How The Star Wars Novelization Confused A Generation And Started An Urban Myth

By Zack Zagranis | Published

Star wars novelization

In 1976, a book titled Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker hit store shelves across America. The book was a novelization of the upcoming film Star Wars, released early to drum up hype for the movie—a very common practice back in the day. What wasn’t common was for the Star Wars novelization to carry the name of the film’s director, George Lucas, as its author. Directors writing their own novelizations was so rare in fact, that it created confusion among fans that persisted for years and even led to the fairly prevalent urban myth that Star Wars started life as a book.

I should know. I fell for it.

The Myth That Star Wars Was Adapted From Novels

That myth was that Star Wars started life as a book—not a novelization but a proper novel—and was actually one of six books written by George Lucas that he then decided to turn into movies.

This wasn’t true, of course, but in the days before Google, it was hard to know what bits of pop-culture trivia were legit and which ones were made up. Believe it or not, the myth actually had some basis in truth.

Star Wars has been a part of my life for so long that I don’t even know how I first discovered it. What I do know is that by the time I discovered the saga, Star Wars had already been given the subtitle, Episode IV: A New Hope. In fact, all three of the Star Wars movies that existed when I was a child in the ’80s bore episode numbers.

This was before George Lucas started telling everyone that his original idea for Star Wars was so big that he decided to break it up into pieces and tell the second half of the story first.

Most fans assumed that if there were episodes IV, V, and VI, then logically, there must be an I, II, and III. So when my Dad’s adopted sister’s boyfriend told me that George Lucas had originally written six Star Wars books and that he had read them, I had no reason not to believe him.

Fake News Wasn’t Rare

This was a common thing back in the ’80s and ’90s. A kid I went to school with claimed to know someone who knew someone who had figured out a code to make all the fighters in Mortal Kombat nude.

We had no way to verify whether these claims were true or not: some sounded legit some not so much. Either way, there was a lot of “fake news” being passed around back in the day.

But I digress.

What helped sell the myth of these six sacred texts was that one of them existed–sort of. Fans can debate just how much of Star Wars Lucas had planned out and how much was off the cuff, but one thing I know is that he definitely had some idea of the events leading up to Episode IV.

He wouldn’t have subtitled the first Star Wars novelization, From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, if he hadn’t.

The Journal Of The Whills

When I first discovered the Star Wars novelization at my local library, I was thrilled. Right on the cover, in big letters, it said George Lucas as the author. This was definitive proof that what that guy told me was true!

Inside the book was even more proof: a prologue detailing the fall of the Old Republic. Remember, this book came out before Star Wars was really even a thing, and yet already Lucas had laid out the Emperor’s rise to power—he even called him Palpatine!

And then, as the icing on the cake, at the end of the two-page prologue, the words, “From the First Saga Journal of the Whills.”

There it was in black and white. Not only was there a “First Saga,” it had a name: Journal of the Whills. Now I just needed to find it! I’m pretty sure you know where this is going.

Lucas Knew What He Was Building Was Big

star wars rpg

To quote Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, “There’s no basement at the Alamo!” Not only was there no Journal of the Whills, but George Lucas didn’t even write the Star Wars novelization. Alan Dean Foster did. So why did George have Foster add all of that stuff about the “First Saga,” and all that?

It turns out Lucas knew even before he put the subtitle Episode IV on Star Wars that his story was going to be bigger than one movie—much bigger. And while he didn’t have every little detail worked out yet, he had a general idea of what got the Star Wars galaxy to where it was at the beginning of A New Hope.

Like most things from George’s early writings, the concept of the Whills would get recycled and used in later Star Wars content years after the novelization, but that’s a story for another time.

The Lie Became True

George Lucas midichlorians

I eventually got to read Episodes I, II, and III when the Star Wars prequels were novelized, although I must confess they were much different from the books I imagined in my head as a preteen. Still it’s kind of cool that the lie I was told as a child ended up becoming true in some fashion.

I still think The Phantom Menace should have been called The Journal of the Whills, however.

Subscribe For

Star Wars News

Expect a confirmation email if you subscribe!