The middle of the trilogy. The film that explored a few things we had yet to see in Star Wars. But it was also let down by one particular area. The part that should have had the most impact felt rushed and unfocused. It was still an enjoyable film, but the payoff where it was needed – for more than one area – just wasn’t there to make the story as impactful as it could otherwise have been.
The novelisation had been delayed to get some reworked done to it. After three months, it was expected to fix the story and everything fans felt was wrong with the film. While I might have also gone into the realm of unrealistic expectations (don’t forget, the Revenge of the Sith novelisation has given very high ones), I also had tempered those expectations by the time it released.
Oh, I still expected changes to be made to make the story work better, but I was no longer going into it expecting to see entire scenes changed to better fit the narrative that was being constructed. What was presented did fix the major problem I had with the story, along with giving other characters a bit more time in the spotlight. However, was the book better than the film?
The prologue gives us an interesting dream of Luke’s, taking from the novelisation of A New Hope – which was meant to be a scene within the film, to provide an alternate future in which the Empire still reigned. A future where Luke never chased adventure. It provides a nice mirror for what Luke is currently doing on Ahch-To. He is no longer going to chase adventure, but the pull of knowing there’s something he needs to do is there.
Within the first few chapters, it also brings a bit more interaction to characters and a greater look at where they stand within the current situation. Leia gives a nice speech about Han, with the two sisters of Rose and Paige Tico having some interaction before the battle where one of them is lost. Even Poe and Finn get some more interaction than what the film offered.
And those interactions work within the confines of what the film set out. Everything about them fits naturally into the story, with extensions to scenes from the film also fitting naturally within them. The scene of Rey walking up the stairs is also expanded upon from even The Force Awakens novelisation. It really digs into her feelings of being given this task and the stark contrast between Jakku and the place she now finds herself.
One of the major additions to the book from the film is justification. It sets the mood and the reason for the mutiny a lot better than it gets presented in the film. It’s just a small thing, a few small scenes inserted into the story, but it works. As the fuel reserves on the smaller ships run out, Poe is part of the crew helping them evacuate before it does. What he sees around him – the fire of resistance dead from a leader he sees as destroying everything Leia has worked to build – brings him and his fellows who feel the same together.
It’s difficult to portray that in a film which has its priorities elsewhere, but this is one of those things that needed to be there to make the payoff work. Imagine if, in A New Hope, we never saw the atrocities of the Empire. They hadn’t burnt Luke’s home and his family. Hadn’t destroyed Alderaan with the Death Star. But the final battle was still the same. Are you rooting for the rebels, or do you see them in a different light? It’s an extreme example, but it’s still the same thing. Without the right amount of build-up, the payoff falls flat.
Something else the book holds is additional scenes on Ahch-To. At least one of these was meant to be within the film. The third lesson. Luke tells Rey that the incoming ships are raiders, intent on pillaging the Caretakers of the island for what they have. He tells her that the Jedi would do nothing about it, since a stronger raiding party would arrive the next month and she wouldn’t be around to help, but Rey is insistent to go, leaving before Luke finishes with the lesson. When she arrives, a party is in progress, with the raiders simply being Caretakers who provide for the island inhabitants. Much to Rey’s surprise.
Another extra scene shows Luke opening himself back to the Force, and finally agreeing to go with Rey to fight. Not that anyone hears him say that, since Rey isn’t around. She’s at the well, asking the question she wants to know. And it is here that the insistence these writers seem to have in sticking verbatim to how things play out in the film that makes the scene feel weaker.
There’s none of that strangeness. None of the mystique that is part of the scene in the film. It’s just a play-by-play of what happened on screen. It could have been reduced or not even included. Rey talks of the experience to Kylo anyway, so it seems added just because it’s in the film. Luke’s admittance that he was wrong seems to have been for the wrong reasons, as well, since as soon as he finds Rey and Kylo communicating – and Rey’s insistence that there’s still good in him – he refuses to leave with her.
That small scene adds to his character, since Yoda’s line of learn from our mistakes becomes just that bit more powerful. Luke still wanted to avoid a confrontation with Ben Solo, after all, instead of facing the mistakes he made. But that revelation pushes him to use the Force to help. While the book does a great job with this particular area, it doesn’t affect the film’s version of events too much. The film had already focused itself on that story, so everything that needs to be shown does.
There’s not much else to talk about, with the book portraying the final action scenes as faithfully within written form as can be. The book does a lot to dive a bit deeper into characters than the film could, including a final send-off for Holdo to make her decisions clearer than within the film. It cuts down the fight between Luke and Kylo Ren to just the reveal of Luke being a Force projection, which I liked.
If there’s one thing I would have liked to see, it would have been the extended encounter between Finn and Phasma from the deleted scene. This could have been a better way to finish off the Finn and Phasma story than what we got. Phasma was brought back, and does even less than The Force Awakens. Sure, she gets a great fight scene near the end, but it could have been more impactful with that deleted scene.
Finn reveals to the Stormtroopers surrounding the two that it was Phasma who lowered the shields when threatened with her life, with the Stormtroopers looking as though they’re believing it. Even Phasma realises it, as she tries to convince herself that’s not what’s happening. She takes out her own troops to guard that secret, then gets blasted halfway across the hangar by Finn. That would have been a better payoff for the two, with Finn standing up on his own against his boss.
Even without that more impactful ending for those two characters, the novelisation of The Last Jedi stands as a better piece of media for this story than the film. The novelisation manages to make you forget that the entire story is pretty much the longest game of cat and mouse in galactic history by giving that part of the plot the necessary focus it deserved. After all, this part of the story is the reason everything else is happening, yet gets sidelined as soon as the mission to Canto Bight begins.
Now, the reading of The Rise of Skywalker novelisation will be new to me, but I will still be doing one of these articles for it. You might just find I get a bit more specific when it comes to talking of elements of that novelisation. If there’s one thing I’m confident on, though, it’s that the novelisation will give the story time to breathe and let things get the impact they deserve.