May the 4th Be With You — A TLJ Novelization Discussion
Happy Star Wars day! In the midst of final exam season, I always look forward to this day to remind me of one of the pieces of media that encouraged me to pursue storytelling in the first place. The Star Wars films are some of my favor movies of all time. Leia Organa is, simply put, an incomparable fictional character to me. I cannot resist watching these movies whenever I get the chance.
And yet before this year I’d never read a Star Wars novelization! The idea of turning a book into a movie is such a strange thing to me. I’m all for book-to-movie adaptations (even when poorly done, they’re still fun), but there’s something quite different about adding an internal world to a visual story.
My intrigue called me to the sci-fi section of the bookstore where the Star Wars novelizations lie. I decided to start my Star Wars novelization journey with the film that left me with the most questions about the internal worlds of the characters: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
The Last Jedi is the most controversial film discussion among Star Wars fans. Some hate it, while others rank it as the best film of the saga. I’m not going to delve too deeply into my opinions of the film, but I will say that I do not hate The Last Jedi. I think that it’s actually quite interesting. While I wanted a lightsaber wielding Finn and possibly a Stormtrooper rebellion in the works, I was also fascinated by Rian Johnson’s look at the franchise from a fresh angle. The Last Jedi is also fantastically well acted, specifically in the two core stories surrounding Rey (Daisy Ridley), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), And Finn (John Boyega).
Warning: Major spoilers for The Last Jedi from this point on!
But enough about the film. The Last Jedi: Expanded Edition by Jason Fry is full of tiny details that make the story feel more complete. We learn that Leia held a funeral for Han, see a brief scene between the Tico sisters, and get the addition of a deleted scene from the film where Finn is recognized by one of thee Stormtroopers on a dreadnaught. Also, the novel tells us that Poe hand sewed his jacket back together for Finn.
Rian Johnson’s keen visual storytelling drives so much of what I appreciate in The Last Jedi. In The Last Jedi novel, Jason Fry has to contend with an entirely different landscape of the story: the internal world.
Why does Finn want to leave the Resistance? The film explains his devotion to Rey and his desire to get the beacon far away from danger. While this is a formidable devotion, Finn has only known Rey for, like, a week. Isn’t there something else that pulls him away? Being raised as a Stormtrooper and having one choice thrust you into a role as Resistance hero has to be jarring. Finn’s ex-Stormtrooper storyline is often usurped by his devotion to Rey, and I kept wondering what else in his internal world pulled him to try and take an escape pod away.
The novelization gives space to understand Finn and the duality of his motivation. He’s operating on multiple levels in the book—saving Rey, but also trying to find his place in this war that he was forced into. Fry includes an early conversation that does not appear in the film, which includes Finn discussing his feelings with Poe. He says “I believe in what you guys are doing. But I didn’t join this army—I followed Rey here. I just don’t want you thinking I’m something I’m not.” Here, we are forced to confront that Finn really has not been around the Resistance that long. Fry begins him in this place of questioning through this conversation, and we see the shift of Finn’s motivation on his journey with Rose, where he slowly begins to adhere to Resistance ideals and consider himself a part of the organization.
The other characters that I was itching to know more about internally is Rey. The novel gives insight into the time after Rey and Kylo Ren’s tense conversation in the throne room where he asks her to join him. We learn about Rey’s decision to not kill the unconscious Kylo Ren, and that it is born from an understand that she does not control the Force, but acts rather as an instrument of it. The complexity of their dynamic has developed to something beyond two enemies, as the Force had tied them together, and instead of giving into hatred and killing him, Rey decide to let the Force determine the future.
While this was a brief moment in the novel, the consideration of Rey’s deliberation feels paramount. She is a character on her own journey of understanding identity and how it intertwines with the Force. She’d been a small part of the story for so long, but the Force made her a key player in the war. What does one do with their new power? How do they wield it?
Kylo offers her guidance in The Force Awakens and she rejects him. Then, she turns to Luke and finds not the answers she was anticipating. In this final moment, though, Rey grabs hold of her agency. She dos not submit to Kylo, or to Luke, but rather chooses a journey with no clear path forward. Things will be messy and complex, because she cannot be the Jedi that Luke was and will not turn to the Dark as Kylo does. She must work to locate her place in the story outside of the pre-established boundaries for Force users.
This is a strong setup of Rey’s arc for the third film of the trilogy. The Rise of Skywalker’s handling of Rey’s characterization is a long, long conversation that I won’t even attempt to unpack right now. I’ve already picked up a copy of that novelization so I can later pass my judgements on how the book handles her story.
While I greatly enjoyed reading The Last Jedi, it fundamentally misses on the opportunity to give us more Star Wars. A lot of the novel reiterates beat for beat what happens in the film, and most of the major expansions are scribed versions of cut scenes from the film. The emotional deliberations of Finn and Rey shine in this book, but Fry does not always give us the internal world of characters. Some scenes feel like a play by play of the movie, and we’re not gaining anything new from them. The moments where the novel takes advantage of the opportunities presented in the new form are undoubtedly the best parts.
With all that said, The Last Jedi novelization is a fun read for Star Wars nerds. This eighth installment also comes with one of my favorite quotes from the franchise that feels relevant in these times: “Hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you see it, you’ll never make it through the night”
May the 4th Be With You!