I recently picked up at an antique store, an excellent conditioned paperback copy of the 1976 movie adaption to Star Wars, ghost written by Alan Dean Foster. This was one of the first (if not the first) piece of Star Wars merchandise I can remember ever owning as a kid. My brother Doug and I flipped through the photo insert pages until they were falling out of the book—so many iconic images back then were sparking our imaginations even before we saw the movie. In fact we used these images as templates for building our own Star Wars toys in 1977; before the Kenner action figures hit stores in 1978. We built crude versions of R2-D2, C-3P0, TIE fighters and X-wings. There is a two-page spread of a TIE fighter and X-Wing fighting over the Death Star that has stuck with me since the book’s release. Oddly enough though, I don’t recall reading the book until well after 1977, possibly late 1978. As a 9 year old in 1977, I think my biggest literary accomplishment then was a Hardy Boys book or two. When I finally did read the book, the prologue stuck out in my mind and would continue to do so through the years and especially during the Prequel era.
Here is the prologue:
ANOTHER galaxy, another time.
The Old Republic was the Republic of legend, greater than distance or time. No need to note where it was or whence it came, only to know that… it was the Republic.
Once, under the wise rule of the Senate and the protection of the Jedi Knights, the Republic throve and grew. But as often happens when wealth and power pass beyond the admirable and attain the awesome, there appear those evil ones who have greed to match.
So it was with the Republic at its height. Like the greatest of trees, able to withstand any external attack, the Republic rotted from within though the danger was not visible from outside.
Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic.
Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of the people for justice did not reach his ears.
Having exterminated through treachery and deception the Jedi Knights, guardians of justice in the galaxy, the Imperial governors and bureaucrats prepared to institute a reign of terror among the disheartened worlds of the galaxy. Many used the imperial forces and the name of the increasingly isolated Emperor to further their own personal ambitions.
But a small number of systems rebelled at these new outrages. Declaring themselves opposed to the New Order they began the great battle to restore the Old Republic.
From the beginning they were vastly outnumbered by the systems held in thrall by the Emperor. In those first dark days it seemed certain the bright flame of resistance would be extinguished before it could cast the light of new truth across a galaxy of oppressed and beaten peoples…
From the First Saga
Journal of the Whills
“They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally they became heroes.”
Leia Organa of Alderaan, Senator
So much critical information in a couple pages. For the prequel haters who ask “where did Lucas come up with this (insert ludicrous curse) backstory” the basic history behind Star Wars has been around since Day One. Dissolving the senate; Palpatine declaring himself Emperor; deceiving and destroying the Jedi, it’s all here.
When I was lucky enough to watch Star Wars again in those pre-home video days, the movie was made so much clearer by this prologue. When Grand Moff Tarkin informed the Imperial officers on the Death Star that the Emperor had dissolved the Senate I could understand what that line of dialogue was referring to. As I read it as an adult, the line “Many used the imperial forces and the name of the increasingly isolated Emperor to further their own personal ambitions,” leads me to believe that Tarkin was perhaps using the Death Star for his own purposes. The only mention of the Emperor is in that conference room, maybe Tarkin doesn’t refer to him again because he has his own agenda? Certainly Admiral Motti’s assertion that the Death Star is “now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it,” reinforces the fact that maybe the emperor’s minions weren’t as loyal as assumed.
When the prequels were released many movie goers were confused by the political tone of the plot but I remember thinking, “of course this is what the prequels are about, I read it 20 years ago.”
What is also interesting about the prologue is its mention of ‘the massive organs of commerce” that aided Palpatine’s rise to power.
Perhaps the most intriguing bit of information provided though is a reference to the Emperor, “shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office.” Palpatine certainly seems on top of things in Return of the Jedi as he lures the Rebellion into his trap. Is it possible that the Imperial Dignitaries we see in the final movie of the Original Trilogy wielded control over the emperor? There has always been speculation as to whether these characters were Force sensitive and one could argue that their pallid faces that we briefly see have been altered by the dark side of the force, like the Emperor’s. Maybe they were the power behind the throne?
After the main section of the prologue ends, there is a short sentence that sets the reader up for what lies ahead in the body of the book:
“Leia Organa of Alderaan, Senator–They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally they became heroes.”
Interesting that she’s referred to as a Senator rather than Princess, almost like it’s a news report sound bite, also because we are told in this story that the Senate has been dissolved yet here is Leia ruminating about our heroes obviously after the events of the book have taken place, suggesting perhaps that the Senate reconvened after the destruction of the Death Star. The original Star Wars was designed to be an all inclusive film; that is, it was designed to have a clear ending in case Lucas was unable to continue the story in sequel films. This little bit of text helps to convey that the story as we know it going into this novel has an ending. But I think there’s more to it than just that.
Even as a pre-teen I understood why this quote was in the book. It let the reader know that the heroes of this story were not knights in shining armour, they weren’t heroes in the traditional sense. They were thrust into their roles and through fate or maybe even the Force, if that crazy old wizard can be believed, they saved the day because they had to.
Luke always “looked away to the horizon” not realizing that what he really wanted was right in front of him
Thanks to Mike for his guest Blog, and be sure to check out his Blog Looking Away to the Horizon
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