I grew up on Star Wars, watching the movies, playing with the toys, and as I got older playing the X-Wing games and reading the novelizations, and then the Expanded Universe books. I will admit that I stopped reading the EU books during the Yuuzhan Vong storyline. I had more important things to focus on and grew tired of the direction the stories had taken. I kept up on the stories over the years, thank you wikipedia, but did not care of the direction it took for the most part.
When Disney acquired Star Wars and decided to wipe the EU from canon, cherry picking only the EU they wanted to keep, I was not that upset. True, I would have liked to keep certain storylines, The Thrawn Trilogy, and the The Rogue Squadron book in particular.
The reason I didn’t get upset is because I understood why they made that decision. The EU had become something of a mess, so starting with a relatively clean canon slate made sense. There were good parts to the EU, but on whole it had grown gangrenous, so some healthy tissue had to go with the rest.
I did not expect Disney to retell the original Star Wars trilogy at all. True, there are plot holes left by things that happened in the prequels, but those could have been explained away in some other way. And there were also some contradictions, in the original Return of the Jedi novelization, Owen Lars was Obi-Wan’s brother, not Anakin’s stepbrother, for instance.
Retelling a classic story is hard, especially when you can’t make changes to the established canon it sets. However, it is not impossible, and can be done well.
I commended Alexandra Bracken for how she got into Leia’s head during the first half of A New Hope. She showed a new perspective on the events of the book and filled in holes in Leia’s backstory. She also kept true to the tone of the film, despite cutting out all the droid and imperial centric scenes. She also kept the book in a Young Adult language, making it accessible to the primary audience for the upcoming new films. Tom Angleberger also kept a Young Adult voice through his retelling of Jedi, though younger on the spectrum, as is typical of his works. I hate to say this, but Adam Gidwitz failed at this. His book is very juvenile in tone, and if it were shorter would work as a Juvenile book.
I had my boys listen to passages from all three books to gauge their opinions.
My 13-year-old liked The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy (PSFB) and Beware the Power of the Dark Side (BPDS), but hated So You Want to be a Jedi (SYWJ), saying that it almost ruined what is his favorite Star Wars movie.
My 10-year-old didn’t care for the Leia centric scenes in PSFB, but loved the Han and Luke portions. He also liked the Jedi retelling in BPDS, not surprising as he loves the Origami Yoda books. Like my oldest, he hated how the SYWJ almost felt like it was talking down to him. He also asked when he would get to make a decision since the book talked to him like he would.
My 8-year-old again enjoyed PSFB and BPDS, piquing his interest in the movies hence why we will have a Star Wars marathon this weekend. But even he did not care for SYWJ, mind you I asked them all this separately so as not to sway any opinions. He found the 2nd person POV jarring, but did enjoy the Jedi lessons and wants to see which brother can last the longest performing them.
My handicapped 7-year-old gave no opinion.
My 4-year-old lost interest in PSFB. He enjoyed SYWJ with how it spoke to him, and loved the Yoda fairytale. He also enjoyed BPDS, laughing at most of the jokes or turning to pay more attention when the narrator spoke to him directly.
Take of that what you will, but the fact that what is arguably the deepest and most philosophical Original Trilogy movie, yet still manages to be accessible was the one rated poorest across the board by my family points to a problem.
Aside from SYWJ, my biggest personal gripe with the books was the space battles. Maybe this is because I am pilot, maybe this is because I still want another X-Wing game, but these scenes tended to disappoint. It was obvious that the writers were not knowledgeable of flight dynamics. Not even space flight, it’s a Star Wars book, so Newtonian physics get a by. But the descriptions of the G-Forces action were flat out wrong at times, as were how the controls would work, even based on screen evidence. Bracken did a good job of describing the personal chaos of aerial combat, and pointing out Luke’s early insecurities, but little more. I could feel for Luke’s emotional plight, but could only picture the scene because of the films. The same goes for the limited flight scenes in SYWJ and even BPDS. The space battle in BPDS is massive and a huge part of the movie, but the book only ever focuses on Lando in the Falcon, and even there not much. Maybe I missed it, but the destruction of the Super Star Destroyer wasn’t even mentioned.
For the most part the books tried to close some of the plot holes left by prequel trilogy. Some of these worked out better than others, but it was nice to see. I will also be curious to see how many of the changes that took place in these books become changes and carry over to the new trilogy. I have a feeling that the described size of the rebellion and its fleet in Beware the Power of the Dark Side will play a role in the coming movies, but we will see.
If the books were intended to get people interested in seeing the movies again, they succeeded. But for the most part the original novelizations and the movies themselves are better. If I had to choose just one of these books to read, or to recommend I would recommend The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy. It really was the only one to add any significant new content, and was the best received by my boys and I.
Read S. F.’s reviews of the entire trilogy at Writers, After Dark:
“Star Wars: A New Hope: The Princess, The Scoundrel and The Farm Boy”
“Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: So You Want to be a Jedi?”
“Star Wars: Return of the Jedi: Beware the Power of the Dark Side!”