In December 1976, Ballantine Books’ Del Rey science fiction label published “Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker,” a space fantasy novelization of the then-unreleased film by “American Graffiti” director George Lucas. Based on a draft of Lucas’s screenplay (and credited solely to the young filmmaker), the novel, ghostwritten by a 30-year-old writer named Alan Dean Foster, was the world’s first glimpse at that galaxy far, far away.
Nearly 40 years later, in January of 2016, Del Rey published “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Foster’s novelization of the screenplay by J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt for Disney/Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens.”
“First comes the day
Then comes the night.
After the darkness
Shines through the light.
The difference, they say,
Is only made right
By the resolving of gray
Through refined Jedi sight.“
―Journal of the Whills, 7:477
As in the film, the story takes place 30 years after the Battle of Endor. Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader – now redeemed and at peace with the Force – are dead. The Galactic Empire is a shattered shadow of its former self, and a democratic New Republic presides over much of the galaxy.
But the battle between good and evil is not over. A mysterious overlord named Snoke leads the First Order, a dictatorship based on the tenets of Palpatine’s Empire. With a fleet of new generation Star Destroyers equipped with TIE fighters and legions of Stormtroopers, Snoke and a dark side disciple known as Kylo Ren plan to finish the task begun by the late Emperor and Darth Vader – to rule the galaxy and destroy the Jedi Knights.
In this time of peril, Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi, has disappeared. His twin sister, General Leia Organa, sends Resistance pilot Poe Dameron and his astromech droid BB-8 on a secret mission to find any information that leads to Luke’s whereabouts.
In Tuanul, a village on the desert world of Jakku, Poe acquires a partial star map from the legendary adventurer Lor San Tekka. But before he can take off with BB-8 aboard their X-wing, First Order stormtroopers led by Kylo Ren arrive. Ren kills Tekka when the old man refuses to divulge the location of the star map, which is now in BB-8’s memory banks. At Ren’s command, the stormtroopers kill almost everyone in Tuanul and capture Poe. In the confusion, BB-8 escapes and makes his way into the vast Jakku desert.
Things look dire for the Resistance pilot, now a prisoner aboard the Star Destroyer Finalizer. But FN-2187, a stormtrooper with a conscience, rebels against the First Order and helps Poe escape aboard a TIE fighter. The two men become friends, and Poe gives the former trooper a new name – Finn.
Meanwhile, BB-8 is found by Rey, a young scavenger who lives in a derelict Imperial walker. Rey was separated from her family at a young age; as a result, she has developed several skills that enable her to survive, including starship mechanics, fighting abilities, and a knack for flying. Rey and BB-8 later meet Finn, who was separated from Poe during their escape and is now on the run from his former First Order comrades. Eventually, this motley group escapes from Jakku aboard an old Corellian starship – the Millennium Falcon.
Along the way, Rey, Finn and BB-8 encounter the former owners of the battered freighter, Han Solo and Chewbacca. Han looks as though he’s been through hell and back over the years, but he’s still the wisecracking scoundrel who helped the Rebellion destroy two Death Stars and defeat Palpatine’s Empire. Together with Rey, Finn and other members of the Resistance, Han and Chewie join the search for Luke Skywalker and the fight against the evil First Order.
Is the Force still with Foster?
“There has been an awakening in the Force. Have you felt it?” – Supreme Leader Snoke to Kylo Ren
Alan Dean Foster has been writing science fiction since the early 1970s. Before Lucas hired him to ghostwrite the novelization for “Star Wars,” Foster was best known for his “Star Trek Logs” adaptations of Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek: The Animated Series.” After penning the wildly successful “Star Wars” novel, Foster went on to write two more best-selling books set in Lucas’s universe – “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” and “The Approaching Storm.”
Based on his track record, not only with “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” but also other sci-fi movie novelizations, Lucasfilm hired Foster to adapt the Abrams-Kasdan-Arndt screenplay for the first installment of the Sequel Trilogy.
This was a good move on the part of the Disney-owned production company which made “The Force Awakens.” After all, who was more qualified for the job than the guy who fleshed out Lucas’s fourth draft of the “Star Wars” screenplay and added details about characters, planets, and spacecraft that are now canonical?
The novelization follows the plot of J.J. Abrams’ film closely. Unlike Terry Brooks and R.A. Salvatore’s novels based on “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones,” Foster does not give readers extra chapters to explain the complex chain of events that take place after “Return of the Jedi.” (To bridge this yawning gap in the narrative, Disney/Lucasfilm created a 20-book series of canonical stories called “Journey to The Force Awakens.”)
However, Foster does add some extra scenes based on material that was either filmed but edited out of the final movie or simply mentioned in the story treatment. Some of these scenes, such as Leia’s reverie about the past three decades and her decision to send Poe to find her twin brother, serve as links between “Jedi” and “The Force Awakens.” Others, including Finn’s (FN-2187) telling a fellow Stormtrooper that his blaster jammed during the massacre on Jakku to explain why he didn’t fire, fill in some plot holes in the movie.
Foster even harkens back to his 1976 novelization of “Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope” by creating an epigraph which refers to the “Journal of the Whills.” This Journal refers to a discarded concept created by George Lucas when he began work on “Star Wars.” In Foster’s novelization of “A New Hope,” the prologue (which is a barebones outline for the Prequel Trilogy) is an excerpt from the “First Saga – The Journal of the Whills.”
The style of the novel is consistent to Foster’s canonical works in the “Star Wars” universe. Its prose is spare and clean – Foster doesn’t waste words with long-winded passages about the characters and situations, yet the story is as vivid on the pages of the book as it is in Abrams’ blockbuster film. In fact, the author adds details that add depth to such mysterious characters as Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren.
Unlike Foster’s first literary foray into the “Star Wars” universe, the hardcover edition of “The Force Awakens” was not published before the movie’s December 18, 2015 release. Disney did not want the book to be the source of Internet leaks before the premiere, so it asked Del Rey to release the print version on January 5. (The e-book edition, however, was released on the same day “The Force Awakens” opened in theaters.)
Even though it doesn’t delve into the lost years of “Star Wars” history, “The Force Awakens” is an entertaining read. Foster injects humor and wit into the narrative, and he keeps the story going at a fast, exciting pace. After nearly 40 years, the Force is still strong with this author.