Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Empirestrikesback“That boy is our last hope,” Ben Kenobi said, his voice heavy with emotion.

“No,” Kenobi’s former teacher corrected with a knowing gleam in his large eyes. “There is another.”

For those who do not know the story of The Empire Strikes Back: Luke, Han and Leia lead the rebellion against the fascist Empire and it’s Imperial forces that rule the galaxy. Their hidden base, on the frozen world of Hoth, is discovered by Imperial forces and they must survive military assault and evacuate the planet. Luke is a Jedi-in-training and exiles himself across the galaxy to find a legendary Jedi Master who can train him to refine his skills, so he can face off against the evil Sith Lord Darth Vader.

While Luke is training, his friends are trying to flee Imperial forces but are eventually captured when they land on a ‘neutral’ world. They are betrayed to the Empire and Han is captured and given to a bounty hunter to trade for reward. The capture of Lukes’ friends is all a trap, however, to lure Luke to confront Vader so he may either corrupt and convert him, or kill him and end any potential threat he presents.

Most of the brilliance of The Empire Strikes Back comes from the use and application of mythic structure. Even though this story is a sequel, it stands on it’s own. Our characters are introduced with backstories that aren’t explained, but are dripped out through interactions, reactions and dialogue – Our hero, Luke, is destined to face off with his nemesis, Darth Vader, but ultimately he fails, and the nemesis is left in a stronger position than ever.

Our heroes Allies are the ones whom we follow for the duration of the story; we experience their conflicts and their resolutions and they, figuratively and literally, function as the vehicle that moves our Hero, Luke, from point A to point B. At the end of this journey, Luke is not a great deal more powerful than at the beginning, but what he has gained is knowledge and wisdom and humility. With this, he takes a step back and realizes he must train harder and discipline himself even more. An important message for a hero to portray in every generation. And ultimately, we are introduced to The Emperor, a Lucifer figure manipulating Darth Vader and even the rebels every step of the way.

All these elements give the universe the story is set in a sense of wholeness and vastness – everything is a part of something greater, whether or not you can see it. The story and it’s mythos and contexts are, like The Force itself, what surrounds and binds everything together. The story is a four dimensional unit; beginning, middle, end, but it has a before, and an after, and even a ‘sideways’ where things are happening concurrently that impact the main characters, such as bounty hunters and politics. The universe George Lucas created has a background and a foreground and nothing feels forced or out of place.

Being a novelization that came out the same year as the film, meant it was inevitable that there would be discrepancies. In the book, Yoda is blue, not green, and Darth Vaders light-saber is described as blue, not red. Some dialogue is a little different, but the over-all character development or story context remains the same – though perhaps the initial back-and-forth between Hand and Leia is a little more love/hate than in the films – Han being much more sexist than in the movie. Luke’s training with Yoda is also extended in the book.esb_0009

These may seem like significant deviations to the lore of Star Wars, but Glut’s novelization is possibly one of the most faithful there is. After reading through both the initial and the final scripts for the film, Glut’s novelization is incredibly faithful to the final script used for the film. Unfortunately, during filming, lines were ad-libbed and scenes were cut out and new aesthetic decisions were made. Initially, Yoda was supposed to be blue (as seen in The Empire Strikes Back comic by Marvel), and Darth Vader’s light saber is never referred to as either red or blue in the script. The extended sequences of dialogue that expand on what was in the film were actually in the script as well. Not only this, but you can see these in the deleted scenes on the blue-ray version of the film.

People have criticized Glut for ‘adding’ sequences or getting details wrong, but the reality is that the man did his job exactly as he was asked, and very faithfully and accurately novelized the script he was given.

Where the book lacks is in adding richness or depth to the characters or story. The medium of writing allows a story teller to get inside a characters head and share their feelings and motivations. This would imply an immediate advantage over the film, but this was barely explored by Glut. In an interview with Jedinews.co.uk (2011) Glut poses the question himself as to why people would bother reading the book and then watching the film, or vice versa. He states himself that he has no understanding of the point of a novelization and has also never been a fan of Star Wars. For him it was just a job – it was just money.

This may sound callous, but back then that was George Lucas’ focus; part of Lucas’ contract being he gets a set commission off all merchandising instead of a single payment from the studio. His focus was to produce as much product as quickly as he could to maximize his return – there was little confidence in the film being successful at the time, and he was already planning his tactical retreat.

Another weak element of is Princess Leia’s involvement in the book. Leia’s passive role in this film isn’t so evident, but it’s strikingly obvious in the novelization. She doesn’t even play a damsel in distress role. She’s basically only there for Han to be sexist towards, and then to share a meaningful kiss when Han is frozen in carbonite at the end. Though she does also play, through her passiveness, a leadership role when it comes to tactics and strategy – which is true to her character. For the bulk of the film she is out of her element, and at the mercy of the Millenium Falcon, and so due to circumstance, must be the more passive character, as it would be poor judgement not to let the captain take control of his own ship.

This, again, is not a criticism of Glut, but to the script itself. This script wrote her as an irrelevant side-character, and tasked to recreating the script, Glut had no choice but to recreate that irrelevance on paper.

I do recommend the novelization to all fans, despite it’s differences to the cult film that has inspired generations. It does enhance characters in some parts, but mostly gives an interesting insight into the potential decisions the franchise could have made in direction and aesthetic. Even if you aren’t a fan, at just over 200 pages it is not a difficult read – the prose is clear and simple and it is an easy read.

I rate it a 7.5/10

For more information about the amazing talent that is Donald F. Glut, you can read about him on wikipedia or visit his website here.

 

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