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Thursday, 6 June 2013

CLASSIC REVIEW: 'A NEW HOPE - THE LIFE OF LUKE SKYWALKER' BOOK



A NEW HOPE: THE LIFE OF LUKE SKYWALKER

A STAR WARS CHARACTER BIOGRAPHY


By Ryder Windham

Published in the UK by SCHOLASTIC BOOKS


Reviewed by Scott Weller


This review contains mild spoilers


A NEW HOPE- A NEW HERO- A NEW JEDI


On a desert planet called Tatooine, far away from the brightest centre of the universe, who would have believed that a period of civil war in the galaxy would reach a critical nexus on its arid continents, as a young innocent, Luke Skywalker, discovers a plea for help from a Rebel Princess. Her calling was heard but, due to a short time of concern for, and his responsibilities, to his long protective elders, was not at first responded to. Soon, however, a tragic series of cross currents would propel Luke into an adventure beyond any of the wildest daydreams he’d immersed himself within during all his growing life. A true hero was quickly born-and from the struggles of war, a haunting family history, and a confrontation with true evil, leading to the redemption of his once proud family heritage, a Jedi Knight-the greatest of them all-would emerge.

Luke Skywalker-an iconic figure: a Rebel hero, a loyal friend, a loving brother, and a decent man- inspiring others to join him in his conflict against an enemy whose tyranny and oppression had enslaved a galaxy for twenty years. Here was A New Hope shining brighter than the brightest stars in the heavens of the STAR WARS universe, and one that fans of the Saga, young and old across the world, thrill to see whenever he appears on screen, so brilliantly portrayed by Mark Hamill, or reaching out from the printed world of books and comics within the Expanded Universe.

Now, popular author Ryder Windham charts the life and times of our noble hero, The Hero with a Thousand Faces to whom Joseph Campbell would be most proud, in the third of his popular adventure/biography tales.

As with his previous highly successful biographies, Windham uses the same story framing technique to tell the life story, this one opening just after the events of the battle of Endor and the destruction of both the second DEATH STAR and Emperor Palpatine.  Despite the comfort that his fathers reign of terror as Darth Vader has been destroyed and purged from the universe- the man behind the fearsome mask now redeemed and reborn in the Force as Anakin Skywalker- Luke still feels like a fish out of water, unaware of his true life history and that of his parentage, as well as knowing virtually nothing, bar the slight pieces of information he’d previously received from Yoda and Obi-Wan, about the ancient Jedi Knights that once flourished and protected the galaxy until ORDER 66 resonated throughout the galaxy. And his relationship with his newly discovered sister, Leia Organa, is now spiky at best-her being uncomfortable about the recent revelations that Luke had revealed with regards to the identity of her true father and, repelled by the idea, rejecting it to a large degree, especially after witnessing first hand the Dark Lord’s depths of severe cruelty, torture and tyranny whilst she was Vader’s prisoner on board the first DEATH STAR, during a period which now seemed such a long time ago.

For Luke, it has already been an incredible journey of sadness, of personal tragedy, of almost losing one self to the Dark Side, but he has triumphed over such adversity through courage and risk taking. But there is still so much further to accomplish. Now that the Empire is in its long death throes, he is determined to discover more about the Skywalker family name and the Jedi Order-only then will he feel like a complete being, with a purpose as a Jedi-no longer the loner-and only then can he also successfully begin to start a new legion of Jedi to protect the galaxy against the last remnants of the Dark Side, still very much trying to win back power within the galaxy’s inner core. To look to the future, Luke realizes that looking back into the past has never been more important…

The first near 100 pages of the book are taken up with Luke’s all important life on Tatooine-the hero to be who, for years, dreamt of a life less ordinary- of adventure and excitement beyond the confines of his humdrum existence and job on the desert world. From humble beginnings as a four year old, whose Force sensitive powers and abilities are just starting to break through-protected by the ultimately doomed Lars family- the loving Aunt Beru and the over cautious, and at times too stoic in his beliefs and attitudes, Uncle Owen Lars- to a nineteen year old wanting to break out and enter the space academy. At times mocked by his peers, and treated too sternly by Uncle Owen, Luke, despite many disappointments, will soon embark on the greatest journey any youngster could ever anticipate, facing up to challenges and responsibilities that would make other people buckle under such enormous pressures.

I have always enjoyed reading tales and comic stories about Luke’s life on Tatooine prior to STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE –the naïve innocence he had then, the foreshadowing of events, the fact that somewhere out in the foreboding Jundland Wastes a mysterious figure named Ben Kenobi was awaiting the moment when the boy would be ready to begin his life changing journey-keeping watch on him from afar, whilst an unawares Luke tries to have adventures and live a life beyond the norm, with his friends, especially Biggs Darklighter, throughout the regions of Anchorhead and the Lars Homestead. I particularly liked the friendship between Luke and Biggs-on screen, in the deleted scenes and in the restore section of Yavin IV for the SPECIAL EDITION, the acting between Mark Hamill and Garrick Hagon was very strong and believable. The pair are the best of friends, almost closer than brothers can be in the things they’ve done to unleash their adventurous spirits, and are a very believable, very trusting young friendship. I guess we all wished that we had friendships as close and meaningful in our lives whilst growing up. There’s also the AMERCIAN GRAFFITI element to it, the exploration of George Lucas’s youth in his small town of Modesto, the outcast amongst the other big shot kids –the actual unlucky ones who’ll never leave the town because they’ve got too much to lose, scared of responsibility for the future. The big mouths of this alternate fantasy world, like the big king in a small pond, Fixer, the beautiful but callow and singular Camie, and the spirit lacking Deak and Windy are such as those. Stereotypes they could have been, but, along with Biggs, each has become unique through the legends of the infamous cut scenes universe of STAR WARS. In fact, it may be because of those lost scenes that anything to do with Tatooine and the heart pleasing yesteryear innocence of Luke and his friends has become so magical to me. Though deleted, their presence in the STAR WARS universe has created a unique side to Luke in his friendship with Biggs that we never officially saw in any full entirety, but still lives on. It’s all of these ingredients which the comics and the other Expanded Universe media have recreated so well over time, and which readers will continue to read and re-read. And, I think it’s safe to say, there’s still much more that can be written in the future about Luke’s childhood.

Of the Tatooine lifestyle so nicely written by Windham, Biggs and Luke are indeed the couple of “shooting stars that will never be stopped”, and I loved the scene where the pair go out and shoot womprats in the desert canyons- it reminded me of that terrific piece of artwork by Hugh Fleming’s of the pair traveling about in the Landspeeder and having amazing adventures within the dangerous wilderness of the Dune Sea. It’s nice to see the author thinking carefully about the characters history and embellishing and building on ideas, and established events, in surprising ways that I had never really considered previously (as an additional plus, not only in this section but the rest of the book, parts of his created dialogue for Luke feels right-I can see Mark Hamill playing Luke Skywalker once again and saying those words). Of additional character building, the Lars family benefits from the expansion. Watching them just from the original movies, you’d never assume that they might have other family connections-i.e., that Beru had a life beyond the Moisture Farm and staying in the kitchen just saying “Hello” to people!!, that she actually had a sister and a brother in law. Windham also goes on to explain other important questions and, as before in previous books in the range, addresses/corrects continuity issues and inconsistencies where he can (like what happened to the Lars family gravestones between EPISODEs II and IV?). Again, this is another attempt to make the story flow better as a cohesive whole and show the events that make Luke the man, and Jedi, he was to become. It also ties up all the loose ends where possible up to the point where the Jawa Sandcrawler arrives with an unusual pairing of two droids, one of whom carries an important message for help within its squat frame that will change the young farm boy’s life forever...

Amongst the noted life story highlights is the welcome inclusion of one of my favourite 1978 STAR WARS comic adventures from MARVEL- CRUCIBLE, written by Archie Goodwin and Chris Claremont- in which Luke and Biggs, a year or so prior to the events of STAR WARS EPISODE IV, race against time to warn the residents of Anchorhead of a major Sandpeople attack. I was always very fond of that story as an eight year old and, in places, it very much felt like cannon to me, so its inclusion is terrific. Additionally, all the important Expanded Universe material set before the first movie also plays a critical part in the storytelling, like sections from the first episode of the late Brian Daley’s excellent radio adaptation of STAR WARS from 1979. Kudos to Windham for also managing to include a mention for the recent, and highly enjoyable to read, REBEL FORCE book series, too.

Beyond Tatooine, other areas of Luke’s life and persona are given some mild exploration. He may be the greatest Jedi in the galaxy-a formidable threat to Imperial Governors and sadistic baddies everywhere- but he’s never been lucky in love or in his relationships with the opposite sex!! He’s certainly met a wide variety of beautiful and unusual women over the years-some friend, some foe (and all intriguing in many ways-no doubt attracted by his boyish charm and innocent appealing looks), but his ultimate vision of the beautiful Princess whom he dreamed of rescuing whilst in his years of isolation on Tatooine, when eventually wish fulfilled, died in flames when it ultimately   transpired that A: she was in love with another rogue-his brotherly rival in some respect, and B: that she was his sister!! Two double whammies that would knock anyone out of the fight!! After that, history would go on to deny him further love and companionship-either through emotional sacrifice and personal loss- many times prior to the books events taking place after the end of RETURN OF THE JEDI.

As a record of those loves won and lost, the book is woefully inadequate (disappointingly, there’s only a brief mention of several important ladies, including Imperial spy turned Rebel pilot, Shira Brie, whilst his early relationship with Princess Leia is barely touched on either-and nothing on 1978’s SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE? Perhaps Windham is saving all that for a separate book on everyone’s favourite Princess?), though two instances of unusual situations with galactic females are selected by Windham that go on to prove critically important in the books second half, including the mysterious S’ybll –a woman with unusual powers who is swiftly able to beguile Luke on an isolated jungle world .

With the initiating of his joining the Rebel Alliance, after destroying the DEATH STAR, now established, two comic strip short stories form the basis of the framework of the second half of the book leading to events traveled on the dark road of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (including one where Luke, entangled in an unusual situation with a young girl, Frija, and her renegade Imperial Governor father, accidentally discovers the ice planet of Hoth, which later becomes the Rebel’s new secret base) and the end, and subsequent aftermath, of JEDI. There is also a culmination of sorts regarding Luke’s attempts to find out more about his father, but this plotline ultimately, and sadly, falls by the wayside, and what was left of the books biographical framework at the halfway point comes to an end once Luke returns to Tatooine after discovering some intriguing information on Anakin- an adventure linked to plot elements from the popular book sequel to the desert planet saga established in the Prequel movies-TATOOINE GHOST, by Troy Denning.

With the link to TATOOINE GHOST, the author then creates his own personal homage to the tales of STAR WARS adventure that he enjoyed in his youth, a tribute to adventure writers like the aforementioned late Archie Goodwin and Chris Claremont for MARVEL comics, whose tales Windham clearly enjoyed in his youth. It’s here that the overall book, despite the general fun of reading it, seems to lose its focus somewhat. The biography elements stop and its back to space for Luke on a mission to an abandoned Imperial station and a confrontation with an unusual foe from his recent past, in a generally exciting tale bridging the gap to the two aforementioned popular STAR WARS 1980’s newspaper comic strip stories created by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson for the LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE NEWSPAPERS.

Being the ultimate iconic hero of the Original Trilogy to so many people over the last thirty two plus years, and beyond, we all have our own ideas as to what constitutes the best stories and incidents for Luke Skywalker that should have been included in the book, and we are disappointed when some of them don’t appear. Windham ultimately has made his own personal choice and has to maintain a difficult balancing act in selecting material to be used, as there have been so many pieces of excellent storytelling and developments to the character- far too much to cram in a 200 page book. You can’t please all the people all the time, but his selections are petty good overall. If anything, the lack of some of our popular stories tells us that much more can de done in the future –perhaps another book-to continue the rich tapestry of Luke Skywalker’s life. That the reading adventure has only just begun…

I know this novel is ideally a younger readers book set for 9-12 year olds, but I was hoping that Luke’s search for clues to his father’s past, and to discover his own identity at the same time, would be a little bit meatier in its story ambitions and character development, what with the Skywalker family-father and son-being so important and so focused within the film saga. The way it all unfolds only scratches the surface, and in a way that’s not totally satisfying.

Additionally, not wanting to repeat material described in the previous Vader/Kenobi books in the series is understandable but more of the plots and storyline for RETURN OF THE JEDI should have been included, and possibly expanded on, in this edition – it’s just too important a series of events with regards to establishing what Luke will become for the future.

An opportunity to give the book some final depth in its last few pages comes across as a little shallow-despite the many interesting ways Luke’s life has, at times, been more tragic than Darth Vader’s- and is all wrapped up rather too quickly in my opinion, though the finale epilogue is commendably penned and I can see Mark Hamill as Luke in that last moment-if only to remind us what we’ve missed by Lucas not having made EPISODEs VII to IX!!

In final analysis, read in the vein of the classic STAR WARS comic strips, of which the title is respectfully dedicated to Archie Goodwin, the book is a fine read for the youngsters, but as part of this biography-like series it ultimately falls a little wide off the mark.

AFICIONADO RATING: Beyond the beautiful artwork by Mike Butkus on the hardback slip cover/s, the book works as a homage to the spirit of Archie Goodwin’s STAR WARS tales, but it doesn’t ultimately feel like a well rounded life story. We hope that this is only the first part of Luke’s biographical journey, and that there will be a second edition on our favourite character at an eventual future point. 7.5 out of 10

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