By now, most diehard ‘Star Wars’ fans will know the plot of The Force Awakens off by heart. The reviews have been (mostly) enthusiastic and the general consensus seems to be that this is the film audiences have been awaiting for a very long time, the natural successor to George Lucas’s original ground-breaking science fiction trilogy and the chance to finally dust those nasty prequels under the carpet and pretend they never really happened.
Without giving any spoilers away, The Force Awakens takes place many years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The old Empire has renamed itself the First Order and General (don’t call her Princess) Leia Organa still leads the resistance. The First Order are in pursuit of BB-8, a droid that contains information vital to the resistance, which is currently stranded on the desert planet Jakku. After falling into a scavenger’s net, BB-8 is rescued by a young woman called Rey who quickly finds out she’s in a lot of trouble but it is only when Rey and BB-8 meet Finn, an ex-stormtrooper who is also being hunted by the First Order, that their adventures really begin.
As a film The Force Awakens looks and sounds sensational and, aside from all the new cast members, it also marks the welcome return of the trilogy’s best-loved characters – Han Solo, Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker (in fact, The Force Awakens is very much Han Solo’s story.) On the big screen it is a hugely impressive and emotional experience, so how can the audiobook possibly compete?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t compete very well. This is an unabridged version of Alan Dean Foster’s novelisation, and Marc Thompson is a fantastic narrator who only really has problems when he tries to capture the female voices – Rey and Leia – and gets them so wrong it’s unintentionally funny. Would this matter to listeners who haven’t seen the movie? Maybe not, although Thompson’s version of Rey makes her sound less like a resistance-worthy heroine and more like the slightly confused offspring of Nanny McPhee which is a tad disorienting.
On the plus side, Thompson does a pretty good Han Solo and a reasonable C-3PO. Authentic Wookie growls, cute droid bleeping and familiar music cues from the soundtrack also break up the narration very nicely.
But the biggest problem lies in Alan Dean Foster’s sometimes turgid prose, which often feels very over-cooked. That’s a surprise because he’s usually a fantastic writer and really knows how to adapt a screenplay into a novel with tremendous depth and detail, conjuring up the images in front of our eyes. His original novelisation of ‘Star Wars’, which he ghost-wrote as George Lucas, and his standalone Star Wars novel ‘Splinter of the Mind’s Eye’ (as well as his ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’ adaptations) are still classics of the genre and rightfully so. Somehow, though, his retelling of The Force Awakens doesn’t carry the same kind of punch. Or, more likely, Alan Dean Foster’s books are better read straight from the page than aloud as an audiobook. For this reviewer, ‘The Force Awakens’ audiobook lacked excitement, and the ten hours-plus running time dragged far too often. Maybe those who haven’t already seen the story on the big screen will enjoy it more.