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Do Not Read the Empire Strikes Back Novelization, It Will Only Make You Sad

I had forgotten most of this novelization, and I initially put that down to reading it when I was quite young.

That’s not the reason I forgot it. Turns out, I actively blocked this book from my mind.

The Episode V novelization was written by Donald F. Glut, who was known for amateur films he made in his teens and early 20s, and a slew of random comics titles. He would later go on to direct movies such as The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula, Blood Scarab, and Countess Dracula’s Orgy of Blood.

That fills everyone with confidence, right? Right?

Part of the problem is, the book just isn’t very well written. We change perspectives constantly in middle of single scenes, jumping needlessly from one character’s POV to another every time a person speaks. The pacing of the book overall is fine, but the lack of consistent narration makes things rough at points where people talk to each other. It’s not illegible or anything like that, but it’s certainly not enough for me to tell anyone to rush out and buy it.

So you start the book and everything seems like business as usual, particularly if you know the film well. The only thing that seems really weird is the insistence that Tauntauns are “lizards” and the fact that Glut keeps referring to the Wampa as “the Wampa Ice Creature.” Which is a bit like announcing every person who walks into your purview as “Bob Bipedal Humanoid.” It’s kind of silly.

Anyhow, it’s kind of boring and kind of diverting, and then Han starts thinking about how he’s stuck around for these past few years because of his crush on Leia, and they finally start getting to their banter. And this is what we read:

She began to laugh harder now. “I’d just as soon kiss a Wookiee.”

“I can arrange that.” He moved closer to her, and she looked radiant even in the cold light of the ice chamber. “Believe me, you could use a good kiss. You’ve been so busy giving orders, you’ve forgotten how to be a woman. If you’d have let go for a moment, I could have helped you. But it’s too late now, sweetheart. Your big opportunity is flying out of here.”

“I think I can survive,” she said, obviously irked.

“Good luck!”

“You don’t even care if the—”

He knew what she was going to say and didn’t let her finish. “Spare me, please!” he interrupted. “Don’t tell me about the Rebellion again. It’s all you think about. You’re as cold as this planet.”

Oh. Oh no. Noooooooooooooooooooo.

See, this crap right here? This is everything that the Star Wars films managed to avoid, and it’s one of the primary reasons they are good. Because we don’t get any of that “you forgot how to lady because you’re too busy being a leader, which is what DUDES do, gosh Leia, don’t you know that its unfeminine to care about unseating a fascist government and it makes you less attractive to mates, which is a thing every woman should care about?” And in this book, it not only gets suggested via the narrative, HAN SAYS IT TO HER FACE. Like it’s something she should be ashamed of.

I’m sorry, I’m gagging a little, I feel really gross.

Suggesting that this is the true undercurrent of all Han and Leia’s flirting cuts the romance out at the knees. It’s fine to insinuate that being a lead figure of the Rebellion has prevented Leia from being able to have much of her own life—it has. It’s also fine to acknowledge the fact that having so much responsibility has prevented her from developing her personal relationships—that is also true. And those things are fine to insinuate because they have nothing to do with her being female; they have to do with being a leader during a time of turmoil, and it would be interesting to know what Leia thinks about putting her life on hold for the sake of the Alliance. But the instant you add “you’ve forgotten how to lady” to the argument? You’ve changed the terms. You’ve made it about how women are supposed to spend their time thinking about love and feelings, rather than freeing the galaxy from tyranny. You’ve made Han into every jerk bro who thinks he gets to decide what a woman is.

What’s worse, the narration supports that. Every time Leia seems interested in Han’s advances, she becomes softer, younger-seeming, sweeter. But her positions as a person of power are tied to harder emotions. Like so:

Leia became infuriated. Once again the angry princess and haughty senator, she quickly moved away from him and drew herself up to her most regal bearing. “Sorry, Captain,” she said, her cheeks now reddened in anger, “being held by you isn’t enough to get me excited.”

So as a princess, she’s angry. As a senator, she’s haughty. Everything that makes Leia a leader, a fighter, a diplomat of the highest order, all of her skills are pared down to undesirable traits that make her impossible to romance. Gosh, it sucks that ladies are to hard to woo! this book is saying. If only they would stop being so accomplished and steadfast and sarcastic, we could all appreciate them better.

Except any person who doesn’t believe that’s the reason why Han is attracted to Leia in the first place doesn’t know the first thing about these characters.

There are other weird things that differ from the movie, and hints about where the story is going. Vader is described as a former Jedi Knight, something that the previous novel never told us. On the other hand, the book has him reacting very strangely to the Emperor’s commands about Luke because it clearly doesn’t know the endgame of the trilogy. Yoda is blue, for some reason, and so is Vader’s lightsaber. Artoo is far more actively worried about Luke swanning off to Dagobah without explanation, and that’s pretty cute. Luke’s training is far more detailed, which is perhaps the only truly interesting aspect that the book has to add.

Lando is there at least, and charming as ever with more dialogue to back him up. But he seems less upset over betraying his friends initially, which leaves a foul taste in the mouth. Luke is far more verbal and a bit cocky in his fight with Vader, and it seems unnecessary given how menacing Vader is meant to be in his eyes. Also, nothing quite cuts the drama out of Vader’s big reveal than narration like this:

“Search your feelings,” Vader said, sounding like an evil version of Yoda, “you know it to be true.”

Evil version of Yoda, yeah, that’ll scare the kids.

Skip this book. Just, do yourself a favor. It doesn’t make anything better or more interesting. If anything, it makes you sad because you’re forced to realize that the way this narrative frames Leia is how some fans actually thought of her. A “space bitch” as Carrie Fisher put it once. It’s the ugliest side of the fandom, given voice in official media. So leave this book be.

Maybe go watch The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula instead. It’ll probably be funnier, at any rate.

Emily Asher-Perrin is sad that she can’t unread this book. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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