This is part one in a four-part series of interviews with the authors of the new book Ultimate Star Wars. The DK reference guide is intended to both introduce new fans to the Star Wars franchise and refresh the memories of longtime fans about the state of the universe.
Adam Bray, the author of DK's Star Wars Rebels: The Visual Guide, focused on the Rebels section of Ultimate Star Wars. In our interview, he discussed the fascinating lesson he learned about the poetry of the prequel and original trilogies while working on the book.
What attracted you to this project?
Well, to be quite honest, I'm open for anything. Im always happy to work on Star Wars. The funny thing about it is, I didn't even put any thought into the fact that this was going to be such a big deal, that it was kind of a groundbreaking milestone for Star Wars canon and where we are at Star Wars publishing. It just sounded like a fun experience, a great project to work on, and an opportunity to learn a lot in the process, which is really important to me—to always be able to learn something new and to contribute something new to whatever I'm working on.
How did they pitch this to you?
It was pretty straightforward: that it's essentially a Star Wars encyclopedia taking into account all six movies and both animated series, but that it's presented in a new way, that things are featured chronologically as they first appear in the saga, so that you can follow along and watch from the beginning [and] look things up as you go. [They also said] that it sets the framework before we launch into the new movies and upcoming novels and comics and things like that.
Who is this book aimed at?
It really is for everyone, whether you're a brand-new fan just getting into things and don't know much about Star Wars at all—it's going to be particularly great for [those fans]—or even older fans. I'm nearly 40 years old, so fans as old [as] or older than I am. I think [those fans] are still going to learn something new here. With the reading level, it is not one of DK's readers for younger readers. It is full adult reading level. In that sense, it may be harder for smaller kids to tackle. They're going to want to read it with their mom and dad.
I like how you sprinkle in a few key events. Was there a lot of debate over which ones to choose, or were the choices obvious?
They were more assigned, to be honest, from DK. But I think it was based off of what our own individual interests and focuses were as authors. I did Anakin's choice [to betray the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith] and the redemption of Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi. I think I did something related to Order 66 and R2's mission in A New Hope and the Battle of Naboo. I particularly enjoyed those sections; I think it might have even been my favorite part of the book. It came at the very end when we were writing.
I just really enjoyed the opportunity with those spreads, to take a step back and look at the bigger picture and tie everything together. One of the things that I particularly liked about it was that I was doing Anakin's choice and the end [of Jedi] where Luke redeems his father. Those two scenes…I'd never really thought about it as deeply as I did when I was writing it. I saw how those two scenes are actually deliberate parallels of each other and mirror each other in a really beautiful way. The way Anakin, in his choice, he's trying to save someone, he's trying to save Padmé, but he's doing it for very selfish reasons—to possess her. And he's willing to sacrifice everybody else just so he can save her for himself. Whereas in this other spread, where I'm talking about Luke saving his father, he wants to save his father, but he's doing it in a very selfless way. He's willing to sacrifice himself and die in the action of it, and even to fail, but the attempt to try is noble. In Revenge of the Sith, we've got the Emperor shooting Mace Windu with Force lighting, and Anakin watching and having to decide, and in Return of the Jedi, we've got the Emperor shooting Luke with lighting, and again Anakin has to make that decision and has the opportunity, finally, to recast that. So I'm writing these two scenes, these key moments, that beautifully parallel each other. That was exciting for me to examine that for the first time.
It's interesting that you put it that way. I'm only just now thinking about the symmetry of those two scenes.
It was really exciting to me when that clicked, and I started seeing more and more of that in the movies. George Lucas himself has talked about how writing Star Wars is kind of like a symphony with these recurring themes and motifs appearing again and again. It's something I appreciate myself, as I've studied and written music. I get what he's talking about. But often these sorts of things, you never really think about until it comes time to write about it. Discovering it along the way, it's a real joy for me, and you begin to see the brilliance in both trilogies, the way they work together, that is really by and large overlooked, even by the fans.
This book lists entries chronologically. What was the process like to catalog every single entry?
That was really hard. [Laughs] Actually, for the most part, all the credit really goes to Leland Chee and Pablo [Hidalgo, of the Lucasfilm Story Group]. I think they were really integral in setting up the outline and the order that everything appears.
I received the main outline from the publisher and there were some things on there that I looked at and I thought, "Gosh, that doesn't look right. I don't think that's when something appeared." At that time, I hadn't seen John Jackson Miller's new book A New Dawn, and we took that into account for this book, and that reestablished a few things—I think a few ships in a new order, outside of even the movies and Clone Wars and things like that. So I had to go back and check with the publishers and check with Lucasfilm.
I think there were…in all these processes, there are mistakes and corrections and revising things while you're working on it. I think we did have to switch around a couple of things as we went. But a lot of it came down to Leland and Pablo.
How did you coordinate and split up the work?
That was a lot to juggle for DK. There were so many people working on this book, even behind the scenes, and probably there were a lot more involved in the review and fact-checkin than I'm even aware of. We just discussed in the beginning—the publishers and the authors—which sections we were most interested in doing. I'd just worked on Star Wars Rebels: The Visual Guide, so Rebels was a key interest of mine, and I made that known, so I was given most of the Rebels material—not quite all of it, because there's some things that are key to Rebels which actually first appear in The Clone Wars. So some of the other authors took a few of those. And I did Empire Strikes Back, a lot of the material for that, the little bits in the beginning of Return of the Jedi, and A New Hope.
I'm sure it was a lot of work for DK to figure out who to give what to.
Did you get to create any new tidbits of canon in any of the character backstories?
In my case, yes. I haven't talked to the other authors yet about that or really read through it. But there are a couple of instances where you'll see some new things. I wrote the entry for Ezra's slingshot, and really in [Rebels] we don't know what the story is, where Ezra got that or how it was developed. So I got to work on that entry and come up with some new ideas. You'll notice that Princess Leia's blaster has a reference back to Clone Wars. That's something new. There are some little bits here and there just to keep it fresh and exciting.
What was your favorite part of working on this book?
Oh gosh. Well, I really loved it all. I don't know if I can pick individual things out. As I said, the key moments were great. I did enjoy the opportunity, as we just talked about, to add some fresh new things, some little personalization to it. I enjoyed the opportunity to dive in and become…I still hesitate to call myself an authority on anything, but to learn about it and improve my knowledge. It's such a privilege to spend all day flipping through Blu-rays and DVDs, and flipping through comics and novels, and just to spend time in this great material.
You have another guide coming out later this year called Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need To Know. Tell me about that book.
That book I would consider a complement to this book. The interesting thing about Absolutely Everything You Need To Know is that it really doesn't duplicate any significant material that I'm aware of from Ultimate Star Wars. It's its own animal. Absolutely Everything digs into all the obscure and unusual and strange information, the stuff that is often completely overlooked, all the really interesting and strange trivia and statistics. It's kind of a trivia fact book. When I was a little kid, I had these geography books that would go through and talk about all the countries of the world and give comparative, strange statistics and facts [about] each country. They were really fun books to look through. [Absolutely Everything You Need To Know] does that with Star Wars, just surveys all the creatures and ships and characters and species and planets and everything, and just digs [up] all those interesting little nuggets and pulls them out.
If I [were to] compare [the two books], the work on Ultimate Star Wars was more about the volume and breadth of information; it was more about a larger, heavier workload. Whereas Absolutely Everything You Need To Know was a far more difficult book, even though there's much less text in it comparatively, it was a far more difficult book to write because of the intense amount to research it took to find all these strange, overlooked facts.
How would you describe Ultimate Star Wars to someone who hasn't picked it up yet?
I don't think anybody's going to be disappointed. I've heard people wonder about, "Well, with a lot of the Expanded Universe turned into Legends, is this just going to be a trimmed-down version of what we've known before?" They ask, "Is this going to be a cut back version?" And I'd say absolutely no, there's a lot left to learn, and you're going to find references here and there from what we consider the Expanded Universe. You're going to find entries for a few characters that are not from the movies or the TV shows, that have never been defined in a book like this before, that'll be completely new. There's a lot of exciting stuff to find here.
Ultimate Star Wars is now available from DK Publishing. My thanks to Adam for taking the time to talk to me, and to DK for providing me with a review copy of this book.
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