There is something to be said for deciding to create a ‘2.0’ version of a story when adapting a novel to film. While all films technically do this, the creators of Stardust openly opted to create new characters, change the ending, and radically alter the tone of the original story to fit into a more “family” category. The author of the novel thoroughly enjoyed it. All in all, having both read the book and seen the film, the latter keeps its adaptation respectful of the novel’s whimsy and social commentary, as well as its world and characters, while essentially telling its own version of the story.
Stardust, both Neil Gaiman’s novel and the film, is indeed best described as an original fairy tale. We have the supernatural origin story for our hero, lots of magic, and many converging quests. The characters are new, the world is new (although based on European folklore), and some of the concepts within it are outlandish and mainly serve to further the narrative. Both are inherently funny.
Personally, I enjoyed the film moreso than the book. I liked how the film neatly told the story in two hours and I appreciated the changes that the filmmakers made. Perhaps the novel could have a miniseries adaptation in the future that follows the book more closely. (I think the rise of streaming services has definitely opened up the possibility for better novel-to-screen adaptations, as one can watch multiple episodes at one’s leisure.) Stardust is meant to be enjoyed by audiences of all ages, while the book is most definitely meant for an older audience.
There are some problematic elements in the story, but some of that has to do with the fairy tale conventions that it follows. Our protagonist is hopelessly pursuing the love of a woman who rejects him and in turn, fails to see the humanity in the woman who is the embodiment of a fallen star. One could argue that the fallen star is not entirely human, but she is considered a human equivalent. Our protagonist matures and realises that he is wrong to treat her like a trophy. Is it problematic that she still falls in love with him? Perhaps, but that is a fairy tale for you. Moreover, in this film, it is a cautionary tale for men: do not overlook the right woman in pursuit of the wrong one, because it almost might cost you both of them. Perhaps it is the fallen star’s eternal nature that understands our protagonist’s inner goodness that makes her fall in love with him despite their relationship starting off very much on the wrong foot.
Every film that has problematic elements like the above needs to be evaluated on its own merit and usually makes sense within its own story. Despite it all, I enjoyed the film very much. We are being told a campfire story. It is a magical world. (As an aside, the villains are horrible and we are not supposed to cheer for them, but they are still funny because we are supposed to be entertained.) It is weird and there are things that are supposed to disturb us, at least a little.
Overall, I am entertained more than I am disturbed by this film. It is perfect for a Friday night in or a rainy afternoon.