Star Wars: A New Hope: The Princess, the Scoundrel and the Farm Boy
By Alexandra Bracken
Audible version read by Marc Thompson and Rebecca Soler (5 hours 5 mins)
A novel for Star Wars fans of all ages
Listening to the audiobook version of this retelling of A New Hope feels like a warm blanket on a cool night. Of course the story is familiar, intimate even, to my conscious and unconscious mind from my frequent viewing of the film over the years. But this book did not simply tell me a story I already knew. Bracken (and the crisp, eerily accurate voice acting of Thompson and Soler) brought me closer than ever to the iconic trio by exposing their inner thoughts and illuminating their struggles and the sources of their strength. The pacing was ideal and the narrative format, while essentially linear, was built around each title character’s journey rather than strictly following the scene structure of the movie. I think this was brilliant and added a sense of freshness and originality to a familiar tale.
By no means am I saying the characters in the film lack dimension, but a book has the advantage of being able to fully explore the private thoughts of its principals in a way that movies cannot. Bracken takes takes the opportunity to show us the doubts, inspirations and personal growth of each of the title characters as well as color in some minor characters from the film in a more meaningful way.
The scene in which Vader interrogates Leia on the Deathstar is a perfect example of how the author takes what we have seen on screen and pulls us deeper into it. We see Vader as a master manipulator, abducting and drugging a defenseless young woman and then disguising himself as a trusted friend as she struggles to maintain enough conscious control to resist his horrid machinations. As I listened to Vader speaking inside Leia’s mind, I felt uneasy. I was more frightened of him in these passages than I have been since I was a child. I witnessed Leia’s struggle and her fear as Vader tried to psychologically hold her underwater.
Similarly, I felt with a new depth Leia’s sorrow at the loss of her family, her home, and everything that mattered when Tarkin obliterated Alderaan. What really struck me was how Leia internally resolved to “fold away” her grief. It gave her strength and determination even more poignancy as she rose to the challenges ahead. She could have given up, wallowed in her pain, but Bracken helps us understand why she didn’t.
The book is not all sobering stuff however. The author and, I’ll say it again, the incomparable Marc Thompson, bring the pure joy of Han Solo into full technicolor focus right from his first appearance in the Mos Eisley Cantina. He is everything we love about Han– delivered like a shot to the arm (the first shot, of course.) His lines are funny and ring true. His motivations are more deeply explored and when he makes his decision at the climax to do the right thing, it is believable and it packs the same punch as the film version.
Biggs Darklighter, the old friend Luke sees in the hangar before the attack on the Deathstar, is given much more shading than in the film. Bracken made him so real to me that I cried when he died during the battle. I have never done that before in all my times watching the movie. I see him now as a more fleshed out hero who gave up a life of privilege to die for the Rebellion.
But the character I really feel that I understand better now is Luke Skywalker. Of course I am well acquainted with this hero, from the films and through the magnificent novels of the Thrawn Trilogy. But this book brings me into a more intimate and appreciative relationship with the New Hope Luke. Where perhaps I may have somewhat unfairly characterized him as a bit of an entitled and immature teen, I now see him better as a young man on the cusp of greatness who is feeling the pain of loss and the fear of disappointing those who have placed their trust in him. To become the Jedi he will be, Luke must stretch and grow beyond anything Tatooine could have prepared him for. As he sets out on the mission to destroy the Deathstar –as close to a suicide mission as you can get– Luke is plagued by his sense of abandonment: the family who raised him, Ben, and Han. Though hurt by their loss, he draws strength from what they meant to him while they were in his life. He goes on for them and for his friends: Leia, R2D2, the patient and insightful Wedge Antilles and Biggs Darklighter.
I think that anyone who loves Star Wars will enjoy this book on some level, even if they have read the whole expanded universe collection and are a lore master to rival Lucas himself. Because there is something here that connects us to what A New Hope meant to us when it was new. An innocence, maybe? A sense that we can come from anywhere and be a hero, make a difference. We can overcome loss and gain friends who will always live in our hearts. I commend Bracken for being able to tell a familiar story with such freshness and a warmth that could only come from loving the Princess, the Scoundrel and the Farmboy like I do, which is like a first love: deeply, truly and indelibly.