The foremost thing I want to note about The Secret History of Star Wars is that I found fascinating nuggets throughout the whole book. Next, that it represents a hell of a lot of work on Kaminski’s part — it weighs in at over 600 pages. Third, that it would benefit greatly from a strong editorial hand (it may even have had such a hand after I read it; the edition that I read is one that Kaminski used to offer as a download from SecretHistoryOfStarWars.com, but it has since been published as a physical book; I don’t know if the text was revised).
The Secret History of Star Wars is an exhaustive — and sometimes exhausting — investigation into the evolution of George Lucas’s Star Wars saga>, from two primary perspectives.
First, it examines Star Wars‘ influences, with an emphasis on Lucas’ tendency to incorporate aspects of properties that he unsuccessfully tries to license. Much has already been made of Star Wars‘ debt to Joseph Campbell, Flash Gordon, Dune, and The Hidden Fortress (and Samurai culture in general). Kaminsiki goes deeper, asserting the influence of E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen and Edgar Rice Burrough’s swashbuckling sci-fi, among others.
Second, it examines the changes the saga itself has gone through. Practically since the initial release of the first film, Lucas has claimed he had the whole saga worked out. Kaminski demonstrates — citing primary sources like Lucas’ own notes and draft scripts, as well as numerous secondary sources in interviews — that this was true only in the vaguest of terms. He gives particular attention to some of the films’ biggest twists. He makes the claim that when Ben Kenobi said, “a young pupil of mine, Darth Vader . . . betrayed and murdered your father,” in the original film, he was not dissembling, nor speaking metaphorically; in fact he asserts that the merging of “Father Skywalker” and “Darth Vader” happened during the script revision cycle of The Empire Strike Back. Likewise he explains that Luke and Leia did not become brother and sister until Return of the Jedi was written. Kaminski suggests that their siblinghood was introduced explicitly to tie off the loose end of “the other” potential Jedi knight mentioned by Yoda in Empire, and thereby exclude the possibility of sequels. Kaminksi devotes the most time to undermining the revisionist conception of the six films as “The Tragedy of Darth Vader.”
Kaminski provides insight not only into Lucas’ creative process, but his process for getting the films made. I had always assumed that Lucas was financially independent on the strength of Star Wars. (Famously, he had in insanely favorable merchandising deal, since the studio didn’t think the merchandising would be worth anything.) But Kaminski reveals that Lucas more-or-less bet the farm (Skywalker Ranch) on each successive picture.
The Secret History of Star Wars is thoughtfully organized and assembled, but it suffers from redundancy and some clunky phrasing. Kaminski mostly adopts an academic tone, with his sources diligently footnoted, which juxtaposes oddly with his use of geeky terms like “morph” and “port” to describe Lucas’ assorted artistic appropriations. But if you’re the sort of person for whom 600-odd pages about Star Wars sounds like an inducement, you’ll probably overlook its flaws, and — like me — read all the way through the appendices.
I’m enough of a geek myself to point out that Kaminksi makes one minor factual error that I found surprising: the first indication that Star Wars was “Episode IV” was earlier than Kamisnki says — it was first seen in the title crawl for the summer 1978 theatrical re-release, which we fanboys all went to in part for the Empire teaser attached to it.
needs more demons? where is that demon editor?