Recently, I read a book written for grownups. It happens! Of course, the book I read was Nerd Do Well, the memoir of actor and comedian Simon Pegg, and Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz, Star Trek) is nothing if not an overgrown eleven-year-old boy, so actually, the book didn't fall that far outside my usual purview.
It was a kind of so-so book, if you want to know. The fanboy confessional can often descend into aching self-importance (see also: Patton Oswalt), but there were some brilliant discussions of pop culture, criticism, and pop culture criticism (also see also: Patton Oswalt). Mostly about Star Wars. Simon Pegg has thought a lot about Star Wars.
As have we all, n'est-ce pas?
In my house, Star Wars is practically a family member. Storm troopers, clone troopers, Jedi, Sith, sand people - their costumes and powers find their way into every mode of imaginative play engaged in by my sons. I have fought my way to a grudging détente over what I still call the second three movies - we own them on DVD, but they cannot be watched while I am in the house.
(I mean, come on. In the second series of Star Wars movies, they named Leia's adoptive father "Bail." If that isn't telegraphing a certain abdication of commitment on the part of the filmmakers, I don't know what.)
Recently, I assembled all the Star Wars gimmick books in our house and got the boys to run 'em down. By 'gimmick books' I mean the engineered books - the DK Readers are not included in this review, nor are the nominally grown-up novels like The Thrawn Trilogy, The X-Wing Series, Jedi Academy Trilogy, The Han Solo Trilogy (I might read that), or The Bounty Hunter Wars.
Zhou: Well. LEGO Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary I think is fantastic. It's a big thick book that is filled to the brim with every single LEGO Star Wars set there ever was in the whole wide world, and it comes with a guy. What I don't like about it is sometimes they made mistakes, like it says that there are no controls or seats on this one set, and there are!
YNL: Good old Dorling Kindersley, famous for poor fact-checking. Well what bugs me is, like here on the cover you see a mounted sand trooper, and -
Z: ...you can't get that anymore! I know! You want that creature!
YNL: Is it a bantha?
Milo: No, it's not a bantha, we don't know what that thing is.
YNL: We've had this book in our house for like a year or two, right?
Z: Yeah, you brought home a beat-up copy that the library was getting rid of, and we read that until the covers fell off.
YNL: And so then grandma got you a new copy for Christmas.
YNL: So I'm going to call this a popular book.
Z: Oh yeah! All of our friends, when they come over, they totally read this book.
YNL: Milo what you got?
M: Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy. It has large impressive colorful - especially colorful - pop-ups. And three mini pop-ups or more per page.
YNL: What does this book specialize in? Is it about the ships? The plot of the movies?
M: It's about the places they go and the people, the species they meet. It is extremely great. The pictures are colorful and large, but some of the sub-pop-ups could be improved because they tangle up with the main pop-ups.
YNL: I like the watercolor drawings. Even if it was flat, would it still be a good book to look at, even if it didn't have pop-ups?
M: Yeah I think so. I think it would be great.
Z: It wouldn't be as good. If it didn't have popups - well one, popups make everything better. and two, you don't really need as much room for popups as for flat pictures, because they pop up, so you can put more pictures on one page.
YNL: This page has the X-wing fighter, and then the Tie fighter, and the star destroyer, and the blockade runner, all on one page.
M: And the pop-up can kind of tell a story itself, like, in the back page, there's a picture of Darth Vader's helmet, and when you open it up, the helmet is securing itself onto Anakin's warped face. I love that. As you open, the helmet closes down over the face.
YNL: Even the back of the pop-ups are illustrated. I'm looking at the back of the Mos Eisley spaceport cantina, and you can see unsavory characters sitting around drinking, much like our friend Todd here.
M: Hi, Todd! We're doing Star Wars books!
Todd Brizzi, the artist behind the illustrated Pink Me banner and master roaster at Zeke's: Awesome, I love Star Wars.
YNL: Todd have you ever messed with paper engineering?
Todd: I have not. But my kids are trying it out. [Todd has six-year-old triplets] They got one of these massive pop-up books like you have there for Christmas, the dinosaur one, and they're totally inspired to make pop-ups themselves now. I can't believe that thing. Pop-up books used to be like a little tab, and you pulled it, and like a dinosaur's jaw would open. Not like you have here, with the Rancor...
YNL: Wait, you know what that thing is?
Todd: Sure, it's a Rancor, right? Jabba had one as a pet, to kill people, but they come from Dathomir.
Todd: I actually have my own Star Wars pop-up, about all the species in the cantina [Star Wars: The Mos Eisley Cantina Pop-Up Book, out of print], and the final page is a pop-up of the spaceport that plays the cantina music.
[Both boys immediately start humming the Cantina Song.]
YNL: Jeez, I hate that song.
Todd: Bet you didn't hate it in 1977.
YNL: It's true, we bought a 45 RPM record of that song in 1977!
YNL: So, your cantina book, is that a newfangled pop-up, or is that one from way back?
Todd: It's from the early-mid 90's I guess? Anyway, from long before I had children.
Todd: I have to go, I'll let you borrow that book.
M & Z: Bye, Todd!
YNL: Let's finish up with the Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy. What else do you think you should probably mention...
M: In the end, there's a picture of the last light-saber duel... between Luke and Darth Vader, and the light sabers actually LIGHT UP.
YNL: Do you think they're powered by the Force?
Z: Naw. I think they're powered by, like, motion sensors?
YNL: Like they're piezo electric?
Z: Or maybe like the refrigerator.
YNL: Now here's this one that I don't know anything about. Zhou you want to explain this book?
Z: Mm-hm. Star Wars: The Clone Wars: New Battlefronts: The Visual Guide.
YNL: Is it a pop up book or does it have LEGO in it or what?
Z: It doesn't have either. It is about mostly species and people, it has little mini-stories.
YNL: What's this art? The art looks terrible to me. Is it stills from the movie?
Z: The art is animated, it's from the animated movie or the show. I like how this book has all these mini stories, so that encourages you to buy more books, so you can read the full stories.
YNL: Uh huh.
Z: I always like that about a book. You do too, because people come in the library then, right?
YNL: I am not sure we have... well you know, I guess this book leads in to the DK Readers. Well. Would you buy it for one of your friends for a present?
Z: Not unless they were big Clone Wars fans. I like the regular movies better.
YNL: Milo you want to tell us about Star Wars: Millennium Falcon- A 3-D Owner's Guide?
M: It is extremely cool because every page shows a different level of the ship, and it has all the characters from the battle scene in A New Hope [Mommy mentally growls, "That movie is called STAR WARS!"] in the places they were in the movie when they're fighting the Tie fighters. Luke and R2D2 are there; Leia and Chewbacca are flying the ship. And also, it shows you things you didn't know about the Millenium Falcon, like it has three buzz droids.
YNL: Is it a drawing of each level when you turn the pages?
M: It's a cutout of each level with drawings on it, so you can see the whole ship as you look through the book.
YNL: Drawings or photographs?
M: Well, drawings, because you can't have photographs of something that never really existed.
YNL: Oh. Yeah.
YNL: To sum up, gentlemen: if you were going to buy one of these books for one of your friends, which one would it be?
Z: Pop up. I could stare at the pop up one for hours
M: LEGO. Most of my friends really dig that.
YNL: Because they're LEGO fans?
M: Some of them yes, but others because they like the LEGO Star Wars game on the Wii, and this could be a guide for them.
YNL: Well, thanks guys. As always, this has been an informative and entertaining discussion.
Z: You're welcome Mom.
And now, after laboriously transcribing this conversation from my phone, I think I'll put the kids to bed and go watch Fanboys again. The scene where the boys prove their die-hard geekitude to the Skywalker Ranch security chief is priceless. How old do you think my sons have to be before we let them watch it?