Monday, April 20, 2015

Review: 'Ultimate Star Wars'

Part of the appeal of the original Star Wars trilogy is that it was a fundamentally simple fairy tale: orphaned farm boy’s remaining family is slaughtered, so he decides to leave home and fulfill his destiny as a galaxy-liberating superhero, redeeming his evil robo-dad and hanging out with robots, a princess, a pirate, and a giant dog along the way. The twenty-first century decision to make the tale more complicated than it really needs to be necessitates a book like Ultimate Star Wars. It took four writers—Patricia Barr, Adam Bray, Daniel Wallace, and Ryder Windham—to make sense of all the minor characters, planets, and intergalactic politics the prequel trilogy and the TV series “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels” lumped into the mythology. The book attempts to follow a timeline of sorts by using the series’ multitudinous characters, locations, and hardware as springboards for summarizing the major historical events of the Star Wars universe, but its format, which involves a lot of chronological leaps, keeps the story from ever getting totally straight. Plus, the quartets’ writing tends to follow the dryness of the prequels instead of attempting to recapture the childlike fun of the original trilogy, so the book reads like a history textbook. Oh, Star Wars. How far you’ve come since the carefree days of C-3PO’s cereal and Boba Fett Underoos.

The writing and format issues are not necessarily deal breakers, since Ultimate Star Wars is a coffee table book at heart, and it is definitely a great-looking one, overstuffed with big color photos of some of cinema’s most colorful characters. And I assure you that with the  exception of a few background characters (Death Star Droid, Snaggletooth, Ree-Yees, etc.) they are all present and accounted for. Hello, Lobot! Hello, Porkins! Hello, Zuckuss 4-Lom! Hello, 4-Lom Zuckuss! Hello, Imperial Officer that Darth Vader chokes for mouthing off! Hello, Cliff Clavin! There is also a smattering of neat behind-the-scenes snaps. The most priceless one is easily a shot of Irvin Kershner, Darth Vader, and IG88 snuggling together to say cheese.” It is adorable.

My fellow original trilogy purists should beware that this book really rubs our noses in the “Special Editions” and prequels. It is so excessive that the guy who wore heavy makeup to play Governor Tarkin at a far distance in Revenge of the Sith is used to illustrate that character’s section instead of Peter Cushing. The section on Jabba’s palace contains a still of the universally loathed— and Jedi-free— “Jedi Rocks” song-and-dance number. The one on Greedo contains a shot of the CG laser leaving his pistol before Han Solo has a chance to shoot first. And I thought George Lucas’s relinquishment of Star Wars to Disney would have brought an end to this kind of thing. How naïve I am.

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