"How Star Wars Conquered The Universe" by Chris Taylor is an immensely readable look at the worldwide impact of the "Star Wars" saga over the decades. He calls it "a biography of ‘Star Wars.’"
The book covers more than the six movies, cartoons and authorized adaptations. The history includes the fans and their vast creativity and explores the franchise that has become a cultural touchstone with worldwide reach.
"I was really very concerned," Taylor said, "that I not slip into old journalistic habits of trying explain this to a mainstream audience saying, ‘Look at these geeks; isn’t it funny that they all dressed up as Stormtroopers?’"
"I do sort of look at this as the first draft of ‘Star Wars’ history in a lot of way. I definitely wanted to portray this as … as part of a continuum in history of space fantasy that obviously goes all the way back to H.G. Wells and probably beyond, back to maybe Homer as the original fantasist."
Taylor integrates Lucas’ personal biography with the creative influences he grew up with including the swashbuckling space pulp fiction of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.
"I wanted to put it in its right historical context as I think it’s rarely been done in print," Taylor said.
Then he turns to the fans. He devotes two chapters to the major fan groups, the 501st legion of Stormtroopers, with garrisons around the globe, and the R2 Builders Club, using them as a way to show the power of "Star Wars" in their real world lives. His chapter on the 501st includes an interview with Alvin Johnson, who created the group.
One flaw in the book, he admits, is the scarcity of women in it, a frequent complaint about the "Star Wars" saga itself. The only woman who gets significant time is Marcia Lucas, film editor and George’s former wife. "I tried to allude to them (women fans)," Taylor said, "and maybe I can add more to that in the paperback. I really wanted to."
Taylor feels that the new president of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy, understands that "the fans are the lifeblood of this thing."
Taylor, an Oxford and Columbia University journalism graduate, is an editor at Mashable.com. He first saw "Star Wars" in 1982 when it was broadcast on television in the UK, but knew the plot from the back of cereal boxes that had serialized the movie starting in the late 1970s.
He read "the comic books, so I learned the entire dialogue," he said, "then I saw the movie on TV, wondering why it didn’t have some of the lines of dialogue that had showed up in the comic books."
He also heard the NPR radio version before he saw the film on television, "so I feel that I’ve been through every iteration of ‘Star Wars’ before I saw it. When I did see it, I wore my Dad’s VHS out. I watched it about 50 times."
Taylor regrets that his book only ran 400 pages. "I regret not being able to include more in every single area of this book but it would be a thousand pages long... I wish there was some way of doing an extended edition."
"How Star Wars Conquered the Universe" by Chris Taylor; Basic Books ($28.99, 448 pages)