How Star Wars Conquered the Universe – Book Thoughts

There’s something different about Star Wars. Unlike most other media that has a captivated audience, Star Wars has been universally loved by million (Billion) globally. How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor delves into how Star Wars came about and examines its impact on society at-large.

This (long) book tells the broad story of Star Wars – how it came to be, how it has effected films, and how it has effected fans.  It’s a great anthology of the story of Star Wars and its Creator George Lucas.

Thought it is mostly a biography of George Lucas, it’s really only as it pertains to Star Wars.  Intermixed with the book are stories of relatively extreme fan stories that highlight how much Star Wars has impacted individuals.  The biggest theme for me was that Star Wars was at its best when a group of talented artists and engineers contributed to the stories in a successful way.

While George Lucas is certainly the intellectual founder of Star Wars, the Star Wars films – the original trilogy at least – and Clone Wars animated series were successes because of this “posse” of creative contributors.  The visual style of Star Wars is really a creation by Ralph McQuarrie.  His artwork is really what sold the original film to 20th Century Fox.  His artwork continues to inspire Star Wars creations today.  For each of the original trilogy films, George had assembled a cadre of writers to critique and update the dialog and specific plot elements.  Irvin Kirshner (Empire) was successful at getting the best performances from the cast while Richard Marquand produced far better directed films.  John Williams score was and is legendary.  Simply put, this team produced results that covered any shortcomings in Lucas’ implementation.

The fans of these films were so inspired by these films that they created institutions of their own to celebrate their appreciation.  The most notable of these organizations are the 501st, a global group of individuals who create film-accurate costumes of Storm troopers and appear at various public outreach events.  The largest, and perhaps less known, are builders of R2-D2.  This club has tends of thousands of members who actively work to build their own, operational versions of the famous droid.  Two such members were hired by Lucasfilm to build droids for Episode VII as they could build droids for a fraction of the cost of the usual studio suspects.

The prequels were terribly received and had many specific shortcomings as films.  Their shortcomings were mostly due to the lack of this creative brain trust.  Lawrence Kasdan and the rest of Lucas’ go-to writers provided no insights into the scripts which were haphazardly put together.  George directed the films from behind monitors and provided very little insight about the story and characters to the actors.  He lacked any individuals – cast or crew – who would challenge his visions and implementation of these films.  And it showed.

Unlike with the original trilogy, the prequels – though still loved by many – inspired many spiteful responses.  There are dozens of negative video reviews of the film on Youtube.  There are also hundreds of fan-driven edits of the prequels; efforts to try and make the prequels not suck.  George heard all of this.  And in the end, it influenced his decision to sell Lucasfilm to Disney.  That and the billion of dollars and the awesome, and also stinking rich, wife he just married.

The book also highlight very interesting insights and dispels several points of folklore. Here are a few:

  • George Lucas struggled to write the original Star Wars script.  He never wrote a long, 9 episode epic and chose to focus on the middle three.  He barely got the one done by 1976.  However, he did have many small plot points that we get to see in the other films.
  • Much of what we see throughout the six films (and elsewhere) were, at one point, thoughts that emerged during George’s original struggling to write the first Star Wars script.  For example, Mace Windy was various characters; The original desert planet name was Utapau, not Tatooine (Utapau became the planet where Obiwan Kenobi kills General Grievous); Starkiller was the original name of the character that eventually became Luke Skywalker (we get some “Starkiller” in The Force Awakens).
  • George did not get sole rights to merchandise sales in the original Star Wars film.  He did, however, retain significantly more rights associated with the sequels.
  • The “I know” line had been premeditated by Harrison Ford and Irvin Kershner prior to filming the scene, differing than the account from Empire of Dreams.
  • Lots of the Star Wars alumni/contacts went on to participate in other Sci-fi films such as Alien, BladeRunner, and more.
  • The merchandising from the first Star Wars films ultimately helped to fund The Empire Strikes back that had quickly overrun its budget.
  • Richard Marquand was more of a yes-director for George than a visionary.  But given how well done Jedi is – in execution if not the story- (esp relative to the Prequels) I’d say he deserves more credit than the book gives him.
  • Every Star Wars film made money – even if they weren’t very good.
  • The earlier animated Clone Wars series won several Emmy’s.
  • Lucas *was* working on a live action series called “Underworld” that took place in the underbelly of Coruscant.

This is a fantastic book for true Star Wars fans.


[UPDATE] Watch this great talk given by Chris Taylor on “How Star Wars Conquered the Universe”.