When I first saw the film Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, I hated it. It's grown on me slightly since, but in 2005 the terrible dialogue was enough to make me swear off the prequels and related material entirely for several years. Even today, I've watched the entire Star Wars Holiday Special as many times as I've been willing to sit through Episode III.
I mention this not to rag on Revenge of the Sith, but so that when I say Matthew Stover's novelization is not only the best Star Wars movie novelization, but one of the best Star Wars novels period, you know how much I really mean it.
Adding new material to a movie's opening scenes for a novelization can be a tricky thing. A novel's strength is that it can explain things in much greater detail than a film -- but that doesn't mean the novelist should immediately summon the Exposition Fairy to tell the audience what's going on, or bog down the opening scenes with material that doesn't add to the plot.
Stover avoids these traps, skillfully interweaving the action of the opening battle scene with background information that explains the roles of the characters, the backdrop of the Clone Wars, and the way Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi's relationship has developed since Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
Much of this background appears in short passages written in the present tense and from a more explicit in-universe perspective than the rest of the novel. The alternation in style both aids the mounting tension in the opening scenes and makes the novelization feel more like a "real" novel -- one which really makes an effort to get into the characters' heads, rather than simply describing what's going on in the movie.
Stover's commitment to characterization really shines, however, in the fight scenes. Movie novelizations tend not to do fight scenes justice, either because the author glossed over the action with a tension- and excitement-free summary or detailed the specific actions of the fight scene from a fly-on-the-wall perspective, without explaining why they occur.
For most of the Revenge of the Sith novelization, however, Stover shuns the third person omniscient so typical of novelizations in favor of viewing the action from various characters' perspectives. The opening duel with Dooku is a shining example: told from Dooku's perspective, it lasts much longer than in the film and not only describes the way Anakin and Obi-Wan fight, but what this means about them as Jedi. In addition, because it receives so much more "screen time" in the novelization than in the movie, it is more clearly established as the turning point in Anakin's character.
There are a few fight scenes missing or abbreviated in the movie: Yoda's escape from the Clone Troopers after Order 66 and his duel with Darth Sidious. They aren't missed, however, because despite the novel's length, it has a much tighter focus than the movie: it's all about Anakin. Yoda's fate is irrelevant, so it is unnecessary to include.
Obi-Wan and Padmé are more developed as characters, certainly -- but they are only there because of their relation to Anakin. Padmé and Anakin's relationship is more complicated and rocky than in the film, and Obi-Wan is clearly aware of a relationship between them, although he pretends not to be. Most interestingly, though, the novelization develops the relationship between Padmé and Obi-Wan, analyzing their contrasting bonds with Anakin and developing them as foils to each other.
Making the novelization primarily about Anakin also helps the reader get into Anakin's head and better understand why he turned. Because we hear Anakin's inner thoughts before and after, because we observe a character who is more gleeful than angsty at his early atrocities as Darth Vader, we get a much stronger sense from the novelization than from the movie that Palpatine did not have to plant the seeds of the dark side within Anakin -- only encourage them to grow.
Better than the Movie
At 418 pages, Revenge of the Sith is a giant of a novelization -- most of which clock in at 200 to 300 pages and begin to falter if they go much longer than that. But the Episode III novelization's tightened focus keeps up the novel's pace, making the length a non-issue. Only the fairly simple plot for a book of that length makes it feel like a movie novelization rather than a novel in its own right, of which the Episode III film is an inferior and condensed version.
Yes, I said inferior, because I still dislike Episode III. Reading the novelization has perhaps only intensified that dislike by demonstrating what great potential the story had. But in this respect Revenge of the Sith is a rare gem among movie novelizations: one which not only tells the story and expands on it, can not only be appreciated without seeing the movie, but is better than the movie. Even if you hated Episode III, you should read the novelization. It just might restore your faith in the Prequel Trilogy.