Canon Novel Review: The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi Novelization

Adaptations of the Star Wars films are a fact of life, starting back in 1976 with Star Wars by Alan Dean Foster. Though most adaptations are mostly passable, that trend changed with Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover. The Last Jedi‘s novelization stands tall as one of the best adaptations of all, taking a great film and making it so much richer and beautiful.

When thinking about different languages, it is easy to tell whether a language is someone’s first or second language. Native language speakers have a command over the language that’s easy to identify: turning phrases with ease, a strong command of cultural idioms, and a grasp of colloquial terms and phrases. Second language learners have a less firm grasp on the language: overly formal, unable to turn phrases or follow colloquial uses. You would think Jason Fry speaks Star Wars as his native language. He is intimately familiar with the galaxy; with the characters, their motivations, their hopes and fears; and the way that the galaxy operates. The way that Fry can turn familiar phrases into new contexts is stunning at times. Lines we’ve known and repeated for forty years (“our most desperate hour”) take new life in the novel, reinterpreted in light of the post-Endor relationship between characters. (I choose this phrase specifically – originally a call to action, Fry uses this phrase to break the readers’ hearts across the globe.)

One of the benefits to a novelization is that you get a direct line into the characters’ minds. The Last Jedi is a very different type of Star Wars movie, intent on getting into the minds of the characters rather than relying on overly large action scenes or set pieces. The movie doesn’t hold our hands, forcing us to see developments made through interactions rather than from hearing a lot of exposition. Did you leave the movie unsatisfied with Luke and his decision making process? Were you a little confused about what was going on in Kylo’s mind when he refused to fire upon the Raddus? All of that and more is covered in the novel. Fry seems to “get” the characters on an intimate level, understanding the classic characters we’ve known for years as close, personal friends. His warm knowledge of these characters allows him to flesh out their relationships to the new characters as if we’ve known them for an equally long amount of time. One personally touching moment was Leia’s reflections on Rey while Leia is aboard the Raddus – I won’t say more to not spoil it.

The Last Jedi Novelization CoverOne of my disappointments with the film – something that didn’t hamper my enjoyment, though – was how little it seemed to world build or connect to the lore that has been building over the past four years. Fry wipes these worries away with a wealth of connections, connecting more than enough previous plot points to what we’re seeing in the film. Moments from Before the Awakening, Weapon of the Jedi, and Bloodline are used to flesh out Leia’s point of view in the novel, and if this is Leia’s swan song, she was sent on a touching, lovely, and heart-breaking and -warming note. Jason Fry is clearly a fan of Star Wars canon and it shows. Rather than feeling like he is writing in a blank state, Fry deftly handles the universe and masterfully weaves in more material than you may be able to recognize on first blush. StarWars.com has a great write-up on the referenced material, and I highly recommend checking that list out.

One thing that Fry noted was how he wanted to keep some of the surprises of the film in place in the novel. One example is the Mirror Cave: when watching the film, Rey describes the experience to whom we think is Luke. After we leave the cave, we find that she has been describing this vision to Kylo Ren! The novel seeks to preserve this surprise. Personally, I don’t think this was necessary, and I would have loved to see it changed to reflect the prose-telling of the story. That is not to say that it was done poorly! But sometimes preserving the surprise of the movie doesn’t gel completely for me. Now, had this been the first time I experienced the story, these shocks would have been well written enough to catch me off guard through the first read through, so in that sense, they were a success!

Also, I’m sure many readers are curious about the deleted scenes and bonus material. The prologue and first three chapters all reflect new or deleted material, including Han Solo’s funeral. A chapter is devoted to Paige and Rose before the disastrous bombing run on the Fulminatrix. This chapter is a boon to the story, showing more of their relationship without needing to read any bonus material. (Fry also wrote Bomber Journal, a great resource that has been mined for this story.) A lot of this material is good, and helps the story move along well. Some deleted scenes add more poignancy to the story without throwing off the pace. I imagine it is harder to capture a film in novel form: the constantly shifting scenes must be an editors nightmare! Adding deleted scenes make it feel like less of a prose-whiplash, going from one scene to another after only a few pages.

I want to move to two scenes that I found to be controversial in the film, and touch on the novel’s treatment of them. My fear in addressing the scenes, though, is that I don’t believe that novelizations should act as apologetics for the movie, or cater to individual preferences. I think the benefit of addressing the two most controversial scenes is to explore the ways a novelization can redefine or recontextualize these scenes, helping us understand them differently without apologizing for them.

The first is when Leia is blasted into space by the TIE Pilots from the bridge of the Raddus. I loved the scene in the movie, but I know there was a vocal group of fans who did not like the scene. I’m convinced Fry’s interpretation would change the hearts of quite a few detractors. Fry is intentional to note how often Leia draws on the Force in the time leading up to Kylo Ren’s attack. As she draws on the Force, we get a beautiful glimpse of how she connects to the Force and what she knows of it. We see how the things Luke learned on Devaron influenced the way he taught Leia, a great tie-back to one of Fry’s earlier books. Her connection to the Force, Rey, and Kylo, allow her to save herself, and Fry’s description of this scene is breathtaking. This scene alone re-inspires a love for Leia, even if your love for her had never abated.

The other scene that I thought would be helped by the novelization was Holdo’s sacrifice. While she is behind one of the most stunning scenes in Star Wars film history, I personally did not like her dynamic with Poe Dameron. Fry does a wonderful job of getting inside Poe’s head in these scenes. Drawing from the aforementioned books, and a bit from the feel of the comic series, we see how Poe wrestles with his demotion and his intense desire to help the Resistance. All of those thinkpieces about Poe being the villain at the end of the film are rendered moot as Poe is painted in far more sympathetic light here.

I think we get Poe, though, so I would’ve loved time in Holdo’s head! While I understand military protocol would allow her to withhold details of her plan from Poe, I wasn’t sure why she would refuse help from someone willing to help. Rather than bring Poe on board with her vision (that I’m sure she knew he would disagree with), she simply shut him out. I was hoping that the novel would give them a few more minutes together, where Holdo could make herself explicit rather than withholding. This was not to be found here, but I can’t say that a personal want is a knock against a book which doesn’t cater to me. (Tangent: Michael Kogge’s young readers’ adaptation added a few personally crucial lines of dialogue). That being said – I loved the extra details in the way that Holdo executed the maneuver. Without turning to techno-babble, or over-explaining the physics of Holdo’s jump, Holdo’s bravery and heroism are put on full and exciting display. One of my favorite elements of this scene? That she was able to transform Poe’s mutiny into something that eventually helped the Resistance – even in ways he didn’t expect.

I would have loved more time on the Supremacy after Kylo kills Snoke. The fight between Kylo, Rey, and the Praetorian Guards is one of my favorite scenes in all of the films, and it was relegated to only a few pages for the novel. Holdo’s maneuver is also significantly shortened, but I do understand how hard it would be to capture that moment on page!

All of that being said, if you were or were not a fan of the film, Jason Fry’s The Last Jedi is a beautiful piece of literature. It is imbued with a deep love for Star Wars and its characters. The prose has been injected with love for the canon, a masterful web of connections drawing the film into the larger galaxy around it. Honestly, if you’re still reading this review rather than hopping over to Amazon to read the book, you’re doing yourself a disservice!

Chris is the Sous Chef at the Mynock Manor. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisWerms, and of course, follow the Manor.

Movie Reviews:
The Last Jedi 

Legendary Adventures:
The Old Republic EraDawn of the Jedi: Into The Void | Lost Tribe of the Sith | The Old Republic: Revan | The Old Republic: Deceived | Red Harvest | The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance The Old Republic: Annihilation | Knight Errant | Darth Bane: Path of Destruction | Darth Bane: Rule of Two | Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil

The Phantom Menace: Darth Plagueis | Maul: Lockdown | Cloak of Deception | Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter | The Phantom Menace

Attack of the Clones: Rogue Planet | Outbound Flight

The New Jedi Order Era: Scourge

Canon Novel Reviews:
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Star Wars Young Reader Reviews:
Adventures in Wild Space: The Escape (Prelude)
So You Want to be a Jedi? 
Beware the Power of the Dark Side!
Poe Dameron: Flight Log
Rebel Dossier
Princess Leia: Royal Rebel (Backstories)
Darth Vader: Sith Lord (Backstories)
The Force Awakens: Finn’s Story
Forces of Destiny:
Daring Adventures vol 1 | Daring Adventures vol 2 | Tales of Hope & Courage | Leia Chronicles 

Star Wars Comic Book Reviews:
Darth Vader: The Shu-Torun War
The Force Awakens 1-2

LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures Reviews:
“A Hero Discovered” 1×01 | “The Mines of Gabralla” 1×02 | “Zander’s Joyride” 1×03 | “The Lost Treasure of Cloud City” 1×04 | “Peril on Kashyyyk” 1×05 | “Crossing Paths” 1×06 

Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide