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. Angelberger’s Beware the Power of the Dark Side! is a young adult adaptation of the script for The Return of the Jedi. Gidwitz’s So You Want to be a Jedi? might be the most..unique adaptation of the three: it retells the story of The Empire Strikes Back through a second person narrative through the eyes of Luke Skywalker, putting you into his shoes and seeing the events of the movies through his eyes.
So You Want to be a Jedi? taps into all of our deepest wishes and desires: to be a Jedi. Gidwitz writes the book deliberately: if we wish to become Jedi, we need to follow in the footsteps of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker. Only by looking through his eyes will we really learn to be a Jedi. It’s an interesting concept, one that I’m happy someone followed. I’m just not sure that we learned much more about Luke’s journey through this perspective. Through Luke’s eyes, we were able to spend more time on Dagobah (and see a few new adventures), but unlike Kevin Hearne’s Heir to the Jedi (wherein the story was narrated by Luke in the first person), Gidwitz seems more hesitant to put words into Luke’s mouth. We’re allowed some insight into Luke’s mind, but none of these are too groundbreaking for those who have been following the entire canon. For the younger readers or anybody who can’t follow the entirety of the canon, there might be some great insights to be found here.
Maybe more beneficial in our “Jedi Training” are little one or two page sections found at the end of most of the chapters. These sections teach us, bit by bit, how to become Jedi. Advice starts at little things like “[…] close your eyes and count to ten,” to more advanced meditation, “[…] sit with your eyes closed for three minutes.” Advice includes ways to deal with your anger, like breathing deeply and counting to ten, to dealing with long term bitterness and resentment: for example, “[…]imagine someone who hurt you deeply. Now meditate and feel the anger melt away.” He even messes around a bit with ideas that help recreate Jedi training, like “[…] have someone hurl socks at you and try to swat them away.” I found myself actually enjoying these portions of Jedi training more than I enjoyed learning about being a Jedi through Luke’s eyes. (A lot of reviews claim that these are part of an agenda to push the occult and witchcraft onto children; because of that, I think I enjoyed these more. I think demons have more important things to handle than kids with their eyes closed while their dad reads them a book.)
As you might imagine, the second person telling is extremely hard to get used to. Gidwitz’s So You Want to be a Jedi? might as well have been called How Far are you Willing to Condescend to Read More Star Wars?. I think every reviewer of the Adventures in Wild Space series (myself included) is quick to point out that those books were written for a younger audience. Some might point out the Journey to the Force Awakens middle reader books as examples as more simple writing. None of those examples hold a candle to this book’s writing style. More than any other book, this book condescends to a very low level. Star Wars terms are thrown out in terms of earth concepts, making the book easier to imagine for a child. For an adult reader, this could grow frustrating. Some heavy lines of dialogue remained unchanged, but this book uses the words “frogs” and “cats” more than it uses words like lightsabers. These might pull older readers out of the narrative, but they could be good entry points for young readers. (They may not be, though, and it might have been more influential to just describe the aliens as they are verse the use of metaphors).
Just like in Bracken’s book, So You Want to be a Jedi? is also severely limited by the narration. In The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farmboy, the fact that one character’s point of view covered one-third of A New Hope meant that scenes that took place somewhere the narrator wasn’t at are ignored completely. For example, we don’t see Luke and Leia’s adventures on the Death Star because we’re following Han at this point. Oddly, Gidwitz applies this concept pretty haphazardly. We don’t see Han and Leia’s argument on Hoth nor do we see their escape, but we spend a lot of time with them on the asteroid belt and on Bespin. We also see every scene with Darth Vader from the film. During Han and Leia’s argument on the Falcon, Gidwitz is quick to pull the narration away before they kiss, a common theme throughout the book (it seems to say: “let’s avoid the mushy parts of the story because they’re not relevant to your Jedi training.”) Gidwitz’s constant attempt to shy away from mushy parts of the story might be his apology for making the narrator (in this case, you) omniscient. “Well, I can tell you about these parts, but not really explain them”, it seems to say, “because you weren’t there and it won’t help you become a better Jedi!” This constant shifting between third person and second person is probably the most irritating aspect of the book to me. Had Gidwitz decided on a single style, I would have been much happier with the cohesion. The second-person narrative didn’t pull me out of the story nor make it “unreadable” as most people claim, but the constant shifting did.
Another reason I refer to this book as an “interpretation” rather than a retelling is that a lot of the dialogue is changed for almost no reason. Again, I wouldn’t mind the changed dialogue if it was consistent. Famous lines are changed, while lesser known lines are untouched. For example, the famous “This deal gets worse all of the time!” line is changed, and “No, I am your father!” is split between three lines. Again, for a child, this might not be a huge deal. For adults who know the story well this will be a real barrier. I specifically chose the lines above to demonstrate which kinds of lines were changed: it’s not that complicated lines were changed to make them more easily understood. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to determine which lines were changed or not.
The book does add a few new dimensions to the canon unique to the book. Luke’s training on Dagobah is stretched a bit longer and the fantastic aliens and beasts of Dagobah are more fully introduced and fleshed out. Ultimately, this book is aimed for kids and many adults probably won’t find a lot of value in this particular book (but the rest of the series is definitely worthwhile). The prose is hard to read, the dialogue is incredibly simplified, and the out of universe metaphors can pull you out of universe. If you have a young child you would love to get into reading, and actually interact with their book before bed, this book would be a great choice.
Star Wars Young Reader Reviews:
Adventures in Wild Space: The Escape (Prelude)
Star Wars Comic Book Reviews:
Darth Vader: The Shu-Torun War