Audio Review: HOW STAR WARS CONQUERED THE UNIVERSE by Chris Taylor (Basic Books/Head of Zeus)

TaylorC-HowStarWarsConqueredUniverseUSThe book every Star Wars fan is looking for…? Yes.

Why do most people know what an Ewok is, even if they haven’t seen Return of the Jedi? How have Star Wars action figures come to outnumber human beings? How did ‘Jedi’ become an officially recognised religion? When did the films’ merchandising revenue manage to rival the GDP of a small country?

Tracing the birth, death and rebirth of the epic universe built by George Lucas and hundreds of writers, artists, producers, and marketers, Chris Taylor jousts with modern-day Jedi, tinkers with droid builders, and gets inside Boba Fett’s helmet, all to find out how STAR WARS has attracted and inspired so many fans for so long.

This book is the first comprehensive history of the Star Wars phenomenon, tracing its origins and examining the incredible impact the films (especially the first three) had on science fiction, film-making and storytelling. Written by Mashable journalist Chris Taylor, this book is a fascinating trove of trivia, insight and observation. Taylor traces almost every kernel of influence — from George Lucas’s fascination and fondness for Flash Gordon to his early days of wanting to be a race-car driver — to paint the most detailed picture of the franchise’s evolution. I alternated between the audiobook edition (provided by Audible UK) and an eARC (provided by Basic Books).

The short version of this review is pretty simple: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe is a must-read for all fans of science fiction.

Taylor describes the early, unsure steps towards production of Star Wars, the early projects that allowed Lucas the space and security to write the (admittedly abysmal) first drafts of the script. All I can say is, thank the Force he went through so many edits and had so many honest beta-readers… We get balanced portraits of all the people involved in the franchise — from writers, artists, actors, producers, and so forth. All are presented fairly, and even those Lucas had issues with (eventually or from the get-go) are treated fairly. Taylor is not writing a hagiography of Lucas and Star Wars. Which makes this book all the better.

TaylorC-HowStarWarsConqueredUniverseUKTo begin with, I didn’t think this was the book I had been looking for. Taylor indulged in what I thought were too many over-long tangents in the early chapters, before he had started to tell the Star Wars story (one certainly gets the impression, for example, that Taylor feels a debt of gratitude to the 501st Fan community, who seem to have given him a lot of time). After he brought the story up to Star Wars, though, things really picked up and I was gripped. It’s a fascinating story — not only the evolution of the story and franchise itself, but the insight Taylor brings about the movie industry at the time – though Lucas’s struggles to get Star Wars made, and the eventual tremendous success, we see how the industry evolved around his successes. How his friends, colleagues and collaborators (including Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola) were affected by the franchise and shifts in movie-making.

I could go on at length about the content in this book. Ultimately, you need to know only one thing: it’s a fascinating history of one of science fiction’s biggest successes and most influential series. Taylor covers everything. The book is packed with interesting anecdotes, factoids, and observations. If you have any interest in the genre, then you should read it for the history (there are a great many SF Greats mentioned — movies as well as fiction). If you are a fan of the franchise, then there’s really no excuse for you to have not bought this already…

Audio edition thoughts: One cannot fault the production of this audiobook. The performance was flawless, although it did take me just a little while longer than usual to get used to Nick Podehl’s voice — he sounded rather similar to Rider Strong, who narrated Anthony Kiedis’s Scar Tissues, so it sounded like a surfer was telling us about Star Wars. Ultimately, though, it was very enjoyable and well-read.

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe is published in North America by Basic Books and in the UK by Head of Zeus.

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