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

book-review-how-star-wars-conquered-the-universe-b52b7025c3769f6b

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: “A New Star Wars Movie Every Year?!” Why “Fans” Need to Chill Out

Star Wars Episode 7 Movie

A lot of “fans” on entertainment websites annoy me. They annoy me so much that sometimes I wish I could pull a Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back on them. I have never seen such soul-crushing negativity as I have found on comments sections coming from people who supposedly love the franchises they’re freaking out over. The most recent victim is Star Wars, after it was confirmed that Disney plans to release a new Star Wars movie each year. In the comment section for multiple fan sites commentators proceeded to wig out. From some of the posts you’d think Disney was Nazi Germany. They got so ridiculous I did what I swore I would never do and actually posted a comment that amounts to basically what I’m about to say here. It was a flower buried under a landslide of stupid, but a few people actually responded and applauded.

It gave me a little hope for humanity.

First, I believe what is actually going to take place needs to be clarified: There is not going to be a new Star Wars episode every year. The “episodes” are the main entries in the storyline, IE Episode 4 was the original Star Wars: A New Hope. The “main” episode movies will be once every 2-3 years, starting with Episode 7 in 2015, just like most major franchise movies. What Disney is planning to do is release stand alone movies in the “off” years, that will focus on different timelines, characters, and probably even storytelling styles. The Star Wars universe is a freaking huge playground. The last 25 years worth of expanded universe material in all the games, novels, and comics proves that there’s a TON of room to play without peeing in the cheerios of the main story.

Second, what Disney is planning to do with Star Wars is no different than what they’ve been doing with the Marvel Universe since 2008; which a majority of the movie going public, the aforementioned functionally retarded “fan” trolls included, generally like-love. Since the first Iron Man there has been at least one, often more than one, Marvel movie released every year. From a franchise perspective, why should Star Wars be any different? The argument could be made that they have even more room to tell different types of stories/do different types of movies with the Star Wars universe than they can with Marvel.

Third, Disney hasn’t given us any reason to think these movies won’t be quality products….yet. They’ve done a great job with Marvel and Pixar so far. If this means we get a new, quality Star Wars movie every summer, what’s the problem?

Fourth, I think we all need to start living by the wisdom of our geek prophet Wil Wheaton:

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Seriously, it’s one thing to discuss things you like/dislike about this stuff with other fans of the genres. It’s another to be a complete douchnozzle troll just because the internet is anonymous and you can. It’s hard to have fun and share about all the awesome (and sometimes not-so-awesome) stuff that’s coming down the pipe when a small, but very vocal, minority of jerkwads make those conversations horrible to even look at. For instance, the Man of Steel trailer last night was freaking beautiful. I was stoked, as was just about all my friends. I go to these fan sites and amidst the praise is the inevitable negative douchebaggery that just lets some of the air out of the geek tires. I don’t mind people having different opinions or not liking something I thought was amazing. That’s fine. Different strokes and all that. But there’s no reason to be just an offensive @$$hole about it. I get it: people love to troll because they’re pathetic individuals with nothing better to do with their time, but I can’t be the only person sick to death of this crap. Not to mention the negative effect it can and does have on the things we love. You may not think that people with the money/decision making power pays any attention to this crap, but you’d be very wrong. They do, or at the very least they pay people to pay attention to it for them. Basically, you’re part of the reason we can’t have nice things. So, for myself and the rest of my fellow geeky fans I have only this to say: STOP IT!

You never know. The next time your doorbell rings…

jay_and_silent_bob

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 novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1-, 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. Digital copies on sale for a limited time for $0.99.

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