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on 12 March 2017
A really good insight into the making of the original trilogy. The chapters on the prequels feel a little perfunctory, and I'd recommend instead looking at the online Red Letter Media "Mr Plinkett" reviews of them for a better breakdown of where it all went wrong.
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on 23 January 2012
I love those huge, illustrated books Lucasfilm produce to go with the 'Star Wars' films. However, since they're official titles they often overlook some of the more controversial episodes of the films' production. So I'm always interested in unauthorised accounts, the best being Empire Building: Remarkable, Real-life Story of "Star Wars". Michael Kaminiski's book is a bit of a mixed bag.

I can't deny he has done his research. His book goes into exhaustive detail. The depth of his analysis and the comparison of the various drafts is impressive, in particular his assessment of ROTJ at different stages of its development. I was convinced by his assertion that no uniform for the Jedi was every created (see p.324) and what we see in the prequel trilogy came about by default - ie the robes Obi-Wan wears in ANH were actually Tatooine dress, not Jedi as shown by the fact that Owen wears them too. I'd never considered that.

Equally impressive are some of the obscure documents he has managed to track down. Among the most noteworthy were the memos rejecting ANH by Universal and United Artists (on p.61). The accepted story is that they hated the proposed film. In truth their feelings were much warmer, they just weren't convinced enough to fork out millions of dollars. I was also pleased to see that Kaminski states the importance of Marcia Lucas, George's wife. I think her role in the original trilogy, as so often happens with the (female) supporting partner, has been overlooked.

Having said all that, I have a fair amount of criticism. For a start the book is too long. Mostly this is due to repetition as a lot of information is presented in duplicate, sometimes even triplicate. He repeats the plot of 'Hidden Fortress', for example, three times; the definition of 'retcon' is also given on numerous occasions (I got it on the first reading!). I assume this is due to the fact the book started as a series of separate articles. An editor really should have sorted this out. There are other editorial oversights too which diminish Kaminski's authority, such as unexplained jumps: Marcia goes from being GL's girlfriend to wife without even mentioning they got married! There are also some silly mistakes: Liam Neeson, for instance, didn't win an Academy Award for 'Schlinder's List' (p. 353) he was only nominated.

My biggest reservation, however, regards the tone of the book. For this the blame lies squarely with the author. For a start it's a bit patronising. Kaminski writes as if nobody before him had ever realised there are inconsistencies in the saga. I think anyone even remotely acquainted with the movies gets that. From Vader's screen time and relative position in the first 1977 movie it's clear that he wasn't originally envisioned as the lynchpin of the saga. That decision was made sometime during the development of ESB. Like I say, that's not quite the revelation Kaminski thinks it is.

He then attacks Lucas on the basis that the official story behind 'Star Wars' was that it was conceived from the outset as it turned out on screen. Although I agree that Lucas is often elastic with the truth, sometimes to the point of making things up, I don't think he quite deserves the scorn Kaminski pours on him. Indeed, he sometimes accuses Lucas of almost Orwellian acts of manipulating the past: see p. 207 for charges of 'suppressing and destroying'. Come on!

The author also compares statements Lucas has made over the years as further proof of his wicked intentions to hoodwink the public. The best example is on p.209. And the best response is: can't people change their minds? Don't we all? What seemed true in 1980 might not be so in 2004! I think of something of the daft things I wrote about my first boyfriend. I believed them with utter sincerity at the time; obviously now my views are very different. Kaminski seems to believe that if someone makes a statement it's set in stone and true forever after, and uses this to condemn their future self.

To that end, he's also quite rude about Lucas - something which I was uncomfortable with. We're all entitled to our opinions but a writer will seem more authoritative if he's objective. On p.361, for example, he describes GL as a `bloated, soulless technocrat'. OK, so he's paraphrasing other people but without a direct source it's difficult to disconnect statement from author.

The Appendices are a masterclass in supposition.

I struggled to decide what star-rating to give this book. Ultimately I wanted to give it 3.5 stars but since my policy is always to round up it gets 4... but I hope anyone reading this review sees that in the context of my reservations.
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on 29 December 2014
Let's start with the positive: it's very well researched. Impressively so, in fact. The information in this book gives a real insight into George Lucas' creative process and how events changed and crafted the saga we know to day. If this was a review of research this would be a 5-star review.
But it's written terribly.
Grammatically it's okay. There are a few misused words here and there and sometimes sentences are structured to sound intellectual without good reason. The main issue is repetitiveness. And my god, how this guy loves to repeat information. Regularly he'll repeat the same information many times in the same chapter, always presenting it like its the first time it's features in the book. Sometimes this even happens in the same paragraph and on one occasion thus far it's happened in the same sentence. This has made the book a major chore to read. I'm constantly checking to make sure I haven't the page I'm on before. I'm currently a third of the way through the book and I'm finding the will to carry on is waning with each page. It really could do with a solid edit. A good editor could easily shave 100 - 200 pages from this.
Also, it's unclear whether the writer has and agenda or is trying to present an unbalanced viewpoint on the subject. Regularly he praises and condemns George Lucas for exactly the same reasons. One second he's the great myth builder, the next the great deceiver, taking the piss out of his audience. Kaminski looks for arguments where there's none, and twists facts to suit points he's trying to make. If evidence is contradictory he highlights this exclusively as an example of deception rather than it being a possible truth of the time. It's almost a condemnation of Star Wars' evolution from serial homage to epic, and even at one pint criticises Lucas' use of serial tropes to exploit audiences emotions with the first film in '77. I don't get it.
I'll revisit this review when I finally finish this thing but currently: 5 stars for research 1 star for writing.
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on 14 September 2010
Well researched but poorly written and tediously repetitive - has a strange compulsion to recap virtually everything he's already told you every time he introduces a new piece of evidence, leading to a book that really didn't need to be 600 pages long. Strangely pedantic, yet repeatedly uses "whom" as the subject of the verb. The attention of an editor could have turned this into a good, focused, coherent - and shorter - book.
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on 11 June 2013
Mr Kaminski has provided a well researched and informative book that deals with the history of the Star Wars movie franchise and its changing plot developments over time.

It is well referenced throughout, so you can check or refer to his sources if you are academically inclined. His references include interviews Lucas gave in the 70s and 80s before the original trilogy was complete, and the annotated screenplays. These are telling sources which show that the more recent hype that the movies were 'all about Darth Vader all along' is not what Lucas was saying all those years ago.

It also gives an interesting and well researched account of when Lucas decided that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker and why.

With a more critical eye, there are not as many references when dealing with the more recent prequels, but I suspect that is because there is less material to draw from. In a couple of places it could have been better edited, but these are minor quibbles about an excellent book.
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on 27 November 2008
We all know of the claims that A New Hope was always meant to be the middle piece of a nine-piece series. Or... Was that twelve piece? Well, we've got a six-piece series now, and Lucas has said several times in recent years that that's all we're getting, so... Which is it?

And just how many of those pieces did Lucas plan out? He's said on several occasions that he had a stack of treatments lined up, just waiting to be shot. But what did those treatments entail? What was that sequel-trilogy supposed to be about anyway?

Most puzzling of all, was, as Lucas claims, Darth Vader always meant to be Luke's father?

The answers might surprise you. But not as much as the work that Michael Kaminski put into solving this quite staggering puzzle.

This book is really quite a piece of work.

It's methodical to the point of being long-winded in places, particularly in the meticulous summaries of the various drafts and their differences and even repeats itself a bit much here and there. But it's all in the service of creating a clear and concise step-by-step overview of a piece of film history that by now has become so muddled that no one really knows what happened.

Except Lucas of course, but he isn't telling.

But aside from the obvious geekiness factor of a book like this, it manages to lay down the facts while at the same time almost unwittingly telling the heartbreaking story of how George Lucas, a gifted filmmaker, built his Xanadu away from Hollywood. And in doing so, lost his way, his friends and his wife.

After all these years, it's amazing that there are still un-discovered aspects of Star Wars. They've been hidden well, but Michael Kaminski dug them out and strung them together in a great story about the story, and the man.
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on 2 October 2009
This has to be one of the most meticulously researched and detailed books on the Star Wars movies, and certainly the most fascinating for anally retentive completist geeks such as myself. It certainly outstrips the similar Annotated Screenplays in terms of length, context and discussion.

Michael Kaminski is informative, passionate and critical, and his work, rather than being a sustained attack on the works of George Lucas, as some have claimed, actually gives the reader a greater respect for Lucas and his storytelling journey.

For all the research he's done, though, he still doesn't use the correct spelling of "wookiee"...
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on 8 February 2015
A great read and with excellent detail about the history of the Star Wars story. I've a new appreciation for how Star Wars came about and I've even been able to see the prequels in a new light.
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on 12 May 2016
Awesome book arrived on time and well
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on 6 September 2010
This book is certainly worth buying; for Star Wars fans but also for general interest !
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