Acclaimed, New York Times best-selling author Adam Gidwitz delivers a captivating retelling of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back like you’ve never experienced before, infusing the iconic, classic tale of good versus evil with a unique perspective and narrative style that will speak directly to today’s young readers while enhancing the Star Wars experience for core fans of the saga.
Writer: Adam Gidwitz
Cover Artist: Khoa Ho
Publisher: Disney – Lucasfilm Press
Page Count: 311 pages
Release Date: 19 March 2019
Well, actually, I want to be a Sith, but I did glean insights about Jedi ways that a padawan will learn in reading this book. And, it will also amuse them, engage them, and implicate them. Readers who have seen the film will delight in reading thoughts their favorite characters had that weren’t conveyed on the screen, adding another dimension to the story, and both old and new readers will enjoy being implicated in the action.
The use of second-person point of view involves the reader in the action. Young readers will appreciate this invitation to participate as sometimes they might feel the world ignores a kids’ views of things. It gives them a place in the action and veers from conventional, traditional modes of storytelling. Beginning with the Author’s Note at the front of the book to the very end, the reader is addressed directly, having to answer questions, and accept being told what is happening to them:
“It rears up out of nowhere, a giant gorilla-polar-bear-abominable-snow-man-like creature. You see its tiny eyes and enormous, grinning mouth–for just an instant…
…And then you are in the air, flying.
Then you hit the snow
You lie there.
Your tauntaun screams.
This excerpt a prime example of being in the midst of a situation. Paired with the use of the short sentences and phrases, structured as such, it makes the reader live this scene. How can a reader resist?
My cynical, old mind is bothered by the use of Earth-creatures to describe the wampa. I would prefer descriptive words, not a comparison, create the image for me to keep me in this galaxy far, far away. But this approach may be best to keep the action moving and efficiently create an image in a young, short-attention-spanned reader’s mind to keep her or him reading.
The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite romance. Gidwitz acknowledges a kid’s quite different view of the romantic scenes, like the one early in the story when Han tries to say goodbye to Leia on Hoth:
“[Han] rolls his eyes, ‘Well don’t get all mushy on me,’ he snaps…I am going to skip this next part, as it does indeed get mushy. I will, in fact, skip all the mushy parts of the story to follow.”
Delightfully, after each chapter, is a “Lesson” for a young Jedi hopeful. This is one of my favorite parts of this novel because it calls on the reader to take action and think about the skills behind the action of the story; it’s a book that prompts readers to move their bodies or meditate on a situation just like Yoda has Luke doing on Dagobah.
The lessons are fun, like dodging soft objects you have someone throw at you, and sometimes less physical and more thought-provoking, like this one:
Do Something Disgusting
Sometimes we have to do things that are gross.
You are at someone’s home. They serve you a plate of fried kidneys. You eat it.
You are talking to a friend. She picks her nose right in front of you. You keep talking as if nothing happened.”
But they get the reader to stop and contemplate, think through a situation and consider how they might face a challenge, perhaps rely on a practiced strategy instead of impulse in a challenging situation.
The book also gives us certain points of view that we don’t get through the films–which I love! One instance of this is when we get to see Luke’s point of view as he arrives on Bespin and senses Vader’s presence:
“Who is here. Suddenly, you sense it. It feels like someone has walked into a room where you’ve been sleeping. You sense him and wake.
His presence is like Ben’s once was–except inverted. Every feeling you had for your teacher, your mentor, the closest thing you ever had to a father, is flipped. Love is hatred. Peace is fear. The cold sweat has spread, crawling down your back and up your scalp. Vader, who killed Ben. Vader, who killed your father before that. Here. Waiting for you.”
Now, most of us know that [spoiler alert] Vader will reveal himself as Luke’s father soon after this but having Luke’s inner thoughts at this point in time intensifies Vader’s reveal. We may have imagined that this was going through his head as he arrived on Bespin, but to see it expressed impacts that pivotal, infamous moment we learn of Luke’s connection to Vader.
For this fan, who has seen that scene a thousand times, reading Luke’s inner thoughts at this moment gave me the chills. Words on a page gave me the chills. Simply fantastic! Isn’t it wonderful and awesome that books have that power?
Another thrill is the alliteration the symbolic weight of Luke, mid-battle with Vader, when Vader falls and Luke following Vader into the darkness:
“He has disappeared into the gloom. The room has holes in it, it turns out, holes that disappear into a great black mess of pipes. They must lead, you figure, to the central reactor of the mining colony. You switch off your lightsaber, hook it to your belt, and take a long, slow breath.
Then you follow Vader into the darkness.”
Oh, how that brings the reader along for the trip into the darkness, which Luke is certainly making with his dark feelings of wanting to pursue and destroy Vader. Not very Jedi-like, those thoughts, now, are they, Luke?
The implications of the “dirtiness” of droids and contagions passed between them exemplifies classic Star Wars bits of humor. Near the end of the story, C-3PO is, surprise, complaining about where Artoo got his information about the hyperdrive on the Falcon:
“The computer on Bespin told you? You know you can trust strange computers! And who knows what kind of diseases you have now! You should be wearing gloves while you’re working on me!”
It’s amusing, but it also adds a dimension to the universe and the implications of having droids that are relied upon to gather and store information. Just like our computers get viruses, and we get diseases from not using the proper protection, droids also pass along malicious “bugs” to each other. Threepio implies that Artoo may be more promiscuous than other droids by wondering what he’s picked up “now.” And it’s totally believable that Artoo would have a naughty reputation for picking them up.
The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite film of the Star Wars saga. I have to acknowledge that I bring an immense bias to the way my favorite story is told. What keeps me from 100% gushing appraisal of this book are the misquotes, like this one.
Han, annoyed with C-3PO while they’re stuck in the exogorth says in the book:
“Professor, why don’t you go help Chewie with the hyperdrive? See if he appreciates your analysis.
In the film, he says, “Chewie, take the professor in the back and plug him into the hyperdrive.”
And these moments paused my delight in the novel because it disrupted my memory of the film. But as a literary nerd and English professor, I know that if something provokes the reader, the reader must investigate deeper and understand that provocation. And, of course, I pressed on.
What I’ve concluded is that maybe I’m remembering the lines wrong (nope), or I am not the target demographic for this novel, and maybe the lines were changed for that audience, or perhaps the lines were like that in the original script for The Empire Strikes Back–as a true Star Wars fan, perhaps I should know that, then.
The lime green cover has a black silhouette of Yoda, and small at his feet in green silhouette is battling Luke versus Vader with their white sabers locked. It imposes the significance Yoda plays in this chapter of the saga and as someone who tried to delay this face-off between two generations of Skywalkers.
I adore the color and black-and-white concept artwork intertwined in the story. Seeing the early inception of the story is a sweet treat and attests to the seemingly magical process that leads from ideal to the final product. It also ties into the theme that there is a process to achievements. Just as Luke is in the process of becoming a Jedi, we see the process of how this story was prepared for the screen…then eventually this book.
What a vital lesson, that is, not only for people at any age, but probably more so for young people in such a time in their life where their bodies and minds are changing or about to change at a rapid rate, and they grapple with immediate joys and discomforts of what these growing pains could be. Sometimes young people cannot see beyond the process or see the humor in it, and this book draws that out, gets them to consider it, live it, through a story that is so familiar to and beloved by many and made very engaging to those who experience it for the first time.