George Lucas took everything he’d read, watched, and researched, added a lightning bolt or two of inspiration, drops of blood, sweat, and tears, threw it all in a blender, and created Star Wars. Paul McDonald took Star Wars, along with everything he’s read, watched, and researched, added his own blood, sweat, and tears, threw it all in a blender, and wrote The Star Wars Heresies: Interpreting the Themes, Symbols and Philosophies of Episodes I, II and III ( McFarland, 2013). Beyond merely “interpreting”, as the title promises, this book illuminates the Prequels like nothing else has before. The Star Wars Heresies doesn’t insert anything into the PT that isn’t already there, it just shines a brilliant light on what it’s always been.
Anybody can start a blog—or go on a message board—and ramble for paragraph after turgid paragraph about Star Wars, superficially throwing various oft-repeated signifiers and keywords out (Joe Campbell, Myths, Kurosawa, blah blah blah) to show off that they know what they’re talking about, MAN (they usually don’t). It’s a whole other matter to weave together a nearly 200-page work that reads so smoothly—lyrically, even—while maintaining such a tight focus, structure, and narrative unity. I love the way the book is organized/constructed: three parts (one per movie of the PT), comprised of chapters each concentrating on a single character/theme. What’s impressive is that there’s no redundancy from one chapter/part to another. For instance, there are three (well, four, if you want to split hairs) individual chapters for Anakin, and though future and past events in the character’s life are freely referenced when necessary, the focus stays exactly where it needs to be for that moment in Anakin’s story…there’s no sense of, “Okay, you already said that!” as you’re reading. It couldn’t have been easy to keep all the plates spinning in the air while writing this book, but it never felt like that while reading it… it felt simple, in the purest and most desirable sense of that word.
"Simple" is the last thing you’d expect from a book swimming with references to 17th Century Jesuits, Zen Masters, Jungian analysts, Taoist Sages, internet film enthusiasts, and God knows who else, but that’s what you get. Just as there’s no pretension that you’d fear would accompany such a heady-sounding bunch of sources and citations, there’s also no condescension. The Star Wars Heresies is neither a pedantically-footnoted academic exercise, or a dumbed-down piece of disposable pop philosophy—it’s a warm, passionate book that thinks highly enough of its readers to treat them as if they’re in conversation with a friend. You needn’t have previously read about, or even heard of, the Zen Master Dogen to understand how or why his teachings are relevant to the themes or characters of Star Wars… everything flows and clicks in context.
While reading, you may have several, “Oh, DUH!” moments, as I did, when being enlightened to various cross-Saga connections and those famous Lucas “rhymes” you may have missed, but you won’t feel dumber for it—just more keen to pay closer attention, to open yourself, the next time you’re watching one of the Star Wars movies. That’s one of the beautiful things about this book: it doesn’t mechanically deconstruct every scene and character beat so much as show you, to borrow from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, what can live in the “space between spaces” of the Star Wars movies—and by the author showing you what he’s found there, you learn how to look there for yourself. The Star Wars Heresies succeeds mightily in demonstrating how much George Lucas put into creating these movies, but is no less successful in teaching its readers how to appreciate his art with a fuller awareness.
The Star Wars Heresies retails for around $40 USD; it would be great if the book had a lower price (what wouldn’t be better at a lower price?), but understanding that McFarland is an independent publisher specializing in academic books for libraries and collections, the price makes more sense… this isn’t something churned out and mass-marketed at every Walmart and Target across the world. The content is certainly worth the price, and the physical book is very well-made. Sadly, I can always relate to being low on cash, so if the hardcopy is out of your financial grasp at the moment, the e-book version is available for around $13.99 USD from Amazon and Barnes&Noble—and even if you don’t have a Kindle or Nook to read it on, free downloadable eBook readers are just a Google away. Failing the eBook option, ask your local public library to order a copy or two… that’s what they’re there for! On top of all of it, the author, Paul McDonald, is a friend and bona fide “fan who gets it”, as Lazy Padawan might say—this book isn’t the work of some daytripping academic looking to make a quick buck off Star Wars fans, it’s a labor of love. If you’re a fan of this site, I’m certain that you’ll enjoy The Star Wars Heresies; I can’t recommend enough that you buy and read this book. In addition to expanding your understanding and appreciation of the PT, though, this book has the potential to be something more than just a great read and a watershed moment for Star Wars Prequel fandom—it can possibly bring peace to the restless souls of the Star Wars Original Trilogy ONLY fans.
Though I’m guilty of coining the phrase “half-fans” in the past—to describe Star Wars fans who only love the Original Trilogy, and dislike or hate the Prequel Trilogy— I abandoned it a few months after I came up with it, and also stopped referring to these fans as “hateboys” or anything similar. Individually, I might refer to a particularly belligerent and assaultive fan as something way more profane, but I felt like using blanket labels to describe Star Wars fans with different tastes than I have was just as pointless and tribal as the behavior that some of them were exhibiting. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely self-described “fans” who are beyond redemption or repair, way up the river with Colonel Kurtz—they’ve wallowed in stale hate for 14 years to the point where they’re incapable of acting human when it comes to Star Wars, especially online—but I can’t take seriously a purported grown-up throwing a 14 year-long fit about a big orange frog-man and a child actor.
The type of OT-Only fan that I could see getting something out of The Star Wars Heresies is somebody basically decent and rational— maybe one of your closest friends, a family member, a spouse even—who simply dislikes or was disappointed with the Prequels, which is their prerogative. This type of fan might venture, “Yeah, the Prequels sucked, Jar Jar sucked, no thanks” when the topic is brought up, but they’re not online day-in and day-out screaming about crucifying George Lucas (who still owes you nothing), or telling you that you’re a moron for liking the PT. I’m not naive enough to suggest that this book will “convert” a fan like that into suddenly hosting PT-viewing marathons, or even that they’ll enjoy any of the Prequel movies—but I do think that after reading it, they’ll at least understand the point of the PT, and hopefully, respect what Lucas was trying to do. "I still dislike the Prequels, but I get what he was going for with them" would be a triumphant statement from an OT-only SW fan after reading this book. Wouldn’t you rather coexist with a fan like that than a 40 year-old dude (or more absurdly, a callow 20 year-old wanna-be cineaste) shrieking that Lucas ‘raped his childhood’??
Realistically, they’re not going to seek this book out, so instead of sending more boring e-Gift Cards this Christmas (look at that cover! CHRISTMAS!) and Hanukkah season, why not send The Star Wars Heresies eBook (or if you’re a high roller, the hardcopy) to your Star Wars-loving, but OT-only friends and family members? At worst, they won’t bother reading it, their loss… but if they do, you may have started a chain reaction of Prequel understanding. The next time one of their Prequel-hating friends starts ranting about midichlorians or whatever, they just may set them straight, and so on and so on. The Star Wars Heresies: the virus that you want to spread.
for more info, visit www.mcfarlandpub.com, or call their order line at 1-800-253-2187.