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 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.