthy figure in the novel, described as wearing tattered robes and being more or less viewed as an eccentric by the people and aliens he encounters. Much of the nobility of the screen character, and thus a diminishing of Kenobi’s earthiness can be attributed to Sir Alec Guiness, whose classical Shakespearean interpretation of Kenobi in the film enhances his screen presence. Still, I found myself much more engaged by the novel’s vision of Kenobi as more of a scrabbly, desert-rat type old hermit who has fallen from grandeur and must make one last effort to regain the glorious heroism of his past.

The rest of the cast: Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and assorted minor characters from Luke’s buddy, Biggs, to Han’s nemesis, Jabba the Hut are skillfully rendered, with the exception of Jabba the Hut who is given a rather sketchy profile. In fact, most of the characters are portrayed with greater depth and deeper insight into their motivations, fears, and ambitions. Han, as always, is a sympathetic scoundrel, but more than that–in the novel, he is an emblem of what life under the Empire actually achieves–and a symbol of fiery, selfish resistance, which is later harnessed by the Rebellion to help destroy the Death Star.

Reading the novel is certainly a different experience than watching the movie and curiously, the novel seems much more “real.” That in itself is a magical accomplishment. Through his use of sparse, highly creative prose, Lucas is able to evoke a living, three-dimensional alter-universe that embodies some of the more powerful archetypes of human existence and portrays an unambiguous struggle of good vs. evil that, for obvious reasons, functions as a tonic for the soul in our problematic present as powerfully as it did in our romantic past.

I highly recommend fans of the Star Wars epic to give this one a re-read, especially those who are disenchanted with the latest movies. The novel, tremendously creative and fast-paced almost to the point of amazement, serves as a highly spirited reminder of what great adventure SF should be.

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