Monday, September 19, 2016

Review: 'Star Wars Year by Year: A Visual History' Updated and Expanded Edition

Star Wars so saturated late twentieth-century culture that it’s kind of amazing to realize that only four movies were released between 1977 and 1999. Fortunately, there were plenty of other Star Wars items to fill the vast gaps between movies: toys and games and comics and novels and cartoons and blatant rip-off movies and theme park rides and tape dispensers. Originally published in 2010 and updated two years later, Star Wars Year by Year: A Visual History managed to plug relevant events into nearly every month of every year from George Lucas’s conception of Star Wars in 1973 to the present when that property had assuredly recaptured entertainment following the prequels, The Clone Wars, and a new rash of toys, comics, games, and presumably, tape dispensers.

Aside from being a visual candy store of Star Wars-related images that include abundant merchandise, movie outtakes, posters, behind-the-scenes shots, and costumes (the full-page shots of Klaatu and Admiral Ackbar’s masks make me wonder how a full book of Star Wars masks hasn’t been published yet), Year by Year also served as an effective general pop culture timeline of the period it covers since so many pop cultural items can be traced back to Star Wars, and a reminder that the movies have always been just one component of Lucas’s fantasyland. As kids, we watched the movies once or twice or three times in theaters, but it was all that other stuff that really wrapped our childhoods in Star Wars.

A lot of contemporary kids are having very similar experiences, as Star Wars is arguably at its all-time saturation point with the latest cinematic trilogy and cartoon and merchandise, as well as the new addition of stand-alone movies. Since this latest Star Wars era has really only just begun, DK publishing may be jumping the blaster a bit by publishing an updated and expanded edition of Year by Year already, especially considering that Rogue One is a mere three months away. I guess there’s no ideal time to refurbish the book since Disney seems like it’s going to keep pumping out new entries for many, many years to come. The thirty new pages covering The Force Awakens, Rebels, and only very, very teasingly, Rogue One may not be enough to entice old fans to repurchase Year by Year, but new ones who don’t already have it should really enjoy this lovingly illustrated and designed, slip-cased volume.

The text reveals neat tidbits, such as story discrepancies between the Marvel comic and the novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and Jimmy Carter’s hosting of an Empire Strikes Back screening for China’s Vice Premier Geng Biao. My one knock is that like all officially sanctioned Star Wars books, it is too reverent. A healthy helping of cheeky humor would have made the reading more entertaining while still being very appropriate to a timeline peppered with such zany episodes as Carrie Fisher’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, Mark Hamill on The Muppet Show, the Ewoks movies, the MAD Magazine parodies, Hardware Wars, Under the Rainbow, Howard the Duck, Jar Jar Binks, and the holiday special. In fact, the one-page tribute to the special doesn’t even mention how loathed it is by critics, fans, and George Lucas, himself… a fact pretty essential to its place in Star Wars history and why it was so hard to see before the YouTube age. However, even dry writing cannot tamp down the fun of this visual history.
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