Review: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace: The Expanded Visual Dictionary
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace: The Expanded Visual Dictionary
By Jason Fry
DK Publishing, 104 pages, $19.99
Timed for the 3-D release of the most reviled movie in the six film set, it might be appropriate to take this opportunity to reassess the first installment in the modern era trilogy. Jason Fry, a DK veteran, updates and, well, expands the original edition of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace: The Visual Dictionary, originally written by David West Reynolds. Obviously, this edition can now put the characters and settings into context since the subsequent two films are now part of the public consciousness while the 1999 edition could only cover what was seen in this first part.
In keeping with the format, we get two page looks at people, places and things, providing details with large color pictures and cutaways. The opening spread sets the stage and explains what the Phantom Menace is, the galactic politics at the time and the threat posed by Darth Maul and his acolyte.
Of course, over the course of the four dozen entries, we get our favorite characters, droids, hardware, spacecraft, and other elements. It’s a feast for the eyes and the writing is clear and sharp, making it easily comprehendible for young readers on up.
It’s the visual designs that cause us to reconsider. Yes, the story was lacking, the acting flat, and Jar Jar Binks is just plain annoying. I’ll stipulate to all of that so we can note that George Lucas and his design team really took advantage to bring these alien worlds, races, and tools to life. Of late, Lucas has made much of the compromises he had to make on the initial movie where the budget and production realities of the mid-1970s couldn’t possibly bring his vision to reality.
The alien makeups and designs, such as Yarael Poof of the Jedi High Council, or even the winged Watto show a universe far more diverse than anything possible in the first movie. There’s a scope to Coruscant that couldn’t be found on Tatooine. Where Lucas may have gone too far was in high polished everything appears here compared with the more worn look of the worlds visited in the original (and still superior) trilogy.
Where this book could have been stronger was in its organization since there are no chapters or design elements, we go from a handful of Jedi to an invasion force to battle droids and so on. It therefore has a hodgepodge feel that takes away from the overall useful of the volume. As a result, any time you need an entry, you have to go back to the Table of Contents.
There’s just enough information and detail here to tell you what you really need to know and let the real diehard fans and researchers find more data in the various compendia from DelRey Books’ line. If you’re a longtime fan or are just discovering this far, far away galaxy, this is a great primer.