Penguin Random House UK is publishing the official novelisation of the new Star Wars film, "The Force Awakens", under its Century imprint as an e-book this Friday.
The digital edition will be available on 18th December - the day after the film is released in the UK, with the hardback publication not available until 1st January.
The Bookseller understands the decision to release the title as a digital-first edition, with the hardback release missing the key Christmas trading period, was taken after conversations with Disney to avoid "the risk of a copy getting into the wrong hands" since the storyline for the high-profile franchise, owned by Disney, is "so top secret".
Harry Scoble, senior editor at Random House Books and Star Wars editor at Century, told The Bookseller: "Century is incredibly excited to be publishing the novelisation of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster. Publication dates are agreed with Disney and with fan anticipation running so high it is natural that precautions be taken to ensure fans enjoy the film without risk of spoilers.
"Because Star Wars is such a high-profile franchise we do have to consider how our books sit alongside all the other Star Wars products out there. We have to make sure that we are using the same terminology and language as all the other partners to make sure we don’t leave fans confused about anything. That requires a lot of attention to detail. But you soon learn to tell your Bothans from your Banthas."
Other Star Wars-related titles to be out on Friday (18th December) include The Star Wars Colouring Book, the Dorling Kindersley Force Awakens Visual Dictionary and the Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a coffee table art book.
Film reviews have been hitting the headlines this morning with the Guardian calling it "a spectacular homecoming" for the franchise and The Times saying "adults will be floored by tearful nostalgia because this is a classic.” Facebook is also allowing fans to add a lightsaber to their profile pictures and Google is taking fans directly to the Star Wars' opening crawl - the signature device featured at the start of every film in the series - when they type in "a long time ago in a galaxy far far away" into its search engine.
A PRH spokesperson said the publisher had seen a "huge surge in popularity" for Star Wars fiction and would be supporting its Star Wars novels "more than ever before". It has recently launched Star Wars Books UK social channels and has promoted The Force Awakens via Facebook and Twitter campaigns. In terms of events, members of the publishing team were at London MCM Comic-Con in October and PRH has plans to be a regular fixture at conventions through 2016, including Star Wars Celebration, the official Europe Star Wars convention.
Scoble said: "There are very few books or franchises that have such a dedicated, enthusiastic readership. Taking the books to Comic Con is just so much fun – you have Jedi and Stormtroopers and Wookies coming over for a chat like it’s the most normal thing in the world. And even leaving aside the super fans, we’ve found all our readers to be incredibly engaged and sociable – they have such an affection for the Star Wars universe and they love sharing that with other people. As such I think we all feel a real responsibility to look after these books because they mean such a lot to so many people."
Bookshops are also getting involved. Most recently, on Saturday (12th December), Foyles Bristol hosted a Star-Wars themed party featuring Stormtroopers as special guests and "out of this world" treats such as face painting to transform customers into their favourite characters (below).
PRH marketing manager Matthew Ruddle said: "There is huge excitement from our international customers and we’ve been working with our international sales and marketing teams to build anticipation and support for a truly global publication."
"There has been a huge surge in popularity for Star Wars merchandise including their fiction titles," he added.
"Big plans" for the future of Star Wars at Century in the next few years include film tie-ins and the sequels to Star Wars novel Aftermath by Chuck Wendig, the publisher said. The second installment in Wendig's trilogy, Life Debt, is due to be published in summer 2016.
"It’s going to be great," said Scoble. "There’s so much other cool stuff I’d love to be able to tell you, but it’s still top secret at the moment! I’m actually scared to be in a room with any fans in case I blurt something out. What I can say is that we have a really amazing programme which is going to expand on the stories of existing characters in some really exciting ways."
PRH also has a wealth of backlist Star Wars titles, including Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne; A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller; Lord of the Sith by Paul S Kemp; Tarkin by James Luceno; Dark Disciple by Christie Golden; Aftermath by Chuck Wendig; and Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alex Freed.
In the past, storylines for print and on screen were developed separately, resulting in an “expanded universe” that differed from the filmmaker’s "canon". To solve these discrepancies, any books published before May 2014 were rebranded "Star Wars Legends" to make the distinction they are not considered part of the Star Wars timeline.
According to figures from Nieslen Bookscan, in the UK, The Star Wars Annual 2016 (Egmont) is the biggest Star Wars-themed hit, with 93,034 copies sold to date, and is the bestselling Star Wars annual ever. Where’s the Wookiee: Search and Find (Egmont), a Chewbacca-themed take on Where’s Wally, has also cleaned up on 61,865 copies sold, and both titles have regularly charted in the Top 50 since October.
Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know, Star Wars Doodle Book and The Star Wars Joke Book have also performed well over the autumn; Absolutely Everything You Need to Know has shifted 20,042 copies, Star Wars Doodle Book is on 17,472 units and The Star Wars Joke Book has sold 12,090.
Millennium Falcon: Owners Manual (JH Haynes), which was originally released in 2011, charted in the Original Fiction top 20 earlier this year and has sold 7,731 copies in 2015. Slightly less popular is the Death Star Manual from the same publisher, which has shifted 5,794 copies this year.