1976’s Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker is Alan Dean Foster’s (uncredited) novelization of the initial script for George Lucas’ Star Wars: A New Hope. (Not called that at the time of first release, as y’all no doubt know.)
Former Senator Palpatine’s quest to make the galaxy great again has transformed a troubled republic into a brutal autocracy. Here and there, out-numbered rebels are trying to resist oppression. All very sad, but what does it have to do with farmboy Luke Skywalker, stuck on backward desert world Tatooine?
Warning: skip synopsis if you have watched Star Wars: A New Hope umpteen times and know the plot backwards and forwards.
The purchase of two used robots, Artoo Detoo and See Threepio, has unexpected results. Artoo broadcasts a desperate message from rebel Princess Leia to someone named Obi-wan Kenobi. Immediately smitten with the lovely princess, Luke is determined to learn more. The farmboy’s obsession provides Artoo with the lever it needs to con Luke into setting the robot free. In short order, Artoo vanishes into the desert.
Determined to recover his uncle’s robot, Luke pursues Artoo, accompanied by See Threepio. Thus the boy learns that the desert coot he knows as Old Ben Kenobi is in fact a veteran of the Clone Wars and a former friend of Luke’s dead father. The quest to recover Artoo saves Luke’s life, because it means he is not home when Imperial Stormtroopers massacre his aunt and uncle while searching for Artoo and See Threepio.
No longer tied to Tatooine, Luke teams up with Kenobi. Evading Stormtroopers, they hire financially pinched star pilot Han Solo to transport them off-planet. Once in hyperspace, they should be safe from the Empire. Or at least they would be, if the system they were headed to were not the site of the latest Imperial atrocity and if the gigantic space station responsible for a planet’s destruction were not waiting for them.
On the plus side, at least Leia is prisoner in the very same Death Star.
End of partial synopsis. Whew.
As far as I can tell, this novel has always been published under Lucas’ name, with no visible credit to Alan Dean Foster. Yet when I first read it as a teen, I knew it was a Foster work. More evidence that in 1976 I was a budding literary critic, able to recognize Foster’s style and well aware he was in the biz of writing novelizations (animated Star Trek, Luana, and Dark Star). Or perhaps I wasn’t; Charles N. Brown’s review in Asimov’s may have mentioned Foster’s authorship. I do hope Foster at least got points (percentage of gross income) to compensate for the lack of credit … although I suspect that all he received was a flat fee for work-for-hire.
When I first read this book and saw the movie, I was not well acquainted with old-style pulps like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers. I disliked the book and movie, but my dislike of book and film was based in ignorance of the tropes that Star Wars mixed and mangled. In the intervening four decades, I have become much more familiar with the ur-material. My dislike is now far more informed .
I expect Foster did the best he could with the dismal material he was given. I deduce (from various discrepancies between the novelization and the film) that the script he was novelizing was earlier than the version that reached the screen. Details later discarded as extraneous are present; some of the more iconic moments in the movie are absent.
In the novel, Palpatine is less a cunning mastermind and more the victim of his own success.
Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic.
Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of the people for justice did not reach his ears.
Having exterminated through treachery and deception the Jedi Knights, guardians of justice in the galaxy, the Imperial governors and bureaucrats prepared to institute a reign of terror among the disheartened worlds of the galaxy. Many used the imperial forces and the name of the increasingly isolated Emperor to further their own personal ambitions.
Darn those governors and bureaucrats for taking advantage of the head of state! Although presumably Palpatine had some role in appointing them.
One pulp 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, they had long since degenerated past anything resembling the human race.
In the movie, the Jawas are just there, no explanation.
Perhaps the most important difference between book and movie? In the book, Chewbacca gets a medal when his human pals do.
Something that does NOT differ between book and movie (and the sequels, tie-ins, and what have you) is robot slavery. Robots like Artoo Detoo and See Threepio seem to be just as intelligent (or more) than many humans, but they are property, subject to behavioural modification and casual mind-wipe.
Now one might expect that a protagonist like Luke, who gets dragged into the struggle to liberate the galaxy, might sympathize with the oppressed. But he doesn’t. Nor does anyone else, apparently. I recommend reading the Murderbot novellas as a corrective.
Another detail shared between book and film: either Lucas had no intention of making Luke and Leia siblings or he had been reading way too much Robert Heinlein. At this stage in the story, they’re working towards becoming a romantic item. When they tell the next generation about the Rebellion, probably best to leave out the twincest.
I thought the film a wretched muddle. Most people seem to disagree with me. They liked it, they bought it, they watched and bought an endless stream of sequels and TV specials, not to mention the innumerable tie-ins (Star Wars sheets, swim goggles, trading cards, etc.). Forty years later, I am still baffled by this. If people want old-style pulp crap, why not read the original pulp crap? Why bother with derivative knock-offs?
[**Editor’s note: I’m sufficiently older than you are that I had read a fair bit of old-style pulp crap, and I still liked Star Wars. So don’t wave your cane at me and tell me to get off your lawn. I wave my cane back at you! Hmmmph!]
1: When I was reviewing for the SFBC, they sent me dozens of largely interchangeable Star Wars novels for review. Karma, no doubt.
The need to produce endless sequels and prequels to satisfy the demand for Star Wars product had a curious effect. On its own, the first Star Wars story is hopeful. In the context of the other stories, it’s clear that hope is a matter of limited perspective. The Star Wars galaxy is one that stumbles from crisis to crisis, from civil war to intergalactic invasion, from control by arrogant Jedi to domination by cruel Sith. Peace is at best a momentary respite from horror.