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The Road To Episode VII: Star Wars Reads Day

Today will be a day long remembered as today marks the fourth annual Star Wars Reads Day!

There are thousands of events being held all over the globe as this wide ranging celebration is on a mission to promote literacy while uniting fans of the franchise.

I’m going to be honest, I never knew that Star Wars Reads Day was even a thing until my editor asked me to write an article about it.

Once I looked into what this event was, it really resonated with me because Star Wars taught me how to read.

In Kindergarten, during recess, while my classmates vied for toys and coloring books, I made a mad dash to the cassette player and listened to a read-along version of Return of the Jedi. One day, the cassette player went missing but the book was still there. I decided to read it myself instead of going along with the narration.

My teacher walked by and was astonished as she heard me reading passages aloud about Stormtroopers and Ewoks. She knelt down, looked me right in the eye and said with joyous enthusiasm, “Atlee, you can read!”

At the time, I didn’t understand what the big deal was.

She handed me a Clifford book and asked me to read it so she could see if I truly knew how to read, or if what I was reciting with the Star Wars book was due to memorization. My teacher acted as if she won the lottery when I began to read passages about the big red dog and his friend Emily.

I still didn’t think this was a big deal, but everyone else did, especially my parents. I was even asked to read the entire Return of the Jedi book in front of the whole class. I don’t ever remember having difficulty reading, but my mother told me otherwise.

Star Wars has produced thousands of literary tales over the years. Between books, comics, audio renditions and magazines, these iconic characters and remarkable adventures have touched our lives.

Let’s take a look at three different versions of a story that takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – So You Want to be a Jedi? 
By Adam Gidwitz | Narrated by Marc Thompson 
Publisher: Disney Lucasfilm Press

A slew of new Star Wars merchandise has been released into the ether as a result of the upcoming The Force Awakens film. With that comes die-hard fans who can’t grab enough of anything labeled Star Wars. There are also a new generation of youngsters who’ve never seen the films.

How do you market to a young mind that has never experienced this iconic space opera?

Do you just sit them in front of the television, pop in a Blu-ray, and tell them with absolute confidence to “just watch” when their inquiring eyes look up at you?

That worked for an entire generation, but in 2015, people want more options.

They want different ways to immerse their children into the ways of the Force.

Star Wars has its share of dark moments that could traumatize a little kid who wouldn’t be completely entranced with the wonder of it all and sees things in a more literal sense. After all, a father did chop off his son’s hand with a laser sword.

Adam Gidwitz might have penned just what the doctored ordered with this unabridged edition of The Empire Strikes Back. However, instead of simply being told the saga of the Empire’s vengeance, the story is read in the second person and becomes a fairytale where the reader/listener takes on the role of Luke Skywalker.

There are Jedi Lessons in-between chapters that teach one how to hone their abilities. Right before Luke…oops…I mean, you, are attacked by the Wampa, a lesson instructs you to meditate by counting to ten and then again while clearing your heading and only visualizing the numbers you’re counting, taking slow deep breathes in the process.

Next thing you know, you’re hanging upside down in the Wampa’s cave, and you’re lightsaber is on the ground and out of reach. You aggressively attempt to use the Force on two occasions, extending your arm out to its fullest. You try for a third time, but you relax, clear your thoughts, lift up your arm, imagine the saber in your hand, and it comes to you. It was a good way to show kids how relaxing in a bad or stressful situation will garner better results instead of operating in panic mode.

Even though this is the middle installment of the trilogy, the narrative takes no chances and assumes this is your first step into a larger world. Han Solo is constantly referred to as a space pirate while there is extra emphasis on the title of “Princess” when mentioning Leia. Lobot was labeled as Lando’s bald man servant as opposed to his friend, or computer liaison officer. Chewbacca is also compared to a tall dog to help with the visualization process, and regular everyday items such as clocks, cars, and baseball bats are used to describe various items.

There are also changes to the dialog. I know, I know. Why anyone would change what doesn’t need fixing? Then again, changing the word from “bombardment” to “attack” when General Veers informs Darth Vader of the Rebels’ energy shield on Hoth would help a child under the situation a little better.

The Force provides insight along with a great many things and Adam Gidwitz provides that as well. Various scenes provide a look into the mind of Luke Skywalker, feeling his highs and lows over the course of the adventure. During the climax of the famed lightsaber battle, Luke struck Vader on his right shoulder and felt an apex of achievement, feeling his training with Yoda had paid off as the dark lord screamed out in pain. Moments later, Vader lops off Skywalker’s right hand, and the aspiring Jedi plummets to the depth of despair.

The literary flow of the book is good, but the changes in dialog will trip up an avid enthusiast from time to time because you’re expecting one word or phrase, and something different appears on the page. That’s the trade-off with any book that skews young. Breaking the fourth wall as the reader is placed in Luke Skywalker’s shoes reads well enough, but this aspect is where the audio narration triumphs over the script.

Immersion into the story was more consistent and it was easier to accept cultural comparisons that were made. The Jedi training modules convey an extra weight of importance and fun as a welcoming voice instructs you to close your eyes and begin meditation as opposed to that feeling of doing homework as you read “Lesson Alpha.”

Concept sketches and artwork from Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston appear throughout the book. While it’s nothing new or earth shattering, it establishes the tone of the story in some places and it’s a cool extra to have.

I’m not the target audience for this particular telling/production of The Empire Strikes Back, it’s easy to appreciate the mindfulness and lessons that Gidwitz applies here. The ideal literary device for children is one that entertains while teaching without the reader realizing that class is in session.  

Star Wars has captivated generations of fans the world over. While die-hard fans will want to take a pass on this one, using this franchise to instill a little bit of knowledge onto the next generation, while their imagination takes part in the ultimate adventure, is an excellent vehicle for children to take their first step into a larger world.

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (Little Golden Book)
Adapted by Geof Smith
Illustrated by Patrick Spaziante
Publisher: Golden Books
Price $4.99

Now, this brings me back to my childhood. These little books with the gold foil spine dominated my book shelf as a kid. My mother read many classic tales to me as a child as these condensed stories carry a charm that produced cherished experiences.

Revenge of the Sith is the most violent film of the Star Wars saga. How Golden Books would adapt this to an age appropriate tale (age range 2 – 5 years) was an interesting proposition to explore.

The narrative reads as both a self-contained telling and the third installment of a series.

Reading this to your little Padawan for the first time will conjure up many questions due to the chosen vocabulary and strange names.

Vivid descriptions of the film’s more violent atrocities are absent. The simple explanation of “The Sith Lord sends Mace Windu crashing through a window” effectively covers how the Jedi Knight met his demise as opposed to going all PG-13 and mentioning decapitation and electrocution.

The illustrations are what you come to expect from a Little Golden Book. For the most part, the heroes smile, the villains scowl, and the charm of it all just melts your heart. For those who are wondering how Anakin Skywalker’s transformation to Darth Vader is addressed, trust me, it’s completely safe.

People constantly argue over the order in which to introduce the movies to someone for the first time.

In the case of the Golden Book series, exploring this world through Episodes 1-6 or through Episodes 4, 5, & 6 is the most effective approach. The self-contained approach to the series makes going from the original trilogy to the prequels detrimental to the overall experience.

Whether you’re revisiting the saga, or arranging a formal introduction, this adorable adaptation will help the child in your life get up to speed on the wonder that is Star Wars.

Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 1 (Graphic Novel)
Collects Issues #s 1 – 6
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Colorist: Edgar Delgado
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Creating any story where Darth Vader is the central figure must be a challenge because you can’t put him in too many situations where he is defeated or caught with his pants down.

Every comic book being released from here on end is canon, which means it’s history.

Keeping intact the fact that Darth Vader was the baddest mama jama in the galaxy is essential to the Star Wars mythos.

Kieron Gillen delivers all of the ruthless aggression that the Sith Lord is known for, but he also goes into uncharted waters by exploring Vader’s psychology at a time where he has lost favor with Emperor Palpatine.

Gillen also does a great job setting up various moments and making them very fulfilling. The Emperor putting Vader on blast for the destruction of the Death Star is something that was always assumed, and seeing it in this canonical environment was the conformation we’ve been waiting for.

Vader, in his defense, states that “The arrogance of that weapon courted disaster” and Palpatine dismisses the notion without a second thought.

There are quite a few new characters introduced into the lore. Some such as Palpatine’s clone/hybrid/cyborg Force users failed to provide any sort of impact to the story as they are meant to test Darth Vader. Vader knows he can take them, we know he can take them, and it’s impossible to swallow that the Emperor believed or even thought that his creations were a match for his apprentice

We also meet the droid duo of Triple Zero and BT-1, who are a homicidal version of R2-D2 and C-3P0. Salvador Larroca does a great job of making their presence felt as their likeness to the lovable counterparts gives the reader a false sense of security.

The biggest addition to the series is the spunky archaeologist named Dr. Aphra. She is a total Vader fanboy while consistently coming within an eyelash of crossing the line with him. Her role increases throughout the series and there are rumors that there might be an Aphra standalone series in the works.

Salvador Laroca’s artwork is amazing and nailed all of the iconic images and landscapes, while Edgar Delgado’s coloring was spot on and felt very in touch with the ways of The Force. The imagery in the book’s opening sequence on Tattooine provides a strong sense of nostalgia by having Vader’s arrival at Jabba’s palace take a reverse mirror approach from Luke Skywalker’s entrance in Return of the Jedi.

When looking at collected works, catching up on the story while getting a bigger literary investment is always the objective as opposed to reading twenty pages every thirty days at $3.99 a pop. If you read this particular trade, continue to watch the movies and never indulge in this series again, you can rest assured knowing that you would be completely satisfied with the result.

The ending is amazingly constructed and produces a crescendo of rage, emotion, clarity, mystery, and suspense that every Star Wars fan will thoroughly appreciate.

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