Monday, January 30, 2012

A couple of extremely tangential Star Wars books

One afternoon at my day job, which is working in a public library, I was absently handling a coupling of books when I jumped with alarm, hearing a high-pitched roar emanating from one of them, which suddenly began vibrating in my hand.

Everyone in the room looked at me—this being a library, it was awfully quite until the mysterious sound broke out from the stack of books in my hand—and I looked down at the book:I was pretty surprised by the book’s existence, despite the fact that I have at this point in my life seen so many different Star Wars related books on every conceivable subject for every conceivable audience that I probably shouldn’t be surprised by anything branded Star Wars.

The title of the book, written by a Wu Kee Smith (which I highly suspect of being some kind of pen name) and illustrated with chunky, cartoony art by JAKe (which I also assume is a pen name), makes the gag clear. In a sense, the title of the book is the entire book.

Well, there’s that, and the plastic, slightly-abstracted Chewbacca’s head-shaped plastic doodad in the lower right corner of the book. There’s a speaker where the mouth should be, and a series of ten buttons on Chewie’s forehead and beard. Pushing one will elicit a wookie call of some sort; they all sound like Chewie noises I recall from the movies, but then, it’s been a while, and perhaps these are new lines of dialogue, rather than samples.

I kind of wish the doodad was sold separately; I wouldn’t mind having one of those around the house, but I don’t think it’s worth buying this $17 book just to pry off the Chewie call thingee.

After a faux-serious introduction, in which Smith writes about the growing presence of Wookies in the galaxy and the problems generated by miscommunication between Wookies and non-Wookies, the remainder of the book is divided into two-page spreads. Each of these features a drawing by this JAKe character, and a general setting (“In the Starship,” “In the Cantina”).

The left-hand border offers pronunciation and translation of the Wookie phrase you hear when you push the corresponding button, and some other helpful phrases. On the right hand-border, there’s a sentence or two about the social setting.These progress rather quickly from semi-serious to super-silly, from the starship to “In a Meeting,” “At the Mall” and “At the Art Museum.” JAKe’s art is often funny, and full of fun cameos to search for—the art museum, for example, has a Picasso-esque portrait of Princess Leia, a Roy Lichenstein-style image of an X-wing fighter blasting a TIE Fighter, and a bust of George Lucas—but the book still feels slight. It’s only 21 pages, with very little text of each.

I’m not sure how much room there actually is to expand the gag. I would not at all be surprised to learn that someone somewhere has actually worked on inventing and or translating the Wookie language—which the introduction tells me is called Shyriiwook—in the same manner that Trekkies have learned Klingon or fans have taught themselves J.R.R. Tolkein’s various fantasy languages, but a more thorough, more serious book on Wookiese, er, Shyriiwook wouldn’t necessarily be any funnier.

The thing with these space opera things, is you want to make them as short and to-the-point as possible, rather than letting them grow too big and too bloated, or you risk seeing them crushed under their own weight.

While How To Speak Wookie bears a “Copyright 2011 Lucasfilm Ltd.” notation in the legalese fine print, I could find nothing similar on the title page of Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, a heavily illustrated (with doodles) prose book for grade-schoolers.

There is a publisher’s note which indicates that it’s a work of fiction and so on, and Angleberger acknowledges Lucas, Frank Oz, Irvin Kershner, Lawrence Kasdan “and the many others who made the real Yoda real.”

So, here is the premise of this book: There’s a really weird kid at school named Dwight, and this really weird kid started wearing a little poorly-made origami Yoda on his finger. The Origami Yoda dispenses advice, speaking in Dwight’s terrible impression of Yoda’s voice. Origami Yoda is very wise, and his advice is almost always right, bringing benefit to the kids who follow it. An argument develops between Dwight’s classmates over whether Origami Yoda is “real” or not, because Dwight isn’t really that bright, and it seems impossible that Dwight could be the source of O.Y.’s wisdom, even if he is the guy carrying around and talking for him.

The book takes the form of Tommy’s casebook, dedicated to answering the question. Each chapter is told by different characters in Tommy and Dwight’s school, the type and font often changing to indicate the change in narrator. At the end of each story, Tommy offers his thoughts on the anecdote, and his friend Harvey, an Origami Yoda skeptic, offers his. Their friend Kellen “doodled all over” the case file, which is where the illustrations come from.

So it’s basically like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, only written by middle-schoolers, and about a Yoda finger puppet.

I don’t read a lot of stuff like this, so I don’t know how it compares to, say, Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Junie B. Jones or Cam Jansen or whatever, but I thought it was all rather cleverly written, and Angleberger’s plotting is superb, so that everything that happens throughout the story happens for a reason that is clear in the climax. As a work of fiction, there’s fine craftsman ship involved. Kellen’s doodles are actually drawn by either cover artist Jason Rosenstock or Angleberger himself, depending on the piece. Each page has a little X-wing or TIE fighter in the corner, and various Star Wars characters appear throughout.

My favorite illustrations are those of O.Y. himself. His dialogue is always circled within a comics dialogue bubble, and a little drawing of Origami Yoda appears next to it.

For example:The book ends with a chapter entitled “How To Fold Origami Yoda,” and I had planned on trying to make one to see how it worked out (And also because I would like to have an Origami Yoda around the house). Sadly, it was too complicated, and I gave up. Because I am lazy.

I enjoyed this book, and you might too. Especially if you are in middle school, and/or you like Star Wars. I imagine it must have proved fairly popular, as the sequel Darth Paper Strikes Back has already been published.

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