The World According to Star Wars by Cass R. Sunstein – Review

One of the universal traits of fans of any topic or genre is the innate desire to talk to others about their personal passion.  In The World According to Star Wars by Cass R. Sunstein, most definitely an enthusiastic Star Wars fan, Sunstein has been given the podium so to speak to direct a number of his thoughts about Star Wars across various topics to the general readership.  The result is a fun, light read, which only hiccups a few times when Sunstein steps a little too far trying to excitedly pull too much non-Star Wars into the picture.

Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor, brings the analytical mind of his profession to bear in discussing various elements of the Star Wars franchise.  Across ten chapters, referred to as ‘Episodes,’ Sunstein grapples with Star Wars in two different ways.  First, Sunstein explores why exactly Star Wars is popular in the first place, beginning with the original film in 1977.  The exploration of its popularity leads to discussion of the themes of the film and following trilogies, such as the Christian theological components, the family elements, and the political statements that constitute the fabric upon which our intergalactic Bayeux Tapestry is stitched upon.  Second, the author deliberates on how Star Wars can be applicable to real life, providing examples within the Star Wars universe to demonstrate aspects of the real world.  This extends to everything from real world perception of athletes to a lengthy side trip into how Constitutional law has evolved over the course of the United States’ history.

The result is almost always entertaining, though be warned, in the course of explaining how for example popularity of a topic can grow, Sunstein unflinchingly dedicates a number of pages to academic approaches, methods, and studies.  Undoubtedly, he has reduced them to their barest parts for ease of understanding, but at times, the weeds still grow a little high and the reader’s attention threatens to wander away with hopes of getting back to the true topic at hand, Star Wars.  There are a couple of instances of this occurring, but they are generally brief and do provide a new perspective to frame the how and why of Star Wars’ popularity or the manner in which the Emperor Palpatine may not have expected the rebellion to be as successful as it was.

The roughest chapter, surprisingly, is the second to last, dedicated to Constitutional law. Literally Sunstein’s bread and butter, and perhaps because he is a passionate teacher of the subject, it’s a section that overstays its welcome.  Granted, as survivors of a Constitutional law class ourselves, our own knowledge may have made the topic a bit more ho hum than it truly is, but nevertheless, the chapter felt a few pages too long.  Length is an issue for The World According to Star Wars, as it’s a fairly short book, only 180 pages, discounting notes, index and acknowledgments. It’s also published in a physically smaller format, which stretches out the page count with pages that have full sized text but are not printed on your typical full sized page.

None of these complaints represent a reason not to sit down and read The World According to Star Wars, as it is a thoroughly enjoyable work.  It does offer bits of information about the origin of Star Wars, which makes one want to immediately run out and purchase J.W. Rinzler’s heralded history of the making of the film.  Likewise, from a fan perspective, it’s fun to engage in a conversation with the text over the Star Wars related topics Sunstein raises, such as the proper viewing order of the current films or the even more controversial issue of ranking the films by quality (perhaps the most contentious moment in the book). Sunstein also offers one of the best distilled explanations of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, providing a framework which allows for easy application to not just Star Wars, but every tale or story that has embedded itself into our cultural consciousness.

If you are a fan of Star Wars, you will enjoy Cass Sunstein’s The World According to Star Wars. If you enjoy analytical evaluations of different subjects or genres, you may also enjoy this work.  Perhaps the only hesitation that might arise for anyone interested in Sunstein’s work is the price with a hefty $21.99 for the hardcover.  For approximately 180 pages of actual material, which would be even fewer pages if the book was printed in your standard hard cover size format, it’s a bit pricey.  However, some quick price shopping will reveal a much more wallet friendly price around $12 – $13.  At that price, The World According to Star Wars becomes a very affordable gift to any Star Wars fan, including one’s self, which guarantees a light and enjoyable discourse on one of our favorite topics.


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