Spaceballs: The Book by Jovial Bob Stine
Based on the screenplay by Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan, and Ronny Graham
Price I paid: $12.67 in Amazon gift credit
Spaceballs, the nastiest beings in the universe, have decided to kidnap the beautiful Princess Vespa. But she’s already run off from her wedding and is speeding away in a Mercedes space coupe, accompanied by her robot, Dot Matrix. Meanwhile, our hero, Lone Starr, threatened by terrible Pizza the Hutt, is flying his Winnebago as far away as possible.
Will the wicked Spaceballs, led by dreadful Dark Helmet and Colonel Sandurz, seize the princess? Or will Lone Starr and his friends save the Princess from a fate worse than death!? Don’t miss Spaceballs: The Book!
It’s not even a little bit fair for me to review this book. You may have noted up top that it was published by Scholastic. I might be wrong, but I don’t think Scholastic has ever published a book that wasn’t for children.
Okay, I looked that up. Not only does the company turn 100 next year, its focus on children goes back that far. It started with magazines! Neat.
So yeah, I’m sitting here mocking a children’s book. But please hang with me, because there’s some stuff worth discussing.
This book was written by Jovial Bob Stine, who later would publish books as R.L. Stine. The one who was played by Jack Black in a film that I assume was profitable because they made another one, but I guess it wasn’t that profitable because Jack Black didn’t come back for the sequel.
I know a lot of kids in my generation were raised up on Goosebumps. I’m not one of them! No shade, they just weren’t my thing. I was aware of them and I did have two—the one where comic books are real and the one where they were dogs the whole time—and I read them both several times.
But yeah, R.L. Stine wrote what he needed to write so that he could pay the bills until he hit it big with a story where it turned out that the main character was the ghost, beating The Sixth Sense to that twist by seven years. Before that he wrote this, the novelization to Ghostbusters II, and…joke books. Stuff like Jovial Bob’s Computer Joke Book and 101 Vacation Jokes. Again, I’m not throwing shade. Dude did what he needed to do and he got paid for it. I admire the hell out of that. What floors me is that those were the books I was reading in elementary school. You Know It’s Going to Be A Long School Year When…? A book that I bet was sucking the life out of the Jeff Foxworthy joke formula almost as hard as Foxworthy himself?
I would have EATEN. THAT. UP.
I am NOT KIDDING.
So knowing that Jovial Bob probably had a hand in making me the beloved humorist I am today, how did he do with Spaceballs? How did he adapt the work of someone who definitely influenced me and my love of comedy, starting with this very movie?
I can’t imagine there’s anybody in the world who doesn’t love Mel Brooks, but let me emphasize, I love Mel Brooks. If you’re only familiar with him from the movies, do yourself a favor and look up his 2000 Year Old Man albums that he did with Carl Reiner. Prepare to laugh your ass off.
Still, from what I understand, Spaceballs isn’t one of Mel’s most beloved movies. I certainly love it, but even I’ll admit that it’s on a lower level than Blazing Saddles, which gets a call-out in this very book, or History of the World: Part 1, which is my favorite. Nevertheless, it got a novelization for children.
It’s a movie with dirty jokes. It cusses a fair amount. It’s got sight gags out the wazoo, with plenty of visual puns that I cannot imagine would appeal to children. It is not a movie for them. Why in heaven’s name did this movie get a novelization for them?
All I can figure is that since Star Wars was so massively popular with children, some suits figured that a parody of it would have to be as well. Couple that with the fact that the movie was rated PG for some damn reason, and it’s a recipe for “yeah, this is for kids.” None of those execs watched the movie. They were too busy counting their money in that special Hollywood way that means they get to say they didn’t make any money.
So was Jovial Bob able to make this novelization work?
I mean, he was hired to do a tough job, he was paid very little, and he had a weekend to do it. I’m not gonna make fun of the guy. I am gonna make fun of some of the crap he put in this book, though, because it’s bad.
Along with that are some of the things that got cut:
The scene remains, but it was changed to “idiots.” There were also some added “jokes” to the scene that didn’t work.
Most of this scene, including the “your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate” bit, is gone. The whole thing was trimmed down to a paragraph. “I see your Schwartz is as big as mine” was very definitely cut.
The Spaceball salute is never described. The “Snotty will beam you down” scene is still there, but instead of saying “Why didn’t anybody tell me my ass was so big?”, Skroob says “behind.” Also, at one point he’s described as
Short and rather comical-looking, with a raspy voice and a crooked little mustache, Skroob seemed more like a TV or movie comedian than a national leader.Page 19
Not. Even. A. Single. Reference. To. Michael. Winslow.
I know this book was probably based on an early draft of the script, but this seems like blasphemy.
This one kinda made it. The line where Dark Helmet says “That’s the kind of combination an idiot puts on his luggage” is gone, completely borking the later line shown above. Furthermore, it got changed to “gym locker” for no reason.
The “combing the desert” gag is still there, and it’s so much worse. We don’t get that amazing line read from Tim Russ, but we also get an additional few lines about “leaving no stone unturned,” where a bunch of Spaceball troopers are…literally turning stones over. Har har. But it gets weirder!
You know what really appealed to kids in the 80s? References to Judaism! This book is more Jewish than the movie! Not only are a bunch of bits like “Funny, she doesn’t look Druish” and the nosejob scene still there, there are added elements, like in this particular scene when one of the turned stones reveals a bracelet that reads “To Princess Vespa from King Daddy—Happy Purim.”
WHAT THE HELL EIGHT YEAR OLD TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC FOR THIS BOOK KNOWS WHAT PURIM IS
Also, this book uses the word fershlugginer at least three times, probably because Jovial Bob Stine thought that kids in the 80s were as keen on Yiddish phrases popularized by MAD Magazine in the 50s as he was.
I mean, it’s possible he was thinking of me, but I was three when this book came out, so he was really thinking ahead.
It’s perhaps most tragic that this line was not in the book.
What we get instead are lines like
“That’s some big magnet you got there!” Dark Helmet exclaimed. “I’ll bet you could use that to keep messages on the refrigerator!”page 31
If a dime had floated in that area of outer space, Spaceball One would have stopped on it!page 47
“But weren’t you the leader of the Red-Eye Knights and the possessor of the Force?” Barf asked.
“No, no. That was Alec Guinness,” Yogurt told him.page 71
I could go on forever, but I won’t.
If I hadn’t known before getting into it that this book was published by Scholastic, I would have been able to figure out it was a children’s book by the preponderance of exclamation marks. It’s maddening. If I had to guess, I’d say that at least a quarter of the sentences in this book end in them. But I bring this up for another reason.
I’d never noticed this before in any other book, and maybe that’s because I paid attention to it this time, or only just noticed, or something, but once I realized it was happening, it was weird. The way this book was typeset puts a space between the last word of a sentence and the punctuation mark when that punctuation is not a period.
“You fools ! Stop !” he moaned. “We just passed them ! Stop !”page 46
IT’S SO WEIRD. I’m certain I’ve never seen that before. What’s the point? Is this a children’s book thing? Is it an 80s thing? I probably wouldn’t have noticed in a book that used exclamation points a little more reasonably.
The best I can say about this novelization is that it was blessedly short. Not only was it only about 120 pages, the margins were huge. If this book hit 40K words, I’d be surprised. I was able to read it in less time than it would have taken me to watch the movie.
I did mean to watch the movie, but I just never got around to it. It’s not like it would have been difficult to acquire, I just got distracted by something else and listened to podcasts for four hours yesterday.
So not only was this book taken from a movie that had no business being turned into a book and then edited to be appropriate for children, it was edited to be appropriate for stupid children, and that just kills me. And yet, it contains multitudes, for there are still jokes like “She doesn’t look Druish” and all the Spaceballs merchandise and the really surreal ones like Going Plaid and Watching the Video of the Movie During the Movie. Stuff that I can’t imagine a child getting, not because kids are stupid, but because they’re visual jokes that don’t belong in text. If I hadn’t seen the movie, I wouldn’t have understood a damn thing that was going on a lot of the time.
And yet this is a movie that the target audience of the novelization should probably not be allowed to see. To be fair, I’d probably let my kids watch it, if I had them, so again, maybe Stine was thinking about me when he wrote it.
Reading through some behind-the-scenes stuff about the movie, I’m seeing so many references to stuff that was ad-libbed on the set. That goes a long way to explaining why this book is so different from the movie. It clung to the bones of the plot, and had a few of the same jokes, but if Stine hadn’t added what he did, he would have ended up with about sixty pages of material. Maybe.
This whole thing is so damn weird.