C. S. Lewis once wrote that "you must not believe all that authors tell you about how they wrote their books" ("It All Began with a Picture" in Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories). Had Kaminski applied the same principle to directors and the films they create, he could have covered his "secret history" of the first six Star Wars films in about 1/3 of the pages.
To give props where they are due, Kaminski clearly did his homework. His citations are copious, and he clearly spent a lot of time working through the various sources to which he had access in an attempt to create a narrative surrounding the development of the Star Wars franchise. From commonly known sources, such as J.W. Rinzler's The Making of Star Wars and Dale Pollock's Skywalking, to much more esoteric fare such as long-forgotten interviews and even commentaries from the laserdisc, Kaminski has sifted through a lot of material to make his case.
Which is a big part of the problem. Kaminski's overall goal with this book is to show that George Lucas did not have the complete Star Wars saga written out before he created the original film, as the director sometimes claimed, both publicly and privately. To achieve this goal, Kaminski takes the approach of gathering everything he can find, tacking it up on a wall like an erstwhile detective trying to find a serial killer even though he's been kicked off the force, and then gesturing madly to anyone who happens to stumble upon his obsession while yelling, "See!? SEE!?!"
Yes. I see. But so what?
As Kaminski shows, Star Wars has been retconned over and over, so why should it be surprising that Lucas retconned the story of its creation as well? Furthermore, why does that matter? The story of the Star Wars saga's creation is interesting, but the story of its creator's beliefs about that creation is less interesting. Kaminski tries to do double duty by showing the "real" history of how Star Wars is created, and then proving that it differs from some (but not all) of Lucas's statements about that story. In attempting to serve two masters, Kaminski's work becomes less convincing, not the less so because in some parts of the book he seems to forget one or the other purpose altogether. Had he simply stuck to a sort of biography of Star Wars rather than trying to convince readers that George Lucas is a liar he would have produced a much better (and shorter) book. Heck, he could have even relegated the liar argument to an appendix – Bendu knows there's enough of them – and still come out better for it.
In addition to the argumentative problems of the book, it is rife with technical errors:
- Missing punctuation
- two types of notes (footnotes and endnotes) with no noticeable distinction between their use
- Date formatting – e.g., the use of "of" when citing a month and year, frequent (but inconsistent) use of ordinals on days, occasionally abbreviated years ('74 instead of 1974)
- Grocer's apostrophes
- Dangling modifiers – e.g., p. 78: "Like the film’s connection to Joseph Campbell, it was one trumpeted by the intelligentsia after the film became popular in an attempt to explain the success through more scholarly influence." – the "it" refers to the claim that the concept of “the Force” was derived from the ideas of Carlos Castaneda (outlined on the previous page)
- Awkward phrasings – e.g., p. 91 "Luke has self-trained himself"
-- He uses "mis-en-scene" instead of "mise-en-scène" every-freakin'-time!
-- On p. 380 he uses "Aura Sing" and "Aurra Sing" in the same sentence!
-- He refers to the "Clone War" (no "s") animated series
- A poorly generated index that clearly used a simple search of the text – for example, the index entry for E.E. Smith does not include references on pp. 59, 84, etc. because they use different forms of his name.
In addition, there are plenty of instances where Kaminski simply exhibits poor writing habits. For example, there are about 50 "most important moments" in the various Star Wars movies. Likewise, nearly every science fiction author he cites as an influence on Lucas is "one of the most important" in all of science fiction history. Kaminski apparently misunderstands what a superlative actually is, and it quickly becomes difficult to understand what he believes are truly seminal moments, influences, etc. on the Star Wars films, and what are merely notable. He seems unable to realize that things can be influential without overstating their importance.
My biggest gripe with Kaminski's work, however, is that even as he makes his argument about Lucas's inconsistent portrayal of the development of the Star Wars films, he fails to see how Lucas himself offers an explanation for that very inconsistency. As a film student, Lucas started out making abstract films, focusing on images rather than dialogue (which he has long been criticized as a weak point of his) or even story. As in C. S. Lewis's "It All Began with a Picture," so it was with Lucas – and for Lucas, it never stopped being about the picture. As the picture shifted from one film to three films to six, and at times potentially more, so did his description of it. Yes, the things Lucas said about how many scripts he had written or how many pages he had drafted were false in a number of cases. But none of that was ever the point for him. It was always about the process, the stitching together of images and the final products – if he didn't have it all written down ahead of time, who cares?
Anyway, as I said above, Kaminski should be given credit for the extent of his research. The book is repetitive and too long by half (or more), but it is nonetheless something that any serious Star Wars scholar should tackle at some point. If nothing else, the bibliography at the end is a good place to check for sources you might not have known about before....more
A set of longish, yet still somewhat perfunctory, short stories. I found Poe's story to be the most interesting, probably because we get less of his sA set of longish, yet still somewhat perfunctory, short stories. I found Poe's story to be the most interesting, probably because we get less of his story in Episode VII. Nothing in Finn's backstory is terribly surprising, especially for anyone who has read or watched any canon stories about Imperial cadet training (e.g., Lost Stars or the Rebels episodes that address it). Rey's story was drawn out a bit too long – not unlike the hot, sandy deserts of Jakku, I suppose – and the ending was telegraphed from miles away.
I don't mean to say these are bad stories, they just aren't great. They're worth reading for the Star Wars completist, but you won't really find much new in them....more
First, the obvious comparison: Anyone who enjoyed Downton Abbey should read this.
How best to describeI wish I hadn't waited so long to read this one.
First, the obvious comparison: Anyone who enjoyed Downton Abbey should read this.
How best to describe it? A butler fails at badinage.
Or perhaps a line, used ironically, from within the book itself, is the most appropriate description: "Why should one not enjoy in a lighthearted sort of way stories of ladies and gentlemen who fall in love and express their feelings for each other, often in the most elegant phrases?"
I've made a point of buying several Moorcock books in my various trips to library sales. Given his outspokenness about various science fiction and fanI've made a point of buying several Moorcock books in my various trips to library sales. Given his outspokenness about various science fiction and fantasy writers, such as Heinlein and Tolkien, one might think that his own fiction would be a worthy counterpoint to such. Alas, if this book is an example of Moorcock's best work – as some have claimed – then I am loath to read any of the other books that I have picked up. (Though, I will still probably read some of the Elric series...at some point, maybe.)
The story is confused, and somewhat confusing, at least at the beginning. While there are a few clever turns of phrase and droll ironies of clashing culture (some of the historical inaccuracies believed by the characters reminds me of Poe's "Mellonta Tauta"), there is little to motivate the reader to discover what happens to the characters in the story. In fact, had it not been so short of a book – just shy of 150 pages – I likely wouldn't have bothered to finish it. I don't expect to read any of the sequels.
I will say that Moorcock has a way with description. Probably the best aspect of the book is his ability to evoke images, often incredibly fantastic ones. ...more
Given to me by a friend from work as part of a book-themed Secret Santa exchange.
It's been a long time since I've read a book of poetry. I've read theGiven to me by a friend from work as part of a book-themed Secret Santa exchange.
It's been a long time since I've read a book of poetry. I've read the occasional poem here and there, from time to time, but there's a certain enjoyment to simply having the time to dedicate (part of) a morning to slowly going through the book, poem by poem, and thinking about each one.
Most of Cole's poems are short, one-page (14-16 line) thoughts. In general, I liked his few longer poems better than the short ones – though I don't know if I can put my finger on precisely why, as the length itself doesn't have anything to do with it, I think.
My favorite poem, on a first read through, is "The Erasers." My favorite set of lines, however, is from "Persimmon Tree":
Poor Man, kind and apprehensive he looks at himself but cannot see the beauty of his free will unless he's suffering at the hands of it.
My favorite line is from "Twilight": "I want to learn the faith of the indifferent."...more
From a strictly commercial standpoint, the book has done it's job: As the prequel book to the prequel movie Star Wars: Rogue One, I'm even more exciteFrom a strictly commercial standpoint, the book has done it's job: As the prequel book to the prequel movie Star Wars: Rogue One, I'm even more excited about seeing the movie than I was before. (Yes, I have my opening-night ticket...) The bonus is that it's a pretty good story in its own right.
It is essentially the story of the building of the Death Star, told from the perspective of several major players, including Tarkin; Orson Krennic, the Imperial engineer/administrator behind the project; Has Obitt, a smuggler with an awkward name for an English-language book ("Has had had..."); and Galen and Lyra Erso, scientists and parents to Jyn (the primary protagonist of Rogue One). Others are pulled in from various new canon sources for support, such as Saw Gerrera – a character introduced in The Clone Wars and portrayed by Forrest Whittaker in Rogue One.
Without spoiling specifics of the plot, the story turns out to be something of a Manhattan Project-esque tale. For better or worse, the broad strokes of the plot are clear fairly early on: (view spoiler)[Galen Erso is a scientist working on synthesizing kyber crystals (the gems that power lightsabers) and harnessing them to produce energy, and his work is manipulated/commandeered by the Empire in order to weaponize it, thus becoming the power source for the Death Star laser (hide spoiler)]. But as with any story worth it's salt, how the story plays out on an individual character level is more interesting than the overall arc. For example, because we have all seen A New Hope, we already know who Tarkin is; we've never heard of Krennic before, however, and this story elucidates why.
While I did like the story overall, there are a couple problems with it. The first has to do with the timeline. As with Lost Stars by Claudia Gray, the story takes place over a number of years, and significant jumps in time – months or years – occur frequently. In a few cases, it was hard for me to keep track of what was going on elsewhere in the galaxy, especially in the early portions of the book which crosses through the timelines of Episodes II and III, as well as The Clone Wars. For example, it's hard to reconcile the timeline of Catalyst with the fleeting scene of Palpatine, Vader and Tarkin overseeing the early construction of the first Death Star at the end of Episode III. (Tarkin and the others seem not to be directly involved until much later in the process in Catalyst.) It may be that I simply need to refresh myself on those other stories, in particular The Clone Wars, which I tended to watch while doing dishes and other chores. In my opinion, Lost Stars did a better job of providing markers by which to anchor you to the canonical timeline of events, but as it mainly crossed the time period of the original trilogy (with which I am much better acquainted), that may be more a function of my own familiarity.
(view spoiler)[Secondly, Galen as the hyperintelligent-but-naïve scientist felt a little cookie-cutter to me, and it is hard for me to understand why Lyra waited around for him as long as she did. Yeah, yeah, love, kid, yadda-yadda-yadda. It would have been more interesting to me had either Galen been a bit more self-aware and deliberate in helping the Empire or had Lyra decided to leave without him...maybe both. (Not saying she would need to be callous about it – it could've been a difficult, but necessary, decision for her to make.) (hide spoiler)]
Despite these issues, the story is worth reading. On a character level, the introduction of Jyn and hints about her character as a child – which will undoubtedly manifest in her character as an adult in Rogue One – are provocative, and there's little doubt that her parents' role in the development of the Death Star is a significant motivator for her in the movie. From a broader scope of the new Star Wars canon, the story does well in spanning the brief references we have to the Death Star in Episodes II and III with the actual construction (and implications) of it. ...more
Maitre takes a philosophical approach in considering the "possible worlds" created by literature. Overall an interesting idea, nonetheless I think sheMaitre takes a philosophical approach in considering the "possible worlds" created by literature. Overall an interesting idea, nonetheless I think she kind of phones it in. I found the first part of the book, where she outlines her philosophical tenets, to be much more interesting than the actual analysis of works in the second part, which spends far too much time recapping the stories she is "analyzing" while giving far too little analysis and application of her ideas to them. At most, she provides cursory insight without really delving into the implications of her ideas.
On the plus side, there were a few interesting moments in this book, and it's short, easily read in an afternoon or evening....more
Broadly speaking, Berman makes a compelling argument that language and literature, as developments of the imagination, are largely liberal (in the claBroadly speaking, Berman makes a compelling argument that language and literature, as developments of the imagination, are largely liberal (in the classical sense) and democratizing forces. Portions of the argument intersect nicely with the work I am doing for my thesis on literature and praxeology – that is, the intersection of imagination and human action – and the book as a whole is intriguing. I would be interested particularly in the thoughts of my more linguistically/philologically inclined friends on Berman's early chapters about the development of language as an imaginative accomplishment of human beings.
While I do like Berman's argument overall, I do think he is wrong, or in some cases overstates, some of the particulars. It wouldn't be worthwhile to go through every such instance in this review, but I will give one example of each. In Chapter 6, "Religion and Writing," Berman argues that religion – and specifically monotheistic, primarily Judeo-Christian religion – is a necessary component to the individuating nature of literature. Through religion, Berman argues, individuals are able to imagine a counterfactual existence beyond that of everyday experience that provides a teleological perspective to their lives. (That is a very simplistic summation of the argument, of course.) Berman claims this religious influence is necessary to the development of literature as a liberating force, but that claim does not hold up. Certainly Western Judeo-Christian religion has had an influence on literature, and even if it is the path through which we understand most (Western) literature today, it is not at all clear that it is the only path through which literature could have developed into the liberal, democratizing force for which Berman successfully argues throughout the rest of the book. Thus, Berman both gets the argument wrong, in my opinion, and then overstates it by devoting an entire chapter to the idea.
I am somewhat surprised, given the conclusions around imagination and its effect on the real world through human action, that there is no reference to Ludwig von Mises, or Austrian School economists in general, throughout the book, especially in the final chapter around "Imagination and Economy." I would be surprised if Berman were wholly unfamiliar with Mises's ideas, and his assumptions and statements about imagination as a precursor to human action is pretty much right out of Human Action – in fact, it is the very point on which I am hanging my own thesis. I suppose I shouldn't be too disappointed that Berman doesn't draw the connection, since it allows me to draw it instead. It just seems, to me at least, a rather conspicuous omission.
Finally, for my Tolkien Studies friends, there are a few moments worth mentioning in light of "On Fairy Stories." In later chapters, Berman frequently refers (non-pejoratively) to "suspension of disbelief." The way he discusses it, I think he means something akin to Tolkien's concept of a Secondary World created in the mind of the reader, and such an interpolation of Tolkien's Secondary World in place of "suspension of disbelief" in those instances, along with some alternative discussion, I think would make Berman's arguments about imagination and its effects on action that much stronger. Secondly, Berman dismisses the idea of literature as "escapist" (except, offhandedly, in "extreme circumstances," which he never defines): "The reader of imaginative literature should not be thought of as somehow escaping from a real world. On the contrary, it is through the aesthetic education of reading that the individual cultivates a capacity for imagination, for criticism, for alternative sensibilities and therefore for an amplified, not a lessened, ethical participation in the world" (p. 159-160).
All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in literature as an imaginative pursuit. It is rather dense in some places – it is a technical book of literary theory, and Berman's diction reminds you of that about every other sentence – but it is worth taking the time to work through it....more