The Secret History of Star Wars is a thoroughly unauthorised book. It brings together a vast amount of detective work to sort fact from legend to reveal how the saga really evolved. Author Michael Kaminski spoke to Rebel Briefing about the tome’s creation and legacy.
Boasting a whopping 533 pages, The Secret History of Star Wars is a Bantha-sized book. But don’t let that daunt you because, by the time you’ve read it, you will have unlearned what you have learned about our favourite galaxy far, far away.
For those not familiar with it, Michael’s work is a collection which juxtaposes the many, often conflicting interviews with George Lucas, his closest friends and collaborators from the ’70s to mid-2000s. The Maker, as described in the text, is notorious for updating and shifting his films, insisting that whatever is current is the way he planned it all along.
Speaking from his hidden base in Canada, Michael says his aim was to tell the real story behind the saga. “There’s an alternative history put forward by Lucasfilm that the series was more or less blueprinted in the 1970s,” he explains. “In reality, most of it was made up as they went along, which is a much more interesting story.”
Writing the mammoth monograph was a labour of love for Michael. Luckily, he had been thinking about the book since he was a kid. “When I was 10, I read Dale Pollock’s Skywalking, which describes all the wildly different early drafts of the films, which I found absolutely fascinating,” he says.
From there, the budding author’s personal archive was expanded to include texts on George Lucas and Star Wars going back to the 1980s, which he was able to put to good use. He did the same with a scrapbook stuffed with newspaper clippings, plus his vintage collection of magazines by Rolling Stone, Time, Starlog, and Bantha Tracks. “I had amassed an impressive collection of stuff, so I knew I had a great jumping-off point in that I wasn’t starting from scratch,” he says.
A Wild Beast
Michael started his manuscript the morning after seeing Revenge of the Sith at the cinema. The 2005 start was a key date as Episode III marked the end of the saga. It also finished what the author calls the “George Lucas phase of the series.”
But, like an angry Rancor, his text soon became a wild and untameable beast. Alarmingly, each new draft was bigger than the last. “There were these holes that needed filling. If I’d known it was going to be a 500 plus page project, I don’t think I would have been up for it. I thought it would only be 200 pages long.”
At the time, Michael also worked 15-hour plus days as a camera operator in the film industry. He remembers sitting in his car at lunchtime (red biro in hand) editing his latest draft before going back to set. After a gruelling day, he would go home and add new quotes before bed. “It sounds exhausting but it wasn’t, because it was fun. Looking back, I do wonder how I did it, though.”
Having completed a large chunk of the book, he asked friends for feedback. One of these was Rogue Squadron series author Michael Stackpole, who advised him on what to cut and edit. He also told him what it was like to work for Lucasfilm in the ’90s.
Robert Marks of Legacy Book Press also came on board as the publisher. A significant change was to release the volume in print form – it was initially intended as an eBook, to be shared freely on the net.
Released in November 2008, The Secret History of Star Wars has become an essential read for hardcore fans. Devotees praise its meticulous research, and for setting the record straight that Lucasfilm had the entire Skywalker story in mind from the get-go.
One enthusiast is author Justin Berger, writer of The Empire Strikes Back Unauthorised Timeline. He told Rebel Briefing: “What makes it an essential read is its objective perspective on the history of the saga’s evolution.
“For me, one of the things that stand out is George Lucas’ decision to make Darth Vader Luke’s father. The way Kaminski makes a case for it happening during Empire’s re-writes in 1978 – as opposed to it always having been there from the start – is well researched and formulated. You understand why Lucas made his choice at the time, and Kaminski backs it up with evidence.”
The book is also a regular topic of discussion on Rebel Force Radio, a popular weekly Star Wars radio show and podcast. Co-host Jimmy McInerney calls it essential reading because it’s so thorough. “Everything is backed up with quotes from newspaper articles,” he tells Rebel Briefing.
“It isn’t just hearsay; it is real, unvarnished history based on documentation, warts and all. While official Lucasfilm publications can sugarcoat history, Kaminsky tells what I think is the clearest story about the making of the entire saga.”
Because of the book’s popularity, it’s likely more people now accept that the Star Wars story was not planned from the beginning. “I don’t know if I helped this shift in attitude, but I might have,” Michael says.
“Alongside Jonathan Rinzler’s brilliant ‘Making of’ books, it’s now common to meet fans who are aware of this type of secret history. While Rinzler’s work tells us more about ‘how’ they made the movies, my volume focuses on ‘why’ they made the films they did.”
So, is Michael happy with the volume’s popularity among fans?
“I knew it would be good, but it has surpassed my expectations. I never thought anyone would write something like this. I knew if I didn’t do it, it might never happen, so I had to be the one to do it. People have responded well because they also wanted a book like this, even if they didn’t even realise it.”
Despite its weighty subject matter and forensic detail, he admits the title is a bit of a misnomer. “It’s not really a ‘secret’ history’ because the interviews and screenplays were always available – someone just needed to dig them up. As I said, I’ve been researching this story and digging up the evidence for a long time; I just needed to put it all together for readers. It was a fun bit of detective work.”
While it may take time to work your way through the Death Star-sized tome, Michael’s work shows the lengths dedicated fans will go to bring people new information about the making of our favourite saga in a galaxy, far, far away. It’s a mission worth taking on.
The Secret History of Star Wars is available on Amazon and from other good bookstores. The audiobook, narrated by comedian and impressionist Josh Robert Thompson (his impression of George Lucas and other key players is worth the price alone) is now available on audible.