Star Wars in an Alternate Universe
Before Star Wars was Star Wars, a science fiction writer named Alan Dean Foster was hired to write a novelization of the movie.
You may know that that odd word, novelization, refers to something resembling a novel that is written before the movie is finished and therefore is based entirely on the script. You may also know that, in the making of any movie, things change, and the changes don’t always find their way into the script.
Foster was, and still is, a fine writer—of his own science fiction novels and a staggering number of SF novelizations—and he dutifully started writing, using only the script and his own fertile imagination. The result, described in a fascinating Esquire article by Ryan Britt, is a version of Star Wars that “seems to come from an alternate universe.”
In Foster’s universe, Chewbacca is described as “a great hairy mass,” a lightsaber is “a small post and a circular metal disk,” and Luke and Leia, who later turn out to be brother and sister, are romantically inclined. Ick.
The Esquire article had special meaning to me, because I wrote a dozen or more such books. During my time at Walt Disney Records, I wrote storybooks based on Disney films such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Oliver & Company, and The Little Mermaid, and on outside licenses such as Lucasfilm’s Willow and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Like Dean, I would be handed a script and told to have at it. I loved those projects, because I got a glimpse of the story before anyone else, sometimes even including notes in the margin from studio executives to the director.
Another benefit was, as a Lucasfilm licensee, traveling to Lucas’s headquarters, Skywalker Ranch, in Marin County north of San Francisco. I went there twice to meet with Lucy Autrey Wilson about film-to-book projects.
Wilson, George Lucas’s first employee, had a fascinating and remarkably productive career handling Lucasfilm’s publishing empire, starting with that first Alan Dean Foster novelization and including, along the way, yours truly. More about that next time.