In 1977, I was twelve years old. Old enough to ride my bike almost everywhere. Old enough to have some babysitting money to spend. Not old enough to be cynical or to have to pay for car insurance. As I remember it now – who knows if this is accurate? — I saw the first Star Wars movie more than 10 times that summer, riding my bike to the closest theater for the matinees whenever I could. My friend Amy and I had Star Wars shirts, and I started a collection of character cards. My Burger King Star Wars glasses are somewhere in the attic still.
Time passed, the characters in the second trilogy didn’t speak to me, Disney bought the franchise, and here we are now, waiting for the release of a new Star Wars movie. Someone with some smarts and a marketing plan decided that putting out some middle grade Star Wars books would be a good idea. Someone decided to rely on popular authors like Alexandra Bracken, Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark and Grimm), and Tom Angleberger (Origami Yoda series) to do the work. It could have been a complete disaster – predictable retellings falling flat, a whole generation of bored tweens who wouldn’t understand why this whole thing was such a big deal.
But no— fortunately, these authors are too good for that. Alexandra Bracken uses The Princess, the Scoundrel and the Farm Boy to set up the later novels. She relies heavily on the movie script, which worked fine for me, and creates the world of the Empire and the Rebellion in all its most wonderful and most horrible realities. As an adult reading the stories of my youth, it was quick and action-filled and fun, even in the scary moments. Knowing how things would turn out didn’t diminish the story one bit.
Adam Gidwitz follows up with the story from The Empire Strikes Back, but he sets a different tone. So You Want to Be a Jedi? lets the reader really imagine Luke’s internal battle to become a Jedi, and the reader IS Luke, charging ahead, realizing at the last minute that he might not be ready, wanting to help his friends. It’s intense and yet still funny, and maybe some kids will learn to meditate before they face their personal Darth Vaders. Who knows? Loved it!
Tom Angleberger takes on The Return of the Jedi in Beware the Power of the Dark Side! His narrator is all-knowing and sometimes judgmental, which somehow was the perfect follow-up for So You Want to be a Jedi? .
“An endless desert. Two robots. Two robots plodding through and endless desert. Fear not, reader! It will get better!”
There are moments when you, like the characters, are left hanging, and others when you’re in on the joke. This playful, quirky spin worked so well for me that I forgot at one point that I knew exactly what was going to happen. That’s part of the real joy of these books for grown-up fans. Instead of pretending we don’t all have an idea of what’s going to happen, these retellings take what we already know and spin and bounce and have fun with that knowledge. What fun for me! What fun for my 12 year old self remembered!