Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster

The following is a spoiler-free review of the audiobook.  I will be seeing the movie itself in just over 2.5 hours.  Once I’ve had a chance to digest the visuals, get through the monthly sci-fi meetup tomorrow evening, and give John Williams’ score a proper listen, then I’ll figure out what I think of the film.  Expect that it’ll happen, and that it’ll take a while.  In the meantime, there is this…

Star Wars audiobooks, when given the full treatment, are blessed with a top notch narrator (Marc Thompson is in great form here), voice filters, classic sound effects, and music clips from John Williams’ previous film scores that don’t always fit, but they at least evoke the idea.  This audiobook offers all of the above, as well as guest voice Anthony Daniels as C-3PO.

Most of my hesitation going into this came from the one-two punch of J.J. Abrams being on board, whom I don’t trust as far as I can throw, and from the abysmal setup and execution offered in Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath novel from three months back.  Alan Dean Foster isn’t the best writer on the block, but he’s got a Star Wars pedigree I trust when it comes to novels, having ghost written the original novelization for George Lucas back in ’76, and having given us his novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which began the first version of the expanded universe (EU 1.0, as I call it to the annoyance of the EU 2.0 fans who are still whining).  It seems fitting to have him back to kickstart this new era.

I’ve been from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I’ve seen every version of the Wars that could be, should be, and should never be.  I’ve come to grips with the idea that this is the age of Star Wars by committee.

And that’s exactly what this is, a committee effort.  It’s less than a George Lucas Star Wars, and so much more than high caliber fan fiction.  It was designed to “welcome back” the old school fans as much as to blitz the eye sockets of anyone.  I’m sure it’ll do the latter, and I can’t wait to see it unfold.  But having said that, The Force Awakens isn’t perfect by any stretch of imagination.  I see through the calculations because, you see… I never left.  I’ve always been George’s biggest defender, choosing to see through to the mind of the Master to let him teach me rather than to react to what “should be.”

This is the approach I’ve taken here as well, because Star Wars deserves a fair shake from me, regardless of what I may feel at any given time.  This fair shake is part of why I see the calculations.  I know the storytelling rhythms of Star Wars so well they’re practically a part of my DNA.  To be fair, most of those calculations pay off well, even in the absence of any worthy villains.  Yes, I said it.  The villains are pitiful.  Pathetic.  Lame.  And I don’t really care right now because there’s time to build them into bigger and better.  The shaky middle chapter is always where they shine most.  Besides, it took a whole prequel trilogy to make the Emperor worthy enough for Vader to bend the knee, so I’ll be patient here as well.  This one is about the heroes, classic and new.  It’s not a bad story.  Does it rhyme with what we saw in A New Hope and The Phantom Menace?  Yes.  That’s mythmaking, Star Wars style.  Themes and ideas are called up from EU 2.0, streamlined, and made functional.  There are narrative issues and character issues that I will address in the full film review.  I’ve learned to judge these things slowly, and there’s a lot to decompress.  Mostly I just have questions that need answering, which will no doubt come in the fullness of time.  I went into this with full spoilers and still got surprised on a couple of minor points here and there.  I have no regrets.  This was precisely what I expected and hoped for.  What’s coming… that’s the real question.

For now… I am pleased.  The Force has indeed awakened.  I have felt it.  I’ve let it in.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have movie tickets that need redeeming.

4 stars

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