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"' by Garry Jenkins.
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.