Deconstructed: Revenge of the Sith Novelisation

The Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith novelization by Matthew Woodring Stover (MWS) is one of my favourite books to this day. It expands so much on everything that happened in the movie, and really delves into the characters to make the climax far more heartbreaking than the ‘NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO’ of the film.

So, what better way to show my appreciation than to pull apart the prologue and all the ways it works? I’d recommend reading the entire thing (you can find it as a preview on Amazon), but here’s a snippet of the key bits.

All the younglings watching the battle in Coruscant’s sky know it: when Anakin and Obi-Wan get there, those dirty [Separatists] are going to wish they’d stayed in bed today.
The adults know better, of course. That’s part of what being a grown-up is: understanding that heroes are created by the HoloNet, and that the real-life Kenobi and Skywalker are only human beings, after all.
[…]
The adults know that legendary heroes are merely legends, and not heroes at all.
[…]
The Republic will fall. No mere human beings can turn this tide. No mere human beings would even try. Not even Kenobi and Skywalker.
And so it is that these adults across the galaxy watch the HoloNet with ashes where their hearts should be.
Ashes because they can’t see two prismatic bursts of realspace reversion, far out beyond the planet’s gravity well; because they can’t see a pair of starfighters crisply jettison hyperdrive rings and streak into the storm of Separatist vulture fighters with all guns blazing.
A pair of starfighters. Jedi starfighters. Only two.
Two is enough.
Two is enough because the adults are wrong, and their younglings are right.
Though this is the end of the age of heroes, it has saved its best for last.

The Emotional Journey

This is a short bit of the prologue, but it already takes us on a rollercoaster of ups and downs. First, we have the childish view of how the heroes always win. And if you know the story of Star Wars, you’ll know that Anakin and Obi-Wan are, to quote a phrase later in the book, “the ultimate go-to guys of the Jedi Order. When the Good Guys absolutely, positively have to win, the call goes out.”

But that’s the ever-optimistic, childish view. He hits us with a dose of adult knowledge next—that no one is invincible, and life is never fair. Heroes are human, subject to the same failings as the rest of us “normal” people. It brings the previous exuberance of the children into the reality of the world.

That’s not the end. MWS subverts our expectation of reality by setting the scene where against all odds, two heroes charge into enemy territory. And he tells us what we want to know: Two is enough because the adults are wrong, and their younglings are right. It’s an open invitation to return to the pure simplicity of our childhood, and believe that heroes can save the day. Because deep down, who doesn’t want to believe? The best are here, and this is their story.

The Rhythm

There’s a nice parallel of sentences at the start, where MWS uses two similar sentence structures (statement-colon-detail) to bring the children’s and the adults’ beliefs into stark contrast.

He also makes liberal use of one-sentence paragraphs. Normally, I’m not a fan of using them too often because each time you do, it lessens their impact. MWS, however, knows exactly which sentences need to be pulled out. They’re the ones that emphasise the point of the paragraph before, or where there’s the need for a long pause to draw out tension.

A fantastic example of the latter is the final six sentences.
A pair of starfighters. Jedi starfighters. Only two.
Three short sentences, ending with a statement that emphasises how outnumbered the Jedi are. How hopeless the situation is. Then a paragraph break for an implied lengthy pause. It gives the reader time to digest this fact.

Two is enough.
Then he turns the situation right around, into triumph. There’s a growing hope, which he gives us another paragraph break to digest.

Two is enough because the adults are wrong, and their younglings are right.
And once we’ve had the pause to take in the revelation, he builds on it using assumptions he’s previously led us to. He states that in this case, childish belief is correct. If the final line has the impact of a train, this is its front light shining in our eyes and blinding us. He keeps it short and simple, because that’s all we need.

Though this is the end of the age of heroes, it has saved its best for last.
Here is the train. He takes us down from that high just a little (the end of the age of heroes), gives us a short pause so as not to break the flow… then hits us with it. Even the cadence of the phrase is regular: it has saved its best for last. It’s militaristic, or anthemic. It’s triumphant; a call for celebration.

The Prologue

If you must have a prologue, this is a wonderful example of what a prologue should be. It sets the scene, tells the audience that this is a story about Anakin and Obi-Wan. It uses a single, contained battle in Coruscant to bring in the bigger picture of an ongoing war between the Separatists and the Jedi (who work with the Republic). It brings in the major themes of the book: friendship, the nature of heroism, and (in other parts) the battle between light and dark. If you’re aware of the ending, it also foreshadows that beautifully by drawing out the nature of the Kenobi-Skywalker team and mentioning how they are only human beings.

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