Thursday, 31 July 2008

‘The Force Unleashed’ – Sean Williams (Del Rey)


I have no patience at all when it comes to playing computer games. I’ll start playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’ with aspirations of becoming the crime boss of Liberty City but within ten minutes you can guarantee that I’ll be seeing how many pedestrians I can run over before the police start chasing me all over town. A novelisation of a computer game is a completely different deal though. Especially if it’s a novelisation of a Star Wars computer game…

I couldn’t tell you whether ‘The Force Unleashed’ game is available yet or what consoles it’s available for. What I can do though is tell you what the book is all about.
The Clone Wars are long gone and the Jedi all but extinct. Darth Vader has been tasked by the Emperor to root out and destroy the remaining Jedi but what the Emperor doesn’t know is that Vader has trained an apprentice of his own both for this task and for nefarious purposes of his own…
The Apprentice, we don’t find out his name until much later, must travel through a troubled galaxy killing on the command of his master. Although he is confident in his mastery of the Dark Side of the Force; the apprentice is going to find that the galaxy is still capable of throwing surprises at him, especially surprises that hint at his own hidden origins…

I wonder what I’d be writing now if I hadn’t known, prior to reading the book, that ‘The Force Unleashed’ was based on a computer game? It’s a redundant point now but the fact is that this knowledge led me into the book with a certain mindset and I was able to spot parallels between the book and the game straight away. The first few chapters in particular read like a computer game; make your way through to the end of the level/chapter, defeat the ‘end of level boss’ (renegade Jedi Masters) and then go onto the next stage. It was fun while I was reading it, as with ‘The Clone Wars’ ‘The Force Unleashed’ has everything that a Star Wars fan would expect out of a Star Wars book. It just felt a little contrived to start off with, like the hero had to get through to the next levels otherwise the reader would never get to see what the game was like (as well as it being a much shorter book with a radically different ending!) However, I guess if you’re going to base a book on a computer game then you need to be able to show the reader the game in it’s entirety. I think this is one area where gamers are going to get a lot more out of the book than I did.

Reading ‘The Force Unleashed’ also made me realise how much goes into a fight scene (for example) on the screen. When a scene like this is broken down and described on the page there’s much more going on than you would think, this is certainly true in ‘The Force Unleashed’ where fights etc are described in great detail. A little bit too much detail for me I’m afraid. One thing I’ve found out about myself is that a minute’s worth of lightsaber fight goes down a lot smoother for me when it’s on the screen as oppose to on the page. I found myself skimming pages on occasion when things felt like they were being dragged out a little too far…

That’s not to say that I found ‘The Force Unleashed’ to be a bad read though, far from it! I’ve already mentioned that the book has everything that a Star Wars fan is looking for and, funnily enough, I’m a Star Wars fan! :o)
Swashbuckling lightsaber fights, space battles and weird aliens are all yours for the taking and they all blend together in a tale that is generally fast paced and full of intrigue and double crosses… The finale is suitably explosive and the book, as a whole, thing seems to fit fairly well into the overall Star Wars continuity.
Sean’s masterstroke (at least as far as I was concerned after reading ‘The Clone Wars’…) is to concentrate on telling the tale through characters that you won’t meet anywhere else in the Star Wars universe. Maybe the constraints of writing about a video game left him with no choice. I don’t care because what I got were characters that I knew nothing about, certainly not whether continuity would be placing them in future episodes that I had already come across. This meant that cliff-hangers were suddenly cliff-hangers once again and the Star Wars universe felt a little fresher as I was discovering something new after what seemed like far too long.

‘The Force Unleashed’ is very obviously a computer game novelisation, perhaps a little too obviously for someone like me. Give it a chance though and it’s as fun a read as any of the other Star Wars books you’ll come across. Not a brilliant read, but fun…

Seven and a Quarter out of Ten

2 comments:

Joe Sherry said...

I agree that knowing a book came from a video game can really impact how you read it. I'm not sure anything could have saved the other Star Wars novelization of a game (The Ruins of Dantooine), but thinking about the Krondor series from Raymond Feist...I could see mini bosses, side quests, that random conversation that leads to a new part of the adventure.

The books were structured like a game. And they suffered because of it.

I'm happy to see you give TFU a higher rating as I've been semi-looking forward to it. I'm interested to see how it plays out and what I think of it.

Graeme Flory said...

Are you looking forward to the game or the book? The game trailers do look pretty cool :o)