The idea that a novelization represents an “expanded edition” of a movie is not news to anyone who met Camie and Fixer in the original Star Wars novel, or who first read the name “Palpatine” in James Kahn’s 1983 Return of the Jedi novelization.
Lucasfilm is now capitalizing on the idea, though: instead of releasing the books simultaneously with the movie, or even before (the Star Wars novelization was published several months prior to the movie’s release, spoilers be damned), the books now come out after the films, explicitly advertised as “expanded edition” titles that draw on alternate and deleted scenes.
In the case of Solo: A Star Wars Story, though, Mur Lafferty’s novel just leaves you all the more impressed with the wit and sturdiness of the finished screenplay by Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan. (Heads-up if you haven’t seen the movie: plot details ahead.)
The junior novel by Joe Schreiber clips right along, although narrator Sean Kenin is sorely missing the gravitas of adult-book narrator Marc Thompson. The bonus material in Lafferty’s book is sometimes enlightening (we learn more about Crimson Dawn’s Force-sensitive fighting technique), but often annoying. The extended treatment of L3’s merger with the Falcon is more than we really need, nor does it accelerate the adventure to learn that Chewbacca copped detangling products from both Val and Lando.
When the action picks up, though, both audiobooks make for exciting listening. Dense sound-effects editing has ships screaming from one ear to the other, with nice details like the flapping tarps on Savareen. It’s a kick to hear master impressionist Thompson doing an unsurprisingly uncanny Woody Harrelson, or capturing Donald Glover’s take on Billy Dee Williams.
It is disappointing to hear so much recycled music from the original films, particularly given that John Williams wrote an original Han Solo theme for the movie. Han’s romance with Qi’ra may or may not deserve its own love theme, but Leia sure can’t appreciate hers being borrowed to soundtrack smooches with her ex’s ex. Also, WTF is the triumphant Death Star destruction music doing under L3’s tragic demise?
Lafferty’s lucid prose makes Solo an enjoyable listen for casual fans, and super-fans will of course have to hear the bonus material. The latter will be especially gratified by a scene at the very end, in which we learn who ends up with Enfys Nest’s coaxium. Whether or not we get a Solo sequel, Lucasfilm is building a store of fascinating characters that makes the rise of the Empire wired. The Clone Wars? Tired.