Fiction Reviews

Star Wars: A New Hope

(1976 / 2017) George Lucas, Century, £16.99, hrdbk, 238pp, ISBN 978-1-780-89813-1


40 years ago in a galaxy quite close to us, a film was released that did reasonably well at the box office and now 40 years later, the book of the film is given a 40th anniversary release in hardback with a cover that features the full colour artwork of the film's original poster.

I actually have a paperback copy of this book somewhere in a box in the attic of Hunter Towers, but it’s not a first edition, it’s one of the later editions that includes some colour photos from the movie inside, and by the time I bought it Star Wars was already a film phenomenon, and a bit of book one too.

While credited as being written by George Lucas, who wrote the screenplay and directed the film, of course, the book was actually written by Alan Dean Foster who, apart from being an original novelist had by 1976 written a novelisation of the film Dark Star and some books based on Star Trek: The Animated Series which brought him to the attention of Lucas, after two other writers turned down the chance of writing the book of the film. Foster accepted and was paid US$5,000 for his work. The original book came out in December 1976 from Ballantyne Books, with a cover by Ralph McQuarrie, and the UK version was published by Sphere Books with a cover by John Berkey with Sphere paying US$225,000 for the publishing rights. With three months to go before the film was released, Ballantyne had already sold over 3 million copies!

Because Foster was writing a book based on a screenplay consisting of dialogue and brief descriptions, he had to flesh out some of the back story which led to differences between the book and the film, and also some of the films that followed. Unsure of how successful the film would be, Lucas asked Foster to write a sequel story called Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (another book that lurks somewhere in Hunter Towers) which could be filmed as a low-budget sequel which features a romance between Luke and Leia who were later revealed to be brother and sister.

This book reproduces that original text but starts with the new Star Wars Timeline which is split into eight major sections, starting with 1 The Phantom Menace, and running all the way through to period 8 for The Last Jedi, this book, of course, sits solidly in period 4 A New Hope. All those other Star Wars books that have appeared over the years are non-canon, and belong to some Star Wars alternative reality spinning off into the multiverse.

Everyone knows the story but there are subtle differences between book and film, starting in the prologue which features an extract “From the First Saga Journal of the Whills”, then a quote from one Senator Leia Organa from Alderaan: “They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally they became heroes”.  That prologue features a major character reveal which wouldn’t become apparent for decades in the movie versions. No spoilers here, but if you know the film backwards then part of the fun is spotting those differences. Star Wars fans will no doubt have purchased their copy and be looking forward to buying the 50th anniversary edition containing exactly the same story, but with a different cover. Will there be 40th anniversary editions of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi? Who knows, but I suggest you keep watching the skies.

Ian Hunter

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