This article contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Much has been written about the Alan Dean Foster novelization for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the clarification that it brings. Some of the fun in exploring the material in a little more depth is those little moments that provide clarity. There are some big moments as well, but the page allows to truly give the characters more life.
Having read the book, kudos have to go to the editors of the film because they did a fantastic job of ironing out some wrinkles and in choosing momentum over detail when they could have easily added twenty minutes of mostly extraneous material. That said, a few little moments from the book sure do add some complexity to the overall story. Let’s go by character:
General Leia Organa
The once and future Princess Leia isn’t in the book a lot more than she is in the film but she permeates the story a lot more. Though she’s referred to in the opening crawl there’s a nice little prologue in the novel that illustrates just how much Luke Skywalker’s absence means to the Resistance.
Additionally, Leia has a rather important scene midway through the book where it reveals her precarious place within the government. She trusts very few and fears that if she were to go speak on her behalf she’d be assassinated. She sends a delegate, Korr Sela, who in the film we see standing helplessly as Starkiller Base sends its beam directly into her face. Well, the planet itself but I’d like to think it hit her right in the face.
The Starkiller Base itself actually is a little less derivative and more interesting in the book. The weapon isn’t as cinematically compelling but it’s a cool concept: A ball of energy that disappears and then appears right before impact. You can understand why they modified it but it certainly has a unique identity in the book and it doesn’t feel quite as much like Death Star 3.0.
The takeaway from the book is that we probably could have used a little more General Leia Organa in the film, though it would have taken some of the impact from her big reveal in the movie.
Poe is already a fan favorite but one of the odder aspects in the film was the lack of explanation as to his exodus from Jakku. He quickly catches Finn up in a scene that is already busy with exposition and it’s understandable why some audiences were left wondering. As it turns out there’s a lengthy passage in the book devoted to what happened to him after his Tie-Fighter crashed.
Dameron’s disoriented from the crash and has a lump on his head as he staggers the desert. Suffering from a concussion, he pieces the elements of his situation together. It explains how his jacket got left behind, pinned to the vehicle as he escaped. He spots a speeder in the desert on his second day and meets a Blarina named Naka, who ultimately gives him a drink and allows him to ride in the tiny passenger seat of his vehicle. The two run into a littler trouble and when Dameron showcases his piloting skill the creature begins to respect him. Naka reveals an animosity with Unkar Plutt, further enhancing that character’s presence in the story.
Threepio & Artoo
The two beloved droids from the original films are a bit subdued in the film but there are little elements in the book that give them a little more life. There’s a moment where C-3P0 implores R2-D2 to wake up, but admits to making a mistake in forgetting to activate BB-8‘s long range tracking mode. It’s an element that could have been catastrophic (or made things a lot easier). What it does do is showcase that the popular droids are in cahoots with BB-8 before the events of the film. It makes the ending in the film a little clearer.
There’s a moment where the Protocol Droid tells Leia that he has located BB-8, which explains how the Resistance crashes the party during the attack at Maz Kanata’s castle. He mentions that he’s been given a humility circuit and instantly shows how little it’s working when he brags about his find. It’s odd that C-3P0, such a beloved character, comes off as annoying here, and a lot of that has to be due to just how thrilling of a new addition BB-8 is.
Though Finn comes off as a bit of a fellow who runs from conflict in much of the film, the book does a good job in showcasing his training and proficiency. Though he avoids combat in the fight on Jakku, it’s not because he’s not well-trained. It’s not luck that he’s successful as the gunner of the two spaceships he’s on in the film. He’s gifted, and better yet he’s gifted with a conscience.
When Finn confesses his origin to Rey and his training it has more resonance in the book, because it’s not cowardice that drives him rather than knowledge of the grim facts of how the First Order rewards free thinkers.
Rey is an amazing character as portrayed by Daisy Ridley, but there’s a little more in the novel that makes her out to be a little more unsavory at times than one would expect. The moment where she haggles with Unkar Plutt over BB-8 features a segment where she turns the droid off so it cannot hear her bargaining with the junk dealer. She goes as far as making a deal with Plutt, only to reneg, which adds a different shade to that scene. A lot of it can be explained in Jakku’s rough way of life where even the most pure of heart have to be brutal in negotiations to protect themselves.
There’s a bit that works well onscreen but showcases some odd continuity in the novel. The time between when Rey encounters BB-8 and bumps into Finn is structured a little oddly and there’s a time period of almost a day where Rey and BB-8 go scavenging together. It doesn’t flow as well as it does in the film and it’s a shame the filmmakers didn’t include that, even if only briefly. It showcases that all the events don’t squish up against one another and allows for the passage of time.
The relationship Rey shares with Unkar Plutt is grotesque at times on Jakku and there’s a moment later in the story where she encounters him again and has a chance to defend herself. Sadly she doesn’t, but there’s the seeds for what will hopefully be an ongoing animosity that continues into subsequent films.
At the end of her duel with Kylo Ren, there’s a nice moment where she ponders whether or not to execute him. Her choice obviously sets the stage for the next installment but it also shows her being courted by the Dark Side and making a choice.
Kylo Ren is very much intact on the page, with a dearth of extraneous material to provide more depth for the mysterious villain. His final moments with his father carry a little more weight when it’s revealed that he does feel pain from doing his cruel deed. Viewers of the film who felt that Ren was a spoiled brat would find their argument lacks bite having read the novel. The “tantrums” are played for some comic relief in the film and there’s a little more menace on the page.
The biggest nugget from the novel is that Ren unequivocally recognizes Rey when they meet.
Han Solo and Chewbacca
These two characters are the ones from the Original Trilogy given the most to do. Little moments enhance their story, one of which involves the reasoning of why the Millenium Falcon is faulty. Apparently Unkar Plutt fixed and modified the components of the ship well enough to sell it, but not enough to endure.
The pair actually gets to meet Plutt at Maz Kanata’s castle, with the junk dealer having tracked them there. Plutt is rewarded in the only way he deserves: by having his arm ripped off by Chewbacca.
The beloved characters from the classic films are maximized onscreen and it’s understandable why JJ Abrams kept pretty much everything about them in the film. When editing for time extraneous material with the new characters cannot compete with the emotional value of Han and Chewie.
Supreme Leader Snoke
There’s a little more depth to Snoke‘s appearances in the novel. He’s a little more talkative. He puts a lot of detail into Kylo Ren’s family, proclaiming that an artist can only make a masterpiece from great materials. He also puts emphasis on the Empire’s fall and the part sentiment played in it. It’s a little thing but as worded here it showcases the intricate balance of emotion and strategy in the First Order’s way. He also makes a point to tell Ren that he owes as much to Skywalker’s part in his heritage as it does Vader’s. As it does with Han and Leia. He comes off as more manipulative than conspiratorial with Ren, which could bode ill for the next films in the series.
The scintillating Yaddle is not in the book. Or the film. Or our memories.