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Sunday, 5 May 2013

CLASSIC REVIEW: 'STAR WARS - YEAR BY YEAR' (2010 EDITION)


STAR WARS: YEAR BY YEAR - A VISUAL CHRONICLE

Written and compiled by Ryder Windham, Daniel Wallace and Pablo Hidalgo (with Gus Lopez)

Published by DORLING KINDERSLEY

 Reviewed by Scott Weller

For the last five years, STAR WARS AFICIONADO has, through its numerous behind the scenes special issues on the individual STAR WARS films, tried to provide fans with the most accurate kind of timelines available for the saga with regards to both their behind the scenes filming and to the events that would go on related to them in all areas around, between and outside of it. We’ve been pretty thorough as far as we could go, but there have still been many gaps, unknown dates and pieces of information that we’ve either not known about or not been privy or official enough to reveal. But this new release from DK BOOKS and LUCAS BOOKS finally brings all the pieces of the STAR WARS historical puzzle together in one superb, beautifully put together and presented package: STAR WARS - YEAR BY YEAR. Now we know why the “What was happening in the year” feature ultimately disappeared from STAR WARS INSIDER magazine! An even bigger germ of an idea was formulating in LUCAS BOOKS mind with this publication instead, which takes the previous magazine concept - one that had not, amazingly, been done before - to a far more intense and dedicated scale both visually and in terms of information imparting.


Myths, legends and the history of fact come together here in a fascinating and enjoyable way here within this amazing volume (where, once again, you’ll be growing biceps by the time you’ve completed holding his mighty tome in your hands!), charting the birth, end, resurrection and further re-birth of a saga-the STAR WARS saga- a franchise popularity remaining undiminished worldwide despite the occasional little pause for breath here and there (well, a sixteen year pause!) in the mid-eighties and nineties. Acting as modern day history scribes, the book is put together by the very capable hands of four of LUCASFILM’s best STAR WARS historians charting its past, present and future, each bringing their own unique gifts to the writing pool with their talented insights and vast knowledge: firstly there’s Ryder Windham (in charge of charting events liked to the Classic Trilogy), Daniel Wallace (the middle years between Trilogies), then Pablo Hidalgo, the main man in charge of content at LUCASFILMs STARWARS.COM site and someone who was behind the scenes exclusively on the Prequels, and especially in his full time capacity providing unique fan inter-action experiences for the third film, REVENGE OF THE SITH (and whom we assume has also been involved in the upcoming Blu-ray releases too!). The fourth contributor is Gus Lopez, a major league collector of all things toy related-itself an environment which has taken on its own unique history, life span and cycle beyond the actual films!
Any book with such grand ambitions as this one must start at the beginning, though, and that’s what we get with the movie saga's creator: George Lucas, as we find out about the man and all the influences going on in his life that would lead him to the point in 1973 where he would begin work on that little sci-fi project he called THE STAR WARS! Then there’s the people, times, and events going on around him, both consciously and unconsciously helping influence and shape the creation of his fertile imagination and the birth of his classic films, with such important, world-changing, real-life events, particularly the Nixon/Watergate scandal and the Vietnam war, that would significantly alter or change Lucas’s perspectives and attitudes, not only on life but with regards to what he would write in STAR WARS and his version of the un-filmed APOCALYPSE NOW, the latter eventually brought to dark fruition by his friend Francis Ford Coppola, and how Lucas’s ideas for his saga, based on such events, would show how history, for good and for bad, would repeat itself and be almost circular-a thread of life from Lucas used in the STAR WARS films both Classic and Prequels, as certain events linked to the Skywalker lineage repeat themselves over time- Anakin and son Luke immersed in the same kinds of situations but making different life choices ultimately sending them towards alternate paths. In addition, the book not only chronicles Lucas’s life and the world going on  around him, but also charts the key events of the members of the cast and crews that worked with him on the STAR WARS films, which is a nice plus. And, in the areas of creating those amazing worlds of wonder on film and digital, we witness the leap forward into technology that would launch the original saga then go beyond expectations into the digital and CGI realms with the Prequels, as Lucas’s uniquely created ILM celebrates so many triumph effects milestones.


And how could the writers not miss out on chronicling the obvious avalanches of science fiction adventure and blockbuster movies and imitators following in STAR WARS success, all eager to cash in- the good and the bad (and the very bad!, too!)- which the book  admirably covers, including some early films which sneakily reference STAR WARS, like the low-budget LASER BLAST and the obvious CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND!
Having grown up with the Classic Trilogy, I remember those lean years between 1986 and 1990 when the saga seemed to have ended and no new films were in sight-the Dark Years as I call them!!-yet reading the book there was more STAR WARS related things going on, if on a smaller scale, at that time, than I remember (most notably in the US than the UK). It’s a shame that the book never uses the 1986 STARLOG which had ALIENS on the cover and had the then quite frightening tag line, “Is STAR WARS fandom dead?” Fortunately, it wasn’t “dead” just in “perfect hibernation”!

The overall Lucas dream for films and film-making gets a showcase in the book, especially the LUCASFILM business operation itself in the latter pages, including the SKYWALKER RANCH and some of its divisions which moved to the Presidio in San Francisco. There’s also the changing face of STAR WARS fandom, blossoming into its own unique lifeforce during the second half of the book, what with the release of the STAR WARS SPECIAL EDITIONS, the controversial Prequels, and the generationally popular CLONE WARS animated series.
Taking us right up to 2010, we get to the point where STAR WARS has gone beyond all expectations in the modern world, becoming a unique, iconic and seemingly unbeatable life force to fans and fandom in general.
Meticulously researched, with some terrific rare colour and black and white images from the golden age of the LUCASFILM ARCHIVES, as well as a wide host of other encompassing outside sources that have covered the films beyond their organization, the book and its 1,600 images (some specially shot for inclusion) is a visual treat from start to finish. I loved the rare cover artwork, magazines from especially the Classic Trilogy, rare toys (with some intriguing bits of previously undiscovered information on their creation and release), and even fun little behind the scenes film-making titbits, like seeing a young George Lucas’s on-set security pass photo from THX-1138. All of this is backed up with beautiful full page profiles, pieces of behind the scenes art (smashing John Mollo 1976 costume drawings), and other gems- specially chosen material from the LUCASFILM archives, with some pieces that have never been since their original commissioning used on double page spreads that are beautifully reproduced and interspersed amongst the sections, adding to the huge canvas of awe and wonder that is STAR WARS. There’s also a special attached opener inside the book, which has two exclusive beautiful prints-one of Obi-Wan and the Duchess Satine from THE CLONE WARS animated series and a great B/W behind the scenes image of Harrison Ford on the asteroid cave set at the UK’s ELSTREE studios from 1979’s filming of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.


The book's accompanying writing may be done in a neutral, information relaying tone only, but, to its credit for certain sections, its not afraid to point out errors linked to the STAR WARS saga over the last thirty-three years, especially in the early time before the Expanded Universe, backed with some nice behind the scenes quotes from Lucas and the many talented people that would work on and off through it all. Another plus is the great pains the team have taken to find the actual release dates of certain rare items like early books and MARVEL comics-much appreciated by this reviewer.
Overall, the book continues revealing some wonderful bits of information about Lucas (I didn’t know he worked on a montage crime sequence for the first GODFATHER, and its intriguing to see how many projects he’s been involved in outside of STAR WARS- more than I was previously aware, of which, taking no credit, he has done lots to help old friends, as well as making the world in general aware, almost like an Obi-Wan-like apparitional figure himself, of the new talents out there that need to be cultivated. Its equally nice to just go back down memory lane and see all the merchandise of the time I grew up with, like the original STAR WARS comics, the early books where the aforementioned continuity was not all locked in, and the KENNER figures that particularly came out with the seventies release, and then to enjoy the build up to the saga's return with the Prequels in 1997 and their conclusion in 2005, plus the way that STAR WARS in general has touched everyone’s lives with their release in areas beyond fandom, like the good deeds work done by the Imperial 501st legions worldwide.
With so much information and photo material to be imparted there was an early worry that the design of the book might not be able to cope with it all, but DK have succeeded admirably in its presentation, with an overall presentation that is both pleasing to the eye and cleanly structured to make the most of all available space (with specially created sections on the pages highlighting the real-life incidents from the worlds of STAR WARS). I’m sure there were many images that these guys and gals at DK wanted to include but were cut for space constraints (such as several of the MARVEL UK comic strips that didn’t appear in the US, as well as certain important magazine covers, from the likes of STARLOG, etc).
Apart from a couple of very small errors (i.e. the 2007 CELEBRATION EUROPE event was originally to have been held in London's Earl's Court but was instead re-located to the Dockland's ExCel centre), STAR WARS: YEAR BY YEAR is a superb reference work-the ultimate one (so far) for the STAR WARS phenomenon- and a tome will surely be utilized and looked at again and again by fans.This joyous 320-page volume reminds us of how we discovered STAR WARS, why we became STAR WARS fans, and why we still love STAR WARS today.
AFICIONADO RATING: Taking a peg out of MARVEL's success with their CHRONICLE, DK books have worked well with LUCAS BOOKS in creating the ultimate reference to be enjoyed by the fans, and a publication surely to be kept as a fond memory by Lucas. YEAR BY YEAR is equally a warm and special tribute to the many talented people that worked with him to bring his fairy tale universe of heroes and villains into being as such a winning and irresistible continuing phenomenon. A truly essential purchase. 9 out of 10.

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