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The Secret History of Star Wars
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96 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2008
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Kaminsky's rock-solid work unquestionably belongs alongside Rinzler's The Making of Star Wars, as both a companion piece and an in-depth exploration of the creation of the six-film saga, as it actually unfolded.

The very point of this book is to cut through all the marketing, publicity and years of contravention to show the expanding genesis of the Star Wars story from the original drafts to the "Star Wars" standalone film that was "from the Adventures of Luke Skywalker" to the mythically deeper "Star Wars Trilogy: Episodes IV to VI" to the thematic reconstruction of the "Star Wars Saga: The Tragedy of Darth Vader: Episodes I to VI".

In so doing, author Michael Kaminsky provides not only reasonable deductive examinations, but actual facts via published interviews that go back to the earliest sources and the circumstances surrounding the creation of each film, demonstrating in full how important story elements came to be. And how others were dropped. We see how Lucas' personal life impacted and was impacted by the making of the films (Particularly sad is Lucas' obsession with the construction of Skywalker Ranch that not only hampered the creative integrity of Return of the Jedi, but cost him his wife and half his fortune).

Beyond the fascinating unveiling of the true story behind the development of Darth Vader from a mere mustachio-twirling henchman to the greatest villain in movie history to the tragic figure that emerged in Revenge of the Sith, The Secret History of Star Wars is a chronicle of the genius and imperfection of George Lucas. In this, the author remains ever impartial, never stooping to fanboyish complaining, but neither sugarcoating less pleasant facts. This is an unbiased, rational journal that can be considered the definitive history of the formation of the Star Wars saga.

Despite its 533 pages (not counting endnotes), it's a page-turner and is written in an easy-to-follow writing style. Because of its dense matter in untangling early drafts, numerous articles/interviews and various versions of stories, the author is not shy about aiding the reader through the reiteration of certain elements previously explained throughout the book. This is never overdone and proves rather helpful in our era of information overload.

The lid blown off the notion that the saga was the slow unveiling of a thoroughly developed story contained in a volume Lucas wrote in the early 70's, what emerges is the creative reality behind the development of a grand epic not unlike Christopher Tolkien's History of Middle-Earth that showed Tolkien's creative impetus at work. Lucas emerges as a conceptual genius, painstakingly transforming an action-oriented homage to the B-serials of the 30's into a far deeper, grander epic of tragedy and gravitas, hurt only by occasional insecurity, a willingness to present a false picture to the media and at times less-than-artistic concerns. A fully human being emerges through which the struggles of Luke and Anakin can be seen as reflections of their creator, himself a larger-than-life figure beset by triumph and tragedy, moving from humble beginnings to heading his own empire, dually idolized and demonized by the critics and fans, a brilliant man who's contributions to the world of film and literature and pop-culture are only now being to be understood.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2009
Format: Paperback
The Secret History of Star Wars qualifies as a truely groundbreaking study of the Star Wars franchise as a storytelling process in history. The author (Michael Kaminski) has examined a vast, vast sum of archival, obscure and well known sources, read through every single screenplay draft and little personal note Lucas made, and arrived with this exhaustive survey of how little Georgie Lucas stumbled into the film history in the late 1960s and eventually decided to make an adaptation of Flash Gordon--and how that eventually turned into 1977's Star Wars, and how the story of that film was expanded, twisted upside down, and eventually given back to us thirty years and six films later as the six-episode Star Wars Saga of our present times.

As far as I know, this is the first work to not only treat the franchise seriously from the standpoint of scholastic analysis and independent historical overview, but it also might be the first work to consider the films as both the six-episode "Saga" that was only recently completed as well as the various intermidiaries as it went through the process of transforming from Star Wars, The Movie to The Star Wars Trilogy. The book is absolutely loaded with info, much of it I hadn't known (and I consider myself well read on the series and its history). Most impressive is its challenge of the many "myths" surrounding the series--it seems everything about this franchise gets written by Lucasfilm itself and just repeats about how Star Wars was the "little engine that could" and that Lucas had brilliantly schemed up the entire plot to the series in the 1970s. The truth is much more complicated--and interesting! Particularly illuminating is the shocking yet undeniable evidence that Darth Vader wasn't even written to be Luke's father until AFTER the first film was released, and there is lots of interesting info on the Sequel Trilogy that Lucas now swears never existed. The author also gives the prequels equal treatment as Lucas took his brilliant original trilogy and slowly re-made it into a (not quite as successful) Tragedy of Darth Vader storyline. The book also subtly tells the story of Lucas' life in parallel to his films, a story that is equally entertaining.

Quite simply, this is a well-researched piece of work, though its quite thick at about 600 pages, and written somewhat dryly. My only complaint, and one that almost made me give it 4 stars, is that there are a number of spelling and punctuation mistakes throughout, at least a dozen of them (!), and also a few awkward paragraphs--what happened, mr. editor??! Its a minor complaint in the scheme of things, but I couldn't help notice them.

All in all, however, I would highly recommend this book to Star Wars geeks and film scholars interested in turning over stones on a piece of film history that no one has ever honestly, accurately and compellingly covered as The Secret History of Star Wars does.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2011
Format: Paperback
I found "The Secret History of Star Wars" to be a very fascinating read, however, I had to knock 2 stars off of the review because it appears that this book was never seen by an editor. The book could easily have been about 1/4 or 1/3 the size, because Kaminski makes his points over and over and over and over and over again, often times using the exact same words and, at times, inside of the exact same paragraph. It seems that Kaminski doesn't think his readers are going to be able to grasp his concepts by just telling you once. And that's sad because the points he makes and the theories he has are quite interesting, but I found myself dying to get to the next chapter because I couldn't take the repetitiveness. So, I definitely suggest this book for Star Wars fans, but be prepared to jump ahead to the next chapter once you realize that he's already made his point for this chapter and isn't going to add any new information.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2009
Format: Paperback
All I can really say is that if you're a fan of the saga and you can be objective about it, this is the book for you. The research is exhaustive and the data is all there, warts and all. The book is unauthorized but it's no hack job; basically the author presents all the available data and lets us draw our own conclusions. Authorized Star Wars books usually just talk about what a genius George Lucas is and rarely bring anything new to the table, but this one is chock full of info you'll never get from an authorized Star Wars book (because it actually dares to be critical now and then).

The Secret History of Star Wars is quite simply the most comprehensive work in regards to the Star Wars saga that's ever been written. It's a far, far cry from official books, which are pretty much just extended press releases for Lucasfilm. This book tells the whole story, the story that George Lucas only seems to like parts of (and the rest of which he just pretends doesn't exist).

Between this book and an authorized Star Wars book, there's really no contest. This one is the winner, hands down.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Given the title, I wasn't sure what to expect from Kaminski at first. I certainly didn't want to read an attack on my favorite movie. However, The Secret History of Star Wars is actually an exploration of the history of the making of the movies. Kaminski collects a massive amount of material to show what happened when and where. My favorite parts of the book deal with the multiple script revisions. Kaminski provides excellent evidence and reasoning that Darth Vader was not originally intended to be Luke's father. I was surprised to learn that Boba Fett's connection to the clone wars/stormtroopers went back pretty far - I had just assumed he was thrown into Star Wars - Episode II, Attack of the Clones (Widescreen Edition) to please the fans. At the end of the day, Kaminski makes clear his love for the Star Wars saga, but also analyzes the material objectively. It's not an attack on the movies, and it isn't sycophantic praise, but rather a fascinating history. Even if you've read all the other Star Wars books out there, you'll certainly learn something new from this.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2009
Format: Paperback
Kaminski's book is a thoroughly researched and annotated work, covering the evolution of Star Wars; from an homage to the classic adventure serials into the epic "Tragedy of Darth Vader". Along the way, he documents (using interviews given in various contemporary sources)how each alteration in script drafts and story treatment changed more than just the plot or dialogue. It also demonstrates how George Lucas began to redraft his statements about the films, making claims of detailed backgrounds and story treatments for sequels and prequels, that were not present when crafting Star Wars or Empire. Kaminski offers much arguement and evidence to support his theories, but it does get bogged down at times. The book is in need of another pass by an editor, as grammar and punctuation errors mar much of the text. This often clouds the jist of some of the arguements. Also, as this is an unauthorized (and unlikely to be received well by the Emperor of Skywalker Ranch)work, it lacks photo reference that would enhance the package. It does offer a large bibliography of sources, many dating from the developmental and production periods of Star wars, and subsequent fanzine interviews in the wake of its theatrical success (but before sequels emerged). This is definitely of limited appeal; mostly to academics and serious fanatics; those who have not totally succumbed to revitionist propaganda. It's a bit pricey, but is packed with a wealth of material. It's a fine addition to J.W. Rinzler's "The Making of Star Wars", "The Annotated Screenplays.." and Dale Pollock's biography of Lucas, "Skywalking" (later disowned by Lucas).
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2012
Format: Paperback
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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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Wow. This book is that kind of book that super-fans dream of -- a complete dissection of every aspect of the creation of the Star Wars saga. The author has exhaustively researched interviews and other published works about Star Wars to bring seemingly everything ever written or said about the creative process behind these films into his book. The author does speculate on occasion about what Lucas was thinking about when he put pencil to paper or struggled through his drafts or helping others with the words. However, the research behind the speculation appears solid and as such, I expect this will be a definitive work about these movies for years to come.

A MUST for Star Wars fans who enjoy behind the scenes looks. Truly fun and wonderful to read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is the best Star Wars book that I have ever read!! It collects a lot of the information that I've read and a lot that I had never heard, puts it into one book, and makes interesting and convincing conclusions. The evolution of the Father Skywalker character and the ever changing story were two of the more interesting things to read about.

I highly recommend this book. It is not as pretty as an officially licensed book with pictures and glossy pages, but the information is vast, comprehensive, and incredibly interesting. Kudos to the author for this incredible book!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I became a fan for life when I saw Star Wars in 1977. I remember devouring every magazine article I could find, and I remember George Lucas saying many, many times that there would be twelve films, FOUR trilogies, of Luke Skywalker's adventures, with different directors' interpretations, and that the stories of Obi Wan, Darth Vader, AND Luke's father would be told someday. Some of the articles I even kept, in a box...somewhere. But mostly I just have memories.

After I saw Empire, I thought, "Wow! What a cliff hanger! Luke's father, huh? Can't wait to see how they resolve this! And who is this 'other hope,' anyway?" Then I saw Jedi, with "a certain point of view," "Somehow, I've always known [I'm your sister]," etc. And boy, did I feel...conned (or "retconned," in this case).

Then Lucas started saying that this is how it was planned from the beginning. Baloney! What the heck was he talking about? Next, when the prequels started coming out, Lucas kept saying again that all would be revealed -- How was Anakin conceived? Why did Obi Wan disappear when killed, but not Qui Gon? Who the heck was Sifo Dias and why did he want a clone army?? And when the loose ends were glossed over or ignored altogether, again I felt...conned.

Michael Kaminski explains the problem: George Lucas was making the whole thing up as he went along!

Why this is so hard for Lucas to admit, I'll never understand. It wouldn't hurt his reputation at all. I still love the Star Wars films, just like millions of other people. But I knew that there was still a ton of evidence out there... somewhere... that Vader was never intended to be Luke's father, that the saga was hastily shortened and wrapped up, and that there was no original "master plan." But how would you ever find it all? So, while it is true that Kaminski's book is entirely drawn from other sources, what he has done -- where nobody else really has -- is painstakingly researched the behind-the-scenes development of the series and collected all those lost, forgotten interviews that, unfortunately, embarassingly, just don't jibe with Lucas' revisionist history.

Other reviewers noted correctly that the book is wordy and cumbersome. Kaminski works more like an investigative reporter versus an author, and he could use a better editor to tighten things up. However, he does very little editorializing. Kaminski carefully explains what went on in Lucas' life during the original trilogy, in an objective way, and at the end, it all makes sense. He shows both sides of Lucas -- a very thorough, very human, portrait.

Serious Star Wars fans need to read this book and have it in their collection. Older types, who saw the original in '77, will enjoy finding out what really happened. The book gives a fuller picture that you just can't find anywhere else. In years to come, the "official" story of Lucas' "master plan" will inevitably become the accepted version of events. Those old issues of Rolling Stone, TIME, People etc. will fade to dust, and the reality will be considered the "myth." That makes this book worth the extra cost. Kaminski has done a great service to fans, by doing all the leg work and putting together the missing pieces of the puzzle in one place. And for that, I say thanks and great job!
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