REVIEW SUMMARY: Book? Fun. Me? Fanboy.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A young migrant farm worker travels a turbulent and racially-charged 1960’s American south. Hel-lo, MacFly! Jedi Anakin Skywalker turns to the dark side of the Force and becomes Darth Vader.
PROS: Relentlessly fast-paced action; very good story; succeeds where the prequel movies failed; excellent space operatic qualities.
CONS: Being a prequel, the story was entirely predictable and without surprises. And there was no Wookie battle!
BOTTOM LINE: An excellent read, one that made me wish sleep were not a necessity.
OK. I caved.
When the novelization Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover was released last month, my initial thought was “Pfff. Here’s one for the fanboys.” I mean, seriously, can’t the fanboys wait one month to see the film? Must they seek out every scrap bit of news on the movie in eager hopes that their geeky lust will be sated? (Forgetting, for the moment, that this very blog thrives on that same practice. Certainly we must stop.) “Bah!” I said.
Then this week I made the mistake of reading the first few pages of the novelization. And I was hooked, damn it.
That initial read immediately appealed to me for a few reasons. First, the action was nonstop – something that’s always a big win with me if it’s done right. Here, since the story lives in an already-established universe, little is required in the way of setup. Second, it succeeds where the first two movie episodes failed. I was able to get inside the characters head and understand their motivations and frame of mind. I wasn’t put off by acting ability, or lack thereof. Even the dialogue, which in the prequel movies was blatantly amateurish, was somehow made to seem more natural. And yet, as appealing as the book was on this initial read, I still wanted to stop reading the book for fear of ruining the movie which opens in les than a week. But then I realized that I already knew everything that was going to happen anyway.
So I caved and read the book. (This is my first Star Wars book, by the way.)
I should preface the rest of this write-up and say that, in the past, I have usually denied being a fan of Star Wars. I liked the movies, even the prequels, but I never thought they were all that great, artistically speaking. That is to say, they were flawed in many ways (especially the prequels in the areas of acting and dialogue) but I liked them because I still had fun. For me, Star Wars was always about the eye candy. Lucas had the bankroll to develop bigger and better special effects with each movie release. And re-release. And re-re-release. I’ve heard it said (or seen it written) that Star Wars single-handedly sapped the intelligence out of science fiction; that it immediately turned sci-fi movies into “popcorn flicks”. That may be true but I say, “So what?” What’s wrong with a little bit of mindless fun now and then? There will always be intellectual and literary science fiction, doesn’t anyone else crave a bit of mindless, escapist fun every now and then? At the very least, this is what Star Wars provides. And this book, Revenge of the Sith, delivers in a big way. If I couldn’t admit I was a fanboy before, I am freely admitting now.
Summarizing the story is a bit silly. Is there anyone left on the planet who doesn’t know what happens in this story? If so, the story shows Jedi Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side and his conversion to Darth Vader. Along the way a Galactic Republic is transformed to an Evil Empire, an Emperor rises to power, and heroes and villains fall.
Like I said, the book grabbed me from its opening pages. The action was fast and furious, a breakneck pace that was upheld throughout eighty percent of the story. The other twenty percent was classic space opera at its best – political backstabbing, manipulation, deception, character transformations and dramatic tension. The book had the benefit of drawing from a well-known universe and so there was little in the way of boring setup. However, drawing from that well known universe, and being a prequel to boot, meant that the story lacked any surprises. Not that the story suffered much for it – this was still great fun to read. I even found myself rooting for what inevitably must not come to pass. (Look out, Mace Windu!) And the story is wonderfully dark, a welcome change from the annoying Jar Jar hijinx and cutesy Ewoks.
Stover’s clear and easy-to-read writing style lent itself well to the action. At times I was so immersed and anxious to see what came next that my eyes couldn’t take in the story fast enough. The action jumped from one captivating scene to another – from Count Dooku to General Grievous to Darth Sidious and finally to the inevitable battle between Anakin and Obi Wan. The light saber duels (several of them!) were very well done. Two big pluses: there were absolutely no comparisons between skin and sand and Jar Jar played a tiny and – even more importantly – silent role. One negative: the Wookie battle that is hinted at in the movie trailer is suspiciously omitted from the book.
My fear of the movie’s ability to properly portray Anakin’s conversion to the dark side of the Force were completely dispelled in the novelization because Stover more than adequately describes Anakin’s inner thoughts and fights with his evil “dragon” inner self. The conversion is totally believable in the book. In fact, I’m not entirely sure the movie will be able to pull it off.
In the end, the book was fun for me in the same ways that the movies are. There are no thought provoking issues or literary wonders here – just pure entertainment. This was an excellent read that made me wish sleep were not a necessity.