While not one of their newer releases, this outing with Smart Pop took me back to a galaxy far, far away in their excellent examination of George Lucas’ legacy in Star Wars on Trial: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Debate the Most Popular Science Ficition Films of All Time. While there are many examples out there of fans (especially since the release of the prequels) putting forward critiques of the Star Wars saga, Smart Pop brings its own unique twist to the debate. Diverting from the harsher criticisms from other popular examinations of Star Wars, such as The People vs. George Lucas or the exhaustive prequel reviews released by Red Letter Media, Smart Pop instead employs writers David Brin (author of the infamous Salon article ‘Star Wars despots vs. Star Trek populists’) and Matthew Woodring Stover (author of the film novelization of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith) to debate the charges against the Star Wars saga in a sci-fi/fantasy court featuring a droid judge and multiple expert "witnesses." Instead of a straightforward essay anthology, the content in Star Wars on Trial is formatted to emulate to proceeding of this intergalactic court room, featuring Brin for the prosecution and Woodring Stover for the defense. Brin, Woodring Stover, and the other contributors (expert "witnesses") present their cases (or essays) to the court and answer to the following charges put forward by Brin:
1. The politics of Star Wars are anti-democratic and elitist;
2. While claiming mythic significance, Star Wars portrays no admirable religious or ethical beliefs;
3. Star Wars novels are poor substitutes for real science fiction and are driving SF off the shelves;
4. Science fiction filmmaking has been reduced by Star Wars to poorly written special effects extravaganzas;
5. Star Wars has dumbed down the perception of SF in the popular imagination;
6. Star Wars pretends to be science fiction but is really fantasy;
7. Women in Star Wars are portrayed as fundamentally weak; and
8. The plot holes and illogical gaps in Star Wars make it ill suited for an intelligent viewer.
While, due to being a hardcore Star Wars fanboy myself, Brin’s arguments did little to sway my love of the franchise, the debates are compelling on both sides, and there are a number of Brin’s charges that even the most loyal Star Wars fan may find themselves admitting are fairly accurate. Woodring Stover adds a fun and geeky tone to the book, and the essays themselves are thought provoking and quite enjoyable.
The one minor fault of the book resides in its "verdict" chapter. If you wish to not be spoiled regarding the final verdict, don’t worry, because in the end, the final decision is left in the reader’s hands. No verdict is given in the pages of Star Wars on Trial and, instead, readers are encouraged to visit a forum set up online to debate and vote on the charges. Unfortunately, the website is no longer active. While this is a problem, it also provides a wonderful occasion for an impromptu mock trail! Given the absence of the forum, I suggest creating your own. Gather a few friends with some passion for Star Wars, read the script-like text of Star Wars on Trial aloud, and open the debate over a glass or two of Aunt Beru’s blue milk. It’ll be twice the fun of a trip to Tosche Station to pick up power converters!
Final Verdict: She may not look like much (Actually, this book and its gorgeously rendered cover of George Lucas facing a court or droids and aliens is quite sharp looking!), but she’s got it where it counts, kid! Star Wars on Trial deserves a space on the bookshelf of any serious Star Wars fan and is sure to inspire hours of debate and analysis of the arguments established within the text andmany repeat viewing of Lucas‘ beloved saga. Don’t hesitate to “shoot first” when it comes to acquiring your own copy of Star Wars on Trial. Trust the Force (or this review), my friends. You won’t be disappointed.
You can learn more about Star Wars on Trial and read excepts from the book by visiting Smart Pop Books at their official website. Also, be sure to stop by the Smart Pop Books Facebook page and follow them on Twitter (@SmartPopBooks).