When I volunteered to review Star Wars FAQ, written by Mark Clark and published by Applause books, I was expecting some fairly light reading in a Q and A format. What I read was an impressively dense tome that purports to serve as “One-Stop-Shopping” for the history of everything Star Wars, beginning with a brief biography of George Lucas up to the time he made Star Wars, and continuing until the release of the films on blu-ray disc. The full title of the book is Star Wars FAQ: Everything Left To Know About The Trilogy That Changed The Movies. This title is fairly accurate inasmuch as I cannot think of a major detail that was forgotten about the original trilogy. The author focuses mainly on the first three films, giving very little space to the prequels. There is quite a bit of time spent on the Ewok television movies, as well as the Droids and Ewoks cartoon series, so the title may be a bit of a misnomer in that regard, but I feel like the title squarely aims the book at those fans who appreciate everything produced in the 70s and 80s, so the inclusion of this information is more than welcome. However, there are a few passages that feel a bit out-of-place given the stated purpose of the book as a collection of historical items.
The book’s introduction opens thusly: “When I was eleven years old, I was an insufferable snob.” I was instantly hooked. I am a fan of self-deprecating humor, and the author has no qualms about calling himself out. Clark explains his purpose in writing the book, stating that he wanted to make it the one book you could read if you didn’t have the time or energy to read ALL of the making-of and behind-the-scenes books that have been published. He also states that he will offer his own personal critiques of the films and ancillary products and productions. I appreciate that he is up-front about the inclusion of his own opinions, but I think they ultimately detract from the piece. I’ll expand up on that later, as it is the only real quibble I have with the book, but it is significant.
The first nine chapters and almost 100 pages are spent on the emergence of George Lucas and the making of Star Wars. I am currently making my way through J.W. Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars, and I found that Clark was able to condense the majority of the information in that book into a few chapters here. He is able to do this without sacrificing a brisk pace or short-changing any of the stories, it is an impressive feat, and one for which he should be commended. We get short profiles of the major players, a rundown of the various problems that befell the project, and a good idea of who the heroes and villains of the story were.
Once the making-of stories are done, Clark spends time on his own assessment of the film, which is appropriately positive, but not entirely rose-colored. The box office impact of the film is discussed at-length, along with the fact that Star Wars caused the other science fiction-based films of that year to be colossal bombs at the box office due to the inevitably unfavorable comparisons to Star Wars. This was a notion I had not previously considered, and his collection of stories about each of the films released in the wake of Star Wars is both informative and fun to read. He also talks about the misguided attempts by the media and politicians to assign meaning to the success of Star Wars. I found this section to be endlessly interesting, but that’s a personal preference and one that will depend greatly on your own predilections.
The Star Wars marketing juggernaut is given ample space in the book, replete with a description of a kid decked out in Star Wars regalia that sounds an awful lot like the blogger writing this review. The barrage of imitators of the film is also discussed in appropriate detail, with most of the usual suspects (Flash Gordon, etc.) and a few that you may not be familiar with.
Clark then proceeds chronologically through every Star Wars production, starting with the Star Wars Holiday Special. It gets a VERY detailed section of its own. I found this to be fascinating, since the study of failures is almost always more interesting to me than the study of success. We all know what it takes to make a film work, but how do you quantify what makes one awful? It’s simultaneously amusing and cringe-inducing to read about the production and reception of this cult-classic.
Moving forward from that best-forgotten exercise, Clark continues through The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi in much the same manner as he did with Star Wars. We are provided with plenty of anecdotes about the making of each film, along with the near-disaster that each avoided, as well as the reception of each, and the author’s own assessment of each film. He is less kind to The Return of the Jedi than I feel he needs to be. The book works best when Clark is presenting us with facts. Whenever it gets steered toward his personal opinion of the films, the tone shifts and becomes less enjoyable, and it seems like less vital reading than what has come before it. It is the one and only area of the book that I do not enjoy reading since it seems out-of-place compared to the rest of the book.
After we are finished with the original trilogy, Clark gives us several chapters devoted to minutiae that Star Wars fans will love, including a chapter dedicated to flubs in the films, as well as profiles of the actors who performed in minor roles, such as Denis Lawson. This is the sort of information I expected when I opened the book, and Clark does not disappoint. Of particular interest to me is the section concerning the TV movies and animated works. I have not done much research on this area of the saga, and it was enlightening to know just what went into making these productions. Another “I never knew that!” moment came when Clark tells us about the hotline that was set up to allow people to call in and get a message from their favorite character. It’s a good thing I didn’t know about it, my parents’ phone bill would have been through the roof.
Clark goes on to discuss the cultural impact of Star Wars, as well as the ethics that are presented in the films, along with what the series got wrong and right about technology. I found the discussion of ethics very interesting and would have liked to have read more about this subject. The section on the science fact of the saga seems unnecessary, since Star Wars was never meant to be Science Fiction, but Space Fantasy, so the technology was of less import to the filmmakers than the characters and the story. Interestingly, in the section discussing the ethics presented in Star Wars, the author quotes a writer for StarWars.com named Dan Zehr. That name sounds like it should mean something to me.
Of course, no Star Wars history is complete without a discussion of the many Star Wars-branded items that were released to cash in on the success of the films. Clark talks about the board games, the video games, and the books, providing great photos of the items he discusses that I enjoyed seeing. He refers to Splinter of the Mind’s Eye as “well-regarded” but I am not sure I have had the same experience in discussing it with others.
The final chapters of the book are spent discussing the Special Editions and the changes made and the lasting impact of Star Wars. Clark’s reactions to the Special Edition changes are right in-line with the general public, meaning he can do without most of them. We get a complete listing of the awards the films won and were nominated for, as well as a profile of the major cast members’ post-Star Wars careers. Most of this information will come as no surprise to fervent fans, but, as I have said about other sections of the book, Clark is able to present it in a concise manner that is easy to digest and briskly paced.
The last chapter of the book concerns the lasting cultural legacy of Star Wars, which is best summed-up by the following quote: “…the cultural legacy of Star Wars in indestructible.” This statement has been proven true time and time again. Star Wars will never die, and for that, I am grateful. I’m also grateful to Mark Clark for this book. It truly does serve the purpose he designed it for. If you only have time to read ONE book about the history of the original trilogy, this would really be the one to choose. I can really do without Clark’s own opinions about the films, but the time spent on that is negligible and shouldn’t deter you from checking the book out. His writing is very conversational, and the pages fly by. It’s a dense tome, make no mistake, but you won’t feel like you’ve been lectured to by the end. You’ll feel like you just had a great discussion with a fellow fan. Above all else, that’s what Mark has presented himself as, and it’s an accurate portrayal. This is a book FOR fans written by one of their own. I HIGHLY recommend this book for anyone who has an interest in learning more about the early history of Lucasfilm, the marketing behind the films, or the cottage industry that grew up as a result of the films. A grand time will be had by all.
Thank you to Applause Theater & Cinema Books for providing a copy for review.
Jeff can be heard weekly on Assembly of Geeks (www.assemblyofgeeks.com) and on his own podcast network, MarvinDog Media (www.MarvinDogMedia.com) where he hostsThe Pilot Episode, Talking Toys with Taylor and Jeff, and Bantha Banter: A Star Wars Chat Show. He is also co-host of Comics With Kenobi with fellow CWK blogger Matt Moore, and part-time co-host for Coffee With Kenobi, which you have already found if you’re reading this blog. You can contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.Powered by Sidelines