Book reviews: Star Wars books 2018

Star Wars Geektionary. Published by Egmont.

Star Wars Alien Archive. Published by Egmont.

First, the bad news. There will be no Star Wars films out this Christmas, the first time this has occurred since 2014.


But there is some consolation. Firstly, a Star Wars film has already come out this year already (Solo). Second, these two delightfully illustrated books are out too.


There’s all manner of useless and made-up information inside. And I should know: I wrote the last ever Star Wars Clone Wars annual.


Ever wondered what species Admiral Ackbar from Return of the Jedi was? (“It’s a trap!”) No? Well, he’s (or was) a Mon Calamari apparently. Try ordering one next time you’re in Zizzi’s.


Ever seen a Puffer Pig? Ever bargained with a Barghest? Is Tooka and Loth-Cat a cartoon series? Apparently not.

Have you ever seen a Steelpecker? Don’t laugh! It’s a bird from the planet Jakku! Yeah? Feeling silly now aren’t you? But where are Thisspiasians from? Doh! From Thisspias, obviously. Where else?

Occasionally, inspiration runs dry (Yoda’s species we are told is “unknown”). But this is good clean fun, particularly if your child has nothing more important to remember.

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Book review: The Year of the Geek by James Clarke

The Year of the Geek: 365 Adventures From The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Universe, by James Clarke. Published by: Aurum Press.

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When did it become fashionable to become a geek? Geekiness is, after all, surely after all, by definition a shameful, untrendy preoccupation. Does this mean that anyone who claims to aspire to be a geek is necessarily a pretender to the nerd throne?

Well, no. Some people blame this trend on things like US sitcom Big Bang Theory and the excellent but now defunct British near equivalent The IT Crowd. But, in truth, this tendency which has resulted in websites like Den of Geek and books like this, has always been there. After all, you can’t get Spider-man without meeting Peter Parker first.

This book takes a chronological approach with a different geek anniversary highlighted for every day of the year. This, it must be said, is potentially of some use to someone who writes professionally on geek issues like me.

May 25, for example, is the anniversary of Star Wars’ US release in 1977. Lord of the Rings’ author JRR Tolkien was born on January 3rd while even the fictional birthday of Harry Potter (July 31st 1990) is noted.

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Some of the anniversaries are arguably not very major (the fourth season premiere of Babylon 5 on November 4 1995 is commemorated – as if any of us would forget this date anyway?) Some are arguably not very geeky (the outbreak of the First World War in 1914) but are interesting anyway. There is some discussion of each anniversary.

What elevates this book above the norm, however, is the innovative use of infographics used to illustrate a rich array of charts which demonstrate everything from the longevity of respective Doctor Who actors to the box office success of the Star Trek films.

An excellent addition to the coffee table of every socially maladjusted maladroit in the land.

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Star Wars book reviews: 2017

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Let’s face it: here is something about Star Wars. Nothing compares to it. It is simultaneously one of the biggest films of all time and a cult favourite. These reviews cover just a small sample of the huge range of Star Wars books released (mostly) in the past year. 2017 is, of course, the 40th anniversary of the original film’s release. The strange thing is none  of these books are even being released because of that. There are always just lots of Star Wars books being released anyway and these are some of them.

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Art of Colouring: Rogue One A Star Wars Story and Star Wars Rogue One Profiles And Pictures have both been released by Egmont to capitalise on the success of the recent mildly enjoyable Rogue One film. The colouring book has its weaknesses -why would any one want too colour in storm troopers who are black and white anyway? – but both are otherwise competent enough. Make Your Own U-Wing (also Egmont) similarly does exactly what it says on the tin.

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A more philosophical supposedly grown-up approach to the franchise is taken by former Obama Administration official Cass R. Sunstein in The World According To Star Wars (pub: William Morrow). It is good but mostly quite silly.

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By far the best book on the history of the franchise here and indeed, perhaps anywhere,  is Chris Taylor’s How Star Wars Conquered The Universe (Head Zeus, 2015). Utterly absorbing and totally comprehensive.

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Finally, before her untimely death last year, Carrie Fisher’s memoir The Princess Diarist (Bantam Press, 2016) generated a disturbance in the Force by revealing the then teenage actress’s on set affair with Han Solo actor Harrison Ford, then in his thirties and nearing the end of his first marriage.

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“I love you!” “I know!” is the couple’s famous exchange in the film. And we should know  too. The affair had already been referred to in Chris Taylor’s book mentioned above. This was published some time before Carrie Fisher’s confession. Why did nobody pick up on it then?

Fisher’s final book is not really a fitting tribute to the late author’s formidable talent. The diary extracts written by her younger self are not really fit for publication. The rest is lightweight fare from a great writer on lazy form.

Ultimately, though, consider this: no books have been released entitled How Smokey and the Bandit Conquered The Universe. Or How Annie Hall Conquered The Universe. Or How Saturday Night Fever Conquered The Universe.

Why? Because Star Wars is utterly unique. Truly, a Force unto itself.

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Book reviews: Egmont Star Wars titles 2016

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Have you ever fancied trekking around Tatooine? Hiking around Hoth? Basically, visiting anywhere that you’ve seen in any of the Star Wars films?

Well, basically you can’t. As none of these places really exist. However, for eighty pages of large, (27 x 1.5 x 37 cm) attractively illustrated maps, timelines and such like based around the Star Wars universe, The Star Wars Galactic Atlas (Egmont, RRP £20) cannot be faulted.

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Star Wars Propaganda (Egmont) written by Star Wars aficionado Pablo Hidalgo purports to be an anthology of propaganda posters from from throughout the fictional history of saga e.g. “Remember Alderan: Never Forget” and “Trump and Vader 2016: Let’s Make America Great Again” (okay, I made the last one up. There are no references to contemporary politics here at all).

To be honest, posters have never been an obvious background feature of the films. Fictional propaganda played a much bigger role in the Paul Verhoeven film Starship Troopers. Despite this, the book is undeniably marvellous to browse through, whether you’re a Star Wars fan or not. It is an inspired idea, beautifully realised.

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Book review: Star Wars latest Egmont titles

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Some of you may not like to hear this, but Star Wars is to some extent supposed to be for children. How else do you explain the Ewoks? Jar Jar Binks? Cast your minds back: Who are the stars of the opening scenes of the original film? Luke? Obi Wan? No. C3PO and R2D2. Doubtless you yourself were a child when you were first sucked in by the Force. It is thus hardly surprising then that the franchise (now ultimately ran by Disney) is still keen to attract as young audience.

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With this in mind, Egmont Publishing have released the following three books aimed at children of eight and above in a new series entitled Adventures In Wild Space. These focus on Milo and Lina Graf who embark on a perilous journey across space to rescue their parents who have been kidnapped by agents of the Empire. The action takes place between the events of Revenge of the Sith (the last and best of the three prequels) and A New Hope (otherwise known as the”first” one). All three books are good fun and have pictures throughout.

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They are:

Star Wars: Adventures In Wild Space: The Snare by Cavan Scott

Star Wars: Adventures In Wild Space: The Nest by Tom Huddleston

Star Wars: Adventures In Wild Space: The Escape by Cavan Scott (a prequel to the other two books, in true confusing Star Wars style).

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Also released, are a novelisation of The Force Awakens by Michael Kogge, a picture book version of the same recent enjoyable film and a fun flap-lifting interactive book set in the Star Wars universe, Bounty Hunt.

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Book review: Star Wars: An Anti-Stress Colouring Book

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It is an odd point in human history when we find ourselves devoting our resources towards producing a Star Wars Anti-Stress Colouring Book. It is even odder that I, of all people, am reviewing it.

For I don’t enjoy colouring in. I never have. I certainly don’t find it as relaxing as many people apparently do these days. Quite the opposite. At Junior School, we always seemed to being made to colour things in with horrid felt tips or pencils, sometimes at speed. I remember once having to colour in a big picture of a medieval banquet with some urgency to finish some project or other on time. I consider it one of the many blessings of adult life that since my teenage years I have never had to colour anything in again.  I hope this continues.

The question remains, what was all that  colouring in practice in aid of? I am still rubbish at it. I colour in different directions and over the lines. If colouring in was considered as important a skill as English or Maths, I would never have progressed beyond play school.

Fortunately, I do like Star Wars and happily as I approach middle age, the franchise is not only still very much with us but is still just about acceptable for me to like.

Anyway, if you like images which look like the films viewed through a kaleidoscope while having an LSD trip, you should love this. Unlike the Star Wars prequels, this shouldn’t disappoint.

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US Election Memories 1: The Reagan years

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Some might think it a bit silly that I’ve chosen to record my memories of all of the US presidential elections I can remember. I went through the same process for the recent British General Elections last year but that sort of made sense. I am British, after all. I am not American, have never voted in a US election and being a bad flier, have never been to the US, indeed have never even left Europe. As my hopes of there ever being construction of an Atlantic Tunnel recede, it is possible I may never do, especially as I’m not sure I’d fancy going on it anyway. Why should these elections concern me?

The official answer simply is that the United States remains so powerful that its actions have a huge impact way beyond its own borders. It’s sort of like the butterfly effect but one caused by a ginormous butterfly creating a hurricane by flapping its enormous wings. Cool eh?

But the real reason is that I am just interested. I have always been interested. I don’t know why. As some Americans might say: go figure…

Ronald Reagan with George Bush

12 Aug 1988, Washington, DC, USA — Washington: President Reagan acknowledged the applause of senior staff members August 12th, prior to speaking to them as Vice President George Bush looks on. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

 

How Ronald Reagan nearly killed me.

I was pleased when I learnt Americans could all speak English. Personally, I really appreciated the effort. Why couldn’t the French or the Swedish go to the same trouble? Frankly, it smacks of laziness. Regardless, this lack of a language barrier made it easier for my Uncle to move to New York when I was four (an example of the “brain drain” much spoken of in the Thatcher years). Another relative, a cousin moved to the US later. The common language also made it easier for me to consume Dr Seuss books, Bugs Bunny cartoons and episodes of Hart To Hart from an early age.

I was born in December 1976, a month after Jimmy Carter narrowly beat the Republican incumbent Gerald Ford for the presidency. I’d just missed seeing Watergate and Vietnam (on the TV news at least). I am also too young to remember Jimmy Carter being beaten by Ronald Reagan in November 1980 or Carter’s old vice president Walter Mondale being trounced by “the Gipper” (Reagan) four years after that. There is thus not much about elections in this instalment.

I do remember Reagan, however, and despite every cell in my brain telling me otherwise, I liked him and sort of still do. Oddly, despite having a very real fear of nuclear war, Reagan’s rhetoric and massive defence build-up undoubtedly increased already fragile international tensions in the early Eighties. The Cold War was already colder than it had ever been since the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. He pushed us closer to the brink than anyone else.

Like the little girl with the flower in the famous 1964 campaign ad, I could have thus been killed several times before I even knew what was going on. Never mind everyone else.

Of course, some argue Ronnie’s plan all along was to push the USSR into submission through pressure which Gorbachev ultimately did. In fact, there is no evidence Gorbachev’s reforms had anything to do with western pressure. Certainly, nobody ever seems to have said this out loud if this was the case, even in now declassified private conversations.

Reagan actually probably delayed the end of the Cold War, refusing a total ban on nuclear missiles because he wanted to keep his treasured Star Wars program.

Jokes like this didn’t help: “My fellow Americans,” he began during a public sound check in 1984. “I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

Arguably, the first bit is okay. No one was liked to think Russia had actually been outlawed. But the chilling words “we begin bombing in five minutes” understandably caused a panic.

Despite this, despite the horrendous deficit he ran up, despite the Iran-Contra affair, I still have a soft spot for Ronald Reagan.

Perhaps it was just because he wasn’t Thatcher.

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Star Wars timeline: From A New Hope to The Force Awakens

 

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A long time ago…

1977:

The first film, initially entitled just Star Wars is released. It is an unexpectedly big hit, easily beating its nearest rivals Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Smokey and the Bandit to become the biggest US film of 1977. Taking inflation into account, as of 2015, it is the third biggest grossing film of all time. None of the younger members of the cast are well known at the time of the film’s release. Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia)j is  the daughter of actors Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.  Harrison Ford (Han Solo), an ex-carpenter had appeared in director George Lucas’s second film American Graffiti and had been in the as yet unreleased, much delayed Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now (1979).  Mark Hamill plays Luke Skywalker, a character Lucas once envisaged being called “Luke Starkiller”.

1978:

Star Wars is nominated for the Best Picture Oscar but loses to Woody Allen’s acclaimed comedy Annie Hall. No other Star Wars films have been nominated for Best Picture his in the years since. In fact, no science fiction film has ever won the Best Picture (although Avatar appears to have come close).

The first toys and novelisations of the saga appear. Some of the books contradict things which occur later in the films (some feature Luke and Leia marrying, for example).

The famously terrible Star Wars Holiday Special is broadcast on US TV.

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1980:

Star Wars Episode V The Empire Strikes Back is released.  The first film is now dubbed Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope (in 1981) and prequels are clearly planned for the future. Empire is directed not by George Lucas but by Irvin Kershner. New characters include Yoda, Lando Calrissian and Boba Fett. Debate continues to rage as to whether A New Hope or Empire are better.

Hamill also appears in World War II drama The Big Red One this year, in a largely futile bid to escape typecasting.

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1982:

Star Trek II changes its name from The Vengeance of Khan to The Wrath of Khan, to avoid any confusion with the forthcoming Star Wars film, Revenge of the Jedi.  In the end, the Star Wars sequel’s name becomes Return of the Jedi anyway.

1983:

Episode VI Return of the Jedi directed by Welshman Richard Marquand is released. It is fondly remembered for the Ewoks and for Jabba the Hutt but is usually considered narrowly the worst of the original trilogy. It is still a smash hit though. There will be no more official Star Wars films for another 16 years. Indeed, at this point, Lucas seems less keen on the idea of ever producing episodes I-III at any point at all.

President Reagan, a Star Wars fan, calls his new ambitious (and ultimately unworkable) Strategic Defence Initiative, “Star Wars”.

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1984:

TV movie Caravan Of Courage: An Ewok Adventure is released. A follow up Ewoks: The Battle For Endor is released in 1985.

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1985-1987:

The Ewoks, an animated series aimed at younger children, runs for two series.

1985-1986:

Animated series Droids starring C3P0 and R2D2 runs for one series, with Anthony Daniels reprising his role as C3PO. It is set somewhere before A New Hope but after the three as yet unmade prequels.

1987:

Ten years on from Star Wars, George Lucas seems to have abandoned plans for any Star Wars prequels and is distracted by Indiana Jones and Star Wars related projects as well as the aftermath of his divorce.

Star Wars has also trigged a sci-fi boom at the movies since 1977.

Carrie Fisher begins a career as a successful novelist with her semi-autobiographical novel Postcards From The Edge. Despite a troubled personal life, she enjoys smallish roles in The Blues Brothers, Hannah and Her Sisters and When Harry Met Sally during the decade. Harrison Ford is now one of the biggest stars in Hollywood thanks more to Indiana Jones and well received roles in the likes of Witness and Blade Runner than specifically to Star Wars itself. Hamill, stung after being rejected for Tom Hulce’s role in Amadeus (1984) has taken a break from acting.

Mel Brooks releases his rather belated Star Wars spoof Spaceballs. Featuring Pizza the Hutt and the catchphrase “the Schwartz be with you,” it receives mixed reviews.

Jedi director Richard Marquand dies suddenly, age 49.

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1992:

Now in his forties, Mark Hamill begins voicing The Joker, for Batman The Animated Series. It proves to be probably his most successful non-Star Wars role and leads to lots of other voice work.

1993

Lucas announces plans to make three films set before the 1977-83 trilogy, after all.

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1994:

Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin) dies, aged 81.

1997

To mark the franchise’s 20th birthday Special Editions of all three films. Although many fans are keen to see the films on the big screen, many are annoyed by the sometimes intrusive changes Lucas inserts into these and later new editions.

1999:

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is released. It is directed by George Lucas and is his first film as director since 1977’s Star Wars. He also directs the two subsequent sequels Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The cast (with the exception of newcomer Jake Lloyd who plays young Anakin) are, unlike the 1977 film, mostly quite well known already: Ewan McGregor , Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson.

The Phantom Menace makes more money than any of the first six Star Wars films (ignoring inflation).

The film disappoints many however,  criticism (now often on the internet) largely centring on, the racial stereotyping evident in the character of some of the alien species, the character of Jar Jar Binks and the apparent overuse of CGI (and many other things). The character of Darth Maul proves popular, however.

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2000:

Sir Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi) dies age 86. He did not enjoy the production of Star Wars (Harrison Ford dubbed him “Mother Superior” on set) but liked the finished product when he saw it. The role did make him very rich but he disliked the fact that he was soon better known for it than anything else in his forty years on screen.

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2002:

Episode II Attack of the Clones is released with Hayden Christiansen (then largely unknown and indeed still so, aside for this role) joins the cast as the older Anakin. A light sabre fight featuring Yoda proves popular and generally the film is slightly better received than Phantom (although does much less business).

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2003:

Genndy Tartakovsky produces Clone Wars, an acclaimed animated series set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

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2005:

Episode III Revenge of the Sith, the third and final prequel is released. It is much more popular than either Phantom or Clones with fans and is the second highest grossing SW film thus far (ignoring inflation). Most fans prefer the 1977-83 trilogy, however. There are no more proper Star Wars films for another decade.

2008:

Star Wars: The Clone Wars, an animated film is released. It is panned by the critics and flops at the box office. Despite this, a new Star Wars: Clone Wars TV series begins. Tartakovsky, who was behind the first Clone Wars series is not involved.

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2010:

Empire director Irvin Kershner dies aged 86.

2012:

Disney buys the Star Wars franchise off Lucas for $4.05 billion or £2.5 billion. Plans for a new trilogy, the first directed by JJ Abrams, then at the helm of the two recent Star Trek films.

2013:

Clone Wars is cancelled as focus shifts towards the new films.

2014:

Star Wars Rebels, a 3D CGI animated series set between Revenge of the Sith but before A New Hope begins.

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2015:

Rogue One, a spin off Star Wars film is due for release in 2016, followed by another spin off film based around Han Solo’s early years.

Ford, scheduled to feature in The Force Awakens is slightly injured in a light aircraft crash. His 73rd birthday is in July.

Christopher Lee (Count Dooku in the prequels, though better known for many other roles) dies aged 93.

The Force Awakens is scheduled for release later this month.

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Book review: Where’s The Wookiee?

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Where’s The Wookiee?

Published by Egmont

Out now

Make no mistake: you definitely wouldn’t miss a Wookiee if you ever saw one in real life. They are tall, hairy and look like yetis. If you’ve seen the character Chewbacca in Episodes IV to VI (as in, the old, good ones) or in the trailer for The Force Awakens, you’ll know exactly what they look like, for he is the most famous of them all. There’s also a bunch of them in the most recent proper Star Wars film, Revenge of the Sith.

Of course, as they don’t actually exist in real life you’re unlikely to ever see a Wookiee outside a science fiction convention. This fun children’s book, essentially based on the format Where’s Wally or if you’re American, Where’s Waldo, allows you to spot a Wookie (and indeed other characters) amidst a busy but charming array of nicely illustrated crowd scenes. Sometimes you’ll spot him instantly. Sometimes it will take ages. But he’s always there. That’s just the way the Wookiee crumbles.

A great way to keep the children quiet for a good while then, especially if they love Wally (which by the way is no more a typical British name than Waldo is) and/or Star Wars.

As Chewbacca himself would say: “Yeeaarraagh grruuughhh muurraa yaarg!”

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Review: Star Wars Starfighter Workshop

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Star Wars Starfighter Workshop

Price: £19.99 Published by: Egmont UK

Thirty eight years after it all began, Star Wars is as popular as ever. So what does this Star Wars Starfighter Workshop have to offer?

Well, you can make an interactive model of both a TIE Fighter and an X-wing using press-out pieces of card. My wife completed both within about forty five minutes and enjoyed the process, though she found it a bit “fiddly” at times. The question is what to do with them models now they are finished. Unless you were having the gentlest game of Star Wars ever, they are sure to collapse if they touch virtually anything. Perhaps you could put some classical music on and recreate 2001: A Space Odyssey instead. Very slowly. For hours. Just like the real thing.

The workshop also includes a Star Wars themed Story and Puzzle book (fact files, spot the difference between the two Storm Troopers etc) too.

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