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What’s the Story?

Bridging the gap between Star Wars Episode III and IV, this tells the story of Darth Vader’s Secret Apprentice (he’s so secret, none of the thousands of Star Wars books or films have ever even mentioned him in passing. Shhhh!) as he hunts down the last of the Jedi and then forms the Rebel Alliance.

 

What’s the Problem?

I’ve read books by Sean Williams before. I’ve read novelisations before. The only reason for this book to be as it is is either

a) Sean Williams was given no scope to change or add anything, or

b) Sean Williams was too lazy to change or add anything.

Exactly the Damned Same

The main problem with The Force Unleashed book is that it is exactly the video game. As in, it seems Williams copy-and-pasted every line the characters say in the game and then added stage directions for where they’re standing and what they’re doing. There’s some superficial character backstory for Juno, but it’s nothing that you needed to know and nothing that impacts the story.

What did you expect? It’s a novelisation

True, but that doesn’t necessarily make something bad. The film of Revenge of the Sith is, well, awful in every way. The novelisation takes everything that Lucas failed to explain or make interesting (or make sense) and presents them much better. It makes you understand Anakin and why he thinks murdering children is an acceptable way to save his wife’s life. It’s not just “Join me and be evil, Anakin.” “Okay.” There’s a long seduction toward the Dark Side as Palpatine breaks down Anakin’s defences, turns him against everyone he trusts, and sends Obi-Wan offworld so Anakin has no one to turn to for advice.

Seriously. Erase the film from your memory, then go read this book.

I’m getting off-topic, aren’t I? The point was, that was a good novelisation. It took a mediocre work and transformed it by putting you deep into the characters’ heads and showing you far more than the film could (and certainly more than it did). It changes lines – hell, it rewrites entire climactic scenes – and it stands its ground alongside the film (and, in this case, far surpasses it).

This does not. This is the game on paper.

The Apprentice

The final problem here is the main character. In the game, he’s sullen and withdrawn (on account of being beaten and trained in equal measure since he was two by Darth Vader). In the book, he talks and acts that way, but when he’s our narrator he doesn’t write that way. He writes like a fairly balanced, well-rounded individual, not a heartless Jedi killing machine. Not the kind of man who can slaughter hundreds of his own troops because he was told to leave no witnesses. It’s not consistent.

That's six flavours of interesting right there.

And there’s no sense of his power. The game touted itself on the premise that this was the Force far more powerful than you’d ever seen it (and occasionally delived this, but mostly not), but in the book there’s no sense that the apprentice is more powerful than your average Jedi. In fact, it’s the opposite. To maintain dramatic tension, his fights against the Jedi are always close matches, which makes him seem like John Q Anybody, not the kind of Force adept who can pull Star Destroyers out of the sky.

So when he proceeds to pull one out of the sky, it comes as more than a bit of a shock and a little confusing. If he can do that, why isn’t he just Force-crushing the Jedi into tiny spheres the instant he sees them? Why isn’t he throwing entire buildings at them, if he’s that powerful? And if he’s not that powerful, why is this scene still in the book?

Video game logic does not work in books.

Aaaand... parked!

 

What’s the Solution?

Well, step one would be to ask whether we needed a novelisation in the first place. I only read it because I’d read other Sean Williams books and because he’s a South Australian speculative fiction author and we all want to help those, don’t we?

Apart from not writing it, there needs to be more deviation. There are levels in the game that don’t even need to be in this book. (I’m looking at you, Kazdan Paratus.) They’re fun enough levels, but they don’t really do anything useful for the story and when it’s a book, story is all there is.

Also we need more non-game scenes. I’m sure interesting things might have happened away from the playable areas, or in the months between game levels, so why not show us some of them?

 

Worth Reading?

Ha ha ha. No. Just play the game. Or find all the cutscenes on youtube. Or go read Revenge of the Sith.

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