'Star Wars: Year by Year' illustrates effect on pop culture

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 12, 2010 

This lavishly illustrated chronology attempts to put him, and his films, within the context of the 20th century popular culture. By the time you reach 2010, you will be suffering from sheer overload.

To fans, "Star Wars" has always been more than the six movies. Even back in the early 1980s when "Return of the Jedi" was released, there had been a plethora of marketing — toys, trading cards, cake pans, bedding and jewelry _ and expansion of the original stories through novels, comic books and radio programs.

Nostalgic tidbits are assembled for easy browsing.

For example, on page 122 in 1985, is Mikhail Gorbachev's election to the General Secretary of the USSR. Actress Keira Knightley (of "The Phantom Menace") is born. The "Star Wars" trilogy, back-to-back, is released worldwide in theaters for special showings. Toymaker Kenner releases Yak Face, a soon-to-be rare collectable action figure. President Ronald Reagan mentions "Star Wars" in a speech referring to the Strategic Defense Initiative which was created to destroy ballistic missiles before they reached American soil. Lucasfilm's protests to media organizations about the misuse of the term "Star Wars" were wildly ignored.

It is also a chronology of technology. When the movie was first released, there were no home computers, no VCRs, no digital television, no streaming video. If you wanted to see the movie, you went to the theater — and they did by the thousands. Now, even a casual fan can view episodes of the animated "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" on the Cartoon Network website.

The book even covers some of the intense fan following. The original official fan club, soon to be named Bantha Tracks, started in 1978, peaked in 1984 with 184,046 members and folded in 1987, only to be resurrected in 2002. Two complete pages are devoted to the 2007's Vader Project, where artists decorated 100 of Darth Vader's helmets.

While "Year by Year" is one stop shopping for solving many "Star Wars" arguments, it won't solve all of them — it doesn't have the space. But there are details for even the most in-depth follower of Lucas' work.

After all, who knew that in 1988 a group of Tibetan monks recorded chants in the Scoring Stage at Lucasfilm's Skywalker Ranch?

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