I still can’t talk about the film Rogue One without primal, guttural noises and squees of awestruck fanboy happiness. And now I need to find a way to express myself on the novelization for Rogue One. With actual words. Ok, here goes…
The first thing I should say about this book is that the Powers That Be at Lucasfilm and Lucasbooks learned from The Force Awakens. For that novelization, longtime scribe Alan Dean Foster gave us the most bland and barely serviceable rendition of the film. That book pretty much existed merely to pad the coffers. No expansions, no deep dives into character, and no illuminations on story points that gave us burning questions. It’s partially his style, and I’m sure it’s partially that his hands were tied as part of J. J. Abrams’ pretentiously loathsome goddamn mystery box. I could expend a lot of energy talking about how much of a mystery it really isn’t, but there are more important things to talk about on this particular review.
You see, Alexander Freed has given us a Star Wars novelization that ranks as one of the very best film-to-book translations I’ve ever encountered. I don’t say that because I’m love with the film. I say it because it’s everything a reader could want from a film novelization. Even without relying on the crutches of the recent precursor novel from James Luceno, Catalyst, which every fan should also read, we’re given an insider’s look into each of the characters and their motivations. More light is shed on the idea of the Guardians of the Whills and the temple on Jedha. More spirituality is added, with an emphasis on defining it separately from mere religion. Bravo for that. It was well done. The maneuvering between the ranking Imperial officers comes to greater understanding on our part, as does the desperate bickering of the Rebel High Command. We get Mon Mothma’s futile but determined quest for a political solution vs. General Draven’s underhanded battlefield tactics. We get internal Imperial memos that highlight how Galen Erso sabotaged the Death Star right under the noses of his colleagues. There is more here about Saw Gerrera and his extremist tactics, which makes so much sense in conjunction with his appearances in The Clone Wars… for those who have seen it. Even if you haven’t, more is more. There is more of Cassian Andor’s struggle against his own conscience. And there is a lot more of Jyn Erso’s character arc at various points in her life, how she sees her father, her mother, and even Saw Gerrera. It’s the kind of thing you just can’t put in a film with expectations of maintaining its pace. This is the kind of thing novels do best. I could name a couple of missed opportunities where I’d have liked further development, but on the whole, I’m rather pleased.
This book is, for all intents, a study in how good novels are developed from screenplays. I’ve read my fair share of these since I was a kid. Most were satisfactory, especially in the days before home video was available and affordable for my family. Every so often, you remember those that improve the experience of the film. With a film like Rogue One, where the Star Wars canon is always begging us to look deeper, this one provides us the opportunity to do so.
As always, Jonathan Davis is one of the best narrators on hand for these. Between his subtle usage of accents and voice filters for the likes of K-2SO or Darth Vader, there’s little trouble in just giving yourself over to the story. Add in some classic sound effects for an even better experience. What may throw you is the inclusion of the evergreen John Williams music, which was not used for the film. I can’t fault the production team for using what’s on hand. This is what they do. It does serve as a strong point of contrast in the back of my head, but it also serves to drive it home as a Star Wars story, which is, naturally, the point. The fact is, if you’ve seen the film, this book adds greatly to the experience. If you’ve not seen it, you’ll most certainly want to by the time you finish this telling of it.
Welcome to the Galaxy Far, Far Away, Mr. Freed, and thank you for this one. I hope to see more of your work.