I first became acquainted with How Star Wars Conquered The Universe when I heard Chris Taylor interviewed on the excellent Full of Sith. I was instantly struck with Taylor’s passion, knowledge, and insight into the Star Wars universe, and found myself wanting to learn more about this book. Anyone who has paid any sort of attention to Star Wars knows that the trials and tribulations of George Lucas to get his space fantasy off the ground and into that zeitgeist of popular culture not so far away were every bit as exciting and chaotic as his protagonist, Luke Skywalker. Just as Star Wars delivered on a galactic scale, so to does How Star Wars Conquered The Universe. It is safe to say that not only is the book must read material for Star Wars fans, but it is an incredible amount of fun as well.
Countless books have been published about Star Wars, whether it’s the making of the film, schematics of particular Corellian vehicles, or legends of the characters we know and love. What sets How Star Wars Conquered The Universe apart from so many other tomes is the style in which the book is written. Part biography, part history, part cultural analysis, part narrative, part film sociological exploration of the impact of film, and all engaging; the book achieves all of these things in intellectual fashion, without being pedantic or stodgy. If I were designing a film curriculum, this book would be required reading on my syllabus.
The opening section, “Introduction: A Navajo Hope”, starts off with the story of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, translated into the Navajo language, and presented in Window Rock, Arizona. Even the staunchest cynic of the Star Wars phenomenon could not help but be enraptured by the way Taylor engages the reader with the tale. It is enchanting to see how Star Wars engages even Navajo audience in Arizona, but it is equally enthralling to experience Taylor’s prose in crafting the tale, and subsequent chapters reveal similar writing prowess. Star Wars is forever, and it has never been better transcribed as such for audiences.
The book is a kind of road map to fandom as well, covering the rise of the 501st, the Droid Builders, fan website and bloggers, and any part of fandom that Star Wars has touched. As mentioned above, you really will learn all about how Star Wars conquered our universe, as the behind the scenes of how fandom has been impacted by George Lucas is incredible, even to longtime fans. There is much to be disseminated, even if you have been following along from 1977. The behind the scenes on Albin Johnson, founder of the 501st were fascinating, as I had no idea as to where this wonderful organization started.
In essence, Taylor provides context for so much of what make Star Wars tick, and what makes it ubiquitous for popular culture. Nowhere is this truer than in the telling of George Lucas’ life. This could easily be subtitled ‘The Biography of George Lucas’, and was easily my favorite part of How Star Wars Conquered The Universe. His earliest influences, the near fatal car crash in his early life, making the films, his professional and personal struggles; it’s all there. Absolutely riveting, and Taylor’s prose keeps you engrossed all the way.
It’s also refreshingly honest. It takes a sincere look at the criticism of the Prequels, without resorting to mudslinging and name calling, and had me reflecting on the films in different ways. The same can be said for the Special Editions, and all of the topics still debated in fandom. Taylor makes his position known without presenting an agenda; it’s an educated, informed opinion that challenges what you may think about each category. He never forgets to inject the right amount of charm either, which helps you to enjoy and to think, without taking yourself, or the topic, too seriously.
Whether you are a newcomer, a Star Wars aficionado, or just someone who wants to learn about the cultural impact of film, How Star Wars Conquered The Universe is the book for you. I can say, with no reservation, that it is my favorite non-fiction Star Wars book that I have ever read. Each chapter could easily be a book unto itself, and in Taylor’s capable hands, each would be a best seller unto itself. In addition to seeing new Star Wars films on the big screen, my new hope is that we will see much more from Taylor concerning Star Wars. This truly is the book you’re looking for.
5 out of 5
Note: A big thank you to Basic Books for providing an advanced copy to review.