Star Wars

Star Wars books flood onto shelves ahead of Rogue One (and Christmas)

From Carrie Fisher’s diaries to cartoons showing Darth and the kids at home, there’s no shortage of new books connected to Star Wars – with some fresh ways to explore and enrich the series’ mythos

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 December, 2016, 7:16am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 December, 2016, 7:16am

Midway through The Princess Diarist, Carrie Fisher’s latest tell-some, the narrative breaks away from her dishy remembrance of the brief, languid affair she had with Harrison Ford in their off-hours while shooting the first Star Wars movie in 1976.

For the next 60 or so pages, we get the diary Fisher kept during production. It’s as florid and angsty as you expect from someone who was 19 and wrangling with an older man when she wrote it. Ford was 33, with a wife and kids. There were London flats. Lots of free time. She’s “sorry it’s not Mark”, she writes (meaning Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker).

But Ford’s brooding indifference is a tractor beam: “He is like a fantasy,” she writes. He’s also a huge bore: “The silences make my composure decompose from the inside out … I hate him and all of his quiet. But I love the implied disapproval, the seniority …”

Oh my. And you thought there was nothing left to say about Star Wars. Wrong, you were.

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Two dozen new books have recently been published about Star Wars, suggesting what remains to be said about the space fantasy could fill a space cruiser. Books that send the saga off on thorny new tangents. Novels that catch up with iconic characters in their downtime. Art books that make a compelling case for the series as a wellspring of pop inspiration. Coffee-table bricks that pay (pricey) homage to under-appreciated conceptual visionaries. Books that speak to children. Bedtime books that speak to adults eager to indoctrinate their young padawane in a cradle-to-grave allegiance the Star Wars industrial complex will cheerfully supply. And that’s just books published in the past six months.

Partly the crush is because of the latest movie instalment, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first ancillary saga film in the franchise, opened this week. Partly it’s because it’s comforting, a home where the rooms may be familiar but the alcoves are numerous.

You want a story about the events leading to Rogue One? There’s a (pretty decent) new novel Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno. More curious about what happened after the Empire struck back but was beaten by a teddy-bear battalion and collapsed? There’s Aftermath: Life Debt: by Chuck Wendig.

Or consider Claudia Gray’s Bloodline, which manages the unlikely feat of fleshing out the politics of a post-Empire universe with a surprising, real-world resonance. She tells the story of how Princess Leia – now outed as daughter of Darth Vader – faces a legislature, and citizenship, certain every word out of her mouth is a lie. It’s a necessary reminder of the earnest politics at the heart of the now 40-year-old series, always fundamentally an epic about public servants drifting into fascism.

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Bloodline is also frothy enough to recall that George Lucas’ initial films were knowingly loose. “It was one movie. It wasn’t supposed to do what it did,” Fisher writes in Princess Diarist. “It leaked out of the theatre, poured off the screen, affected a lot of people so deeply that they required endless talismans and artefacts to stay connected with it.” This comes on the same page as the revelation that 20th Century Fox, less enthusiastic about Star Wars in 1976, flew the young cast to that London set via economy coach.

Picking through Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie, it’s not hard to feel solidarity with the money guys. This is a beautiful monster of a doorstop, a two-volume, 2,000-illustration argument for the artist’s centrality to the Star Wars mythos – but one that also paints a picture in your head of a Hollywood executive in the early 1970s flipping through these early renderings of the story, desert valleys populated by robots, villains hidden behind respirators, and wondering what he is looking at, what’s it going to cost to construct a whole world of this garbage?

McQuarrie was largely responsible for the look of Darth Vader, C-3PO and so on. His paintings of reptilian hitmen and space tundra have a warmth and playfulness reminiscent of Thomas Hart Benton, all of it balanced here with McQuarrie’s posters, storyboards, even the Christmas cards he designed for Lucas. Kitsch, but bottomless with insight into what Lucas wanted, and, alongside R.W. Rinzler’s 2007 The Making of Star Wars, the best Star Wars book yet.

Among the things Lucas wanted, in lieu of a big salary, were licensing and merchandising rights. Fox didn’t much care about potential toy profits from an untested fantasy. It was a prescient decision by Lucas: the series has made US$32 billion in merchandising since 1977 (and analysts say that number grows by US$1 billion annually). And yet, there’s a coldness to that calculation not reflected in The Original Topps Trading Card Series, three charming, cleverly designed mini coffee-table books that lay out, like an eight-year-old boy in a 1979 rumpus room, every Topps Star Wars card ever, providing enough 21st-century context to let nostalgia and colour glow.

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Nearly as inventive is Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in the Galaxy, a collection of posters from contemporary artists, inspired by the cold war and second world war, which imagine the wars of Star Wars as vast campaigns of ideas. “Mechanically Inclined? Looking for Work? Build Tie Fighters,” reads a recruitment ad from the Empire. For the Rebels, there’s Fisher in a Clinton-esque stance, with a promise: “Protect the Alliance. Vote Leia.” Every year, there is a flood of large, illustrated Star Wars books – Star Wars Year by Year: A Visual History, Star Wars: Complete Locations – that slice up material long established into ever thinning segments. Star Wars Propaganda and the Topps books argue that material is richer.

Ditto for Marvel’s revitalised Star Wars comics: if you have ever felt this fandom veering too hard into the weeds for comfort, new compilations such as Star Wars: Vol. 3, Rebel Jail and Star Wars: Darth Vader, Vol. 4, End of Games lovingly recapture the effervescent rush of early Star Wars. My favourite new Star Wars image? Not in any of the movies but in a Marvel comic, of Darth Vader staring out his window as the Rebels escape yet again, the glass splintering from his annoyance.

At the beginning, before an often insular geek culture mucked up that joy, this is how Star Wars felt, spirited and cool – and really, really funny. This was Lucas’ initial instinct, to revisit the rollicking, sweetly disposable serials of his boyhood.

Sometimes, though, an idea is too powerful to squash. Need proof? There’s a book for that. Should Rogue One prove too dark or heavy, try the new box set of children’s books by cartoonist Jeffrey Brown: Goodnight Darth Vader and Darth Vader and Friends. They’re silly and warm. Your kids will swoon. Which, Brown reminds us, was the point all along.