There have been a lot of books written about Star Wars and the stories surrounding its near-legendary genesis have been retold countless times, but as the franchise nears its 40th anniversary, a new wave of nostalgia is rising and for many fans there is a longing to return to a simpler time. The undeniable legacy of the original trilogy stirs something within many of us and Mark Clark’s Star Wars FAQ is absolutely designed to tap into that communal feeling.
Something of misnomer, Star Wars FAQ is actually not a list of “frequently asked questions” complete with accompanying answers. Rather, Clark’s books fancies itself as something of a thorough history of Episodes IV-VI with each film’s cultural impact chronicled for good measure. Two of my favorite parts of Star Wars FAQ are the first two chapters. The first,“This Will Be a Day Long Remembered: How Star Wars Changed the Movies,” eloquently recalls the history of moviemaking from the 1920’s up until Star Wars arrived in 1977, while the second, “The Force Is Strong with This One: A George Lucas Timeline, 1944-1976,” provides a short biography of the filmmaker whose vision changed so many lives. Both of these chapters provide key background for truly understanding the paradigm shift that Star Wars caused, and since much of the information they contain is not a usual part of the Star Wars oral history, the relative novelty made for fascinating reading.
In truth, a little over half of Star Wars FAQ is laid out chronologically, but one need not read through it from beginning to end to appreciate its contents. Rather, each chapter is self-contained, and when connections to other parts of the book are pertinent, the author kindly points the reader in that direction. Furthermore, there are frequent allusions to documentaries or books such as (respectively) Empire of Dreams or How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise. In each case, Clark consistently credits the other work, effectively supporting his own research while promoting the efforts of another. George Lucas himself would approve of the symbiosis.
In addition to relating the histories and respective legacies of the three films, Mark Clark gives us chapters dedicated to merchandise (featuring a photo of the author’s own collection of the original twelve Star Wars figures), the music of John Williams, and a chapter dedicated to the myriad continuity, science and plot mistakes. This last chapter was one of my favorites as it delved into several random examples that can turn future viewings into something of an Easter egg hunt.
My only quibble (and it’s a small one to be sure) is that due to Clark’s focus on the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy is given short shrift. While Star Wars FAQ certainly benefits from the narrow perspective its author uses, an examination (or whole other book) regarding Episodes I-III would be both fascinating and provide a more complete discussion of the legacy of Star Wars.
When he does mention those films, Clark’s musings on the prequel trilogy–and by extension, that part of the timeline–come off as a bit harsh. In the last chapter entitled “The Force Will Be with You, Always” Clark asserts that “…most critics and many fans found The Phantom Menace and the other prequels profoundly disappointing.” While it’s true that those films did not receive universal acclaim, it’s equally true that they are beloved by many people–especially those that did not grow up with the original films. Still, the author makes no effort to hide his biases and any rants about elements of the saga he dislikes are short. It’s abundantly clear that Clark loves Star Wars and that any criticisms come from that place.
Taken as a whole, Star Wars FAQ is an elegant exposé on what makes this franchise so beloved and why its ever-burgeoning fan base keeps coming back for more. I thoroughly enjoyed Clark’s musings on the saga, and his incredibly thorough research imbues the book with a strong sense of validity.
Above all, Star War FAQ is an abundantly fun read and it’s clear that it was something of a passion project for its author who throughout the book strikes a delicate balance between reporting the facts and revealing his opinion. It’s clear that he loves Star Wars, but Clark never lets that fact get in the way of being as objective as possible and calling out mistakes and problems with the film series. I highly recommend Star Wars FAQ for long-time fans of Star Wars, relative newcomers, and anyone in-between. No matter what you knew going in, odds are you’ll have learned something coming out.
Note: Many thanks to Applause Theater & Cinema Books for providing an advanced copy to review.
I’d love to hear your feedback. You can leave a comment on this page or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact me on Twitter @influxman or check out my Rogue page on “Star Wars in the Classroom.”
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