SPOILERS: Want A Few More Hints About The Force Awakens? Take A Look At The Novelization!
The Force Awakens has arrived. The wait is over. You may have seen it once or twice or ten times by now. No matter how many viewings you have treated yourself to, the same questions you had when the last shot vanished into the credits no doubt remain. The wait for Episode VIII begins, but in the meantime, the novelization of The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster may point you in a few directions. What follows is pseudo-review of the novel, but mostly it is an overview of differences between the film and the novelization, and it is SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER, so I encourage any of you who have not seen the film to avoid reading this. Go see the film and then come back here if you are interested in some scenes the book elaborates. I will say, before we get into SPOILER-ville, that the novelization is great and an Alan Dean Foster Star Wars book adapted from this fantastic film should be on your list of holiday reading, if that’s what you were wondering. Again, DO NOT PROCEED IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN THE FORCE AWAKENS!
Before we get to the review, I think it’s important to note that we should keep a breath of optimism moving forward in this trilogy. There were plenty of unanswered questions and confusing moments, but I have not spoken to a Star Wars fan yet that didn’t enjoy the film immensely. Leading up to the film’s release, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a few articles came out explicitly stating Rian Johnson, the writer of the next two films in this trilogy, was in constant communication with Abrams as he composed the script for his own entry into the saga. The only reason I’m mentioning this is because I saw myself go down the road of frustration about everything unexplained in the film as soon as I got in my car after the showing. Chin up, Star Wars fans! We just got a great film and it’s only the beginning in a new trilogy and era of Star Wars films! On with the review!
Alan Dean Foster is no stranger to Star Wars. He was the ghostwriter for George Lucas on the A New Hope novelization, and he also wrote the first expanded universe novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, as well as the gap bridging, Prequel-era novel, The Approaching Storm. The Force Awakens is Foster’s first Star Wars novel in over a decade, but it’s like a reunion between two old friends.
Foster brings back Journal of the Whills. You will notice this as soon as you open the book, even before the transcription of the opening crawl. This is pretty cool. For any of you that may be scratching your heads, Journal of the Whills was originally conceived by George Lucas during his composition of A New Hope. The idea would be this journal documented the galaxy’s struggle between good and evil, maintained by an ancient order of beings called the Whills. According to Wookiepedia, that backstory is firmly planted in the Legends camp, but it’s inclusion in this novelization makes it canon. Keep in mind, though; just because Journal of the Whills is now canon does not mean it shares the backstory of its Legends counterpart. It’s inclusion in this novel, which was no doubt carefully overseen by the Lucasfilm Story Group, suggests we may be getting an expanded and canonical Journal of the Whills at some point in the future. Who knows what it will cover, but the citation at the end of this passage, 7:477, looks very similar to that of Biblical text or large historical reference books. The passage is more poetic than the straightforward entry of A New Hope; in my summation, suggests there will never be a clear victory of good over evil, and the Jedi are necessary because they will always know the difference between the inevitable convolution of the two.
I’m going to assume you have all seen The Force Awakens, so I’m not going to go over the main plot adapted from the film’s screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams, and Michael Arndt. That is all still there and there are almost no differences in the major events that play out onscreen and in the book. Finn still abandons the First Order, Rey still pilots the Millennium Falcon off of Jakku, Kylo Ren is still named Ben, and we get no elaboration WHATSOEVER on what Luke is going to do when Rey offers him the Skywalker lightsaber. What I would like to highlight are the additions of what was not in the film and the insight the medium of novelization provides us into what some characters might be thinking or feeling. Those small things, say a couple lines of additional dialogue or a small extension of a scene, help put the story in a more analytical light. One thing is clear and obvious, The Force Awakens moved very fast from beginning to end, and this novel helps slow down the story at critical moments.
The first big difference is that the story, after the introductory crawl, begins within the thoughts of General Leia. Leia feels lost. The New Republic sounds as if it never evolved beyond the politics of procedure, and that a large part of the galaxy did not feel oppressed by the Empire. There are more books on the way from Chuck Wendig and Claudia Gray to help elaborate on this period in the galaxy, but in this quick glimpse, it seems the New Republic has been slowed down by complacency. The Resistance is not hinted at in any point of the book as controversial, but there is later talk by Leia’s envoy that the general should make her case before the Senate for additional support. Leia feels it would useless, mentioning that most senators she would have had influence with are no longer in the Senate and most of the remaining politicians think of her as crazy. Makes me wonder if they know who her dad was, as well.
I’m expanding on this Resistance because I felt like the film did not do a satisfactory job of explaining the difference between the Republic and the Resistance. The New Republic feels to me like a bureaucratic formality that exists solely as a place for debate among worlds. I’m not trying to stir the pot of real world politics here, but it reminds me of a subdued United Nations, or how some people in our world view the United Nations. Who knows what we will see in the next two films, as well as the rest of the canon, but this is what I gleam from the novelization.
It is also mentioned that the Republic has a substantial fleet that is wiped out when the First Order detonate the Starkiller and wipe out the Hosnian system. This was another point I thought was not underscored enough in The Force Awakens. Whatever Republic was being rebuilt over the last few decades since shortly after Return of the Jedi, is now dust, for the most part. Something mentioned by Leia shortly after the detonation of Starkiller; the Resistance and the First Order are all that remain in terms of military powers, and that if there is a conflict between them, the Resistance is not strong enough to defeat the First Order without the Republic’s fleet. If you thought The Force Awakens shared many similarities with A New Hope, it would seem they are setting the stage for Episode VIII to carry the middle-act intensity of The Empire Strikes Back. General Hux is no less menacing in the novelization than he is on screen, and I think there are very few things he would rather be doing after the events of TFA than hunting down Resistance forces. We will see.
We have our answer about who would DEFINITELY be related to the Skywalker (and Solo) family. Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is the child of Han Solo and Leia Organa. Not much more about his upbringing differs from the film. There is an emotional moment for Han when he calls to his son for the first time, asking him to take off his Kylo Ren-visage, and he sees the son he knew as a grown man for the first time. This passage suggests that the destruction of Luke’s Jedi training academy or school occurred 14-15 years prior to TFA (and I speculate this is also the timeframe of when Rey was dropped on Jakku). Kylo Ren is also presented as much more conflicted throughout the story about most every decision he makes. Kylo seems to mirror his grandfather, not so much the grandfather of the scorched Vader mask, but the insecure and desperate for control Anakin Skywalker of the prequels. I rather like the way Foster gets inside Kylo Ren’s head. We see Ren hesitate many times, specifically when he is initially presented with the chance to eliminate Rey on Jakku via the Finalizer’s search party, but it is ultimately Hux that carries out those orders. There seems to be a hidden motive behind Ren’s actions, and it would lead directly to Luke Skywalker. As Snoke (we’ll get to him in just a second) would rather no one ever find the self-exiled Jedi Master, Ren seems determined to find the way to his uncle. The simple answer, from the film, would be the destruction of Luke Skywalker and any hope at rebuilding the Jedi Order. In the book, Ren’s motives for finding Skywalker seem more ambiguous. Again, we will see.
There is an interesting exchange between Ben Solo’s parents that is present only in the book, and not one that I remember from the film. Leia confides in Han that she never told him their son had the potential to walk down the dark path. Han says he wishes she would have told him. I hope I’m not making too much of a leap here, but let me pose a question: Do you think it’s possible no one other than Luke and Leia knew Darth Vader’s identity? I mean, obviously Snoke and Kylo Ren know, but I wonder if there is a possibility that Vader’s lineage is something Leia and Luke chose to keep secret. Maybe Han didn’t find out Vader was a Skywalker until after Ben Solo had turned to Kylo Ren. Just throwing it out there. Even if that’s not the case, it suggests Ben Solo’s creation of the Knights of Ren exposed a lot of weakness and mistrust in whatever Leia and Han’s relationship was at that point.
Before we get to Rey, whose parentage is the biggest mystery of the film, and whose story in the novelization has the most hints at answers you may want, let’s talk about Snoke. Supreme Leader Snoke. Leading up to TFA, the most popular debate seemed to be Plageuis or not. You didn’t really think they were going to answer that question in the first film, did you? No, they did not, but several lines of dialogue that popped up in the book were nowhere to be found in the film. It’s almost as if JJ decided to cut them from the film last minute because he thought it might be giving too much away.
Snoke seems to be a well-known figure at this point in the Star Wars universe. There is no Darth Sidious, pulling-the-strings in the shadows. Leia knows who he is. Han knows who he is. It sounds like he has been around the galaxy for a very long time, and that he took an interest in Ben Solo at a very young age. Leia speaks about trying to protect her son from Snoke’s influence and being haunted by her failure to do so. This is all we get about the villain’s history, but Snoke is not trying to hide his malice from anyone. His appearance is described in the book as a bit more damaged than he appeared onscreen, but that is probably just related to the many variations on the character’s appearance throughout production.
One thing is much clearer in the book than the film: Snoke is afraid of Luke Skywalker. In his final conversation with Kylo Ren, before Rey escapes, Snoke is prepared to destroy an entire system so no one finds where Luke is, himself included. Destroying the Resistance is Hux’s motivation, but he is practical, seeing that the system has vital resources the First Order could use. Snoke will have none of it. Destroy the system so that no one can ever find Luke Skywalker. It may appear bold and sadistic in the film, but in the novel, it reads as desperate. Snoke constantly speaks to either destroying Luke via Kylo Ren or the First Order’s military, or making sure Luke stays where he is. I cannot wait to find out what the history is between Luke and Snoke. The last line we hear Snoke say in the TFA film in regards to Kylo Ren is “It is time to complete his training”. In the novel, after he orders Hux to leave Starkiller Base, retrieve Kylo Ren, and come to him, Snoke says, “It appears that he may have been right about the girl.” Bringing us to Rey. I’m just going to come right out and say what I’m sure most of you are thinking: Rey is a Skywalker. We don’t know this, but I’d be very shocked if she wasn’t. She’s clearly not the child of Han and Leia, because I doubt Leia would forget about that daughter she left on Jakku so many years ago. As far as we know, there is only one other Skywalker out there, and his name is Luke. Jedi aren’t supposed to have kids, though. No baby-making equals no babies, and there has been no wife or girlfriend referenced in Luke’s past between ROTJ and TFA. No matter how many times we click our heels together and say Mara Jade, she was not mentioned and I don’t think she’s going to pop-up anytime soon merely as Luke’s baby-mama. Here’s where we are going to have to wait two-years for a definitive answer on the possibility of Rey being Luke’s daughter, most likely in Luke’s first appearance in Episode VIII; and unfortunately, finding that out in the next film is not a guarantee. While we wait for that answer, as well as who Rey’s mother was if Luke is indeed her father, the novelization provides more hints than the film did.
Rey still speaks of needing to remain on Jakku because she is waiting for her family to return. One thing that surprised me was the book’s lack of detail in her Force flashback. The scene mentions nothing about hearing the child-Rey crying out for her family. Instead she appears in Cloud City, watching two familiar figures duel, she sees a boy, and as soon as she moves toward him she sees the Jedi-carnage surrounding the Knights of Ren. Rey actually witnesses Kylo Ren kill a Jedi before she is transported to the snow-covered forest, then hears a familiar voice. The only indication it’s familiar is because Foster italicizes the word “that”, as in “that voice”. All the voice says to her is: “I’ll come back, sweetheart. I promise.” Rey does not mention the disturbing childhood recollection we see on Jakku, where she screamed hysterically at a departing starship. This may be another example of a scene the filmmakers changed at the last minute in the editing room, leaving it for future films in the trilogy to answer. It’s a pretty big difference from the film and it makes me think the inclusion of this may have been one hint too many. Or, it could be Foster chose to make his own interpretation of the scene, but it seems like a pretty BIG change.
There is also a great deal of familiarity Leia feels toward Rey. Upon Rey’s departure to seek out Luke, Leia feels natural in brushing Rey’s hair out of her eyes and straightening her outfit. On another Leia aside, it seems her Force-sensitivities are especially so toward emotion and connection to those she loves. This explains why her son, Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is so conflicted; Kylo Ren feels the pain he is causing not only the galaxy, but his own mother. It seems like Leia would have felt if Rey was a Skywalker conclusively; or, maybe she did, and she’s just keeping quiet to let Luke tell Rey who she really is. That’s the only reason I can see to doubt the possibility of Rey being a Skywalker. Han gets a sense about her, too, in his own reflections that Foster provides.
The biggest hints at Rey’s Skywalker lineage are from Kylo Ren’s perceptions of Rey. Just like the film, Kylo is noticeably shaken when, in addition to his inability to probe Rey’s mind as much as he would like, she can get inside of his. My, and many fans reading, will probably note another line of dialogue in the novelization that was absent from the film. It’s the moment when Kylo Ren calls Luke’s lightsaber to him and it flies right past him and into Rey’s hands. In the novelization, Kylo says to himself, “It is you”. To me, this says Kylo knew Rey or a direct descendant of Luke Skywalker was out there. Perhaps it was the one thing he kept from Snoke, whether that was Ben Solo keeping it from Snoke or Kylo, it seems Rey’s ability in the Force makes something CLICK in Kylo Ren’s head. Again, nothing solid, but much more brow raising when you read it in print. I won’t hypothesize the why or how Kylo may know, but I think this strongly suggests he does, and that is another reason the line was eventually cut from the film.
The Force Awakens novelization is a great one. I recommend reading it while the movie is still fresh in your mind. You will fly through it. Foster’s writing keeps the narrative moving quick enough, but since it’s a book, you can take it as slow as you want too. I read the entire thing in less than 12 hours. Alan Dean Foster did a great job on this adaptation. It is well worth your time to read it. Snatch up a copy and bring it with you to the next showing of TFA you stand in line for. Take notes and see if you can spot anything I missed. If you have been reading the Del Rey books over the last year set in the new canon, you won’t want to miss this one.
The Kindle Edition is currently available on Amazon. The hardcover will hit book stores and online retailers January 5.