How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, by Chris Taylor

If you had asked anyone in my high school who was the biggest Star Wars nerd, they probably would have mentioned me. More accurately, they probably wouldn’t have known my name but “that one quiet girl who is always reading the Star Wars books” would be referring to me. As part of the somewhat maligned prequel generation, I was coming of age as episodes I, II and III were being released in theaters, and boy, was I ever obsessed with Star Wars. Padme was my halloween costume of choice for 3 years in a row, I read nearly every Expanded Universe book I could get my hands on (goodreads has logged 35 books but I know there were more that I’ve forgotten by now), my first ever online forum account (not counting neopets because I think every 90s kid had a neopets account) was to theforce.net as “yodarulez,” I even went to high school dressed up as a jedi to celebrate the release of Episode III, an act which alone should clue everyone in as to how much Star Wars meant to me.

I don’t remember when I first watched the original Star Wars in their entirety, although I’m certain it was before the release of Episode I in 1999. But what I do remember is the first scene of Star Wars that peaked my interest, that grabbed my brain and refused to let go throughout my adolescence and adulthood. My Dad was sitting on the couch in the living room, watching one of his movies after dinner like he of so often did and pre-10 year old Jen wandered inside to the tv screen projecting a snowy landscape. An injured looking man was lying on the snow and a large, blue, ghostly figure appeared and started talking to him. “Luke, you must go to the Dagobah System. There you will encounter Yoda, the Jedi Master who taught me.” Little Jen was entranced. Who was this ghost guy? What was a jedi? Was the hurt man going to be okay, he must be very cold out in the snow like that. I vaguely recall my dad somewhat distractedly telling me that this was the 2nd movie and most of my questions were answered the movie previous. Ever since then, I was hooked. Star Wars became the most important series of films in my childhood, my core obsession, and the franchise that continually brought joy to my life.

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe reminded me of how deeply my love of Star Wars runs. It tells the tale of George Lucas’ most beloved creation from pre-THX 1138 to disney takeover, showcasing throughout its pages the expansive reach the Star Wars universe has on the entirety of Earth. We learn about the early drafts and ideas Lucas had for the original trilogy, the immense problems he had pitching the films to movie studios, the bad ideas paired with the good ones, and how fan made creations such as Star Wars kid and the 501st Legion of Stormtroopers began. I’ll admit, I knew a lot of the information detailed in this book, especially regarding the scriptwriting process of the original and prequel trilogy, but I still felt a rush of nerdy glee reading this book.

As the title indicates, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe specifically looks at the ubiquity of the Star Wars franchise. The book starts off with the author attempting to find someone who doesn’t know anything about Star Wars. Not someone who hasn’t seen it, not someone who can’t detail the plot, someone who has never heard of Star Wars. Someone who could be shown a picture of Darth Vader or Yoda or any jedi and have zero clue who these people were. This exercise alone showcases how monumental Star Wars is as a cultural force. We all know someone who hasn’t seen Star Wars (and probably all can recall feeling a sense of amazement that said person has escaped the unstoppable force that is the Star Wars movie franchise) but the odds are, that person still could name some plot points or recognize some characters. Pretty much everyone knows that Darth Vader (or “the evil helmet robot guy”) is Luke Skywalker’s father. Heck, even I don’t remember this being a twist when I first watched the movies. I think even pre-10 year old me who hadn’t seen Star Wars before had picked up at some point this once shocking plot twist.

The book doesn’t necessarily provide a formula as to why Star Wars became the cultural mega-force that it currently is. It does, however, explain the environment and circumstances and carefully structured corporate decisions that kept Star Wars in the spotlight and capitalized on its initial popularity. If you know someone who is a Star Wars nerd and is reading this book, be warned: you’ll probably be inundated with endless facts found in the book. As my family and fiance can attest to, nearly every time I had this book in my hands, there’d be frequent interruptions of me raising my hand and going “STAR WARS FUN FACT TIME!!” And so, here are some Star Wars fun facts I would like to share:

  • In early drafts of A New Hope, Lucas gave names to both the light and dark side of the force. The dark side was called the Bogan and the script had such great lines as Luke telling a depressed Han “Don’t give in! It’s just the Bogan force talking!”
  • All of Boba Fett’s lines in the original trilogy can fit in the space of a single tweet, complete with attribute.
  • The 501st legion of Stormtroopers had a charity fundraiser to allow for Peter Mayhew, the original actor of Chewbacca, to get knee surgery who he could play Chewbacca again in the new Disney movies.
  • Star Wars was one of the first movies to not have credits in the beginning of the movie and George Lucas had to fight the studio tooth and nail to keep the transition from exposition crawl to the Star Destroyer free of meddling text.
  • The Star Wars logo we know and love today was designed by a 22 year old female new hire after George Lucas thought that the original logo designed by a more senior designer at the company needed to be “much more fascist looking.” Also, the Star Wars logo began as Helvetica Black which was then heavily modified (I’ll be honest, this fact is my favorite simply because I’m a designer and typography nerd). Unfortunately for her, she was hired on contract basis and as such has received zero copyright rights over the logo or money for its now infinite usage.
  • Lucasfilm retained merchandising rights for Star Wars related toys over Twentieth Century Fox because it had all rights to things under the name “Star Wars” whereas Fox had rights for the title “The Adventures of Luke Skywalker” which was the running title of Star Wars for the longest time.
  • Tatoonine is never actually named in Episode IV. Luke refers to it as “this rock,” “if there’s a bright spot in the galaxy you’re on the planet where it’s farthest from,” and “back home.” No one ever says the name “Tatoonine.”
  • James Early Jones recorded all of his lines for Episode IV in a single session and was paid only $6500 for his contribution to the film.

I was commenting to Matt the other day that it amazes me how varied Star Wars fans can be in their knowledge, a reflection of how vast the Star Wars universe itself is. I have friends who are experts are Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, the two canon cartoon shows fleshing out what happened in between the movies. Others know everything there is to know about the Old Republic, an era of Star Wars history occurring 5000 years before the Battle of Yavin. I, myself, have read nearly every post Battle of Yavin through Legacy of the Force books, and can talk to you endlessly about Yuuzhan Vong, Coran Horn, Jacen and Jania Solo and Chewbacca’s death (spoiler, a moon falls on him). Similarly to this variety, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe contains information that will appeal to different Star Wars nerd’s interests. I, personally, read every word about the different drafts of the scripts and behind the scenes process of filming, while skimmed through parts discussing museums of Star Wars merchandise created by fans. You might not be interested in Star Wars Kid or the drama that happened between Lucasfilm and the original effects creator but absolutely love hearing about how the 501st legion was formed. There’s something here for every Star Wars nerd.

Above all else, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe helped solidify my excitement for the new movie coming out this December. Regardless of what JJ Abrahms and Disney creates, for a brief moment I will feel the excitement that child Jen did sitting in the theater waiting for the prequels. And so, I leave you with the ending passage of this book, which for me perfectly encapsulates the joy and emotional outpouring I will experience sitting in that theater once again waiting for a new Star Wars movie to begin.

The screen will go black. Then up will come ten familiar words in blue: ‘A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…” Then silence. Blackness again. Then an orchestra will explode in B-flat major, and the largest logo you’ve ever seen will fill the entire screen. And no sooner has it appeared than it will immediately begin to recede, slipping away, pulling back into the stars as if daring you to give chase.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

This book broke my review schedule. After finishing a book, I’d generally take a week at most to review it, writing my thoughts down while everything was still fresh and quickly moving onto the next book on the pile. But then I read Missoula and everything stopped. How exactly do I review this book? How do I talk about how much it meant to me, how it affected my worldview without devolving into a political discussion of rape, rape culture and the controversy surrounding those words?

Fact is, I can’t. I can’t just ignore Missoula simply because it’s difficult to talk about and will raise issues that I find to be incredibly personal and important. Because even though no one reads this blog and the odds that more than 3 people will see this are around 5%, I need to talk about Missoula and what it teaches, even if that means I will have to face victim-blaming opinions of people I know. And so, I need to issue a content warning for this review, because I’m going to talk in detail about the things that Missoula talks about and it isn’t nice. I’m not going to light-heartedly dance around saying that a woman was raped and how. What happened and continues to happen to women around the world is not a thing I’m going to sugarcoat for this review. Consider this your only warning.

Missoula, as the full title suggests, is Krakauer’s journalistic investigation into a series of rapes in Missoula, Montana, specifically ones linked to campus life at the University of Montana. We follow the stories of real women who attempted to come forward after being sexually assaulted or raped and how both the college system and the police reacted to their claims. We read about, in gruesome and painful detail, the rapes of 3 primary women and watch as all but one of them fail again and again to bring their rapists to justice. They are blamed for nearly every single thing leading up to their rape. Well, she invited him over to watch a movie (it doesn’t matter that she told him to stop and pushed against him so hard a bruise was left on her chest where he held her down). Well, she was drunk at a party (it doesn’t matter that 6 football players got her so incredibly wasted and drugged that she was passed out for the majority of her rape, waking up here and there to realize there were penises in her mouth). Well, she said previously “I’m yours anytime” (It doesn’t matter that that exchange was multiple nights previous and when she woke up after crashing at his place, she found herself stripped naked and him in the middle of penetrating her.)

The list just goes on and on. When first going to the police, a woman is asked multiple times if she has a boyfriend and if she was caught cheating (implying she made up the whole rape story because she was unfaithful and wanted to hide it). Women arrive to the police station with underwear soaked with blood, bruises on their bodies and tears in their vaginas and only one of their rapists were sentenced to any prison time. The one woman who was successful? She only was because her rapist confessed to the police that he raped her (a confession he’d later try to recant and spread lies around campus that she made the whole thing up, making her a local pariah).

These stories enraged me. But as Krakauer strives to convey throughout this book, Missoula, despite being named “the rape capital of the country” is not this special isolated case. Missoula’s sexual assault numbers are right around the national average. The rage I felt reading this book is rage knowing that this treatment of rape victims, the disbelief and victim blaming and slut shaming, is not a specific problem only affecting Montana.

Reading Missoula, I remembered the case of Steubenville, where 4 high school football players found a girl extremely drunk to the point of unconsciousness at a party and proceeded to strip her and finger her while she was unconscious, posting the entire thing to facebook and twitter like it was a joke. That happened in the state I live in and the story flew around my facebook feed. I remember seeing people I considered friends commenting on how she shouldn’t have gotten so drunk. Where were her parents teaching her how to behave? What was she wearing? People I knew were suddenly regretfully bemoaning how she was ruining these boys lives. The lack of empathy for her was astonishing (“Hey! Responsibility is a two way street! She also bore responsibility to not get so wasted that she couldn’t stop them from doing these things!”). She was unconscious and violated without any form of consent and it was posted all on the internet, but it’s her fault this happened.

Rape culture is not a mythical boogey man word made up by the Evil Feminists out to destroy the manliness of America. Rape culture is having a family member tell me that they hope I would be smart enough not to allow myself into an abusive relationship. Rape culture is having a coworker tell me that if I wear a skirt that is higher than knee length that I’m “giving men the wrong idea.” Rape culture is logging onto facebook and seeing people I went to school with complaining about how “sluts just make up rape allegations to castrate men.” It’s knowing that if you ever find yourself in the horrible situation of being raped, it most likely will be by someone you know, and that you are expected to have followed these “rules” in order to have a chance of being believed:

  1. Do not drink any alcohol in a party setting because even if you only had 2 beers, it’ll be used as evidence that you are a woman of loose morals
  2. Do not dress in any sort of sexually appealing way. How on earth are men expected to not behave like animals and take advantage of you?
  3. Do not express any interest in a man because if you do, even if it was months ago, that’ll be used as permission you’ve given him to violate you. I mean, if you were interested in him at some point, you must have secretly wanted the sex and ergo it isn’t rape.
  4. Do not engage in kissing or any sort of foreplay unless you also want intercourse. Wanted to just make out and cuddle while watching Netflix? Too bad, that desire means that you also are giving permission for him to stick his penis in you. Hey, you liked him enough to kiss him, clearly that means you’re okay with sex!
  5. If you are being raped, make sure you stay awake throughout all of it. If you don’t remember the rape, how can it really be rape? Doesn’t matter if you wake up with your vagina bleeding and bruises on you, you don’t remember being raped so how do you know that you actually were?
  6. If you are being raped and awake, make sure you’re fighting back to the utmost extent you can possibly muster. It doesn’t matter if you’re fearing for your safety or in such a state of shock that you can’t react. If you don’t completely fight back, you must have wanted it.
  7. If you are a man and find yourself getting raped, tough for you. Men don’t get raped! You’re so silly. You must be gay and trying to hide it. Wait, you’re a man and claiming you were raped by a woman? That biologically is impossible! Men cannot ever NOT want sex!! There’s no way a stupid woman could have forced you into having sex, you are such a pussy.

Missoula is an extremely important book. I honestly wish everyone could read it. My hope would be that reading these stories and seeing the facts that Krakauer presents that we could slowly start to undo the culture of disbelief and victim blaming we’ve developed around victims of sexual assault. But even thinking back to the people in my life I referenced earlier, the family member, the facebook friend, the person in my workplace, I know in my head that reading this book would not change their viewpoints. The statistics and facts, all thoroughly researched and well cited, would be dismissed as biased propaganda. The women are either liars or also partially to blame for their assault.

Missoula does not offer much in the way of positive hope for the future. These systems of questioning the validity of women and blaming them for their assault is so ingrained in our society by now that there’s not much any one person can do. But hopefully if more and more people start becoming aware of how we as a society treat victims of rape and assault and start questioning why we are so quick to blame the woman for her pain, maybe eventually books like Missoula won’t need to be written.