Frankly, the whole concept of experiencing ”Phantom Menace” as minimally adorned text is hopelessly mono-media. Who wants to read hollow extensions of Lucas’ juvenile — even infantile — dialogue without the compensating pleasures of special effects and 120-decibel blasts of John Williams’ rousing score? It’s like trying to salivate over a written description of a Yodel instead of ripping off the wrapper and snarfing it.
If there’s any part of the experience that benefits from being spun into book form, it’s the visuals, not the words. And in Star Wars: Episode I: Incredible Cross-Sections, DK Books has come up with a worthy sequel to a previous ”Cross-Sections” volume that dissected the original trilogy’s spacecraft. Written by archaeologist David West Reynolds, the book treats each piece of made-up hardware as if it’s the product of a long-lost culture. It explains all sorts of things that go by too quickly to grasp (like a Droid Starfighter that’s a self-contained, sentient robot — ”way cool”!). Reynolds also teases out a narrative thread barely articulated in Lucas’ script: ”Phantom Menace” is a tale partly about militaristic ”market forces (that) have begun to undermine the ancient traditions of craftsmanship,” which are evident in the lovely, curvy designs of every kind of spacecraft you’ll find produced on the embattled planet Naboo.
Too much pseudo-art-historical pretense for you? Have a laugh instead with The Star Wars Cookbook: Wookiee Cookies and Other Galactic Recipes, by Robin Davis. I can’t vouch for the dishes’ taste, but the witty pictures of ”Greedo’s Burritos” and ”Han-burgers” made me laugh more than all of Jar Jar’s jokes put together. And if you hunger for simple picture-book showcases of ”Phantom”’s elaborate production design, take your pick of the Queen Amidala Paper Doll Book (all the outfits! all the wigs!) or The Ultimate Star Wars Episode I Sticker Book (conveniently re-stickable). Avoid like an Imperial torture droid, however, the wretched Micro-Vehicle Punch-Outs. The back cover shows elaborate renderings of six ships and vehicles, but when you turn to the actual flat paper sheets inside, they look like somebody drew them with fat-tipped magic markers; all the borders are blurred. In 20 minutes, I couldn’t piece together the Naboo Starfighter properly — and the edges had ugly little white bumps from where you punch out the paper. If that’s an example of Naboo’s vaunted brand of craftsmanship, no wonder the Empire wiped it out. Cross-Sections: A- Cookbook: A- Paper Doll: B+ Sticker Book: B+ Punch-Outs: D