A long time ago, on a couch in our living room, I read the Washington Post’s review of Chris Taylor’s book, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise. I had grown up with the original trilogy, had experienced the disruption that the prequels had caused, and was starting to explore my latent geek-like tendencies, so I was extremely intrigued by his accounting of George Lucas’s space fantasy saga from its beginning to the present day.
If I remember correctly, I looked for and found the book at our local Barnes&Noble, but passed due to the hardcover price (sorry Chris!). To be sure, I sought it out several times after that, but didn’t find it again until a few weeks before Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens premiered in December. And to be honest with you, I’m glad I waited. Not because of anything that is revealed in the book, but because I don’t think I was quite ready for it. The Force Awakens has become a gateway drug of sorts – making me want to consume anything and everything Star Wars – and so I read Taylor’s work with a level of excitement that I don’t think I would have had before. Then again, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe is so excellently written that it might have turned me into a bigger fan itself!
Taylor, who is the deputy editor of Mashable, sought to write a complete history of the franchise and while I don’t have enough knowledge of any other works to definitely declare his book the authoritative version, it seems pretty close to me! The paperback has even been updated to reflect the changes that occurred since the release of the hardcover in 2014 – most notably Disney’s scrapping of the Extended Universe of books, comics, games, and television shows that detailed further exploits in that galaxy far, far away.
Though Taylor acknowledges that his tale is less of biography of George Lucas than the idea that “grabbed him by the throat and threw him across the room,” he does give you enough background to understand what Lucas’s upbringing was like and what childhood activities/influences led him to create Star Wars in the first place. He references the creative types that Lucas associated with, and their respective impacts on his career. He brings you onto the sets of the first six films in the series and describes the dynamics both behind and in front of the cameras. He also goes into detail about the various ways the franchise has entered our collective conscience – from lightsaber training academies (which I totally want to visit!) to the vast international network of 501st Legion garrisons to pop culture references and spoofs to protests in Turkey in 2013. He even has an entire chapter that is devoted to moving you through the five stages of grief with regard to the prequels before covering the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney in 2013. How Star Wars Conquered the Universe truly is, as the New York Times Book Review blurb on the back says, “insanely micro-researched and breezily written.”
And yet, for as much of a fan as Taylor clearly is, he never lets that get in the way of an impartial telling of Star Wars’ history. He doesn’t gloss over the times when things weren’t looking so bright for the Creator, movies were running over-budget and actors were being difficult, or the franchise seemed to be losing steam – all of which, when combined with the incredible innovations that were occurring too, make for extremely compelling reading. In truth, this is one of the first non-fiction books that I can remember actually giving me chills as I read it.
While hardcore Star Wars fans might know many of the things listed in How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, I am fairly confident that Taylor has included information that even they don’t know about. My copy of the book is filled with highlighted passages of things that I found really interesting, such as the fact that Star Wars was the first movie to ever host a panel at San Diego Comic-Con, though it was a completely different beast in 1976 than it is today, and that Marcia Lucas, George’s first wife, is the only Lucas to ever win an Academy Award (Best Film Editing in 1978) for their work on the series.
Taylor’s exhaustive chronicle of Star Wars from its very beginnings in the imagination of a young George Lucas to its rebirth under the auspices of Kathleen Kennedy and the Walt Disney Company is essential reading for any franchise fan. It is an absolute thrill to read and will give you a new perspective on what a Fast Company poll determined was the “greatest geek moment in history.”