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Star Wars: The Force Unleashed – The one with only the words in it. July 18, 2010

Converting things from one medium to another medium is always a tricky beast. A story that works great in one form doesn’t always work well in the other. The absolute best forms of each medium are ones that cannot be done in another. There’s no way you can take the best comic and make it into a novel or a book. Same with the best Novel. The medium that I feel is most exemplary of this is Video Games.

Book Cover

Only one of at least 200 Storm troopers destroyed in this book

Other things you do for entertainment consumption are generally passive. Sure, some plays you go to use crowd participation, but usually you just sit there and let the actors do their jobs. Same with books, movies, comics, music, and interpretive dance. With games, nothing happens unless you make it happen.  Now, you may only  be able to make happen what the developers want you to make happen, but it still stands that to get  enjoyment out of it you have to do something. You are more or less in control of the actions of the characters.

There is a lot more  that goes into it, but that’s the big issue. The video game of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is my favorite Star Wars based game since Republic Commando (They’re both on steam). It’s a very enjoyable experience, and it does a wonderful job of filling in one of the story gaps between Episodes III and IV of the Star Wars story. The writers were working with some hard constraints as to what they  could an could not do with the story, and they did a smash bang job.

I was surprised at how much ‘canon’ they were allowed to play with. This story effectively made itself a HUGE  part of star wars lore in a way most Extended Universe stories can’t and don’t. They essentially went in a way where “A New Hope” doesn’t happen if not for the events of this game. I found that kind of cool. One of the things Lucas Arts wanted to do with this story was branch it into many paths. The video game was the main focus, that’s the money maker. The comic book and the Novel were just nice additions. The story is good enough that a decent writer should be able to catch and enhance the good parts of it. The comic that Haden Blackman did with Brian Ching and David ross was very good. It was a straight forward adaptation with good enough artwork. Nothing to complain about, and for the $7 I spent on it I was very very well pleased.

I just picked up the Novelization from Sean Williams from the library and ran through it. It’s been over a year since I read the comic or played the game. I enjoy the story so much that it was a joy to get back into it in a different way. As a book it is a quick read. The only thing that might slow someone down is the rare use of made up Star Wars words. The game talks a lot about the different Jedi Fighting styles which don’t mean ANYTHING to people who have seen the sun in the past forty years. It really is kind of dumb. They’re brief mentions, and I guess if you are familiar with all those fake martial arts terms then it’ll help paint a visual, but otherwise it’s all gobblygook.

Williams does do a nice job of showing instead of telling. Which is a hard thing to explain in novels. I was afraid that the novelization would fall into the trap that most video game adaptations fall into, which is just bullet point telling you what happened in the game. They don’t actually convey the plot as a story.

The biggest downfall to this book is that it is ultimately based on a video game. Some of the conceits you give to a game because you know what you’re working with there you may not give to a book. I LOVE adventure stories. I love the notion of exploration and finding new environments. I also understand that costs A LOT of money to develop in a game. Building new worlds from the ground up isn’t easy, nor is it cheap. So if during a game you change an environment some so that when I revisit it I feel it’s a little different, but not terrible I’m okay with that.

When I’m reading a book, that is not what I want to have happen. I don’t want to go all fetch questy. I don’t want to end up where I just was an hour ago. Not enough time passes while reading a book to really warrant seeing three of the same places twice.  It just feels kind of funny. I wonder if people unfamiliar with the game will feel the same way, though. Or will they just not understand what’s happening or why it’s happening.  It’s possible you’ll be more accepting of it than I am.

That complaint aside the characterizations here are spot on. This story is really about Darth Vader’s secret apprentice’s movement from being an unknowing pawn in a grand game to a knowing pawn trying to move himself on the board. Maybe even being a rook or a bishop or something cooler than a pawn. The Apprentice, No Name Starkiller, starts off as a nondescript evil person sent on a series of errands to blow fools up. Through various interactions with his pilot, Juno Eclipse, and is trusty droid, Proxy, he quickly becomes someone fun to follow, if not quite sympathetic. PROXY isn’t as loveable here as he is in the game, but that’s to be expected. (I apologize in advance for the following phrase) the nuance of his character work in the game is just pretty close to imposible to catch in words. Williams trys, but you never get the full fun sense of a robot’s who’s primary job is to kill his master in the book. Imagine Cato Fong, but going for blood instead of goofily flustering Inspector Clouseau.

The book moves along under the motivation that The Apprentice is working with Vader and eventually Vader will topple the emperor with Starkiller at his side.  The book really gets moving once all of that is thrown out of the window. Unfortunately you realize that you only have 100 pages or so to go at this point. You want so much more. Now that Starkiller is someone you feel for you understand that absolutely nothing good can happen the rest of the story.

My second big complaint is the stories biggest strength. That’s how tightly it ties into Episode IV. While it gives you some sort of emotional tether, the first half of the story that didn’t have any of that worked great anyway. When you bring in Mon Mothma, Bail and Leia Organa, and characters like that, even in cameo roles we as readers/viewers/players all know they don’t die here. They can’t die. The goal is to make us wonder how they get out of whatever predicaments they’re in. I also wonder how other characters are moved out of play from the end of this story to the beginning of Episode IV.

Essentially though none of that is really important. The important thing is that we got a cool look at a part of the timeline that wasn’t filled in before, and it was done well. Minor complaints aside the book is a decent read. I’m thinking about telling my little brother to check it out just to get a different point of view on it from  someone much younger and someone who hasn’t played the game.

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