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Star Wars - Episode VII: The Force Awakens has received an official novelization from Alan Dean Foster.

What significant differences to plot points, characters, etc, are there between the novelization and the movie?

I'm looking for things that could make a big difference (in and/or out of universe), not costume differences, slight differences in character descriptions (hair style, eye color, height, etc), or the like.

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    Do you specifically want "Differences", or "Scenes missing from the film" - which is conceptually a different thing. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 6 '16 at 5:21
  • Differences. Unless a scene from the novelization which isn't in the book has a significant impact on the story (as in, not just explains something, but actually changes the plot or how things should be viewed). – Doc Jan 6 '16 at 5:28
  • I'm only up to Chewie meeting Plutt in Maz' castle, but so far, almost all of the differences are readily apparent, but cosmetic - Rey fiddles with flow controls instead of door fuses when she accidentally frees the Rathtars, the spy in the castle is wearing a dress instead of pants, etc. – Wad Cheber Jan 6 '16 at 5:45
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Missing scenes in the script/film

  • Han discusses BB-8's map on the Falcon and mentions that he can actually recognize a nebulae on it. This implies in the books that he knows the general area where the map points to (leading to obvious question of, why do we need the rest of the map in R2D2?). We don't get that in the film or the script.

  • Leia discussing with her envoy sending her to Hosnian Prime. It doesn't change the plot, but it offers a major clarification into the political situation between Republic and Resistance.

Differences

  • In the film GA-97 takes the initiative to contact the Resistence about BB-8. In the novelization, C-3PO activates a whole network of droid informers first, realizing that BB-8th long range communicator was turned off by mistake.

  • There are some differences in the Force Vision, discussed in detail here. Some of them may imply important plot differences regarding Rey's past or parentage

  • The mechanics of how Starkiller base works differs significantly. In the novelization, it works on Dark Energy and merely uses solar power in a "normal" way, to power Dark Energy collector. In the film it looks like it literally eats/destroys its star, in order to fire. This is confirmed in WGA script:

    A vast view of the planet -- a MASSIVE SOLARVAC ARRAY surrounds a port TEN MILES IN DIAMETER. MILLIONS OF PANELS turn on the ARRAY -- a wave of BRILLIANT REFLECTIONS. Suddenly, like a planetary-scale TESLA COIL LINE OF ENERGY, THE POWER OF THE SUN begins to TRAVEL DOWN to the Starkiller Base planet.

    and in Finn's briefing

    FINN It uses the power of the sun. As the weapon is charged, the sun is drained until it disappears.

    and

    They follow Finn on the snowy hike. On the horizon, THE LASER SIPHON SHOOTING INTO THE SKY, SLOWLY SUCKING THE SUN DRY.
    INT. STARKILLER BASE - CONTROL ROOM - DAY
    Technicians at work, the SUN SUCKING seen in the window behind him.

    With all due respect to Mr. Abrams, the film's choice is far worse plot wise.

  • The destruction also is different. In the novelization, there's only 1 target (Hosnian Prime), and the rest of Hosnian system is destroyed by a blast from the nova that the planet became. In the film, it looks like individual "sub-rays" of the weapon separate and hit other planets, and the same is hinted at in WGA script.

    At a massive distance we see PLANETS THE REPUBLIC CAPITAL SYSTEM -- INCREASINGLY LIT, THEN POWERFULLY HIT BY THE VAST FIREBLAST WHICH OBLITERATES IT ALL!

  • Far smaller difference: in the film, JB-007 trooper she tries to Jedi Mind Trick sasses back at her at first (I'll tighten those restraints, scavenger scum!). In the book, he merely doesn't react at her first attempt. Which means that line by 007 may have been an ad-lib.

Bonus round: Differences implied by prequel book

  • The film left a very strong impression that Finn is a half-@ssed Stormtrooper, bottom of Sanitaton barrell. The prequel clearly shows that he was awsome, 1% of his training class, leadership candidate being groomed personally for advancement by Captain Phasma.

  • The film strongly implies that he had exibited NO previous deviations from other stormtroopers and his sudden empathy explosion is unexpected (and possibly triggered by the comprade stormtrooper dying). The prequel clearly explains that this is NOT the case, that he has struggeled with empathy for a long time, and Jakku was Phasma's last chance for him to turn from a soft-hearted plushie into a real heartless stormtrooper who can shoot at real people, not just training simulation targets.

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    Uh. I'll never figure out why people decide to vote which way on this site. My throwaway answer with one little fact gets 7 votes with <200 views, while this comprehensive, well-researched, answer to a difficult to analyze question gets one. That should be reversed!!!! :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 6 '16 at 15:40
  • Hairy Naked Quirrell is probably the answer ;-) – Rand al'Thor Jan 7 '16 at 2:14
  • @randal'thor - nope, that was firmly stuck on 200 views. No NHQ list. Just vagaries of patterns – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 7 '16 at 2:16
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One (fairly) important difference between the book and the movie:

I'm still reading the book for the first time, but I literally just finished reading the most striking deviation from the movie so far; it might not amount to an enormous change to the overall plot, but it is very interesting (at least to me), and it was certainly an incredibly significant, influential, and life-changing event for at least one of the characters:

In the book, Unkar Plutt shows up at Maz' castle and threatens Rey. She's with BB-8, but no one else is around to help her. She pulls out her blaster and threatens to shoot Plutt, but he notices that the safety is still on, and snatches the gun from her hands. He smugly flips the safety off, and is presumably about to turn the gun on her and force her to leave with him.

Just then, an even bigger hand appears:

The upraised blaster vanished from Plutt’s hand, yanked away by a much bigger set of fingers.

Startled, Plutt looked back—and up, into the furry face of a deceptively calm Wookiee.

“Urrrrrrr..."

Not especially eloquent of Chewie, a relieved Rey thought, but it got the point across. Plutt wasn’t impressed. Noticing the bandaged shoulder, he poked at it with the same hand that had swiped Rey’s weapon.

“Half a Wookiee ain’t much to worry about.” He started to retreat into a fighting stance. “Not against all of me.” He lashed out.

Grabbing the thrusting arm, a roaring Chewbacca twisted and ripped it off at the shoulder, throwing the dismembered limb clear across the room. Looking down at himself, Plutt let out a scream of agony as his underlings hurriedly fell back.

The arm landed on a table where a group of four-armed, long-snouted Culisettos was gambling. With an annoyed huff, one of them picked up the amputated limb and absently tossed it aside, allowing the game to resume. Nearby, a small bipedal GA-97 droid who had been monitoring the pastime turned curiously to check the source of the excised limb.
- Alan Dean Foster's novelization of The Force Awakens

Of course, if you've seen the movie, you know that this entire scene is completely omitted, and we don't really see Unkar Plutt after Finn, Rey, and BB-8 escape Jakku. Although there is no reason to believe that Plutt will show up again in the series, and although his character is relatively unimportant to the larger story, this turn of events is remarkable for its coolness.

And of course, even though this passage probably won't affect our heroes in a serious way, and won't change the story much, it is presumably an extremely significant event in Plutt's eyes. After all, if you walk into a bar in good health and in possession of four limbs, and leave with only 3 limbs and a substantially lower amount of blood in your veins, you'll probably remember it for the rest of your life. He has joined Ponda Baba (the spider-face guy from the Mos Eisley Cantina) in the unhappy ranks of people from the galaxy far, far away who went to a bar, messed with the wrong person, and came out of the encounter with an arm missing. And I would argue that Plutt is worse off than Baba, because the latter was lucky enough to have his arm cleanly cut off with a lightsaber, which minimized the blood loss; Plutt, on the other hand (no pun intended), had his arm literally torn off by sheer, brute force. The fact that it was torn off at the shoulder probably means that restorative surgery will be more complicated and less likely to be entirely successful.

Why is this important?

One fairly significant plot point comes out of this scene:

Visual recognition ignited a small but very important internal sequence that concluded with the GA-97 sending out a compressed signal that was bounced around, coded, decoded, encrypted, and flashed out into deep space. Where it very soon was picked up, decoded, and decrypted, to become the impetus for an electronic shout of joy.

In the book, although not in the movie, the Resistance is actively seeking BB-8, and C-3PO is in charge of the operation. However, when BB-8 was sent out with Poe, 3PO didn't think to turn on the droid's long-range tracking device, so he is forced to alert all Resistance droids across the galaxy of the fact that BB-8 is MIA with some very important Resistance intelligence; any Resistance droid that sees BB-8 is ordered to report to headquarters at once.

When Chewbacca rips off Plutt's arm and tosses it across the room, one of those droids is present, and looks to see who is responsible for the dismemberment. Chewbacca is standing beside BB-8, so the Resistance droid sees BB-8 and sends a message to 3PO, letting headquarters know where BB-8 is. This is presumably why the Resistance showed up at just the right moment when the First Order attacked Takodana.

The other differences:

So far, the other deviations from the movie have been relatively trivial:

  • The spy who tells the First Order that BB-8 is on Takodana is wearing a dress instead of pants

  • Rey accidentally frees the rathtars by fiddling with a flow control panel rather than some fuses

  • Finn says a few things that appear to slightly contradict what he said in the movie (e.g., his experience as a stormtrooper is apparently much more extensive in the book than the movie)

  • A few scenes have been added, but they don't change the story in a significant way (e.g., we see Poe's hike through the desert, and learn exactly how he managed to get off of Jakku)

  • There is quite a bit of additional dialogue and exposition, but again, it doesn't alter the plot very much (e.g., we get glimpses into BB-8's thoughts and feelings; we see more of Ren's relations with his subordinates)

  • Can you explain why this scene makes a "big difference"? (kinda subjective wording, I know) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 6 '16 at 5:56
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    @DVK - I think it makes a big difference to Plutt. :) – Wad Cheber Jan 6 '16 at 5:58
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    plutt!=plot. I'd just like to make that clear – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 6 '16 at 6:01
  • @DVK - Just realized that Chewie ripping off Plutt's arm is indirectly responsible for the Resistance coming to Takodana. – Wad Cheber Jan 6 '16 at 6:36
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    The film's version of why the Resistance knows to come to Takodana is much simpler: a droid in Maz's castle recognizes BB-8 and notifies the Resistance, shortly before or after (forgive me, I've only seen it once) a First Order spy does the same thing for her masters. – Martha Jan 6 '16 at 7:57

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