Was Star Wars a book first? Surely, George Lucas’ original 1977 Star Wars movie came out before the book, right?
Quite shockingly, the Star Wars book actually came out more than six months before the film. This insane piece of Star Wars trivia probably seems totally made up, but it’s true.
So, how did the Star Wars book come out before the movie? In order to understand, let’s take a trip back to the 70s.
What Came Out First, the Star Wars Book or Movie?
First published as Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, the book came out on November 12, 1976. This was more than six months before the movie hit theaters.
Since the book came out first, this has created the urban legend that Star Wars started off as a book before becoming a movie. Despite the Star Wars book coming out before the movie, it is still based on George Lucas’ original screenplay. The movie was not adapted from the book.
Lucas had always intended the story as a movie, with the novelization acting as a tie in. The Star Wars movie was originally meant to come out during the 1976 Christmas holiday season.
However, production delays pushed the release back. The film fell behind schedule due to storms in Tunisia. Then Lucas struggled with the UK-based crew, who often questioned his decisions and even the content of the movie.
After wrapping principal photography, Lucas found out that the special effects shots were also behind schedule. This is often attributed to the casual, party-like atmosphere at ILM. While that may have been a factor, they were also inventing unprecedented special effects technology to bring Lucas’ vision to life.
Despite these delays, Ballantine Books released the film novelization as scheduled. And by February 1977, they had sold out of the original run of 500,000 books. They sold another 3.5 million copies in the three months leading up to the movie’s release.
The book has remained in publication with minor additions over the years. Some copies included 16 pages of full-color photos from the movie. For some additions, the title is Star Wars: A New Hope or Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.
Did George Lucas Write the Book Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker?
Although credited to George Lucas, the book was written by science fiction and fantasy author Alan Dean Foster.
Lucas chose Foster based on the strength of his original novel Icerigger and his novelization for the 1974 sci-fi film Dark Star. Foster also adapted several stories from Star Trek: The Animated Series.
In the January 1996 issue of Overstreet’s FAN, Foster explained that Lucas’ lawyer Tom Pollock brokered the deal:
My agent, Virginia Kidd, got a call from Tom Pollack, now one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. Tom was George Lucas’ representative at the time. They were doing this science fiction film called Star Wars and wanted someone to write a sequel book for the movie. So I went down to Industrial Light & Magic which, at the time, was in a little warehouse, and met George Lucas–who, to this day, is the nicest guy I’ve ever met in the film business–who took me through and showed me this whole wall of material, like World War II tanks and model kits and things, which they were picking parts off of to build the ships and models for the movie. George showed me the Death Star, which was this beach ball thing. A guy named Samuel Bass came through while I was there, whom I knew from teaching documentary films, and I met John Dykstra. And so that’s how the two books came about.
The deal also included the movie novelization and a second, original novel they could make as a low-cost sequel film if Star Wars was not successful. This would come out as Splinter of the Mind’s Eye in 1978.
To write the Star Wars novelization, he used the shooting script and several of Ralph McQuarrie’s concept sketches. Foster wrote the novelization in about six weeks.
Why Did Alan Dean Foster Not Take Credit for the Star Wars Novelization?
Per his original contract, credit for the Star Wars novelization went to George Lucas. In the same Overstreet’s FAN interview, Foster explains:
I had a contract where I couldn’t say I was the author and had to lie to a lot of people about it. But a book about the making of the film came out and credited me with the book, so I got permission from Lucasfilm to be able to talk about it.
The 1984 Lucas biography Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas by Dale Pollock revealed Foster as the ghostwriter for the novelization.
Foster has regularly said he did not have a problem giving credit for the novel to Lucas. In a 2018 interview with Steve Galloway for Jedi News, he said:
It was part of the contract, it’s not my universe, it’s not my story, and it’s George’s, well at least it was until recently. It didn’t bother me at all, but it is the only time I’ve ever done that. It’s just that I haven’t been asked to do it that way since and I have no problems with it at all.
In a 2021 interview with Billy Langsworthy for Brands Untapped, Foster reaffirmed that he did not have a problem with the credits and explained his thoughts about why Lucas used a ghostwriter for the book.
It was his creation, his baby, and I had no problem with the credits. As to why he sought out a ghostwriter, I think he was kinda busy at the time with this film he was making. To the point where he was content to delegate certain related projects in order to preserve his sanity.
What Are the Differences Between the Star Wars Movie and Book
There are several differences between the Star Wars movie and the book version. Since Alan Dean Foster based his story on the shooting script, it includes elements that were changed or cut during the filming and editing process.
Perhaps the most important difference is that the book mentions Emperor Palpatine and calls Darth Vader a Sith Lord.
The book includes the original beginning with Luke Skywalker watching the space battle from the surface of Tatooine and visiting his friends at the Toshi Station. It also includes the scene where Jabba the Hutt visits Han Solo in the docking bay.
Both scenes were filmed, but not included in the original film. The scene with Jabba was later added in the 1997 Special Edition.
List of Differences Between the Book and Movie
While not a complete list, here are some of the main differences between the book and the movie:
- Luke Skywalker’s family farms food instead of moisture
- Obi-Wan Kenobi lives in a cave instead of a hut
- Obi-Wan Kenobi smokes a pipe
- Three aliens harass Luke in the Mos Eisley Cantina and Obi-Wan Kenobi cuts one of them in half while there are only two in the movie and Obi-Wan only cuts off an arm
- Chewbacca has yellow eyes
- Admiral Motti is named Romodi and he has notable facial scars
- Grand Moff Tarkin is in the room when Darth Vader tortures Princess Leia Organa
- Obi-Wan Kenobi does not sense Alderaan’s destruction
- The Stormtrooper guarding the Millennium Falcon is THX-1138 instead of TK-421
- Obi-Wan Kenobi dies in combat and does not sacrifice himself so the others can escape
- Luke Skywalker’s call sign is Blue Five in Blue Squadron instead of Red Five in Red Squadron
- Wedge Antilles leaves the trench run after being attacked by Darth Vader’s flight team, instead of due to a malfunction
- Chewbacca also gets a medal, with Leia straining to put it around his neck
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