If you haven't seen The Force Awakens, the novelization does a great job of bringing that story to life. However, this review contains movie spoilers and strives to answer whether the book is worthy of time and money if you’ve already experienced it on-screen. Contrary to many of the reviews I scanned prior to purchasing the novelization of The Force Awakens on Kindle, author Alan Dean Foster offers quite a few interesting sequences not presented on screen. So I was quite happy that my desire to re-experience the adventures of Finn, Rey and Poe while not braving opening weekend crowds led to the novelization's purchase.
In just the opening pages, we encounter a scene not presented in cinematic form featuring General Leia Organa. The author takes us into her mindset and sets the stage for the book’s adventurous tale as we are offered a glimpse into the challenges that faced the New Republic upon the Empire’s defeat. Clearly Leia will not repeat the mistakes of her mother by relying too heavily on the Senate to address the threat of the First Order. We understand more deeply her intense need to find her brother — a search that will bring together three strangers who learn to work with and trust each other in this new Star Wars saga. Author Alan Dean Foster takes us back to the Resistance and Leia’s planning more frequently than the movie does. Among these additional sequences, we discover that C-3PO’s bungling has put a mission at risk. Panicked but unwilling to admit his error to Leia, he seeks the advice of a dormant R2-D2. While humorous and providing the adorable Laurel & Hardy–esque dialogue fans expect from the golden one, I’m glad they opted to re-introduce the protocol droid to film audiences at a later point in the story with him simply interrupting a deeply emotional reunion. And for those wanting more of Poe Dameron, the novel offers a brief few pages filling in the gaps answering how Poe made his way from the seemingly fatal X-wing crash on Jakku back to the Resistance, furthering his legend as one who can fly anything along the way.through additional
Through these additional scenes, the novelization provides greater clarity to the story’s final sequence of events and climactic conclusion aboard the Starkiller. But the most insightful of these unseen sequences comes after the attack on Maz Kanata’s castle. Earlier, when Maz first meets Finn, she says, “I’m looking at the eyes of a man who wants to run.” After the First Order’s attack, Maz once again looks Finn over, only this time she declares that she sees something else now, “I see the eyes of a warrior.”
Along with these unseen sequences, author Alan Dean Foster deepened my understanding of the saga’s new villain Kylo Ren. Leaving the theater, I wasn’t deeply convinced of this character’s darkness even though he had stabbed his own father while deceptively embracing him. Kylo Ren had felt more like a poser — desperate to get the attention of his parents (even if it was through acting out) and angry at an estranged father while reaching out to a dead grandfather who had failed in his dark mission to defeat the Jedi. But the novelization’s additional dialogue between Snoke and Kylo Ren features a deep darkness. He boldly declares his desire to destroy the Resistance that is led by his mother, the last Jedi, which we believe to be Luke (his uncle) and his father (Han Solo), cementing his sole allegiance is to Snoke and the legacy of Vader.
While exploring the dynamic between Supreme Leader Snoke and Kylo Ren, Foster writes, “When next Snoke spoke there was an intimacy in his voice, a familiarity that stood in sharp contrast to the commanding tone he had used with Hux.” During my initial screening of The Force Awakens, I’d not taken note of this nuanced difference — an interesting comparison to what Lucas gave us in A New Hope with the Master/Apprentice dynamic between Vader and the Emperor. Coupled with additional dialogue not presented in the film from Leia to Han on Snoke’s deception, we learn more about Kylo Ren’s seduction to the dark side and it hints at a much more personal betrayal of Leia rather than a political one that we witnessed between Palpatine and Amidala.
My greatest disappointment in the novelization was in his description of Rey’s vision inside Maz Kanada’s castle. I was hoping the scenes that flashed all too quickly across the screen would be more clearly explored in the novel and could offer a deeper understanding of the revelations. Sadly, I didn’t found the novel’s descriptions of these flashing images to offer even less detail than my theater experience. Additionally, the author had a distracting habit of infrequently throwing in words that were unfamiliar to me (and ones I don’t feel would typically be found in a movie novelization) such as "alacrity" throughout the text, leaving me grateful for Kindle’s instant dictionary.
Fans may recall that Foster penned the first novelization of Star Wars nearly four decades ago. He is also credited with the phenomenon’s first fan fiction Splinter of the Mind’s Eye written the year after A New Hope was released in theaters. While the Kindle edition of The Force Awakens was available the same day the movie hit theaters, a hardcover edition finally arrived on shelves weeks later. The hardcover title features an additional eight-page collection of images from the film. Surprisingly, the captions themselves are a delightful read offering a bit humor and useful tidbits such as this summation of the film’s villainous Kylo Ren, “Kylo is determined to destroy the Resistance and restore the glory to the legacy of Darth Vader.”
Overall, The Force Awakens effectively brings the events of the film to life and offers numerous additional sequences not seen in theatres but doesn’t reveal any further details on the backstories of Finn, Rey or Poe. While it doesn’t answer the larger mysteries of the film (best left to future installments on screen), it does fill in some of the story gaps that were most likely removed due to the film’s length or pacing.