It’s May the 4th! Here’s 5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Star Wars Books
May the force be with you
It seems like every day has been Star Wars Day lately, but today really is because “May the Fourth” sounds a little like the phrase “may the force…be with you.” And so, all around the world, for no reason whatsoever other than it’s a mildly clever pun, people are celebrating Star Wars Day. (And have been since 2011 ). For the bookish, this may seem like a day that leaves you out, since we all know Star Wars is just a cinema achievement of pop culture appropriation, special effects, and cheesy dialogue. But in book form, Star Wars is a juggernaut. Not only are there way more Star Wars books than there are movies, but the hours fans have spent reading those books probably outnumbers even the hours we’ve spent complaining about Jar-Jar Binks.
So, for May the 4th, check out five facts about Star Wars books which will either make you want to read them, re-read-them, or get back to writing your own sexy Ewok fan fiction.
The First Star Wars Book Published Six Months Before the Film Released, Confused Everyone
Because Star Wars was initially supposed to be released in the winter of 1976, pre-release promotional materials were out in the world early. True, novelizations about popular films generally come out a month or two before the film they adapt, but back in 1976, having a novel titled Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker hanging out in bookstores a whole half a year prior to the movie coming out created a strange and unique phenomenon. The book was published in November of 1976 and by February of 1977 was already in its second printing. For some, this created the urban myth that Star Wars was a book “first,” which semantically speaking, in terms of public release, is sort of true. The novel’s author is “George Lucas,” which again, is true in a roundabout way since this book was based on his screenplay. However, the novelization was actually written by science fiction and tie-in-media giant Alan Dean Foster. Not shockingly, Foster had written several book-versions of Star Trek episodes prior to doing the Star Wars novelization, and to this day (in addition to his own work) continues to do novelizations of big movies. In 2009, the J.J. Abrams Star Trek film released a novelization of that screenplay. Guess who wrote that book?
The Second Star Wars Book Ever Was Written as a Low-Budget Possible Sequel
While unsure if Star Wars was going to be a success, Ballantine/Del Rey books and Lucas had commissioned Foster to write a second Star Wars novel called Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which was eventually published in 1978. This time, instead of hiding under George Lucas’s name, Alan Dean Foster was given full credit for his novel. This is was the first “original” Star Wars novel ever, and even attempted to “explain” how the Force worked by introducing an element called “the kaiber crystal.” These days, “kyber crystals” show up in the various canonized Star Wars cartoons and are part of how and why lightsabers supposedly “work.”
Weirdly awkward, and oddly slow, this novel was written partially to be a low-budget sequel to Star Wars, provided the film didn’t do well, which, really, no one thought it would. For this reason, there’s very little new technology introduced in the book, most of the action takes place on a swampy planet (fog is a cheap special effect), and Han Solo does not appear in it at all. Back then, Harrison Ford wasn’t sure if he was going to want to do other Star Wars movies, so having Han be absent in a sequel was essential. And to think now, all these years later, the one star of Star Wars everyone must see is Han Solo.
Timothy Zahn’s 1990 Novel Heir to the Empire Influenced George Lucas’s Writing of the Star Wars Prequels
In 1990, well before any new film hype about Star Wars was brewing, science fiction author Timothy Zahn wrote a trilogy of books (starting with Heir to the Empire) set after the events of Return of the Jedi. While these introduced a ton of fan-favorite characters and events into the Star Wars fan consciousness, one particular element invented by Zahn actually made it into the real Star Wars movies later. Prior to these books and the prequel movies, it was implied that the Empire and Old Republic had operated from a central “capitol city” planet somewhere in the center of this made-up galaxy. Zahn gave this planet a name: Coruscant, which Lucas used outright in 1999’s The Phantom Menace. Even the descriptions of this planet were taken directly not only from Zahn’s books, but other Star Wars novels and comic books including the dark Dark Empire series, and the novel and comic book series Shadows of the Empire. In the subsequent Star Wars prequel films, a huge portion of the action takes place on Courscant, a planet that might not even have been invented if it weren’t for the Star Wars novels.
The Guy Who Wrote the Novelization for The Empire Strikes Back Runs a Website With Quasi-Dinosaur Porn and Has Partial Credit for Creating “He-Man”
Comic book and animated television writer Donald F. Glut wrote the novelization for The Empire Strikes Back, which was published in May of 1980, a few months ahead of the movie. The book contains all sorts of Star Wars “errors,” including Vader with a blue lightsaber (instead of red), Yoda with blue skin (instead of green), and a less flirty Han Solo — mostly because so much dialogue was changed during filming. (For example, the infamous “I love you/I know” exchange would have never made it into this novelization since it happened on set, not in the script.) There’s also a scene here which suggests Yoda has some hand-written manuscripts, which totally flies in the face of a paperless Star Wars universe that we’re used to. (And which I can’t ever shut up about.) More fascinating than the novelization itself, is the novelization’s writer: Donald F. Glut. Not only did he write for the 80’s cartoon The Masters of the Universe, he tried to collect royalties on some of the characters when they were sold as toys, but lost to Mattel in court.
But the hands-down most bizarre thing about him is his own personal website called Don Glut’s Dinosaurs. Here, the author of the book version of The Empire Strikes Back shows off photographs of his personal collection dinosaur bones, dinosaur toys, and to-scale dinosaur statues. Most of these photographs are accompanied by nearly-naked women who look like they have stepped directly off the pages of the Playboys my dad had lying around the house when I was a kid in the 80’s. When you start to think Star Wars itself doesn’t make sense, just try to wrap your mind around Glut’s weird dino-porn. Star Wars itself starts to seem like a dry documentary after you hit up this website.
Famed Fantasy Novelist Terry Brooks Wrote the Novelization of The Phantom Menace (and Hook, Too!)
That’s right, the author who wrote the famous Sword of Shannara series was asked to novelize the events of the most derided and hated Star Wars film of them all. Interestingly, this version starts with a hardcore podrace which rivals any action contained in the movie. Like many novelizations, this book did publish a few weeks before the film’s release, but it was issued as a full hardcover with several different alternate dust jackets available. The book also contains tons of background information about the Sith and why they’re so intent on getting their revenge. Brooks apparently had a long phone call with Lucas to sort all of this out. The novel also (possible intentionally) foreshadows specific events which wouldn’t be revealed until the subsequent two Star Wars films. In this way, The Phantom Menace novelization was 1999’s secret Star Wars Rosetta stone, only no one knew it at the time.
In 1999, getting Terry Brooks to write the novel version of the first new Star Wars movie in over a decade was a coup; he’s a super-popular writer who not only inspired a generation of fantasists, but literary stalwarts too. (Karen Russell gushes for Brooks in this New Yorker essay.) But Terry Brooks was no stranger to weird rabbit-holes of writing. In addition to penning the novelization of this prequel to the Star Wars film franchise, he also wrote the novelization of Hook in 1991. Hook of course is like a hardcore reboot of Peter Pan. This makes Brooks’s writing of the Hook novelization even stranger than his adaptation of The Phantom Menace. In fact, it may be the only writing act of its kind: adapting a screenplay into a book, but the screenplay is actually a remake/reimaging of a famous theatre play, which was also, at one point, a book.
There’s even more to love about crazy Star Wars books! But for now, just remember, even the most famous film series of all time would be very different if it weren’t thanks to the books that surround it, penetrate it, and somehow bind its galaxy together…