Monday 11 September 2017

Star Wars At 40 (pop-up 3) - The novelisation

Having seen the film and read the comics, my other big exposure to Star Wars in 1978 was the novelisation “by George Lucas” that I convinced my Dad I was old enough (at nine) to read.  He bought me the Sphere paperback (subtitled “From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker”with the flash “A spectacular motion picture from Twentieth Century-Fox!”) and I read it eagerly, going back over my favourite bits and thoroughly enjoying the “16 pages of fabulous colour” that used images from the pressbook (a fact I wouldn’t discover for some years).
Sphere paperback 1977, cover art by John Berkey (scan of my copy)
In an effort to drum up interest in the film (as he’d done with Marvel, which I wrote about here), Lucasfilm’s Charles Lippincott (whose official title was vice president of Advertising, Publicity, Promotion and Merchandising for the Star Wars Corporation) approached Ballantine Books in 1975 with a view to them publishing a novelisation.  They agreed and Lucas initially offered the ghost-writing job to his old friend and USC classmate Don Glut, who turned down the publishers terms - $5,000 up front, with no royalties or credit.  "For the next few years,” he later said in interview, “I kept kicking myself, like Lugosi after he turned down Frankenstein” (he later accepted Lucas' offer to write the novelisation for The Empire Strikes Back).  Ballantine then suggested Alan Dean Foster who had made his first professional sale to Analog Science Fiction And Fact in 1971, selling his first novel, The Tar-Aiym Krang, to Ballantine Books in 1972.  Of the Star Wars job he said, in interview, “My agent got a call from Lucas' lawyer of the time, Tom Pollock, as someone thought I might be the writer to do the novelisation of Lucas’ new film. I already knew his work through THX 1138 and American Graffiti. I accepted the offer to meet with George, and did so at Industrial Light & Magic (which I wrote about here), then in a small warehouse in Van Nuys, California.  We hit it off well, I got the assignment (for two books), and that’s how it happened.”

Foster met with production staff in December 1975, where he was given a script, some of Ralph McQuarrie’s pre-production art and a tour of Industrial Light & Magic.  He was also shown some special effects footage, which fired his imagination.  “Between the 16mm reel and McQuarrie’s art I felt I had a good idea [of what the film would look like],” he later said.  “But I was doubtful everything that was on the page would actually end up on screen. I was pretty stunned when it did, and then some.”
Sphere paperback 1977 back cover (scan of my copy)
Foster began work and was given a reasonable amount of freedom to flesh out the backstory of people, places, planets, aliens and technology, though he was told that nothing “should noticeably contradict anything that appears in the film”.  There are differences, of course - some of them are normal to novelisations, where the script used isn’t the final - or shooting - version or fall foul of editing decisions made further down the line.  In this case, Red Squadron is Blue in the novel, Grand Moff Tarkin joins Darth Vader in torturing Princess Leia in her cell  and there’s more activity from Luke’s squadron as they attack the Death Star.  Other changes include the Droids gaining an apostrophe - to ‘Droids - and being referred to as mechanicals, the Stormtroopers board the Tantive IV through the ceiling, Luke’s landspeeder has an enclosed cockpit, Obi-Wan Kenobi lives in a cave (and smokes a pipe) and three aliens attack our heroes in the Cantina (Ben cuts one of them in half).  Alderaan’s destruction isn’t described (and Ben doesn’t sense it), the Stormtrooper guarding the Millennium Falcon (TK-421 in the film) has the call sign THX-1138 and Chewbacca has bright yellow eyes (though he does get a medal at the end).

The book includes a prologue - and opens with “Another galaxy, another time...” rather than the now famous “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ...” - and even though Palpatine is mentioned (he wouldn’t appear in the films until The Empire Strikes Back), he is the "latest in a succession of weak-willed Emperors whose power has been curtailed by scheming bureaucrats".

Scenes on Tatooine between Luke and his friends Biggs Darklighter, Camie and Fixer at the Tosche Station are included and work well, giving Luke and Biggs’ later conversation before the Battle Of Yavin a sense of poignancy.  Jabba The Hutt also appears - the sequence was filmed with Declan Mulholland as the intergalatic gangster (and later used as the basis for the poor CGI effect in the Special Edition) - but Foster doesn’t specify if Jabba is human or not, describing him as “a great mobile tub of muscle and suet topped by a shaggy scarred skull”.

There is also this wonderful exchange.

[Ben says]“I understand you’re quite a good pilot yourself. Piloting and navigation aren’t hereditary, but a number of the things that can combine to make a good small-ship pilot are. Those you may have inherited. Still, even a duck has to be taught to swim.”
    “What’s a duck?” Luke asked curiously.

Foster completed the novel in six weeks, handing it to his editors in May 1976.  He had several meetings with Lucas and Lippincott over the summer, discussing story changes and other details, before handing in his final draft which Lucas reviewed and agreed.

Published in November 1976, Foster wasn't credited on the book as per his contract.  "It was George's idea," he said later, "I was merely expanding upon it. Not having my name on the cover didn't bother me in the least. It would be akin to a contractor demanding to have his name on a Frank Lloyd Wright house.”

Sphere paperback, 1978
Knowing he had a big world to explore, but with no guarantee of the films success, Lucas wanted a story in place he could shoot relatively cheaply, utilising sets and props.  Foster, contracted for two books, was called into a meeting and told “go write the sequel novel.”  He used similar locations, incorporated elements that were cut from the original scripts and focussed on Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa since Harrison Ford hadn’t signed up for a sequel and nobody knew if he’d return for a low-budget film.

As it turned out, of course, Star Wars was a huge success and The Empire Strikes Back followed in 1980.  Del Ray published Foster’s novel, now called Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye, in hardback (on 1st March 1978) and paperback (on 1st April 1978) and it was published in paperback in the UK by Sphere on 27th April 1978.  It effectively takes place between the two films (becoming the first entry in the Star Wars Extended Universe) and the lineage between Luke and Leia clearly hadn’t been established, since it features romantic tension between the pair.

Foster was asked to write further adventures but he refused, though he continued to write sci-fi novelisations - including The Black Hole, Outland, Krull, The Thing, Aliens and The Last Starfighter.  He returned to the Star Wars universe in 2001 with the prequel novel The Approaching Storm and also wrote the novelisation for The Force Awakens in 2015.

Foster kept his involvement with the novel secret until the news was broken in Dale Pollock's biography of George Lucas, Skywalking.  "I had a contract where I couldn't say I was the author and had to lie to a lot of people about it,” Foster said in 1986.  After Skywalking, “it seemed foolish (not to mention impossible) to continue denying involvement. My agents requested and received a release allowing me to admit my participation.”  For his part, George Lucas was always open about the fact Foster ghost-wrote the novel and later gave him full credit.
first edition Ballantine paperback, art by Ralph McQuarrie
The Del Ray paperback featured artwork by Ralph McQuarrie (as did Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye).  Contacted by George Lucas on 19th July 1976, McQuarrie began working on sketches straight away.  “I knew this was something that was going to be a point of sale item,” he said in interview.  “I wanted it to have a good first reading - Darth Vader in full size.”  He worked on several concepts and Lucas approved the final design on 28th July.  McQuarrie started work on the painting on the 29th July and finished it on 3rd August.  When the novel was reprinted to coincide with the film’s release, McQuarrie’s artwork was replaced by John Berkey’s painting, which was used until the Special Edition tie-in’s in the 90s.
Ralph McQuarrie concept sketches (from
George Lucas had long been a fan of John Berkey (he used some of his art as inspiration) and as well as some production art (he conceptualised the Death Star), the artist was also tasked with creating several paintings.  One of these was included as a poster with the soundtrack album (it includes several Millennium Falcon’s), another was used as cover artwork for the novel (and when the trilogy was released on DVD, Berkey’s paintings were used on the insert chapter listings).  Perhaps explaining the multiple Falcon’s, Berkey admitted in interview in 2005 that he had “yet to see Star Wars.  I suppose I should see it one of these days.”
art by John Berkey
The first edition paperback was published on 12th November 1976, over five months before the film opened in the US.  Hype was clearly building because it sold out its first print run of 125,000 copies in February 1977 and by May, when the film opened, Del Ray (a new imprint of Ballantine Books, specialising in sci-fi and fantasy) struggled to keep up the demand.  A hardback edition was published in November 1977, with Berkey cover art while the UK paperback was published by Sphere Books on 8th September 1977.  To date the novel has been re-printed over 60 times and sold millions of copies (approximately 50% of those reprints and revenue came from between 1976 and 1979).

Alan Dean Foster, who was born on 18th November 1946, continues to write.

Ralph McQuarrie (13th June 1929 - 3rd March 2012) contributed production art to many films.  He died of complications of Parkinson's disease and Lucas said of him, “His genial contribution, in the form of unequalled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original Star Wars trilogy. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph's fabulous illustrations and say, ‘do it like this’.”

John Berkey (13th August 1932 – 29th April  2008) was known for his space and science fiction themed work.  He died of heart failure.

Skywalking, by Dale Pollock
Alan Dean Foster interview with SFF World
Alan Dean Foster and the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, by Andrew Liptak - the Del Ray covers
John Berkey details at Kitbashed

2017 marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, which was released in the US on 25th May though it didn't hit the UK until 29th January 1978 (following a 27th December release in London).  I was lucky enough to see it in early 1978 and it remains my favourite film to this day.

To mark the anniversary, I'll be running a year-long blog thread about the film with new entries posted on the first Monday of each month.

May The Force Be With You!

Find all the entries in the thread here

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