As the world approached the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December 2015, Disney got a several month jump start on merchandising. Star Wars products started appearing everywhere, on everything. I was quite surprised to find that Star Wars had even taken over my local grocery store!
Next to the birthday cards was a little stand with Little Golden Books, that generations-old beloved children’s series. Among the 30 or so titles were Star Wars books! One for each movie!
The artwork in these books is great, but immediately a question arose in my mind: is Star Wars the best series to adapt for books largely targeted at preschoolers? All the films are there: even Revenge of the Sith, which is rated PG-13.
I love Star Wars, and I loved it as a child. But I wasn’t exposed to it until I was about 8 or 9 (and this was before the Prequel Trilogy came out).
After purchasing the books, and then reading them several times (they don’t take long), I’ve concluded that these adaptations are ultimately unsuccessful. The violence is toned down, so on that front, they are “safe” for kids. However, the Prequel Trilogy is so convoluted that I’m still not sure, after 15 years of puzzling over it, I understand all the plot points.
Boiling these complicated films down to 23-page stories for children is challenging. Let’s look at each book and see where the problems arise.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace
The story opens with a shot of the Jedi flying to the Trade Federation command ship above Naboo. The classic words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” greet the reader. Followed by a massive block of text:
The peaceful planet of Naboo is under a blockage from the greedy Trade Federation! The Galactic Republic quickly sends Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi to help. They are Jedi Knights, guardians of justice and masters of the Force—a power that connects all living things.
But when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan arrive, they are attacked by battle droids! The Jedi defend themselves with their lightsabers, but they are outnumbered and must flee the Trade Federation battleship.
Wow, already there’s a lot going on: and this is the first page! So many nouns are mentioned: could a child follow all of this? Most of the action is contained within the words, not the pictures. That entire second paragraph sounds pretty exciting. Too bad the only visual is a partial page illustration of Obi-Wan slicing one battle droid in half.
As the story progresses, it’s immediately clear what the problem is with these books: too many characters, not enough space to develop them. On pages 3-4 we are introduced to Jar Jar Binks and Boss Noss. On pages 5-6, Queen Amidala and Viceroy Gunray. On pages 7-8, R2-D2, Darth Sidious, and Darth Maul.
On pages 9-10, we are introduced to five (!) new characters: Padmé, Anakin, Watto, C-3PO, and Shmi Skywalker It’s not until pages 11-12 that we get our first break in all the introductions: no new characters! Pages 11-12 cover the podracing sequence.
On page 13 we see Qui-Gon and Darth Maul duel for the first time, and then on page 14 it’s back to new characters. Yoda is mentioned by name, though two members of the Jedi Council are in the background, evaluating Anakin’s readiness for Jedi training.
We’re past the halfway point, and fortunately, no new characters are introduced the rest of the tale. But we’ve already had 15 named characters in as many pages: the book’s only 23 pages long!
As far as the adaptation goes, the book sticks close to the movie. We see Padmé reveal herself as Amidala to the Gungans. Then the Jedi battle Darth Maul and the Gungans fight the droid army. Anakin even gets two pages where he goes to space and destroys the droid control ship!
On pages 21-22, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan finish the duel with Darth Maul. The illustration is striking, but look at how much text is used to explain the action:
In the palace, the Jedi fight Darth Maul together. But the Sith Lord is driven by the power of anger and hate. Darth Maul strikes Qui-Gon down with his double-sided lightsaber and knocks Obi-Wan into a deep pit. Just when it seems that Obi-Wan is defeated, the Jedi springs into action and destroys Darth Maul with one mighty blow!
Obi-Wan runs to his master’s side. With his last breath, Qui-Gon asks Obi-Wan to train Anakin as a Jedi.
Now you see how the story avoids mentioning the stabbing of Qui-Gon and the slicing of Darth Maul in two.
The story ends with the main characters celebrating on Naboo. Boss Nass holds up that glowy sphere thing (no explanation of what that is, of course, just like in the movie).
The artwork in the book is fantastic: praise goes to illustrator Heather Martinez. But instead of telling a coherent story, adapter Courtney Carbone tried to fit all the major plot points in. While she did the best with what she had to work with, maybe the real problem is The Phantom Menace itself: maybe it can’t be simplified in a coherent way.
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
AotC opens with Padmé arriving on Coruscant, now a senator, no longer a queen. Her ship blows up, but she survives! No mention of her body double dying, however.
As in The Phantom Menace, the first few sentences of this book are incredibly dense:
The galaxy is divided. Many planets are leaving the Republic to join the Separatist movement.
I’m not sure if preschoolers understand what a Republic is, or what a Separatist movement entails. And if they’re already confused, tough cookies: the book will never explain it.
Maybe the problem isn’t with the book: maybe it’s with me. As I read those first couple sentences I realized that I still don’t fully understand what the central conflict of the Prequel Trilogy is. In TPM, some group called the Trade Federation was blocking trade to Naboo. Who is the Trade Federation? I still don’t know. Why did they not want to trade with Naboo? And why did they have their own army?
In AotC, the Separatists uses droids, and our pal Viceroy Gunray appears here and there. So did the Trade Federation become the Separatist movement? Why do the Separatists want to separate from the Republic? Is it because the Republic told them in TPM that they can’t blockade a planet?
And why does the Republic care if a few planets decide to leave: do they not have that freedom? After all, from the looks of the Senate chambers, it appears that there are thousands of systems in the Republic already.
I’m so confused.
Anyway, back to the story. Like TPM, AotC introduces a ton of named characters: 15 in this book as well. On pages 3-4 we are introduced to Obi-Wan and Anakin. R2 is seen in the background, as is the assassin droid that tries to kill Padmé.
On pages 5-6 we meet the assassin, Zam Wesell—hey, I learned something! I never knew what that assassin’s name was.
Page 7 shows us the entirety of Padmé and Anakin’s love story on Naboo. Palpatine is mentioned, but never seen (the first book didn’t mention him at all).
On page 8 we are introduced to Jango and Boba Fett, and see the Kaminoans in the background, along with the clone troopers. Hey, we’re making some progress! At least that overweight alien diner cook Jax isn’t mentioned.
AotC is more action-focused than TPM, and perhaps that’s a reflection of the movie being more streamlined. Pages 9-10 show Obi-Wan and Jango battle, both on land and in space.
Pages 11-12 show Anakin’s showdown with the Sand People. I always thought that this was the point in the Prequel Trilogy that Anakin irrevocably turned to the Dark Side. I actually like that scene a lot; it’s powerful. The book, naturally, sanitizes it for young readers:
The young Jedi races into the desert to rescue his mother, but he is too late. He finds her just in time to say goodbye. Anakin feels rage and anger growing inside him—and that is not the way of the Jedi.
On pages 13-14 we’re introduced to more characters: Dooku, C-3PO, and the Geonosians. Mace Windu shows up on page 17.
Pages 13-22 are more tightly focused than TPM. For half the book we are on Geonosis: we see Anakin, Padmé and Obi-Wan get captured, then they escape the area. The Jedi descend to fight the droids. Then Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Yoda fight Count Dooku. There are fewer new characters introduced, and this part might be the easiest for children to follow, as the plot is at least coherent, though the extreme violence of this part of the movie is missing.
Here’s how Jango Fett’s death is described:
Jango Fett tries to blast Mace, but the Jedi Master is much too powerful and strikes the bounty hunter down with one blow!
The accompanying visual is Jango on one page, shooting his blasters, and Mace on the other side, deflecting blaster shots with his lightsaber.
One part that I thought was funny was this panel:
Count Dooku has twin crimson lightsabers? I don’t remember that part of the movie! The only person in that fight with two sabers is Anakin after he picks up Obi-Wan’s. I’m sure it’s an honest mistake, but I think its humorous when children’s books have errors of fact like this. After all, how long does it take to copy edit a children’s book?
The book ends with Anakin’s marriage to Padmé on Naboo. His robot hand is not shown.
Overall, this book is slightly better than TPM due to its more focused plot. But it still introduces a bantha load of characters when it doesn’t have the space to develop more than a handful of them.
Let’s conclude this review by looking at the final book, based on the most violent film in the trilogy.
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
The story opens with a beautiful picture of the chaotic space battle over Coruscant. After the obligatory Star Wars beginning, little readers are once again greeted with a dense two-paragraph intro the introduces a ton of characters and political terms:
War rages between the Separatist army and the Galactic Republic. Evil General Grievous and his droid army have just captured Chancellor Palpatine, leader of the Galatic Senate! The brave Jedi Knights Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker blast off in their starfighters to rescue him.
With the help of their astromech droid R2-D2, Anakin and Obi-Wan evade the Separatist vulture droids and land on General Grievous’s flagship.
On page 3, there’s an illustration of Anakin and Dooku clashing with sabers. The text summarizes Dooku’s defeat, beheading unmentioned:
Vwoosh! Dooku attacks with his crimson lightsaber. Obi-Wan is knocked aside, but Anakin defeats Dooku on his own.
This book makes some quick cuts to the plot of the movie. After Anakin lands Grievous’ ship on Coruscant and says hello to Padmé, the immediate next page introduces us to Yoda and Chewbacca fighting on Kashyyyk. The page after that shows Obi-Wan on Utapau riding the lizard thing. At least I learned something else from these books: that lizard is called a varactyl.
From there, Obi-Wan fights Grievous on page 9, and Palpatine reveals to Anakin on page 10 that he’s Darth Sidious.
The plot of pages 11-12 are hamstrung by LGB’s obvious need to censor the violence. On page 11, Mace Windu enters Sidious’ office and attacks him: Sidious stands opposite him on page 12. But then with no explanation, Sidious suddenly looks different on the bottom of page 12:
The Sith Lord sends Mace Windu crashing through a window! Anakin kneels before his new master.
Why does Sidiou look different? Who knows? No explanation is given for the preschool readers. Maybe the publishers think that little kids are too stupid to notice the character change.
From here, the story hews closely to the plot of the movie. Anakin attacks the Jedi temple. Order 66 is issued (though it’s not called that in the book). Sidious declares himself Emperor, and Obi-Wan and Anakin fight on Mustafar.
The Mustafar battle is interesting: four illustrations are provided of Anakin and Obi-Wan battling, just various lightsaber poses. Then two pages later we are introduced to Darth Vader in robotic suit. Here’s the explanation given for why Anakin now looks differently:
“I hate you!” Anakin cries.
Saddened that he had to destroy his friend, Obi-Wan leaves the planet with Padmé.
At least on the two-page spread when the Emperor greets the new robotic Vader readers are not subjected to Vader’s infamous “Noooooo!”
The book ends with the introduction of yet two more characters: Owen Lars and his wife (unnamed) holding a baby Luke while Obi-Wan smiles in the background.
I’m being a little harsh and nit-picky on these books, I realize. They are children’s books after all. But Star Wars, especially the Prequel Trilogy, is not appropriate for preschoolers, the 2-5 age bracket that the books are targeted at. It’s inappropriate not just because of the violence, but because of the complexity of the films as far as the politics go.
I wouldn’t say these books are without merit, though. I think the target audience is actually adults like myself. As summaries of the films go, they are accurate, and again, the artwork is amazing.
The Little Golden Book format doesn’t seem conducive to summarizing two-hour science fiction movies. A better take would be shorter stories, based on certain characters in the Star Wars universe, that are better suited to the reading and cognitive level of preschoolers.
Thankfully, such a series exists. LGB recently released their “I am” series of Star Wars books: I am a Droid, I am a Jedi, and I am a Pilot. And more are forthcoming this summer. I haven’t seen these books in the store yet, but based on Amazon reviews, it seems these books are a better match for their target audience.
For $5 each, the movie adaptation books are a fun bit of nostalgia for adult audiences. If I pick up the books based on the Original Trilogy, I suspect I’ll have more affinity for them based on my overall appreciation of that trilogy.
Has anybody else read any of the Star Wars Little Golden Books? What’s your assessment of their quality?