Star Wars fans are getting pumped up for the next release this week, with the announcement of the official title of the next film in the series, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Unfortunately the payoff for all this excitement is going to come painfully slow. The Last Jedi comes out in eleven, crushingly slow months.
The best thing to do to pass that time? Read.
It’s not just rumor blogs you’ll want to soak up. There’s no shortage of Star Wars literature out there, from the non-canon X-Wing series, to the prequel novel Darth Plagueis that some believe reveals the identity of Supreme Leader Snoke. And beyond the older works, there’s also Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy, which chronicles the events between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. The final book in that series comes out in February.
But instead of absorbing more of the Star Wars universe (which, let’s be real, you’ll do anyway) why not take some of this time to learn about how the Star Wars universe came to be? Crack open these entertaining volumes and learn about the real world history of the Star Wars universe so many have come to love. They’ll take you behind the scenes of the film franchise that changed cinema forever and into the minds of more than one player in one of the greatest sci-fi universes ever constructed.
Cinema Alchemist: Designing “Star Wars” and “Alien”
Roger Christian, 2016
Roger Christian has had a long and prolific film career, but his most significant moment may have come early on, when he worked on the Star Wars films. Christian’s memoir is a collection of insightful anecdotes from a career that shaped films like A New Hope and Alien. His greatest achievement: being the man who created the first lightsaber. He discovered a piece of junk at a camera supply store – a three-cell flashgun handle – which would become the weapon wielded by Anakin, Luke,and Rey. “I pulled one out, amazed. The actually looked like Ralph McQuarrie’s paintings of the lightsaber… Even the red firing button seemed perfectly designed for a lightsaber handle.” With so many books focused on artist McQuarrie’s concept designs and George Lucas’s vision, Christian’s memoir offers a refreshing in-the-trenches look at how stuff came together on set in the movie that shaped a generation. Instructions to build your own not included.
The Ultimate Star Wars and Philosophy: You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned
Jason T. Eberl, Kevin S. Decker, William Irwin, 2015
Even casual fans understand the philosophical gravity of the dark and light sides of the Force. But Obi-Wan and Yoda’s limited teachings about a “hokey religion” are only one topic of discussion within this thoughtful look at the philosophy of the Star Wars universe. Edited by pop culture veteran Kevin S. Decker and and philosophy professor Jason T. Eberl, The Ultimate Star Wars and Philosophy examines the galaxy far, far away in topics like feminism, spirituality and ethics. The collected writers do a good job of incorporating characters and events beyond the scope of the films, including the now-marginalized, non-canon books. One essay in particular confronts the collateral-damage question of Death Star destruction once posed in a classic ’90s film: “Kevin Smith’s brilliant Clerks scene asks us to consider the innocent workers who were killed in the [Death Star] attack. Was the Rebel attack another example of terrorism?” We’re pretty sure you can count this toward your academic reading quota for the year without much of an argument.
Think of this one like Moneyball for the Star Wars set. Author Chris Taylor delves deep into the other side of the Star Wars universe: the one where a savvy young filmmaker built a billion dollar empire by retaining merchandising rights – where licensing and media deals kept a dedicated fan base entertained for nearly two decades between trilogies. Taylor notes cultural phenomena like the growth of Jedi as a religious affiliation and an international cult of garage droid builders. He also discusses the gargantuan $4 billion fee Disney paid to purchase the rights in 2012 – which sounds like a lot until you realize they’ve made more than a quarter of it back just from domestic box office earnings. He’s brutally honest about the creator’s limitations, citing an exchange Lucas had with Francis Ford Coppola: “Lucas was eager to get his ideas on the screen but desperate to outsource the scripting part. Coppola, however, insisted: a director had to learn how to write. Lucas showed him a draft. ‘You’re right,’ Coppola said, horrified. ‘You can’t write.'”
George Lucas: A Life
Brian Jay Jones, 2016
Depending on who you ask, George Lucas is a savvy businessman, an iconic filmmaker, or a polarizing revisionist. Author Brian Jay Jones incorporates all of these elements into his fast-paced portrait of the reclusive and visionary George Lucas. His rise from unknown, budget-stretched writer to film industry legend is all here. And it’s told through anecdotes and insights that build out the man behind the creation. The perspectives from colleagues, competitors, mentors and friends are at times brutally honest. A perfect example: ex-wife Marcia Griffin paints a picture of a driven man, yet one who’s hard to love: “I wanted joy in my life. And George didn’t. He was very emotionally blocked, incapable of sharing feelings,’ she said. ‘He wanted to stay on that workaholic track. The empire builder, the dynamo. I couldn’t see myself living that way for the rest of my life.” It’s the one biography for casual and die-hard fans alike, with an honest look at the man who once told Rolling Stone, “Star Wars is about 25 percent of what I want it to be,” and the process that gave us some of the most brilliant works in cinematic history. The only thing it doesn’t include is an apology for Jar Jar Binks.
With the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher, The Princess Diarist becomes her final memoir after a long and prolific writing career. But it’s not just her most recent volume, it’s also her most revealing. An intimate self-portrait, Fisher chronicles her experiences working with George Lucas, falling for Harrison Ford (who she called “a real Marlboro man. The type who pours out the beer and eats the can”) and wearing a golden bikini while chained to a giant space slug. While you’ll get a sense of the Star Wars experience (“It was Han and Leia during the week, and Carrie and Harrison during the weekend,”) Fisher is ultimately intent on taking you through a smartly reflective analysis of her emotional problems (“Kidding yourself doesn’t require you have a sense of humor”) and the less-than-glamorous parts of her early years spent battling what would later be diagnosed as bipolar disorder. The ultimate irony – and her best self-aware anecdote – comes in a quote from those early diaries of the time that she, of course, chose to publish: “If anyone reads this when I have passed to the big bad beyond, I shall be posthumously embarrassed. I shall spend my entire afterlife blushing.”