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Book Review: How Star Wars Conquered The Universe By Chris Taylor

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The Story of Us

Star Wars is more than just a series of movies. Star Wars is more than just a multimedia phenomenon that has lasted for almost four decades. For millions around the world coming from all walks of life, class, religion, or political affiliation, Star Wars is personal. Those people all have a Star Wars story. We all have some way that Star Wars has touched our lives in a profound, lasting way.

For me, Star Wars was a part of my life from the beginning. My parents married young and I was born just weeks after my father was legally old enough to buy beer. He was a sci-fi nerd growing up- even going as far as to record episodes of Star Trek on cassette tapes so he could listen to them later as make-shift radio dramas.  My parent’s first date was seeing Star Wars at a local theater. My dad has all the Star Wars bubble gum cards, the artwork by Ralph McQuarrie, the novelizations of the movies, and the spin off, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, written by Alan Dean Foster. My father is also a hard working man. Growing up he worked the night shift for Kroger Bakery as a supervisor, so during the day he would sleep and I’d maybe see him for an hour before it was time for him to go to work and for me to go to bed. Quality time spent with my father was a special thing. One of those things we would do together was his sharing the movies and books that he loved as a child with me. The foremost of those was Star Wars. Return of the Jedi was the first movie that I ever saw in a theater. I wore out copies of the movies when they were released on VHS. My father even bought them on laserdisc- a format that would hold up better under my repeat viewings. For years I had one of the movies playing in the background when I got home from school. I would listen to the soundtracks, the audio books, and the radio dramas at night to lull me to sleep. (I still do, which my saint of a wife allows with a knowing smile.)

But Star Wars was more than just something special that I shared with my father. For me, it was and is a foundational touchstone in my life. I have a medical condition that prevents my body from producing testosterone, among other things. It’s a condition that went undetected until I was thirty. The side-effects of this condition meant that growing up I was always heavy. I weighed well over one hundred pounds by the time I was in my pre-teens. I was picked on mercilessly in school. I was a depressed, often suicidal, outcast that hated myself and never felt like I belonged. Star Wars was one of the few things that gave me an escape- a creative, positive outlet. Whenever I felt the deep blackness of depression threatening to drown me I could lose myself in that galaxy far, far away, be it through the movies, novels, or comics, and when I came back I didn’t feel so bad anymore. As a child I could imagine myself living in that universe, wielding a lightsaber and fighting the forces of evil; and as an adult I could imagine myself getting the chance to one day become a writer that might be able to contribute to something that I love so dearly in a way that would last forever. Star Wars gave me hope and joy during times in my life when those things were a very rare commodity.

What does all of this have to do with How Star Wars Conquered The Universe? Everything, because author Chris Taylor not only provides us with an impressively comprehensive look at the making of the Star Wars movies and the impact that they’ve had on the entertainment industry, pop culture, and society as a whole, but it also tells the story of us- the fans. The millions of people that Star Wars has impacted in a very personal way.

Non-Fiction For the Fiction Reader

I am not a non-fiction reader. In fact, How Star Wars Conquered The Universe is the first non-fiction novel I’ve read since my early college days more than a decade ago. I am a voracious reader, but I tend to read the kinds of things I like to write- sci-fi, fantasy, superhero comics. I first heard about How Star Wars Conquered the Universe during the Schmoes Know Movie Show when they had author Chris Taylor as a guest. The Schmoes are all huge Star Wars fans and they had nothing but praise for the book, and I was enamored by the stories that Mr. Taylor told during the course of the show. Being a huge Star Wars nerd myself, I’ve watched all the behind the scenes documentaries and read all the various interviews and such about the movies, so I figured I knew pretty much everything that Mr. Taylor might have to say- but I was wrong. Big time. Through the course of the show Mr. Taylor told several great stories from the book that I’d never heard before. I had such a great time watching the show and listening to Mr. Taylor that I had both the book and the audiobook downloaded to my phone that day. Again, I’m not a non-fiction reader, so I was preparing myself for a long slog. While I really enjoyed Mr. Taylor’s anecdotes on the show, I was worried that the book itself would be dry facts that I’d have to constantly break up by switching to other books. Again, I was very wrong.

Mr. Taylor has a very engaging voice throughout the entire book. What could have very easily become a dry fact dump was in reality a very entertaining and interesting tale of not only the making of the movies and the behind the scenes drama that was a result, but also the history of “The Creator” George Lucas himself, the background of the various influences on the movies, the impact the movies had on everything, the expanded universe (now “Legends”) that came after, and the fandom surrounding it all. Mr. Taylor breaks up the historical story of the saga with fun, and often touching personal stories about about fan groups like the famous costuming/charity group the 501st Legion and the R2 Builders Club- the fan club who have been tasked with providing the Artoo units being used in the forthcoming Star Wars Ep. VII: The Force Awakens.  I cannot express enough how much fun I had both reading the book and listening the the audio (which is wonderfully performed by Nick Podehl).  I learned a lot and have gained a whole new level of respect not only for George Lucas and those that worked on the movies, but also for the movies themselves and the massive impact that they’ve had.

Conclusion

Chris Taylor lovingly tells the story of Star Wars in this well written, well researched look at the history of the franchise and it’s fans. This is a must-read for anyone who is a fan of Star Wars, or even just fans of films and the film making process.

Buy, Rent, Or Pass:  Buy

Who Will Like It? Star Wars Fans, Film Fans

Where Can I Get it? Purchase the book here. Purchase the audiobook here.

J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novels The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1 & 2, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here. Kindle editions are all available for $0.99.

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Rant Alert: Star Wars, Marvel Comics, & Reboots

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Okay, so the last six months or so have been pretty traumatic for fan-nerds. First, to pave the way for the upcoming new Star Wars movies, comics, shows, etc. it was decided by Disney’s Star Wars story group that all previous Star Wars Expanded Universe content would be labeled “legends” while everything produced by Disney from now on would be officially canon. Many understood the reasoning and were okay with it. A very vocal group of the fan community, on the other hand, started their own version of a digital rebel alliance and declared war on Disney’s Empire. Then, last week Marvel announced that their upcoming Secret Wars event would lead into Battleworld, where various incarnations of the Marvel characters would duke it out for survival resulting in a “new” main Marvel comics universe.  Speculation has since run rampant and the word “reboot” has been bandied about enthusiastically ever since. The problem is both announcements have lead to a lot of confusion and misunderstandings about what, exactly, is happening. Some of this confusion is due to the original announcements not being very clear or detailed about what is going to happen. A lot more is due to people completely losing their shit over what amounts to a reading comprehension failure. The following will attempt to clear some things up:

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Let’s start with Star Wars. Disney bought Lucasfilm and with it came the rights to Star Wars. Disney has since announced that both a new trilogy and a series of stand alone movies have gone into production. They have also released, or are currently developing, several TV shows, a new comics line from Marvel, video games, and novels. The problem is there’s a good 30 years worth of Expanded Universe content already floating out there in the form of novels and comics that have already exhaustively covered the events after Return of the Jedi all the way through a century after the battle of Yavin from A New Hope. That’s one hundred years worth of EU continuity. Some of those novels, and particularly the comics, were extremely well done, well loved by fans, and helped to keep Star Wars alive before, and even more so after the lackluster-downright hatred of, the prequels. The rest was mediocre to downright horrible. In fact, if most fans (and I am a HUGE Star Wars fan. I own pretty much all of the EU content available) are honest with themselves, for every great novel there have been a good five not so great ones. This is especially true in the last decade when Star Wars moved away from one shots and trilogies and tried to do long form stories that lasted for years.

So if you’re Disney, what do you do with all of that if you want to move forward with new material?  You start fresh.

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All of the pre-existing Star Wars EU has been re-branded “Legends” and is no longer considered to be canon (even though George Lucas was always very clear that as far as he was concerned, it was never canon). It’s now just considered fun “what if” stories or, as the name implies, tales from the Star Wars universe that may have nuggets of truth to them. The term they chose, “Legends”, is significant, and we’ll discuss why in a moment. So what is officially canon now?

star wars moviesThe Original Movie Saga

epsevenThe New Movies

clonewarsThe Clone Wars TV Series

starwarsrebelsStar Wars Rebels TV Series

61nnfCs+IFL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Marvel’s Star Wars Comics

starwarsnewnovelsAll Star Wars Novels Moving Forward (Starting with A New Dawn)

So why was it significant that they branded the old EU “Legends”? As John Jackson Miller, author of A New Dawn, pointed out “Legends” doesn’t mean it never happened or that elements of those tales might not be true.  Both he and Dave Filoni (Clone Wars, Rebels) have openly stated that the previous EU material is not off limits to any of the creators of future Star Wars content. They’re free to use or adapt any of it into this new continuity. The movies, themselves, have already borrowed elements from the EU. The capital world of Coruscant was first introduced in Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire novel. The double bladed lightsaber Maul used in The Phantom Menace was first seen in Star Wars comics done by Dark Horse.  Both Clone Wars and Rebels have brought in elements from the EU as well: Holocrons, Darth Bane, Republic Commandos. In James Lucado’s new novel, Tarkin, he references events from his previous two Star Wars novels that were published under the old banner, Dark Lord and Darth Plagueis, thus bringing them both into canon.

So the old EU is not dead, and there’s still a possibility that elements, characters, or even story-lines that fans loved could still be brought into official canon through future content.

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Marvel’s upcoming Secret Wars is supposed to bring the Marvel Universe as we know it to a close. The main Marvel universe (616) collides with the Ultimate universe, and the result of the “Secret Wars” between the two universes will be Battleworld, where incarnations of the characters from major stories throughout Marvel history (Age of Apocalypse, Planet Hulk, Civil War, Pre-OMD Spidey, Ultimate Spidey,. etc.) will exist in different parts of the planet, with everyone duking it out for survival.

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…Yeah, it’s kind of confusing.

What it isn’t is a reboot.

Everywhere I look online people keep calling it a reboot.

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It’s not. A reboot, in comic terms, implies that they’re starting over fresh with a new continuity. That’s just not what is going to happen. The past, for any of the universes that collide, will still have happened. The characters that survive and end up in whatever the new Marvel universe looks like will still remember what happened, will still be the same characters they were before. Their history happened and affected them. It all still matters. This isn’t a New 52. They aren’t wiping anything out, they’re just blowing everything up. What we’ll be left with, from everything they’ve released, is a new Marvel universe made up of versions of characters from the 616, Ultimate, Age of Apocalypse, and whatever all thrown together. For example, the Wolverine of the 616 may be dead, but when this is over we could have the Wolverine from AoA or Old Man Logan alive and kicking. Miles Morales from Ultimate comics Spider-Man may be swinging around with a still-married Peter Parker. We don’t know for sure, but we’ll see.

But it’s not a reboot so please stop saying it.

I hope this clears some things up for those of you who have been wondering just what the hell has been going on.

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