One of the reasons World War II is called the last good war is that the stakes were clear and unambiguous. Those years spawned countless stories of heroism, sacrifice, and loss that never cease to fascinate subsequent generations. Some movies have gone to great lengths to recreate what the horrors of war must have been like while others go for a different approach, going for a stark contrast to exemplify the acts of one or a few. The pilots resulting from the Tuskegee training program deserve proper treatment in mass media of their experiences.
It was long known that this was a passion project for filmmaker George Lucas, who has been discussing making this story for over 20 years. Not surprisingly, the bean counters at the studios balked at an all-Black film fearing it wouldn’t play well domestically and fare even worse overseas. Thankfully, Star Wars made Lucas a wealthy man and allowed him to help finance and see his project to fruition. During the intervening years, he brought survivors of those years to his ranch and interviewed them, capturing their tales while the men were still around to provide first-hand accounts.
He assigned the scripting to John Ridley and the direction to Anthony Hemingway and the story was shot in 2009. Dissatisfied with the results, Lucas himself helmed reshoots using script material from Aaron McGruder. The resulting film was released earlier this year and will be out Tuesday from 20th Century Home Entertainment. Given the amount of time devoted to research and the passion from Lucas, one would have hoped for a more satisfying yarn. Once more his vaunted storytelling skills failed him as Lucas neglected to make the characters anything more than cardboard constructs, each filling an archetype but denying them a chance to shine via personality or dialogue. Instead, the 332d Fighter Group are as flat and wooden as the war movies made decades ago. (more…)
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.
Denny O’Neil used to have a T-shirt that proclaimed “Growing old is not for sissies.” As I get older, the hard truth of that keeps coming back to me. Case in point.
Two days ago, there was an article here in ComicMix about Gary Friedrich who lost his case against Marvel about participation in the monies made from the movie (now movies) of Ghost Rider, which he created at Marvel. Among other reasons cited by the judge, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest, was that Friedrich gave up his rights to the character when he signed checks that had, above the signature line, language requiring him to give up any rights to the character.
I’ve done that, too. You had no choice in the matter in those days. If you wanted to cash the check, you had to endorse it and you had to endorse it beneath the legal crap. There was no negotiation, there was no discussion. It was, to be blunt, coercion.
The name, Ghost Rider, had also already been used at Marvel as one of the Western characters they had – said character, again, being created by Gary Friedrich. Friedrich also had to sign a document giving up all rights – and why wouldn’t he? This was seven years before the first Superman film with Christopher Reeve showed up, six years before George Lucas made Star Wars and showed there was a ton of money to be made off of ancillary rights such as toys et al. You signed those documents because that’s what was necessary to get the work. No movies were being made, no toys were being made, there were no video games – the only money to be made was from the work itself. There was no indie market in those days where you could take your ideas. You made the deal that was there to be made.
The judge had to base her decision on what were the legal facts – and they said that Marvel owed Gary Friedrich nothing. Without Friedrich, however, the property doesn’t exist. From all reports, he’s not in good shape. He could use the money – even a taste.
What is he owed?
Injury to insult department. The judge has not only told Friedrich to stop saying he created Ghost Rider, he was ordered to pay Marvel seventeen grand in damages.
Friedrich owes Marvel $17,000.00!
He’s not the only freelancer in this position. Years ago, I saw Gene Colan and his wife at a convention and I steeled myself up to go say hello to someone I thought (and think) was one of the unique great talents in the industry. He was having eye troubles at the time (with which I would come to completely empathize) and he was, to be honest, a little angry and bitter. Like other old pros, he felt cast aside and forgotten by the industry and he warned me to make sure I had money in the bank or find something else I could do. I wish now I had taken his advice more strongly.
This is not to say there are not groups like the Hero Initiative out there who do tremendous work in helping people who have given to the industry but there are financial limits to what they can do. There is no equivalent to a union or a guild in this industry; if you even think of starting one, you’re gone. John Broome, fabled writer in the Silver Age, found that out.
What is owed to any of those who built a company, built this industry, and then got left behind?
I won’t pretend; I’m more or less in that boat and it scares me. I’m luckier than some; with Amanda Waller, who I created, I’ll see some participation for her use in the Green Lantern movie, just as I did for her use in Smallville and Justice League Unlimited. I think that’s fair and, fortunately, legally binding. Thank you, Paul Levitz.
But what about others, like Gary Friedrich, who worked before there was any such notion? There is, as always, a wide distance between what’s legal and what’s right.
What is owed to those who came before, who did the work on which later, more lucrative, works are built? The contracts, the law, says nothing is owed.
Does that seem right to you?
It doesn’t to me.
If you agree, tell Marvel, tell their parent company, Disney, that they owe the creator something, contract or no contract. Fans can do something and it can be effective. Gary Friedrich isn’t one of the big, great names in comics. But he created Ghost Rider and, legally or not, they owe him.
In the hopes of beating the Black History Month rush, I went to see Red Tails last weekend. George Lucas had been making the interview rounds and he discussed how difficult it was for him to get this film made. He ended up paying for it himself, but then couldn’t find a studio to distribute or market it. Apparently, they felt there was no profitable market for a film with no white actors in the leads.
That is so offensive that I had to prove them wrong. However, I missed opening weekend, and therefore probably contributed to the studio’s bigotry. And, if the truth be known, I don’t particularly like going to movies that draw crowds because I find most audiences unspeakably rude. However, in this case, I would suck it up. And also, I went at one o’clock in the afternoon on a Sunday.
There weren’t a lot of people there, with maybe half the seats filled. The audience seemed to be mostly white and mostly male. The trailer that got the best response was for the Farrelly Brothers Three Stooges. Yes, that surprised me, too.
Lucas said he wanted Red Tails to feel like a movie made in 1944 that was just released this year. That’s a good description. To me, it felt like a Blackhawk comic or a Sgt. Rock comic brought to life. It was Shrapnel as a movie. Awesome fight scenes, clear enemies (Nazis! Racists!), noble sacrifice and really entertaining characters. Screenwriters John Ridley and Aaron McGruder wrote an effective and economical (in terms of words, not budget) script. Yes, that’s Aaron McGruder of Boondocks fame.
On what planet would this movie be ghettoized? Oh, right. This one.
Which brings me to the comics portion of this column. I was lucky enough to get a review copy of African-American Classics from Eureka Productions. This anthology, edited by Tom Pomplum and Lance Tooks, takes the works of amazing writers like Langston Hughes, W. E. B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston and others and turns them into graphic story with artists that include Kyle Baker, Trevor von Eeden, Lance Tooks and more.
Like most anthologies, this one has stories I like and stories I don’t. In general, the ones I don’t like don’t have much story. They are instead mood pieces. My bias is against the genre, not the specifics here. In fact, if I’m going to read an illustrated mood piece, I’d prefer to read one with the unusual (to me) use of language here, and the vivid artwork.
I suspect this book will stay in print forever, a way to entice reluctant readers to seek out other works by these authors. It’s a great book to have on your shelves all year round, not just February.
I’ve been trying to make it through the Green Lantern DVD. I didn’t see it in the theaters – nobody I knew actually liked it, although to be fair few totally hated it. But when a close friend who happens to be in the intellectual property racket told me the best way to see it was to download a bootleg, I got dissuaded. So now ComicMix reports there’s an “extended cut” DVD out there. Hot damn! 360 seconds of more mud.
Bobby Greenberger, who writes under the name “Robert,” reviewed this dachshund a couple days ago and he did so with all the eloquence and joie de vivre one should expect from a comic book editor turned Star Trek writer turned politician. All I can say about his review is that I agree with his observations and, damn, he’s a lot more polite than I am.
Green Lantern deserves better than this. There’s a reason why the guy has been in print for all but about eight of the past 70 years. The character actually deserves a real movie, not ten tons of CGI squeezed into a ten-ounce can. He’s survived countless reboots – and I mean countless; you can play the Monty Python Cheese Shop game with GL reincarnations. There’s something there there, and it’s something the filmmakers missed. Or avoided completely.
Now I see the clips for the new Green Lantern animated series. It’s from Warner Bros. Animation – go figure – and once again, they seem to have missed the boat by driving to the wrong ocean. This is the same company that did brilliant adaptations of the character in two solid, entertaining D2DVD movies as well as on their Justice League and Superman animated shows. Heck, they even did a great job with the guy on their Duck Dodgers show. So why they decided to abandon all of this for a diuretic dump of overly modeled CGI crap is beyond me.
Well, it isn’t quite beyond me. They’re simply following in George Lucas’s footsteps. Personally, I would have picked Bruce Timm. Or even Jay Ward. Tom Terrific looked better than this.
Maybe the writing will be so fantastic it’ll overcome their clunky, awkward and cheesy animation approach. I’m more than enough of a fanboy to give it a shot. It goes up on Cartoon Network on Armistice Day.
And, please, don’t get me started on the New 52 Green Lantern.
At this weekend’s New York Comic Con Lucasfilm debuted am exclusive poster for its upcoming Red Tails movie created by legendary comic book artist Joe Kubert. The movie, directed by Anthony Hemingway from a script by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder, the film is inspired by the World War II exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American combat aerial unit in the U.S. armed forces. Executive produced by George Lucas, Red Tails stars Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Bryan Cranston and Nate Parker.
Red Tails will be released January 20, 2012 by 20th Century Fox.
About Red Tails: A crew of African American pilots in the Tuskegee training program, having faced segregation while kept mostly on the ground during World War II, are called into duty under the guidance of Col. A.J. Bullard.
I came home from work on Friday to find a package had arrived from Amazon. It was Supergods, by Grant Morrison. I had first heard about the book while reading the Rolling Stone interview with Morrison, which I mentioned last week. Between that interview and all the hoo-hahabout Action Comics Vol. 2 #1, both my own reaction and those in the media, I had to read it.
(The debate continues, by the way. Today, Sunday, National Pubic Radio – NPR – devoted a segment of its “Studio 60” program to the reboot, with two interviews: the first with a comic book shop owner in Brooklyn, and the second with Jill Pantozzi, who herself is a redhead and in a wheelchair. Jill wrote an absolutely brilliant and terrific Op-Ed piece for Newsarama about the transformation of Oracle back into Batgirl, entitled Oracle Is Stronger Than Batgirl Will Ever Be. You should check it out.)
Anyway, back to Supergods. The subtitle is “What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, And A Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human.” I’ve only read the introduction, and browsed through it, and already I’m enthralled.
Now granted (no pun intended – or maybe it was), Morrison is not the first to write about the mythology, the übergeist – I think I just made up that one from a combination of Yiddish and German – the collective consciousness of humans creating heroes to reflect themselves, their darkness and their light, their trial and tribulations. If you didn’t have to read it in college, you learned about Joseph Campbell and The Hero With A Thousand Faces from George Lucas through a little thing called Star Wars. But as one of the preeminent contemporary writers of superheroes, I can’t wait to really sit down and read it.
I think about God a lot. When I was a little girl, I had this recurring dream. I was somewhere in the middle of a field. It looked like the field in “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth, complete with the farmhouse at the top of the hill. Of course it was a dream, so it was a totally warped “Christina’s World.” I was standing there, and it was blue skies and sun. All of a sudden the sky was black with clouds. There was an absolutely huuuuge clap of thunder and a lightning bolt, and suddenly God was standing before me. Well, all I could see was the bottom of his long, black Supreme Court Justice robe. I craned my head up and back and up and back and the robe went up and up and up beyond the sky. Then God bent over, and I could see His face, and it wasn’t happy. His long white hair and beard mixed with the grasses of the field, and He looked at me with stern black eyes, and just shook his finger at me as if to say, “You’re a bad, bad girl, Mindy.”
I don’t know why I dreamed that dream. Probably got punished by my mother or my father for something I did that I don’t remember. Talk about Jewish guilt!
God and theology continued to fascinate me as I grew up. I didn’t go to Hebrew school, wasn’t bas-mitzvahed, and I got kicked out of Communion class for asking the rabbi how the Jews could be so sure that Jesus wasn’t the Son of God, and saying that maybe we just screwed it up. (I asked a lot of questions that the rabbi didn’t like, like the time I asked him if Jonathan and David were maybe more than “just friends.”) But I read all the stories from the Old Testament that my brother brought home, and I read bits and pieces of The New Testament. I devoured movies like The Robe and Quo Vadis, and brought the books home from the library. My favorite though was, and still is, Ben-Hur.
There’s a line in Ben-Hur towards the end, when Esther and Judah Ben-Hur are taking his mother and sister from the Valley of Lepers to see Jesus. Judah’s mother is afraid, and Esther says, “No need. The world is more than we know.”
I know it was only a line in a movie, but I think the writer got it right.
Like Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, maybe the world was created by God because he’s a writer, and that’s what writers do, create, and we’re just the four-color two-dimensional characters in his comic book. Like Alan Moore’s Promethea, maybe we create the world out of our collective consciousness. Like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, the world is nothing but a dream set in motion by Morpheus.
Maybe there’s an obelisk on the Moon, just waiting to be discovered.
Let’s stipulate upfront that Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings may be as perfect an adaptation of the source material as we are apt to get in our lifetimes. From the casting to the visuals to Howard Shore’s amazing score, this movie was a monumental achievement well deserving of its accolades and box office success.
We thought the theatrical releases were stunning until we saw the extended editions released on home video, complete with new bridging score music from Howard Shore so it all feels seamless and not at all tacky. Apparently, Jackson doesn’t consider these to be his director’s cuts or even his final word on the subject, but unlike George Lucas doesn’t appear to be making a career out of tinkering with the trilogy.
Last year, Warner Home Video gave us the theatrical trilogy on Blu-ray and we appreciated them, especially for their extra features on the making of the film, but we wanted the longer, fuller, more complete versions and finally, that day has come. The handsome box set arrives Tuesday and is well worth the investment.
There are three cases within the golden box, each containing two-disc versions of the extended edition along with three discs of bonus features. That’s 15 discs, over nine hours of movies and over 26 hours of bonus material. Try streaming that.
Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens boiled the story down to Frodo Baggins returning the One Ring to Mordor where it would be consumed in fire. With that as their through-line, they made the necessary adaptations such as excising Tom Bombadil and Glorfindel, and rearranging lines and sequences to maintain that focus. To Tolkien, he was world-building and mythmaking focused more on lore and language than on characterization, which is where the filmmakers exceeded the source material. They had assembled a stellar cast that bonded in a unique manner allowing material to be tailored to give everyone a little more to do. We, as longtime readers of the material or new to Middle-earth, were taken on a journey that left us wanting more regardless of how long we had been sitting in the theater or living room. That’s a sign of success. (more…)
Written by Basil Dickey, Ella O’Neill, George H. Plympton
Based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond
Say whatever you want about The Internet.It’s done all right by me so far.It’s a never ending source of delight to me that I can find and rediscover movies, books, comics and old TV shows that I thought I’d never see or experience again.But it’s all out there and thanks to the wonderful technology we now have, it’s a joy to be able to relive some of my childhood pleasures.This is one of ‘em.
Set The Wayback Machine for pre-Netflix days, Sherman. (I’m talking about the 70’s and 80’s, folks) when the only way I could see cliffhanger serials from the 30’s and 40’s was to either borrow them from the library and hope the VHS tape hadn’t been dubbed from a poor copy or wait until they were shown on PBS.Usually during the summer PBS would have a Saturday night marathon showing of “Spy Smasher” “Perils of Nyoka” “The Masked Marvel” or “Manhunt of Mystery Island” in their original form.Much more common were the edited versions of cliffhangers that Channel 9 or Channel 11 here in New York would show on Saturday afternoons.15 chapters were edited down into 90 minutes.It gave you a good flavor of what cliffhangers were like but that was all.
But now we’ve got Netflix and it was while accidentally finding they had “King of The Rocketmen” available, I hunted up some other serials as well.Including what is probably the best known and best loved cliffhanger serial of all; FLASH GORDON starring Larry “Buster” Crabbe.The man was known as The King of The Serials due to his playing in serials arguably the three most popular comic strip heroes at that time: Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and Tarzan.Talk about your hat tricks.
But there’s a reason why Mr. Crabbe got to play such heroes.The cat looks like a hero.He had the genuine square chin, steely eyes and a build most guys would give ten years off their life for.But I think that Buster Crabbe’s real appeal in this serial lay in his Everyman quality.His Flash Gordon isn’t the smartest guy in the room.And he’s okay with that.He’s more than happy to let Dr. Zarkov be the brains of the outfit while he does the dirty work.He’s clever and resourceful.He’s got morals and compassion for the little guy.And when it comes to kicking ass all over Mongo, just step back and give Flash some fightin’ room.
By now, the story is legend.The planet Mongo is hurtling toward Earth on what appears to be a collision course.Earth’s weather is going crazy as well as the populace.Flash Gordon is on one of the last cross country flights as he wishes to be with his scientist father when the end comes.Also on the plane is Dale Arden (Jean Rogers).Due to the severity of the weather, Flash and Dale are forced to bail out by parachute and happen to land right near the spaceship of Dr. Hans Zarkov (Frank Shannon) who talks them into a suicide mission to fly through space to the planet Mongo and somehow stop it from crashing into Earth.
Flash and Dale agree to go along and our intrepid heroes successfully make it to Mongo where they are promptly captured by Captain Torch (Earl Askam) who takes them to his Emperor: Ming The Merciless (Charles Middleton) who rules Mongo by fear and terror.Ming and Flash take an instant dislike to each other.However, Ming’s daughter Princess Aura (Priscilla Lawson) falls immediately in love with Flash and tries to save him when her daddy throws Flash in the Arena of Death with three brutal ape men.Now mind you, this is just the first chapter and I didn’t even describe half of what happens.
The next 12 chapters are a goofy blizzard of classic space opera pulp adventure as Flash and his friends are chased, captured, enslaved, escape, battle and struggle against Ming while making friends and allies with Vultan (John Lipson) King of The Hawkmen, Prince Barin (Richard Alexander) the rightful ruler of Mongo and Prince Thun (James Pierce) of The Lionmen.
First off let me say up front that you have to have a love of this kind of thing from Jump Street or at least be curious to learn more about this genre.This entire serial was made for less than a million bucks which today wouldn’t even pay for the catering for some of today’s movie.So we’re talking about production values that are downright laughable by today’s standards.The acting is nothing to brag about.But it is sincere.Buster Crabbe sells it with all his heart.When he’s up there on screen he convinces you that he’s in the deadliest of peril even while fighting the most obvious rubber octopus in the history of movies.And the rest of the cast follow suit.Especially John Lipson as Vultan who I was afraid would belly laugh himself a hernia, that’s how much he’s enjoying playing the Falstaffian King of The Hawkmen.
Jean Rogers as Dale Arden is kinda blah, even for this material.She mostly just stands around looking gorgeous in her flowing, gossamer robes.Mongo must really be hard up for women since everybody who meets Dale wants to marry her.Her contribution to the story consists of either fainting or screaming at least once every chapter.I gotta give her props, though.Not many actresses even today could give so many inflections to one line; “What have you done with Flash?” which is usually all she gets to say.
Princess Aura is much more fun to watch as she’s the real woman of action here.She’s always pulling a ray gun on someone, even on her own father to rescue Flash.Something she does a surprising number of times.There’s even a scene where Aura tells Dale that if Dale really cared about Flash, she’d do something and not just stand there cramming her fist in her mouth to hold back yet another scream.Whenever she hears Flash has been captured yet again, Aura grabsthe nearest ray gun, holds up her dress so as not to trip and runs off in her marvelously high heels to save him.
Frank Shannon is amazing as Dr. Hans Zarkov, one of the greatest Mad Scientists in fiction.There’s a scene in the spaceship that made me laugh out loud:Our Heroes are heading for Mongo when Flash asks Zarkov if he’s ever done this before.Zarkov admits that he hasn’t but he’s tested with models.“What happened to them?” Flash asks.“They never came back,” Zarkov sheepishly admits.If you watch this serial, check out the expression on Flash’s face.Priceless.
And while I’m sure that Mr. Crabbe didn’t mind having to wear shorts through the whole production, I would think Frank Shannon and Richard Alexander did since they don’t have the legs to pull that look off.At least Charles Middleton didn’t have to.He doesn’t have the fabulous wardrobe Max Von Sydow sported in the 1980 movie but he does have the sufficient gravitas to make us take Ming seriously.Flash Gordon vs Ming The Merciless is one of the most celebrated hero/villain pairings in heroic fiction and I believe it’s largely due to the work Mr. Crabbe and Mr. Middleton do in this serial as well as the two sequels.They are never less than convincing and in their best moments they make us forget the cheapness of the production.
So should you see the 1936 serial version of FLASH GORDON?It depends.Are you just looking for a casual Friday or Saturday night movie? Thengo Netflix the 1980 version starring Sam J. Jones as Flash and Max Von Sydow as Ming with the absolutely kickass Queen soundtrack.
But if you consider yourself a student of pulp fiction, of heroic fiction in film, of the cliffhanger serial or of the science fiction movie genre or of just plain movies then I say that there is no way you can call yourself a student of any/all those genres and not watch the 1936 FLASH GORDON at least once.It’s the great-grandfather of 90% of filmic space opera that came after it and need I remind you that the major reason George Lucas created “Star Wars” is because he couldn’t get the rights to do FLASH GORDON, which is really what he wanted to do.If things had turned out different we might have been watching Flash Gordon, Prince Thun and Prince Barin wielding those lightsabers.
Ideally you should do it the right way and watch one chapter a week on Saturday to get the real effect of watching Saturday morning cliffhangers but I’m a greedy bastard and watched it all in one day with 15 minutes breaks in between.No, it’s not the same but I kinda think that after the first two of three chapters, you’re gonna keep watching.
Taken as a cultural artifact it is a superior example of a style of film storytelling that isn’t done anymore.As a gateway drug into pulp in general and as cliffhanger serials in particular, there are few better examples than FLASH GORDON.Load it up on Netflix and enjoy.
FLASH GORDON has no rating but be advised that it is a culturally and racial insensitive movie by our standard today.If you’re willing to overlook that and understand it was made in a less socially enlightened time, fine.If not, give it a pass.
Star Wars Character Encyclopedia By Simon Beecroft 208 pages, DK Publishing, $16.99
The Star Wars Universe spans thousands of years and multiple galaxies, telling the eternal story of good versus evil time and again. The saga has expanded to such a degree that you really cannot tell the players apart without a scorecard. For those who dislike clicking their way through a dizzying array of droids, Jedi and colorful aliens, there are now a series of guidebooks to help you. Last year there was DK Publishing’s The Star Wars: Clone Wars CharacterEncyclopedia or their Complete Visual Dictionary or even the incredibly useful Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle.
DK Publishing knows how to recycle information in all manner of sizes and shapes, synthesizing the data in new ways for its eager audience of readers of all ages. Editor Simon Beecroft has honed those skills as an author, having previously written Inside the Worlds of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones among other titles. He’s back with this breezy look at George Lucas’ sprawling universe in the Star Wars Character Encyclopedia.
Despite telling us the comic books, RPGs, and novels are part of the greater canon, this book only focused on characters from the six feature films and the CGI-animated Clone Wars television series. Also, given the trim size of 7.25” x 9.25”, DK’s designers had to rein in their normal frenetic design. While that can be seen as a plus, the smaller size also means the amount of detail provided for each character is little more than can be found on a trading card.
You read a page and know from repeated viewings of the movies that there are vital details missing. The Obi-Wan Kenobi page, for example, ignores his guidance and counsel provided to Luke Skywalker after his corporeal form was struck down by Darth Vader. Anakin Skywalker’s page ignores the term “midichlorian” and omits his transition to the dreaded Sith lord. Similarly, Vader’s page refers to him as being Luke’s dad but his given name is missing. I guess there’s only so much information you can give when you present each character with equal weight despite having much more to say about Luke, Leia, Han and Darth Vader than you have to a Hoth Rebel Trooper, a Rancor, Coleman Trebor, or a Colo Claw Fish. Popular players, such as Wedge Antilles, don’t even get a page but is crammed into a page about the X-Wing pilots. From what I can tell, the facts here are only what has been presented on screen, nothing new is provided.
Beecroft writes in a clear, alert style that is easily comprehensible for those only casually familiar with these people and does a nice job condensing things down to their basics. But Star Wars fandom tends to prefer depth and detail so may come away from this disappointed.
As a result, the book feels incredibly lightweight and incomplete so despite DK proclaiming this a must-have book for all ages, this is more a primer for younger readers less familiar with the mythos. If you want a true encyclopedia, DelRey’s more authoritative three-volume offering is for you.