Carl Roberts opens the pages of some old and re-published Star Wars classics and finds himself revisiting his Star Wars childhood
Everybody knows how much of a Star Wars fan I am and also knows I can’t resist a good Star Wars book or two (or three hundred if the truth be known). You will always find me looking at the Star Wars section in Forbidden Planet London, whether it be for any books I don’t have or the latest comics. I found Rogue One the other day in comic book form and am now desperate to get my hands on it just like the classic Marvel adaptation of the original films (more on that later).
Looking through the section in Forbidden Planet, I happened to find what can only be described as a novelty book but one I had to buy and add to my collection. And I’m really glad I did. My young nephew Michael took one look at it and was amazed at what he found inside and demanded that I get him a copy. I didn’t, but his birthday is coming up soon so….
A Star Wars atlas! Now there’s a novelty. A book that lovingly shows and describes almost all the planets in the Star Wars universe including the Old Republic and ones no longer considered canon.
Each page describes a different planet from the universe so lovingly created and gives us facts and figures and some history about the planet and what part it played in the ongoing saga.
For something i considered to be a novelty buy at £4.99, it is worth every penny. It even describes the history of the Old Republic alongside the history of the Empire and beyond. I can’t recommend this book any higher. It was worth every penny and now sits proudly alongside the other publications I have bought over the years.
Back in 1978, while reading one of the many daily newspapers, I came across an advertisement for a new Star Wars book that was due out soon. It was being heralded as the continuing adventures of Luke Skywalker and was a must read for all Star Wars fans.
Splinter of the Mind’s Eye had an interesting premise. Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia were forced to crash land on the planet of Mimban, a swamp world on their way to the planet Circapous to enlist support for the rebellion. Here they find a world running alive with Imperial mining activity. Trying to stay out of sight and not to be conspicuous, our heroes and the two classic droids encounter the mysterious Halla, an old woman who has just a small basic knowledge and understanding of the Force. After showing a small piece of a mysterious crystal, she offers to help Luke and Leia as long as they help her get to and retrieve the Force magnifying magical Kaiburr crystal before the searching Imperials do. Our heroes set out on an adventure to get to the Temple of Pomojema and the crystal while the Imperial Captain-Supervisor of the planet, Grammel, searches for both the crystal and the rebels before the Dark lord of the Sith, Darth Vader joins the hunt.
The book’s author, Alan Dean Foster has written many fantastic books in his time (his trilogy novels are all outstanding). He was the go to guy for writing novelisations of science fiction films in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s (his versions of Alien and The Black Hole the standouts) and I had high hopes for the book. However, it was to take me over 39 years to finally get my hands on a copy and to read it. And I was slightly disappointed with the end result. The cover sees Vader standing over our rebel Heroes but it’s late in the book that they finally meet and the outcome is, quite frankly, a huge letdown. If it was meant to be a cliffhanger, then it fails miserably. Add to that the fact that teh cover’s promised confrontation doesn’t happen at all. To me, its like an episode of a TV show that ties in with the saga in a slightly satisfying way and then, near the end, a cameo appearance from a huge star gets you excited but lets you down with what they do. Vader is just an evil token villain, acting like we have never seen him act in any film or cartoon series.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a good book and does further some of the plot from A New Hope, but it does feel like an unneeded addition to the library, although not an unwelcome one. That being said, Foster does go further into the details of what happened to Leia during the Death Star interrogation and the effect and toll its taken on her. These moments are interesting enough and shows a vulnerability to our beloved princess. The Luke looking at Leia with an unhealthy affection however is, now we know they are brother and sister, really creepy and makes for uncomfortable reading. Alan Dean Foster had no knowledge, like the audience at the time, that Luke and Leia were siblings, so it can’t be held against him. Kudos must go to the author for giving it a damn good try and much respect goes to Del Rey books for not only re-publishing the novel in their ‘Legends’ range but for again using the outstanding cover design drawn by the legendary Ralph McQuarrie. Also for keeping the typeface the book was originally published with, the exact same typeface that was used for George Lucas’s novel of the original Star Wars (ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster).
Moving forward to the (almost) present day, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a nice, large book containing two of the best novels of the new era.
I had been meaning to get a copy of Tarkin for ages but then I found this edition and saw that it also contained A New Dawn. Add to that it also contained three new short stories that tie both novels together and I was sold.
Of the two main novels, I found A New Dawn to be slightly the better of them. That’s not to say Tarkin is a bad book, far from it. It’s an outstanding novel. It allows us, the reader, to experience what formed Wilhuff Tarkin from a clever young boy into the feared Governor Tarkin we all know and love (to hate!). The book does the old ‘then and now’ trick but pulls it off brilliantly. The main story concerns the theft of Tarkin’s own personal star destroyer and the chase to reclaim it. The story takes many twists and turns along the way and also (shock! horror!) shows us a more human side of Tarkin. I must admit that while reading it, every time Tarkin spoke, I heard the unmistakable voice of the late, great Peter Cushing. Even when Tarkin is growing up on his home planet and undertaking the trials that will mould him into the character we know, I could see Cushing as a young man doing the actions and saying the words.
Darth Vader also plays a huge part in the book and this is where the book’s strengths lies. Tarkin KNOWS Vader is really Anakin Skywalker. He can see what Vader is and where he’s come from but, strangely, this endears him to Tarkin. The parts of the book that have Tarkin and Vader simply talking about Tarkin’s homeworld and the trials he has faced are fantastic; both gain an insight into why the other is the way they are and what made them that way. You can’t really call them friends but you can see the respect they have for each other and the mutual understanding between them. Both surprise the other in ways the book makes clear. Never before have we seen these sides of the characters and it makes the book even better for it. It makes the scenes in A New Hope that much more insightful. Vader is the hand of doom, Tarkin is the cunning strategist and the more thoughtful of the pair. It’s this relationship that makes the book soar.
A New Dawn is a book that every Star Wars Rebels fan should read. It’s here that Kanan and Hera first meet but it’s no way near plain sailing. Hera is the spy, watching the newly formed Empire while trying to gain support for the embryonic Rebellion. Kanan is a Jedi that Palpatine and the Empire missed. Not that Kanan thinks of himself as a Jedi. He goes from place to place, eking out a meagre living that he can spend on cheap booze and blocking out his past. He still has his lightsaber but never contemplates handling it or using it again. His master is dead, all the Jedi are gone and the younglings have been massacred. He hides who he really is (his real name isn’t even Kanan) and breaks up the monotony by drinking and having fights. He isn’t a nice character at all.
Of course, this is just the start of the adventure for these two. The attraction isn’t there from Hera but Kanan has lust in his eyes before an altercation makes him become obsessed with finding out who this young alien woman is and what she’s doing, just so he can be close to her.
The plot has the cybernetic human, Count Denetrius Vidian, mining for Thorilide for the Empire in the Gorse system. Vidian is a technocrat, sent in by The Emperor to restore and increase production of Thorilide. His first action on entering the system is to destroy a freighter that is holding up a moon-ward convoy. Vidian is kind of a cross between Vader and General Grevious, part man but with cybernetic implants in most of his body. These implants make him a really dangerous individual to mess with. He is known throughout the galaxy as something of an efficiency expert, sent in to close unprofitable parts of business and restructure the remaining parts to reach maximum efficiency. But he is hiding a dark secret that even the Emperor doesn’t know or suspect.
The sub-characters in the book are all well thought out and written, especially the main supporting characters of Skelly, a clone wars veteran and explosives demolition expert for the mines who is somewhat shell shocked from his battle experiences and Zaluna, a Sullustan surveillance expert working for a security company working for the Empire. These two become major players in the story and are well worth investing your interest in. The story keeps twisting and turning with double crosses and not just on our heroes’ side. Yes, there is even skulduggery on behalf of the Empire, as Vidian’s plans are hurtling towards their completion which could cause more death, destruction and damage to the already fragile system of Gorse. Some of Vidian’s actions are quite nasty and disturbing and you find yourself yearning for something really nasty to happen to him by the book’s end. That’s the mark of a good villain and shows the intelligence and fantastic writing of the author.
The characterisation in both novels is outstandingly rich, the writing beyond excellence and both books are a complete joy to read. Add to that the three outstanding short stories that connect both novels and you have a match made in Star Wars heaven. It’s one of those books that once you start reading, you don’t want to put down.
And now a trip back to my childhood. When Star Wars first came out in 1977, Marvel comics published a comic book adaptation of the film. I remember it like it was yesterday. I believe it was published in America in a paperback novel format which held the entire adaptation. Here in England however, it was released in two volumes, both the size of an encyclopedia in height! They cost 50p each to buy which in those days was quite expensive, considering a daily newspaper cost as little as 5p! My father bought me the first volume and when the second was published around a month or two later, an elderly relative bought it for me, knowing my love of Star Wars. I treasured these volumes for years until, sadly and finally, they disintegrated on me and I was forced, really REALLY reluctantly, to throw them away. I was heartbroken as another treasured piece of my childhood went to the great big comic book heaven in the sky. I remember those comic books, the colourful drawings, the dialogue and boxes describing parts of the story. Oh did I love them. Every week or two, a new Star Wars comic was published containing new stories with our beloved heroes. Again, I collected them and read them cover to cover before lovingly putting them away in my collection. I collected these comics for years until, again sadly, I lost them in a house move. I cried for days, thinking I would never again get to see or read my beloved Star Wars comics.
When I found out about The Original Marvel Years, I nearly cried with joy. It promised me the complete Marvel New Hope adaptation. I hadn’t seen that in over 25 years. My childhood memories came flooding back and I knew that I had to get a copy and see it again. It was like an obsession. I had managed to track down the paperback novel release of the Marvel adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back which again I adored in childhood. (I actually got three copies, one for me to read, one to wrap up and keep for posterity, and one for my nephew Michael.) But A New Hope always eluded me. Until now.
When the book arrived, I opened the package carefully. I had been waiting for over a quarter of a century to get it again. I opened the cover and gasped. IT WAS THE COMIC STRIP ONCE AGAIN! Perfectly re-printed and presented as it was originally, in glorious colour. I carefully flicked through the pages and got a shock. Not only did it contain A New Hope but I remembered the other comic stories too. My childhood had come back to me with a vengeance. You can’t put a price on those kind of memories, but I had purchased them again regardless.
There are many volumes of the classic Marvel Star Wars comic strips now available which I will be collecting and adding to my hoard. Everything from the classic comic strips of old through to the later Clone Wars comics. I can’t recommend these highly enough to you, fellow readers and collectors. If, like me, you remember the comics from 40 years ago and again, like me, have an insatiable thirst to get them again, then you will hit the jackpot. Comic book lovers everywhere should have these volumes in their collections. It’s amazing to think that the pages of a book can take you back to your childhood.
But then again, maybe that’s the point. We can’t regain our childhood. But maybe, deep inside us all, it lingers on, buried but not forgotten, dated but still fresh, waiting to surface every now and then for fresh air. To remind us that though we have grown older and wiser, we were once innocent in the ways of the world. And that makes us briefly yearn for childhood once more.
Until next time….
MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU…ALWAYS.