The Best Version of Star Wars Episode III Is The Novel

 

I was a Star Wars prequel apologist for the longest time. Then I took on the opposite extreme. Now I’ve taken on a happy opinion in the middle (I hope) and acknowledge that while there’s a good story at the core of George Lucas’s prequel movies, they were so poorly executed as to be unwatchable.

But ten years after I saw the film in theaters, I heard about the Star Wars Episode III novelization by Matthew Stover. It is so, so much, and I loved it.

Stover’s prose is so over the top that it matches the high drama of George Lucas’s clunky script. No, it does more than match it, it elevates the melodrama of the film into myth. The movie that was so visual, so concerned with cramming in as much as it could into every frame, is still sort of here, but Stover is mostly concerned with the inner lives of the characters.

The book is written almost entirely in the present tense, with one of the most omniscient narrator voices I have ever experienced. It has no problem jumping from Anakin to Count Dooku to R2-D2 as the story demands it. Every decision is framed not in terms of action, but in terms of feelings.

I cannot tell you how much this improves the solid story of Revenge of the Sith. Anakin’s choice to embrace the Dark Side and become Darth Vader seems so sudden in the movie. Here it feels inevitable, and even as the petulant Jedi makes terrible choices, I couldn’t help but feel that they were his only choices. Obi-Wan infamously defeats Anakin at the end of the movie due to his having the “high ground,” which seems toothless at best, or downright silly, when it should feel momentous. In this book Obi-Wan is only victorious because he finally learns a crucial lesson of selflessness and the Force, giving him the edge he needs the moment he needs it. His “high ground” is more moral than physical (which is awesome).

Get it, Ani?  I have the literal AND moral high ground.  Wordplay!

The prose is beyond purple, but it works 100% in the novel’s favor. There’s no winking at how silly something is; every chirp out of R2-D2’s blue and silver dome is described with the same seriousness as Padme’s love for her husband, Obi-Wan’s struggle to remain moral, Yoda’s waggling ears, or in one very memorable sequence, Obi-Wan noticing Anakin’s ass for the first time (at least he claims it’s the first time). Stover commits to the story more than half the people involved with the production of the film were able to.

This novel also manages to straighten out the pacing of the story brilliantly. The critical moment of the story is Anakin becoming Darth Vader, which is given a few chapters to play out from a few different sides. The least important moments are Yoda’s little side-quest on Kashyyyk, which is far more justified here than in the movie and happens mostly off-page, instead of eating up valuable time better spent with the actual story.

“Forgotten why I am here, I have.”

This adaptation came to me highly recommended and I’m thrilled to report that after years of making me numb, the Star Wars prequels have finally managed to make me feel something again. “The dark is patient,” and so are the emotions lurking within the tragedy that is Revenge of the Sith. It took ten years and the help of Matthew Stover for those emotions to profoundly reach me.

 

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