James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews > Post

Never Venture Out Among The Asteroids

Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker

By Alan Dean Foster & George Lucas 

20 May, 2018

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


Support me with a Patreon monthly subscription!

1976’sStarWars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker isAlan Dean Foster’s (uncredited) novelization of the initial scriptfor George Lucas’ StarWars: A New Hope .(Not called that at the time of first release, as y’all no doubtknow.)

FormerSenator Palpatine’s quest to make the galaxy great again hastransformed a troubled republic into a brutal autocracy. Here andthere, out-numbered rebels are trying to resist oppression. All verysad, but what does it have to do with farmboy Luke Skywalker, stuckon backward desert world Tatooine?

Warning:skip synopsis if you have watched StarWars: A New Hopeumpteen times and know the plot backwards and forwards.

Thepurchase of two used robots, Artoo Detoo and See Threepio, hasunexpected results. Artoo broadcasts a desperate message from rebelPrincess Leia to someone named Obi-wan Kenobi. Immediately smittenwith the lovely princess, Luke is determined to learn more. Thefarmboy’s obsession provides Artoo with the lever it needs to conLuke into setting the robot free. In short order, Artoo vanishes intothe desert.

Determinedto recover his uncle’s robot, Luke pursues Artoo, accompanied bySee Threepio. Thus the boy learns that the desert coot he knows asOld Ben Kenobi is in fact a veteran of the Clone Wars and a formerfriend of Luke’s dead father. The quest to recover Artoo savesLuke’s life, because it means he is not home when ImperialStormtroopers massacre his aunt and uncle while searching for Artooand See Threepio.

Nolonger tied to Tatooine, Luke teams up with Kenobi. EvadingStormtroopers, they hire financially pinched star pilot Han Solo totransport them off-planet. Once in hyperspace, they should be safefrom the Empire. Or at least they would be, if the system they wereheaded to were not the site of the latest Imperial atrocity and ifthe gigantic space station responsible for a planet’s destructionwere not waiting for them. 

Onthe plus side, at least Leia is prisoner in the very same Death Star.

Endof partial synopsis. Whew.


Asfar as I can tell, this novel has always been published under Lucas’name, with no visible credit to Alan Dean Foster. Yet when I firstread it as a teen, I knew it was a Foster work. More evidence that in1976 I was a budding literary critic, able to recognize Foster’sstyle and well aware he was in the biz of writing novelizations(animated StarTrek, Luana and DarkStar ).Or perhaps I wasn’t; Charles N. Brown’s review in Asimov’s may have mentioned Foster’s authorship. I do hope Foster at leastgot points (percentage of gross income) to compensate for the lack ofcredit … although I suspect that all he received was a flat fee forwork-for-hire.

WhenI first read this book and saw the movie, I was not well acquaintedwith old-style pulps like FlashGordon or BuckRogers .I disliked the book and movie, but my dislike of book and film wasbased in ignorance of the tropes that StarWars mixed and mangled. In the intervening four decades, I have becomemuch more familiar with the ur-material. My dislike is now far moreinformed [1].

Iexpect Foster did the best he could with the dismal material he wasgiven. I deduce (from various discrepancies between the novelizationand the film) that the script he was novelizing was earlier than theversion that reached the screen. Details later discarded asextraneous are present; some of the more iconic moments in the movieare absent. 

Inthe novel, Palpatine is less a cunning mastermind and more the victimof his own success. 

Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within thegovernment, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious SenatorPalpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. Hepromised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restorethe remembered glory of the Republic.
Oncesecure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself awayfrom the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants andboot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of thepeople for justice did not reach his ears.
Havingexterminated through treachery and deception the Jedi Knights,guardians of justice in the galaxy, the Imperial governors andbureaucrats prepared to institute a reign of terror among thedisheartened worlds of the galaxy. Many used the imperial forces andthe name of the increasingly isolated Emperor to further their ownpersonal ambitions.

Darnthose governors and bureaucrats for taking advantage of the head ofstate! Although presumably Palpatine had some role in appointingthem.

Onepulp adventure trope found in the book is that of degenerate,barbaric humans so degraded as to be non-people … like the Jawas. 

if, as anthropologists hypothesized, they had ever been human, theyhad long since degenerated past anything resembling the human race. 

Inthe movie, the Jawas are just there no explanation. 

Perhapsthe most important difference between book and movie? In the book,Chewbacca gets a medal when his human pals do.

Somethingthat does NOT differ between book and movie (and the sequels,tie-ins, and what have you) is robot slavery. Robots like Artoo Detooand See Threepio seem to be just as intelligent (or more) than manyhumans, but they are property, subject to behavioural modificationand casual mind-wipe. 

Nowone might expect that a protagonist like Luke, who gets dragged intothe struggle to liberate the galaxy, might sympathize with theoppressed. But he doesn’t. Nor does anyone else, apparently. Irecommend reading the Murderbot novellas as a corrective. 

Anotherdetail shared between book and film: either Lucas had no intention ofmaking Luke and Leia siblings or he had been reading way too muchRobert Heinlein. At this stage in the story, they’re workingtowards becoming a romantic item. When they tell the next generationabout the Rebellion, probably best to leave out the twincest.

Ithought the film a wretched muddle. Most people seem to disagree withme. They liked it, they bought it, they watched and bought an endlessstream of sequels and TV specials, not to mention the innumerabletie-ins (Star Wars sheets, swim goggles, trading cards, etc.). Fortyyears later, I am still baffled by this. If people want old-stylepulp crap, why not read the original pulp crap? Why bother withderivative knock-offs? 

[**Editor’snote: I’m sufficiently older than you are that I had read a fairbit of old-style pulp crap, and I still liked StarWars.So don’t wave your cane at me and tell me to get off your lawn. Iwave my cane back at you! Hmmmph!]

StarWars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker is available here(Amazon)and here(Chapters-Indigo).

1:When I was reviewing for the SFBC, they sent me dozens of largelyinterchangeable Star Wars novels for review. Karma, no doubt.

Theneed to produce endless sequels and prequels to satisfy the demandfor Star Wars product had a curious effect. On its own, the firstStar Wars story is hopeful. In the context of the other stories, it’sclear that hope is a matter of limited perspective. The Star Warsgalaxy is one that stumbles from crisis to crisis, from civil war tointergalactic invasion, from control by arrogant Jedi to dominationby cruel Sith. Peace is at best a momentary respite from horror.