Thursday, March 31, 2016

So You Want to Be A Jedi?

I stayed up late to finish this book (granted, it's not very long and I started late to begin with) and it's tearing me in two.  Light side and Dark side, perhaps?

The root of my many issues with So You Want To Be A Jedi? is the choice of author: Adam Gidwitz.  I adore his A Tale Dark and Grimm series.  I love everything about it--the cheeky narration, the fourth-wall breakage, the unrelenting grittiness, and his remaining faithful to the original texts.  But as you'll see, his snarky tone and penchant for fairy tales sends this book off to the Outer Rim.

And even Adam Gidwitz addresses, in the introduction to this book, the incongruity of him and The Empire Strikes Back.  He's basically like, "Yo, they had me do this, and I wrote these other awesome books about fairy tales, and Star Wars is a fairy tale, so they thought I could do this too!"  And then, in a rather impressive CYA move, he starts talking about hero archetypes et cetera, which is fun when you're in college or even high school and talking about, I don't know, Jungian-based criticism, but for kiddos?  I'm not sure they're going to buy it.

That being said, I most highly recommend Adam Gidwitz's other books, and I really loved parts of this retelling, but overall, it was kind of a bust, and most definitely not as good as Alexandra Bracken's kick-butt The Princess, The Smuggler, and the Farm Boy.

What did I like about this?  Gidwitz has a very unique voice and he maintains it in this book.  He's a very funny writer, and I found myself giggling at certain turns of phrase or passages.  Additionally, he does all of Luke's action in second-person narration.

Wait, wait!  Come back!  I know that it's very cool to hate on second-person narration.  I get it.  But whether out of a perverse need to be contrary or simply because it pleases me, I love it.  It's a version of the unreliable narrator that is so dear to my heart.

And here, it fits what he's trying to go for.  He wants to make you, the reader, into Luke Skywalker.  To think about his decisions and why he did what he did.  It almost works.

The cleverness of this little narrative conceit is offset by three big problems: a random switch to 3rd person omniscient narration in the chapters not about Luke, these weird zen/yoga chapters, and inconsistencies with the original dialogue.

Most fans agree that The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the trilogy (for me, it's a toss-up between Empire and A New Hope, which I love for its sense of wide-eyed wonder and freshness), so you can't just do a retelling only from Luke's point of view.  The decision to make Luke second-person POV means that either the rest of the story needs to be written as such, which negates the purpose of the narrative choice, or it has to be told differently.  The switches between second (Luke) and third (everybody else) are a bit jarring, and I wonder if this would be confusing to kids, especially those who many have only picked up the book because it's Star Wars.

Secondly, a large chunk of the book are "Jedi lessons" ordered by the letters of the Greek alphabet (alpha, beta, gamma, etc.).  Here's an example:

"Lesson Kappa: Relax! People Are Shooting at You

Get someone to help you.


You are going to stand on one foot, or balance that book on your head, and someone is going to--very gently--throw things at you ... Do one second of instantaneous meditation--close your eyes, smile, breath in and out, open your eyes."

Sorry, did I sign up for a mindfulness class when I picked this up at the library?  Why am I in tree pose while people throw socks at me?  It made me cringe a bit.  I know that Gidwitz is trying to explain the principles of using the Force and being a Jedi in terms that we use today, but it seem a lot like the "hokey religion" that Han accuses it of being when you have these little lessons.  Also, why the Greek alphabet?  I'm probably veering into EU/Legends territory here, but Basic does have an alphabet that's often seen in books and a lot of (still canon!) video games.

Thirdly, there are some odd and unnecessary digressions from the original story and some of the most famous lines in the movie.  If you hate nitpicking, please skip this entire section of the review, because there are many nits to be picked.  Er, mynocks to be shot.  Whatever.  Again, if this is a child's first introduction to Star Wars and they haven't seen it a gajillion times like me or people my age or older, then they probably won't care.

I care.

The pilot who fires the first tow cable at the AT-AT under Luke's direction is not identified as Wedge Antilles, but just "the pilot."  Ever since I was a kid, I have had a massive crush on Wedge.  Do not erase Wedge.

Luke compares the AT-ATs to "elephoths," which are creatures that I believe Gidwitz invented.  He has equipment to hunt them on Hoth, but also encounters them on Dagobah, which, in case you missed it, is a completely different ecosystem.  Why would rebel snowsuits have elephoth equipment if elephoths live in the jungle?

Yoda tells a story that I'm pretty sure is an adapted fairy tale about three sons and chickens laying golden eggs, because of course he does.   I'm pretty sure this is a variant of "The Golden Bird" by the Brothers Grimm, but with bits and pieces of other fairy tales tossed in.

Gidwitz has Leia turn off C-3PO's "audio output" instead of switching him off entirely, which she does in the film.

Only Han is tortured in the chair on Bespin, not Leia, as Gidwitz states.  Luke does say that "they're in pain," but he can also be referring to emotional pain.

And then there are iconic lines that are misdelivered.  "Apology accepted, Captain Needa," becomes "Apology accepted."

When Luke does that funky flip in the carbonite freezing chamber, Gidwitz has Vader say "Impressive" instead of the iconic "Impressive ... Most impressive."  I know this seems small, but when you and a billion other people have been quoting this movie for decades, someone doing a retelling, if they decide to use the original dialogue, then they should use it correctly.

Finally, the "it's impossible' line isn't even there.  It's not there.

It pains me to say all this.  Gidwtiz's breezy narration, while amusing, doesn't suit the tone of the story.  The second person narration, while clever, doesn't quite work out.  And please, I beg of writers, never do a Jedi-how-to with yoga and mindful breathing again.

Skip this one and read Alexandra Bracken's take on A New Hope instead.  It was fun and smart and feminist and wholly true to the original tale.




3 comments:

  1. From what you say, I feel sorry for the author. He has been doing very well with fairy tales and suddenly his publisher says, "Do this. We can really cash in on the current craze. Go on, how different can it be from what you usually write? Star Wars IS a fairy tale, with spaceships." And then he thinks, oh, well, maybe they're right, why not have a go?
    Personally, if I wanted to introduce a child to this universe, I'd just show them the movies!

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    1. Sue, that is literally what he wrote in his introduction. And I felt bad for him--I really did. The other books in this series were written by a die hard Star Wars fan (Alex Bracken) and a guy who's done Star Wars books before (Tom Angleberger).

      Yep, the films are iconic for a reason. Although I do have so many kidlets come in and ask for "Star Wars books" that I am glad that Disney has this big push for more novels in the now-canon universe, because I have more to pull from! Yes, I am very selfish. :)

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    2. Yes, but those kids have seen at least one of the films. They want "more of.." not an introduction to...

      I have, somewhere, the very first novelisation with George Lucas's name on the cover, though it was ghost written by Allan Dean Foster. I think Wedge is in there... ;-)

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