Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in the Galaxy – Review

The author of Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in the Galaxy is an expert in the field whose knowledge of the subject extends back decades.  Wonderfully, this applies to both the fictitious author of the tome, Jaynor of Bith, and to the writer behind Jaynor, Lucasfilm Story Group member, Pablo Hidalgo.  The history of both writers frame the work, with an in-universe introductory essay by Jaynor, and on the last page, an About the Author, concerning Mr. Hidalgo, and each details a commitment to the subject, be it propaganda in the Star Wars universe or Star Wars, the franchise, that extends over a lifetime.  Such commitment engenders a love for the subject, and that affection is apparent through Jaynor’s waxing upon the topic of art and its power in the universe, and in Hidalgo’s attention to creating Jaynor in the first place.  As a result, Propaganda is a reference book which rises above the required duty of informing and entertains, as well.

At its heart, Propaganda is a history of the Star Wars universe which is divided into five parts, each dedicated to specific artistic and historic eras ranging from the Old Republic through the Clone Wars to the time of the Galactic empire; the rebellion against it, and the rise of the First Order and the time period of The Force Awakens.  As an in-character history, a first for the line of Star Wars reference books, it also brings a certain element of enjoyable perspective to that history.  Since the author is not omniscient, the history does not carry with it an exacting detail, such as the role of the Jedi in the defeat of Count Dooku or General Grievous.  This amusingly follows Jaynor’s own lecturing on the preference of the Jedi Order to remain out of the headlines for their activities during the Clone Wars.  But, at the same time, the history bends into precision when discussing the topic at hand, the art of propaganda and its creators.  Those details are related very much as if one is sitting in the audience of a lecturer touching upon one familiar topic after another.  Thankfully, Jaynor is not a boring lecturer.

Through the course of Propaganda, aspects of the stories we already know well and love, the events of the Star Wars films, and to a lesser extent, the expanded universe of The Clone Wars, Rebels, and novels, are placed in a new context.  An example would be Luke Skywalker’s fame following the destruction of the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance sought to keep his identity secret, or as an extension of this, the public knowledge of the contributions of Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Skywalker in general; almost non-existent until later.  Likewise, it underlines the fact that Leia Organa was essentially the all-star representative of the rebellion.  Propaganda also places into context the galaxy at large, helpfully clarifying how the galactic-placement of different planets and peoples, the Core, the Mid-Rim, and the Outer Rim, affected the turn of history, from the fall of the Republic to the rise of the rebellion.  In the manner of doing this, from following the history of the art, Hidalgo also highlights the evil of Palpatine’s empire. Then there’s also the art.

Propaganda is full of art.  Over 100 pages of incredible, beautiful, and wonderful art, with each accompanied by an attribution (when known) and a caption explaining that art’s importance in understanding the role and purpose of propaganda through the ages.  From encouraging colonization of the Outer Rim to convincing a war weary galactic citizenry to support the new Galactic Empire, Propaganda draws upon our own historic relationship with influential artwork from before the First World War to the present day promotional material of political campaigns.  Knowledge of our own propaganda history isn’t necessary to enjoy the art in this work and in its own way, Propaganda offers an education of the art form that extends from the Star Wars universe to our own.

Unacknowledged, except briefly in passing, are the changes in artistic style, perhaps given the difficulty of translating terms such as Art Deco or Art Nouveau or Abstractionism into ideas in the Star Wars universe without breaking character.  The styles do change, but our own wartime styles in composition and lettering are the predominant source of inspiration for the artwork.  Almost every page has a piece of art that makes the reader want to transfer it from the page to a framed spot on the wall, and one of the niftiest aspects of Proaganda is that ten selected pieces of the artwork come in folders attached to the inside of the book cover ready for such a project.  Generally, it’s best to describe them as half dedicated to the bad guys and half for the good guys of Star Wars (or a few from every trilogy).  The selection is great, though, one will undoubtedly and disappointedly realize that perhaps their most favorite piece of art was not included in these favored ten.

As usual with our reviews, the remaining question is who would enjoy Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in the Galaxy?  Any general Star Wars fans who love art would undoubtedly enjoy this work, as would any fan who has a love for the politics of the franchise (admittedly, we were sold on purchasing Propaganda after hearing a review of it on the politics focused podcast, Beltway Banthas).  For those fans that are looking for a concise telling of the history of the Star Wars universe, beginning from just before The Phantom Menace and leading right into The Force Awakens, Propaganda serves extremely well in this capacity.  One who read Propaganda will walk away with a working knowledge of how the Republic fell, how the Empire rose, and why the rebellion against that Empire came into existence.  They will even pick up a little knowledge on how the First Order and the General Leia led Resistance developed.  Fans who limit themselves to just the films and do not explore the Expanded Universe, may find Propaganda a bit overwhelming with details that reference people and events they might only vaguely be aware of from the franchise in its current state.

Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in the Galaxy is a fantastic addition to the Expanded Universe of the franchise, and also, the reference materials available to those who want to dig a little deeper into the adventures set in a galaxy far, far away.  Pablo Hidalgo, who has authored other reference materials, such as the Visual Dictionary for The Force Awakens, has shown an adept skill in crawling into the mind of a character.  Perhaps a legacy of his work in the RPG industry, Hidalgo should certainly consider doing so again in the future to explore another aspect of the Star Wars universe.  For now, however, we can turn to Propaganda and enjoy it as one of the best new additions to Star Wars, and given the quality of the art, do so again, and again, and again.

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