Tony Pacitti’s first experience of Star Wars was at age seven, after a particularly horrible encounter with the bullies in his new neighborhood. Defeated, covered in mud, little Tony trudged home to his mom, who decided that the best way to cheer him up would be to pop in the VHS of The Empire Strikes Back (taped off HBO). It was a life-changing moment for Pacitti, who likens it to a rebirth—well, after the first, cruder simile which I won’t repeat here. Thus kicks off a lifelong obsession (and love-hate relationship) with Star Wars and its creator, George Lucas, which Pacitti chronicles in his memoir: My Best Friend Is a Wookiee: One Boy’s Journey to Find His Place in the Galaxy.
As much as I’m tempted to do a compare-and-contrast with our own John Booth’s Collect All 21!, it’s probably not fair to either of them so I’ll try to review it on its own merits and let you decide for yourself. I’ll just mention briefly that the two books (I’ve read both) are quite different from each other—while they both have Star Wars in common, that’s about it.
Pacitti was not around when the Star Wars films first appeared, so he watched the original trilogy on his family’s TV, wearing out the VHS tapes. Even so, he quickly became an expert on all things Star Wars, collecting the trading cards, reading the books, and even participating in a regional card game tournament with his friend despite the fact that they didn’t, after all, really know how to play the game. Aside from this galaxy far, far away, there are lots of other bits of pop culture that captured Pacitti’s imagination, though Star Wars looms largest in his memory.
Pacitti’s memoir is in roughly chronological order, and he chronicles all the humiliation and shame he suffered at the hands of his fellow students. Nowadays it’s easy to argue that geeks are in style, and that parents of geeks no longer have to really worry about bullying—though some bullying has simply moved online — but when Pacitti was a kid this was definitely not the case. He seems to have gotten the worst of it, and as a result he treats every bad experience as a personal attack, every good one as some sort of validation. Pacitti doesn’t hide much from the reader; he lets it all out, whether it paints him as a victim or — occasionally — as the oppressor.
The voice that Pacitti utilizes is an odd mixture of adult and juvenile. As I said before, this is an R-rated memoir, largely for the colorful language he uses. But even though he’s writing as an adult, I felt that a lot of his memories weren’t filtered through the lens of adulthood, but rather conveyed to the reader in his junior-high or high school or college persona. It does give the memoir a sense of immediacy — you’re there with Pacitti throughout the various stages of his life, experiencing it as he does. On the other hand, it feels a bit shallow: hearing a teenager whine about his break-up which he initiated doesn’t really garner sympathy, and much of the book made me want to say, “Oh, grow up already. Yes, you were a loner, you were horny, you liked Star Wars. So what?” Maybe the real reason kids didn’t like Pacitti had nothing to do with his love for Star Wars and general nerdiness — maybe it was simply because he wasn’t very likable.
There are parts of the book that really shine and made me laugh, and other parts where the humor is so immature that it made me cringe. Whether or not you’ll enjoy this book may depend on your reaction to typical guy humor, plus your opinion of Star Wars. What do you think of Two and a Half Men, for instance? If you said “Brilliant!” then you’d probably really enjoy My Best Friend Is a Wookiee. If you said “Horrible!” then you may want to steer clear of this one.
Wired: A fascinating account of growing up completely immersed in the world of Star Wars; Pacitti definitely shows off his geek cred.
Tired: “Growing up” may be a bit of an exaggeration; Pacitti may be a Star Wars genius but he comes off as kind of a jerk.
Disclosure: I received an advance uncorrected proof from the publisher at Comic-Con.