Jason Fry’s novelization of The Last Jedi is a retelling of Rian Johnson’s film, with a greater emphasis on the characters and less humor. Like most novelizations, the book sticks pretty close to the story we saw on screen back in December. However, Fry gets to spend time inside the characters’ heads, shedding light on how the characters viewed certain events.
This technique provides quite a bit of insight into Luke Skywalker. In The Last Jedi, Luke is a bitter old man, a far cry from the optimistic youth we saw in the Original Trilogy. I enjoyed this take on the character, but also felt the film should have done more to explain Luke’s arc between the films. Fry’s novelization offers a few tantalizing hints. One early sequence in the book hints that Luke yearns for a more normal life. He comes to regret not only his infamous encounter with Ben Solo, but also other life decisions. Seeing Luke doubt not just that one moment but a whole lifetime helps explain his radical transformation since Return of the Jedi.
One of the more controversial aspects of Rian Johnson’s take on Episode VIII is the humor. Some of the humor veers into slapstick. Unlike previous Star Wars films, The Last Jedi relies heavily on bathos, a type of humor that undercuts dramatic moments (also common in Marvel films). Fry’s novelization takes the edge off some of the humor. The book doesn’t actually change the story so much as downplay the humor. For example, in the film, Luke’s throwing the lightsaber over his shoulder is played for laughs, but in the book it comes across more as a confusing and tragic moment for Rey. For those who disliked the humor, it should be a relief to know that the story works on a dramatic level even if you don’t laugh.
Fans also look to film novelizations for deleted scenes or additional background details. Fry’s The Last Jedi includes a few, but perhaps not as many as one would expect given all of the questions about this period of Star Wars that remain unanswered. Perhaps most disappointing, it doesn’t provide and insight into Snoke’s origins or the First Order, although it does hint that his rise to the rank of Supreme Leader was “unexpected”. In the most significant new scene, Luke tells Rey about a pirate attack on the island’s caretakers and she rushes off to rescue them. I won’t spoil the twist except to say that the scene helps explain why Rey becomes so frustrated with Luke, something that feels rather abrupt in the final film.
Unlike Matthew Stover’s excellent adaptation of Revenge of the Sith, this novelization won’t cause you to radically revise your relationship with the film. If you hated The Last Jedi, this Jason Fry won’t change your mind. If you liked the film and want to better understand the characters and their motivations, this book is definitely worth a read.