I would describe myself as, at best, a casual fan of the Star Wars universe. I’ve seen the original trilogy a couple of times and I fondly remember going to each of the prequel movies with my family when I was a kid, but that’s about as far as my familiarity with the franchise actually goes. I do, however, love fan culture and learning more about the things that other people can become obsessed about.
Chris Taylor’s How Star Wars Conquered the Universe starts with almost that very question: How did a space fantasy become one of the most ubiquitous and lucrative franchises of all time? Or, put another way, how has Star Wars become so ingrained in our collective memory that even people who have never seen the original films know who Yoda is or the big reveal that Darth Vader really is Luke’s father?
While I’m not sure that the book definitely answers that question, it’s an absolutely wonderful, meandering, encompassing, engaging look at the history of Star Wars and the many ways that fans and creators have latched on to this film and made it’s stories and characters their own.
Quite a few of the reviews I skimmed on Goodreads critiqued the book for being disorganized. And while I get where that’s coming from, I happened to love the way the book spun off in different directions. This book is not a straight history of the franchise, starting with a young George Lucas and ending with speculation about the upcoming Episode VII film. Instead, that timeline provides a backbone for Taylor to spin off other stories about the fans who make up a real-life
drone army legion of Storm Troopers, build their own droids and believe in Jedism as it’s own religion.
I loved that because, to be honest, George Lucas is not that interesting. Although the story of Star Wars is his, the franchise is a cultural touchstone because of the people who love it so much. And, as Taylor points out, the most successful of the films are those where Lucas invited in collaborators and co-writers to help bring in levity and keep the stories from spinning out of control.
How Star Wars Conquered the Universe is really just an engaging, fun, interesting book. There is a ton of gossip about the movies and what life was like behind-the-scenes, as well as astute commentary on where some of those films went wrong. And it’s a thoughtful portrait of George Lucas that doesn’t tear him down or raise him up unfairly in his position as creator of the franchise. I just adored this book and plan on pushing it on anyone who expresses even a passing interest in Star Wars.
Disclosure: I picked up a copy of this book at Book Expo America.