Tuesday, 1 November 2005

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Matthew Stover
Century Books
ISBN: 0-7126-8427-1

The battle between the Galactic Republic and the Separatists who challenge it has raged for years, the Jedi who fight in it forced to watch as their Order becomes more militaristic with every passing day. The Republic, too, is changing, Chancellor Palpatine’s control of the senate granting him power unheard of in peacetime, all in the name of protecting democracy. The Jedi Council fear that he will be reluctant to surrender it once the war is ended, and tension between the Chancellor and the Order has never been greater. Obi-wan Kenobi, tasked to hunt down and destroy the Separatist commander, General Grievous,

Set against that epic conflict, Anakin Skywalker’s fear of losing his wife seems insignificant. But visions of her death torment him, and in his weakened state Darth Sidious sees an opportunity to turn the great young hope of the Jedi to his side. The time of the Empire draws near…

Between this book and the blockbuster of the same name, there lies the quintessential Star Wars. The cinema has the special effects, the visual spectacle, and the embarrassing dialogue; the book has pacing, characterisation, and fewer plot holes. Even better, the characters talk like actual people. All it lacks are the images to accompany its depth, but even they appear unbidden in the mind’s eye. The great tragedy here is that Lucasfilm didn’t let Matthew Stover write the script, rather than just the novelization.

Novelization is perhaps the wrong word. This is a novel in its own right, bearing uncanny similarity to the film of the same name yet differing just enough to make it a superior beast. Lines one would rather forget are absent from here, replaced by often-subtle dialogue that gives meaning to otherwise inexplicable actions. Stover’s Anakin Skywalker is no whiny teenager in search of glory, but a genuinely tormented hero unable to ever live up to his own expectations. Obi-Wan Kenobi is modest, civilised and gentle, the perfect Jedi. Others, too, revealed previously unseen depths, thanks to the author’s clever little narrative tricks. A handful of freeze-frame moments where heroes and villains are broken down and discussed almost directly with the reader should shatter any suspension of disbelief, but they don’t. They frame the action perfectly instead.

Ah, action. The meat of any Star Wars novel is always the action, lightsabers humming and blasters blasting. There is no shortage of it here, described in loving detail. Stover clearly enjoys writing battle scenes, and it shows. The lightsaber duels in particular reveal his delight, each one a treatise on stances and forms and each one, as they should be, a metaphor for the psychological struggle between the combatants. This is fun, but it is serious fun.

Far superior to the film it parallels, ‘Revenge of the Sith’ is an absolute joy to read. Stripping the tale down to its core, the focus of the novel is always Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into something dark and nasty. Yoda’s games with the Wookies are gone, as are many of the ‘comedy’ droid moments. Even the battle between Yoda and Darth Sidious is pared down to a handful of paragraphs, because the real story lies elsewhere. Such ruthless editing is admirable, and it makes a tighter, brutally effective story. ‘Revenge of the Sith’ finds a place on my ‘if only it were a film!’ shelf, and whenever I read it I’ll know: that’s the way it should have been.

This review was originally written for SFcrowsnest.com