Young Reader Review by Chris: Beware the Power of the Dark Side!

Beware the Power of the Dark Side

With the media onslaught for the release of The Force Awakens, Disney formed a new line of retellings of the Original Trilogy movies aimed at kids. Rather than acting as new novelizations of the film, these adaptations were loose translations of the Original Trilogy, recast in a new light for kids (and adults) to get a new angle on the story in a new age. Alexandria Bracken’s The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farmboy reimagined A New Hope through the eyes of Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker, where each character’s unique viewpoint covered a third of the movie each. Adam Gidwitz’s So You Want to be a Jedi? Is a second-person retelling of The Empire Strikes Back, putting you into the boots of Luke Skywalker as he trains to be a Jedi. Tom Angelberger’s Beware the Power of the Dark Side! is a young adult/YA adaptation of the script for The Return of the Jedi.

I’ll say it right away: Beware the Power of the Dark Side is one of the few adaptations that gave me more appreciation for the source material. I sincerely mean it: because I read this book, I enjoy Return of the Jedi more fully. Right after I finished reading this, I began reading the adaptation from the Star Wars Trilogy collection, and I find myself thinking of details from this book while I read the James Kahn adaptation. I definitely liked Return, but I would never say it was my favorite of the Original Trilogy, ranking higher than only Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. With this book, it might be more enjoyable to me than A New Hope.

Why do I say that? Oddly enough, it was the gimmick of this book that helped me enjoy the book the most. Whereas Gidwitz inserted “Jedi Training” moments between his chapters to add a unique spin to Empire Strikes Back, Angleberger takes a more straightforward approach. Denoting some footnotes with an asterisk, Angleberger can add tertiary information to the story without pulling away from the narrative, unless you want to follow the footnotes. Some notes were innocuous, telling us that Jabba was willing to pay the price to house a Rancor to send a message to the other Hutt families. Some give us insights into the characters’ minds, telling us that Boba was pretty mad that Jabba’s goons were firing their guns at the skiff he was on. Those would have been fun enough, but Angleberger uses these as quick and easy ways to squeeze in some fan service. One asterisk notes that the Emperor’s final goal was the Death Star, and those Inquisitors and other Sith Lords were just pawns in a longer term plan. One footnote went through the history of Anakin’s relationships, linking Padme, Luke, and Ahsoka altogether. One even mentioned the Hunt for Ziro and Sy Snootles’ past!

One of the strengths of recent books has been connecting the non-movie canon material to the movies. The Empire Strikes Back is bolstered by Darth Vader and Star Wars while we see more of A New Hope’s world in Rebels. Beware the Power of the Dark Side is a perfect bridge to link Return of the Jedi closer with the new canon material without being heavy-handed about it. By adding in the new canon details in the footnotes, none of the additions feel shoe-horned in. Until we get a comic leading up to the Battle of Endor (more than just Moving Target, really), this will be plenty to tide the diehard fans over in terms of canon connections. Angleberger’s grasp of the canon enabled him to perfectly insert new canon material into an older movie, as if the movie was written today under the direction of the Story Group. 

Compared to other young reader’s books, the prose here is understandable but not dumbed down at all. Or, at least, if it was, I didn’t feel that it was. There were some sentences that were a little overly light-hearted, but even these served a purpose. One footnote discusses the importance of elevators for the Imperial war machine. This seems a bit simple and a bit melodramatic, but Angleberger’s aim is to show that even good people can work for an insidious project, and sometimes their worst crime might have been designing elevators that go to the Emperor’s throne room. Angleberger points out that it is because of these good people that Luke was able to be brought to the Emperor. It’s a fascinating point, and his book actually has a few more in wait. There’s actually a subplot dealing with Moff Jerjerrod’s rise in the Empire: you may not think you wanted to know it, but when you see it, you’ll actually be left wanting more!

When I say that this is a young adult reader, I mean that it is written for a younger audience, but it is also written as a Young Adult book. Lost Stars is a comparable example: the narration is tight, but is secondary to character development and insights. The meeting between Leia and Wicket was adorably narrated, and probed deeply into both parties’ minds. The drama of the plot is made even more pronounced in these extended looks into the character’s minds. Where Mark Hamill did a great job portraying the inner struggle of Luke when he was brought to Darth Vader, the book shows exactly what Luke was feeling and the tension is heightened. This book may have done the impossible: for those who grew up with the movies, and didn’t get a chance to see the film in theaters, it re-added the tension viewers in 1983 might have had while watching the movie! Even knowing the ending, I was feeling tense that Vader may not change. That’s how deeply we see into the minds of the characters here.

This book does not share in the same limitations in terms of showing the plot the way that the previous two books in the series did. The plot is shown from a bird’s eye third-person view, making sure that we’re able to get everything we see in the movie on the page. I appreciated this move for a few reasons: it was nice to get the entire movie’s worth of material in the book without having to look elsewhere to remember what happened; it was great to see every character equally represented; and it was a cool way to review some scenes (and see new data). Unlike the last few books, you don’t have to deal much with changed dialogue. Every line you remember is presented basically the same way you remember it, which makes sure you don’t get pulled out of the story for no reason.

All in all, Beware the Power of the Dark Side! is a rare book. It is an adaptation that significantly expands both the film and your enjoyment of it. The prose is understandable without being dumbed down, the plot moves at a healthy pace, and it gives us a deeper understanding of the characters and their motivations. The gimmick, the asterisks denoting footnotes, are actually a welcome addition to the book, adding to the narration without taking you out of the drama unnecessarily. This book is a lot of fun and definitely worth picking up.

 

Chris Wermeskerch is Mynock Manor’s Sous Chef. You can follow him on Twitter@ChrisWerms.
You can follow the site at @MynockManor

Star Wars Young Reader Reviews:
Adventures in Wild Space: The Escape (Prelude)
So You Want to be a Jedi? 

Star Wars Comic Book Reviews:
Darth Vader: The Shu-Torun War