BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars and History edited by Nancy R. Reagin and Janice Liedl

REVIEW SUMMARY: A unique and interesting resource when looking at history.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Science Fiction tends to be closely linked with contemporary history in more ways than one would expect. In this collection of papers, historians examine the parallels between real-world history and the Star Wars franchise.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: A neat and interesting way of looking at history.
CONS: Oversteps its bounds at points.
BOTTOM LINE: Know a Star Wars fan who’s having trouble with history? This volume might be the best way to get them interested.

When I was in grade school, I had trouble reading early on: the books that I had for my classes weren’t doing it for me, and it wasn’t until my parents gave me a couple of youth mystery novels (Encyclopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys), that my appetite for reading was realized, and I began consuming books with an ever increasing pace. I bring this up because this was the first thing that sprang to mind while reading through this history text: this is THE book for any kid in high school who’s struggling with the basics of history, and simply needs to look at it in a different light.

Star Wars and History examines various types of real-world history by comparing it to the events in the Star Wars franchise, and for the most part it works. As a fan of George Lucas’s franchise and as a professional historian, the mere existence of this book is exciting, because it combines two passions. On the face of it, it looks like a bit of a strange mash up much like those Victorian era novels juxtaposed with zombies or androids. But, the book reaffirms my belief that science fiction is an inherently political and relevant genre at the time of it’s creation: Star Wars being no exception. Cobbled together from a variety of source material, this book links a number of connections between the franchise and the real world. The topics are pretty far reaching, too: subjects such as insurgency and rebellion are covered, women in warfare, the American Civil War, leaders and power, trade and a whole host of others.

The subject material covered here is of great interest to me as a historian, but for anyone else, I can imagine that digging through old records or the contributions that various leaders, organizations and countries have made over the centuries can be a good prelude to a nap. In a lot of ways, this book could be a great supplementary text book for any teenager who’s just trying to stay awake in class: the addition of Star Wars brings some level of fun and excitement to what is typically labeled as a dry and boring field of study. (I inherently disagree with the label, but let’s be realistic: a lot of people aren’t interested in history, which is a shame.) What makes me excited about this book is that it has the potential to get kids (or grownups who want to read up on their world history a bit), to see history in a light that they might not have considered, and to look at Star Wars (and by extension, other works of fiction), in a new way.

There are points where the book oversteps its bounds: there’s attempts to make connections between Star Wars (released in 1977), and the modern day wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which fall flat for me – not because there aren’t similarities, but because these weren’t influences on the creation of the films and stories. Similarly, simply connecting Star Wars to various historical events is an interesting take, but one that’s limiting. Science Fiction and Fantasy are grand genres, with an enormous amount of relevancy throughout – another, similar volume that expands the focus to incorporate other science fiction and fantasy films and novels would allow for a better view at history, simply by covering things that Star Wars really doesn’t.

All in all, Star Wars and History is a fun, interesting text. The interest level for a causal fan of either Star Wars or History might make this a bit of a miss, but I found it to be a book that was hard to put down.