Review: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor

HowStarWarsConqueredTheUniverseTitle: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise
Author: Chris Taylor
Rating: ★★★
Summary: Veteran journalist Chris Taylor traces the Star Wars series from the difficult birth of the original film through its sequels, the franchise’s death and rebirth, the prequels, and the preparations for a new trilogy. Taylor provides portraits of the friends, writers, artists, producers, and marketers who labored behind the scenes to turn Lucas’s idea into a legend. An energetic, fast-moving account of this creative and commercial phenomenon, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe explains how a filmmaker’s fragile dream beat out a surprising number of rivals and gained a diehard, multigenerational fan base – and why it will be galvanizing our imaginations and minting money for generations to come.


If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll remember me talking up How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise back in April – after I’d given up trying to slog through The Secret History of Wonder Woman and wanted to find another microhistory for my participation in the #ReadHarder challenge. If you’re not a huge fan of either pop culture or history, microhistories can be a tough sell on their own; reading at length about the historical, political, economic, and cultural factors that both contributed to – and also occurred because of – a huge film series like Star Wars is really only for mega-nerds who both like Star Wars and want to read 300+ pages on Star Wars. (Like I said, it’s a tough sell.)

Unfortunately, Chris Taylor doesn’t really deliver the “how” of his title, instead focusing more on the “what” – what happened to get Star Wars going and then what happened once it broached mainstream culture. I think that anyone trying to answer the ambiguous “why” is facing an uphill battle, but I’m a little disappointed that there isn’t more theoretical discussion on exactly how Star Wars conquered the hearts and minds of billions of people. Taylor gives a few pages connecting the dots between the original trilogies and the Vietnam War, but it stays in one chapter, buried among hundreds of pages of anecdotes and biography. I understand that Taylor wasn’t writing a George Lucas biography – because, clearly, Star Wars has been wrested from its creator and now breathes on its own – but a lot of the time, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe felt more like The Life and Times of George Lucas (and also thoughts on his creation, the mega-successful Star Wars) than what it was purported to be. (Taylor almost singularly refers to Lucas as “The Creator,” imbuing him with the mythical properties he was supposed to bestow on the mythos of the films themselves.)

While the information contained within How Star Wars Conquered the Universe was interesting – I mean, it’s Star Wars you guys – I think Taylor should have either tweaked his thesis (or perhaps even thought of one in the first place???) or else shortened his work substantially. This could have been a fantastic one-, two-, or even three-part think-piece focusing on why – or dare I say how? – Star Wars jumped from space fantasy to global phenomenon. What was going on in the mid-1970s that created the perfect absence into which Star Wars fit? In what ways did the film, characters, or plot answer lingering wants that other films of that genre or period didn’t? Why did those specific characters on that specific journey in that specific universe create the perfect vortex? How is just so vague of a question – and produces so literal of an answer – that it’s really not suited to the type of analysis Taylor is trying to provide. (Unfortunately.)

However, because there is really nothing that tries to comprehensively document the journey Star Wars took from far-fetched Flash Gordon homage to pop culture commodity, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Industry is worth a perusal – but know what you’re getting into before you start reading.

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