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Author, film researcher and member of the Swedish Military History Commission.

Monday, May 22, 2017

My Top 3 Star Wars 1977 Antiques

My three gems from 1977 - thanks dad!

The wear evident on my 1977 Star Wars publication is a testimony of my special interest in how Star Wars came about. The two records released the same year have also never ceased to inspire me.

The Movie Spectacular pictured above was published by Marvel Comics already in 1977 and features sources of inspiration like Amazing Stories magazine and Flash Gordon comic strips (that became movies from 1936), wonderful photos from both the filming and actual film as well as some background about the people behind the movie.

You can, of course, listen to the soundtrack on Spotify or a CD. But IMHO nothing beats listening to the 1977 record on a gramophone. Well, OK, a live performance by an orchestra might be better. But then I am also fortunate to have a 1977 record with the actual dialogue and sound effects. Although/because it is sound only it adds a dimension of imagination. So, in spite of 3D technology and what have you, listening to "The Story of Star Wars" still is a wonderful pleasure.

Interested in Star Wars behind the scenes and the history of Star Wars? In that case I am certain you will want to read about my top three Star Wars books.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Top 3 Star Wars Books

There is a pretty high probability that you too have drunk blue milk on May 4.

With the 40th anniversary of the release of the very first "Star Wars" (later retitled "Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope"), fast approaching (this May 25) these are the Star Wars books you're looking for...

Now, if you are expecting me to include Star Wars novels in my list I will have to somewhat disappoint you, although I will say that some of the Boba Fett quotes in The Bounty Hunter Wars: The Mandalorian Armor (1998) by K.W. Jeter are magnificent. The are two reasons the following list is not about the novels, or the comics: I have not read that many of them and my main interest is the movies themselves.

So, the following is "just" a list of the three books about Star Wars that I have come to value most, after almost 40 years of being a Star Wars fan. Yes, I saw Star Wars on the big screen in 1977, at least twice and it might have been thrice.

1. I find it hard to even imagine a more complete book about how it all started than The Making of Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler. But understand that it is not about the episodes that followed.

2. To get what I believe is a strong idea what it was like making and especially designing the first Star Wars movie, turn to Cinema Alchemist by Roger Christian. Mr. Christian being the gentleman who i.a. built THE lightsaber.

3. To begin to understand the whole galaxy of films, books, comics", conventions etc that Star Wars today constitutes - go to How Star Wars Conquered The Universe by Chris Taylor.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lenin In Stockholm 1917-2017

Fake history on the cover, Stalin was not part of Lenin´s homecoming via Sweden.

As a student in Soviet Moscow 1991 I daily passed a giant Lenin poster in the entrance of our dormitory. Until one day it had just vanished. Previously, I had seen the spot-turned-into-a-monument in Stockholm where he was photographed in 1917. It is now 100 years since he was standing on that spot, on his way to revolutionary Russia.

The train trip that Vladimir Lenin made from his long exile in Switzerland to the epicenter of Russian politics in Petrograd (the former and later Saint Petersburg) is now on my mind both for historic and current reasons. One is tempted to call what Germany did, making that trip happen, an act of hybrid war against Russia. Going a step further one might say that the modern Kremlin has recently itself come to practice the German idea of helping Lenin. But not just helping one Lenin, but a bunch of "Lenins" in several countries, thus increasing the stress not only on targeted states but also on selected alliances.

Catherine Merridale's recent book Lenin on the Train makes Lenin's 1917 journey to Petrograd's Finland Station come alive, and it has now also appeared in Swedish and I have therefore reviewed it in my native language. Apparently, it has come out in English with two different covers. I must say that the one also used for the Swedish version is superior to the modernistic one. Not least because it contains a "beautiful" example of fake history standing right behind Lenin - Stalin was not on that train.

I have previously blogged in English about Lenin monuments in Sweden, like the one in Stockholm that is all about his physical presence in Stockholm on April 13, 1917. The next day he arrived at a train station not far from where I am writing these words, the one in Boden - that unlike the Stockholm station has retained very much of its outer appearance. From Boden Lenin did not have to travel long to reach Russia, as at the time the border town of Tornio in north Finland was still part of the former Russian Empire, since a few weeks called the Russian republic.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Freedom Is Not Free

The destroyer "Georg Thiele", part of the task force sent to Narvik - where she still is.

On April 9, 1940 both Denmark and Norway were invaded by Germany. Until last year there were more than a dozen defenders of Norway 1940 still alive, such as Swedish volunteer Jan Danielsen. This year Jan is no longer around and soon this major event in Nordic history will have no living witnesses.

Being with Jan and listening to him was something really special, he was simply a wonderful person that inspired me with his vitality and ideas. He didn´t have to say things like "freedom is not free" - he had lived those words.

All in all some 300 Swedes went over to Norway in 1940, all to join the Norwegian Army and none to fight for Germany. There would have been many more if the Swedish government had not suppressed this volunteer movement. There were hundreds, if not some thousands, in the just disbanded Swedish Volunteer Corps for Finland that Jan had also been in, that were eager to also fight for Norway. But the Swedish government basically stopped this from happening.

Jan with local Narvik reenactor Jon, wearing the type of uniform that Jan wore.

Thanks to veterans like Jan I have come to better understand how rich with possibilities life is, and how very small most of my "problems" actually are.

Me onboard "Georg Thiele". The life vest is because I went there by a small boat.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Stockholm Terror Attack 2017

Having lived in Stockholm and with family & at least one friend very close to today´s attack, it is with an unreal feeling I am writing this. But instead of just being angry I decided to write down how I perceive the attack and what I feel must be done.

A truck was driven into a crowd in central Stockholm, killing at least four and wounding about 15. The similarity to the recent terrorist attacks with vehicles in Germany, France and the UK is obvious. But what may be just as telling is that the truck came to a bloody halt only about 100 meters from the spot where a suicide bomber attacked in 2010, miraculously only killing himself. His name was Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly and he was a Swedish citizen. According to the FBI, his bombing could have killed 30 to 40 people.

However, the 2010 Stockholm bombing was far from the first sign. In fact, the first Swedish citizen to die for the sake of jihad did so in 1993. Yes, 24 years ago. His name was Mikael Glinka and I have written about him. Since then several hundred Swedish citizens have joined jihadist groups. Now, the (main) killer in today´s mass murder may not have been a Swedish citizen, but the problem then still is jihadism in Sweden. It is simply appalling how only last year Swedish legislation began to catch up with reality, and how top Swedish terrorism experts (I am not one of them) have long been largely ignored. This slow pace and ignorance is lethal. It has to stop.

Monday, March 27, 2017

New Spanish Civil War Volunteer Biography

An International Brigade veteran from Germany is portrayed in this new book.

Having met and interviewed several Swedish veterans of the Spanish Civil War (see Swedes at War 1914-45) I have most books written by or about them. There is a strange gap among them that I have been thinking about lately, thanks to a new book.

Walter Struck was one of the many thousands of Germans who fought in Spain 1936-39. Most were in the German pro-Franco Condor Legion, but there were also rather large groups of Germans within the opposing International Brigades of the Comintern (Communist International). Struck was one of the Germans in the Brigades that joined up via Norway. His eventful life in Spain and afterwards in Sweden has now been documented by his son Rune Struck in the book Pappa ville aldrig prata om Ebro, which translates as "Dad never wanted to talk about Ebro". This is a book that attempts to, and succeeds, in painting a vivid portrait of a German Spanish Civil War volunteer. One gets to know the man behind the strong convictions and it is no simple hero portrait.

Rune Struck knows how to write and has had access both to good notes from his father and has searched for traces of him in today´s Spain. Like yours truly he found out that the memory of the war is still very much alive in Spain, in surprising ways and in spite of the fact that most war participants are now dead. I also recognize the author´s joy in actually finding places described so many decades ago, almost as they were. Those moments will never go away.

The book does not end with Ebro and the fall of the Spanish Republic but follows Walter Struck to his refugee life in Sweden, from which he took part in the information war (to use a more modern term) against the Third Reich. After 1945 he for a time considers returning to Germany, but opts for joining Swedish society together with his Norwegian wife and children.

Rune Struck´s quest for his father´s and also mother´s wartime past is a moving one. I suspect that I will many times look back at this book´s questions about Germany and the Germans. Reading the book I also came to think of the very small number of Swedish biographies about Spanish Civil War veterans. If one excludes a handful of autobiographies, I can only come up with two previous biographies in Swedish: Frisco-Per (1985) by Arvid Rundberg and Helmut Kirschey (1998) by Richard J√§ndel. Considering that over 550 Swedes took part in the Spanish Civil War, plus the Spain veterans from other countries (like Walter Struck and Helmut Kirschey), the number of biographies in Swedish is surprisingly low.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Building Lightsabers & Understanding The Force

Two Star Wars-related books that gave me a deeper understanding of not just SW.

OK, you have seen all the films more than once and want to understand them on a deeper level, and especially how their look came about, and what the Star Wars story (stories) are really about. Well, in that case these are the droi... books you are looking for.

Cinema Alchemist is a pretty good title, but the subtitle is even better: How I built the Lightsaber and Won an Oscar. I mean, that is just about the best subtitle I have ever come across. This is simply a terrific book if you want to understand how the look of both "Star Wars" and "Alien" was created, very often from pieces of junk - making Luke´s words about the Millenium Falcon ring even more true ("What a piece of junk!"). The thing is that this book is written not by some film researcher but the man that actually did very much of the actual designing/decorating on the sets, Roger Christian.

Simply put, Cinema Alchemist is a treasure trove if you are into Star Wars, and especially the first trilogy. Aside from learning about all the gadgets and spaceships you will find out what the filming was like, the drama (serious!) and sweat (lots!) behind the camera. I had seen and read quite a lot about the filming, but this book has loads of details I was not aware of, or had not fully understood.

Surprisingly, Cinema Alchemist is not only about the many droids, filming in Tunisia etc but also about the ideas behind the manuscripts, not least the ideas behind the Force and the Buddhist influence.

Now, if trying to understand the Force and the deeper ideas behind Star Wars is your cup of tea, then you should also considering getting The Gospel according to Star Wars by John C. McDowell. Like the subtitle says it is about Faith, Hope, and the Force. Unlike Roger Christian, however, John C. McDowell shows that also Christianity is a rather large part of the Star Wars story. Being a Christian myself I have long thought of Star Wars as not being in conflict with my faith, but in fact providing encouragement.

Now, a word of warning about The Gospel according to Star Wars. It is not an easy read and I found large parts simply too complicated. Had I been more into theology I would probably have appreciated also those parts. But, as this is the kind of book that allows you to skip pages - fine with me. The parts that I did like are really important to me, and I will return to them.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Manhattan Project´s Swedish Connections

Unofficial emblem of the Manhattan Project, circa 1946.

Seldom has a TV series about WWII begun with the same slow pace as "Manhattan". After having seen also the second episode I was not that keen to continue watching it, in spite of the terrific acting, look, atmosphere and the subject itself - the people who made the first atomic bomb. But then something happened.

From lukewarm feelings for the series I developed a real attachment, and after the introduction of the Dane Niels Bohr into the story I keep asking myself how it is possible that both Swedish historians, writers and film directors have been able to pay so little attention to the Swedish connections to the Manhattan Project. I mean, first we have the most crucial trip of Niels Bohr via Sweden, and then we have Arthur Adams, the Sweden-born Soviet spy (and former osnaz soldier) who was focused on the Manhattan project. For more about Adams - see my latest book.

Incidentally, Netflix right now show both "Manhattan" and "The Heavy Water War". So, the same media now has both the Allied and the German atomic bomb stories.

Well, Swedish film directors, read up on Niels Bohr and Arthur Adams...