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Interstellar hopes for ‘Star Wars’ novel

Fans who want an early peek can read the book
/ Source: The Associated Press

For much of April, fantasy writer Matthew Woodring Stover will be on a book tour that should require only two words to bring in hundreds of fans at each stop: “Star Wars.”

“Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” which spells out the last dark steps the once goodhearted, young Anakin Skywalker takes to become the villain Darth Vader, opens in theaters May 19. The film brings full circle the mammoth sci-fi saga director George Lucas began in 1977 with “Star Wars.”

But those who want a “Sith” fix right away can read Stover’s book, a novelized version of the script published by Del Rey, an imprint of Random House, Inc. Most “novelizations” are issued in paperback, but Del Rey has enough confidence in “Revenge of the Sith” to release it in hardcover, with an announced first printing of 650,000 — far bigger than the tie-ins to such hits as “Men in Black.”

“This is a blockbuster, even by blockbuster standards,” says Micha Hershman, a buyer for the superstore chain Borders Group Inc. “I think it’s because of the story. This is what everybody has been waiting for, the return of Darth Vader, the real Darth Vader.”

Endless tie-insSince the first “Star Wars” film, a veritable galaxy of related products has grown around it, from online video games to a “Supreme Edition Chewbacca Adult Costume.” In publishing, few other movies can claim such a franchise. Between novelizations, spin-off series and other titles, more than 70 million “Star Wars” books are in print, according to Howard Roffman, president of Lucas Licensing.

Like other novelizations, Stover’s book was made possible through close cooperation among the author, the publisher and the filmmakers. Stover began writing the novel in the fall of 2003 and finished the following summer. Revisions were dictated both by the editing process, including a line-by-line review by Lucas, and by changes in the script itself.

“What you had was primarily alteration in the order of certain scenes,” Stover says, “although in the beginning of the film, there were several events removed that I had spent a long time trying to shoe horn into the novel. But they were removed for a very good reason: They didn’t fit.”

Stover acknowledges that the novel gives away much of the film’s story, but doesn’t worry that fans will be satisfied by the book alone. He considers “Star Wars” a modern myth, less about a surprise plot twist than about the experience, shared with millions, of seeing a story told over and over.

“Look at how much we know already: We know that Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. We know that the republic falls and becomes the empire. We know that Anakin is horribly burned and can only survive by being encased in the armor that enables him to live as Darth Vader,” Stover says.

Numerous fantasy writers have written “Star Wars” novels, including James Luceno, whose “Labyrinth of Evil” is a prequel to “Episode III,” and R.A. Salvatore, who wrote the novelization of “Episode II.” Stover himself has written a “Star Wars” spinoff book, “Shatterpoint.”

Leaving their marks“Star Wars” is far greater than any one “novelizer,” but writers do leave their own marks. According to Howard Roffman, Stover brought a dark touch appropriate to “Revenge of the Sith” and an appreciation of the characters’ inner lives.

“For ‘Episode I’ and ‘Episode II,’ the novels expanded upon the story in the film,” Roffman says. “For this film, Matthew thought it would be more interesting to get into the heads of the characters. ‘Episode III’ is so much more about character motivation.”

Stover, 43, grew up in Illinois and is a Chicago resident who saw the first “Star Wars” movie at least 20 times in movie theaters alone and “The Empire Strikes Back” 28 times, on a 70 mm print. He has written several books, including “The Blade of Tyshalle,” “Iron Dawn” and “Jericho Moon.”

He acknowledges that “Revenge of the Sith” is “Lucas’ baby” and that writing the book will not bring him blockbuster wealth, at least right away: Stover says he received an advance just under $100,000 and a royalty scale he describes as “small.”

“But it raises my profile in a way no other single project could,” says Stover, whose other books have only sold a fraction of his “Star Wars” fiction. “This takes me from being a respected, but little-known fantasy writer to being one of the best known fantasy writers in America. That’s something you can’t figure in dollars and cents.”