Book Review: Return of the Jedi by James Kahn


Author: James Kahn
Title: Return of the Jedi
Publication Info: New York : Ballantine Books, 1983.


Summary/Review:

The original Star Wars trilogy finishes off with this competent novelization that doesn’t veer off all too much from the movie. The best part of the book is that it does get inside the characters’ minds to give their thoughts during key scenes of the story. The Vader, Palpatine, and Luke dialogue is also expanded. Also, the ghost of Obi-Wan tells Luke that Owen is Obi-Wan’s brother and that Luke & Leia’s mother lived until they were 4 (which works much better than the retcon of the prequels). All in all it’s an engaging retelling of a great story.



Rating: ***

Book Review: The Empire Strikes Back by Donald Glut


Author: Donald Glut
Title: The Empire Strikes Back
Publication Info: Del Ray, 1980
Summary/Review:

The best Star Wars film gets a competent and straightforward novelization. As is the case in all novelizations, there are scenes that didn’t make it into the movie, especially when Luke is training with Yoda. The book does make it feel like more time is passing in both Luke & Yoda’s stories and the Millenium Falcon storyline whereas in the movie it feels as if everything happens in a couple of days. The only startling change is that Yoda is blue instead of green! And Harrison Ford’s famous improvised line “I know” is not in the text. It’s an entertaining read for fans of the movies.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker by “George Lucas”


Author: George Lucas (ghost written by Alan Dean Foster)
Title: Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker
Publication Info: New York : Ballantine Books, 1977.
Summary/Review:

Continuing our way through Star Wars novelizations, my daughter and I read this very first piece of “Expanded Universe” media.  Like other novelizations, the book contains scenes that were deleted or didn’t even make it to filming. Also, Greedo shot first and somehow that was never edited otherwise.  I find it interesting that with the larger mythos of Star Wars being created that Foster hints at story threads that wouldn’t be followed-up or would end up very different once the sequels and prequels were rolled out. He also tends to use analogies to things on Earth more than later Star Wars writers would do. A significant downside is that Foster’s descriptions of Jawa’s use horribly prejudicial terms.

Favorite Passages:

“Remember, Luke, the suffering of one man is the suffering of all. Distances are irrelevant to injustice. If not stopped soon enough, evil eventually reaches out to engulf all men, whether they have opposed it or ignored it.”

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Book Review: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover


Author: Matthew Stover
Title: Revenge of the Sith
Publication Info: Century (2005)
Summary/Review:

Continuing reading Star Wars novelizations with my daughter, we come to one of the best novels drawn from a rather mediocre movie. Stover has a highly literary style and inserts into scenes from the film the thoughts of the characters and has them remembering key moments in flashback.  The book is very character-driven and features frequent changes in point of view.  Villains like Count Dooku and General Grievous are interesting and even scary in ways that they aren’t in the movie.  There are also many revealing conversations.  While it makes for an engaging novel with great storytelling, I should note that it would translate into a far too long and dialogue-heavy movie.  (I still contend in hindsight that the prequels would be vastly improved by ditching The Phantom Menace and developing the plot and character points of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith over three films).

Rating: ****

Book Review: Attack of the Clones by R. A. Salvatore


Author:R. A. Salvatore
Title: Attack of the Clones
Publication Info: Random House Publishing Group, 2002
Summary/Review:
Like its predecessor, this book is an improvement on the film it novelizes. Primarily this is due to the fact that it includes a lot of scenes where minor characters get fleshed out, such as Shmi and Lars and Jango and Boba Fett, as well as some deeper insight to Anakin’s relationship with Obi-Wan. Presumably these were in early scripts but were cut to prevent the movie being 5 hours long. There are scenes that I wish had made the cut in the film, such as when Padme brings home Anakin to meet her family.  It is much better at developing their relationship than any of the scenes that made it into the movie.  Unfortunately, all that painfully bad dialogue of Padme and Anakin expressing their anguished love is also present in the book (plus the author seems creepily obsessed with describing Padme’s beauty).  So this is no masterpiece of literature but it does offer some things that you don’t get from the movie.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Star Wars: Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray


Author: Claudia Gray
Title: Star Wars: Master and Apprentice
Publication Info: New York : Del Rey, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2019.
Summary/Review:

Continuing my daughter’s fascination with the Star Wars universe, we read this novel which is a prequel to the prequels. It tells the story of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi on an assignment several years before the events of The Phantom Menace. The central part of the story is that neither master nor apprentice feels that they have bonded.  In this story they end up in conflict with one another over following the rules and yet that conflict brings them closer together.

This book is complex for a Star Wars story with the events arranged around palace intrigue as well as issues of corporate influence on government and the enslavement of people.  The book has some interesting twists (I didn’t expect who would be the villain) and introduces the eccentric Jedi Rael Aveross, an old friend of Qui-Gon who is serving as a Lord Regent to a young queen.  I really like the character development in this novel of both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan as well as the many new characters (members of the royal court, corporate agents, and even an interesting pair of jewel thieves who ally with Qui-Gon).  It makes The Phantom Menace all the more depressing for sacrificing opportunities for great character moments to bland CGI special effects and comic relief.

Favorite Passages:

“It matters,” Qui-Gon said quietly. “It matters which side we choose. Even if there will never be more light than darkness. Even if there can be no more joy in the galaxy than there is pain. For every action we undertake, for every word we speak, for every life we touch—it matters. I don’t turn toward the light because it means someday I’ll ‘win’ some sort of cosmic game. I turn toward it because it is the light.”

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Labyrinth (1986)


Welcome to Muppet Mondays! Over the next several Mondays I will be working my way through the various movies in the Muppets and Jim Henson oeuvre.

Title: Labyrinth
Release Date: June 27, 1986
Director: Jim Henson
Production Company: Henson Associates, Inc.| Lucasfilm Ltd.
Summary/Review:

Surprisingly, I’ve never watched this Jim Henson production before, despite the fact that it came out when I was 12, the ideal age to watch this movie. I remember hearing that the movie was a dud, and believed the criticism, although in later years I learned that Labyrinth became a cult classic.  There’s a lot of talent involved in this movie – Jim Henson as directory, George Lucas as producer, Monty Python’s Terry Jones as the main scriptwriter, and David Bowie lending his talents to his performance as Jareth the Goblin King and his music to the soundtrack.

One might expect something huge from this confluence of talents and be disappointed by the smaller film that ensued. If you take the film on its own though, it is a wonderfully imaginative story that draws up fantasy folklore with impressive visuals. Jennifer Connelly plays the fantasy-obsessed teenager Sarah who resents having to babysit her infant brother and asks the goblins to take him away.  When Jareth does in fact take Toby to his castle he allows Sarah 13 hours to solve a labyrinth to recover her brother. The resourceful Sarah uses her knowledge of fantasy tropes to find her way through with the help of the cowardly dwarf Hoggle (Brian Henson), the gentle giant Ludo (Ron Mueck), and the overly courageous fox Sir Didymus (performed by Dave Goelz and voiced by David Shaughnessy).

Compared with present day fantasy and adventure movies, there’s very little preamble before Sarah jumps into her adventure in the labyrinth, and a brief conclusion as well.  While more grounded in the real world than The Dark Crystal, the movie is wonderfully fantastic with impressive sets, puppetry, and animatronics. On the downside there’s some poor chroma key work in some scenes especially the one where the Fierys are dancing.  This film falls into the part of Bowie’s career when he was making over-produced, synth heavy pop, although the songs are better than his work on Tonight.

I’m so used to actors in their 20s playing teenagers that I’m impressed that Connelly was actually 16, because she seems older. She does a good job of portraying the age when one begins to put aside childish things for grownup responsibilities.  Although, as we learn, those childish things will always be there when we need them.

Rating: ****

Book Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow


Author: Alix E. Harrow
Title: The Ten Thousand Doors of January
Narrator: January LaVoy
Publication Info: Hachette Book Group, 2019 

Summary/Review:

Set in the early 20th century, this story is told by the young January Scaller.  Her mother is presumed dead and her father works for the New England Archaeological Society (an old boys club type of place) traveling the world to collect new items for their collections.  January escapes into books and then later discovers doorways that lead her into new universes (it’s all a rather obvious metaphor of books as portals).

Through the doorways and support from some friends (and a large dog named Bad) after her father is also assumed to be dead she is able to learn the sinister secret of the New England Archaeological Society and her guardian Mr. Locke (what a metaphorical name in a book about doors!).  She also uncovers her family history and her place in the world, or more accurately her place in the multiverse.  The book is an interesting enough concept, and I certainly wanted to read to the end to find out what happened, but it didn’t really grab me either.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Book Review: Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace by Terry Brooks


Author: Terry Brooks
Title: Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Publication Info: New York, NY : Del Rey Books, 1999
Summary/Review:

My daughter is really getting into Star Wars now, and I told her we should read some of the books together. She decided she wants to read the novelizations of the films in episode order.  I remember liking the novelizations when I was a kid too.  Back in 1999, after being disappointed by the movie, a friend recommended this book to me because it was written by a well-regarded fantasy writer, Terry Brooks.

Then, as now, I enjoy the novel more than the movie.  Maybe it’s because it has time for scenes that provide greater depth to the characters and their relationships than seen on screen.  Maybe because Brooks does a good job of providing the thoughts and points of views of several characters.  Maybe it’s because Jar Jar is so much less annoying in print.  At any rate, reading a Star Wars book is fun.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: The Dark Crystal (1982)


Welcome to Muppet Mondays! Over the next several Mondays I will be working my way through the various movies in the Muppets and Jim Henson oeuvre.

TitleThe Dark Crystal
Release Date: December 17, 1982
Director: Jim Henson & Frank Oz
Production Company: Henson Associates | ITC Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Technically, this is not a Muppets movie but it was the next step in Jim Henson’s vision to create an original live-action movie featuring only puppets and animatronics on screen. I remember watching this several times as a child (and imitating the Chamberlain’s “hmmms”) even though I didn’t like it much due it’s creepiness and the fact that I didn’t enjoy fantasy stories as child.

Rewatching this as an adult I still find a lot of the characters and scenes to be nightmare-fodder and now that I’m more well-versed in fantasy, I can tell that the plot is not at all original. It’s particularly disappointing that the gelfling Jen (voiced by Stephen Garlick, performed by Jim Henson) is a protagonist with no real character beyond being the one to heal the crystal.

With those reservations, The Dark Crystal is nevertheless an impressive work of film-making. The puppet and animatronic work is jaw-dropping and shows a clear progression from the innovations made for the two Muppet movies that preceded it.  The movements and facial characteristics of the Skeksis is particularly impressive.  The movie really creates a dream-like alternate world unlike anything else seen on film.

I can see why this movie was not received well at the time of its release and why it’s also become a cult classic.  It’s easy to miss the greatness of what The Dark Crystal is for the even greater possibilities of what it could’ve been.

Rating: ***