As you embarked on this grand adventure of touring the Expanded Universe of books, what were your primary goals for the project? Did you have a specific audience in mind?
My editor Erich Schoeneweiss from Del Rey and I knew it had to appeal to readers with a range of experience in the Expanded Universe. I figure its largest audience will be people that have read some of the books, but not all of them, so that the Companion will help fill in the blanks for them, or highlight works that might have slipped past their radar so that they now seek them out.
Someone who has never read a Star Wars book might find the book intimidating, but not as intimidating as diving into the EU without a guide. So, we tried to make the text specific and lively. I think we’ve all had the experience of reading a summary that didn’t do its job of summing things up succinctly. Hopefully, the ones here in this book aren’t daunting and the book ends up being very browseable. The design and illustrations definitely help in that regard.
The hardest of the hardcore fans will of course be familiar with most of the content of the book – they’ve read most if not all of this material as well – but hopefully the art, the snippets of behind-the-scenes info, and the few new bits of lore peppered in here and there will make it worth their while.
When you first sat down to outline the Essential Reader’s Companion, how did you start prioritizing what you actually could do?
There actually was no real call for an outline, because of the nature of the book. The outline was a list of published works arranged in chronological order. So the first step was discovering how much work that would take.
I started at the chronological start, the Old Republic chapter, and wrote it first to get a feel for how long entries should be and what sort of information they should contain. Back in January 2010, when I first started writing Chapter One, I actually did include comics. But I quickly discovered that there was no way to include all that information. The first chapter came in at about 25,000 words, which was a quarter of the total word count initially allocated for the book! That made the decision clear that we could not include comics. As it was, we went way over the word count. But that couldn’t be avoided.
You had to read an enormous amount of material along the way. Did you encounter any books or stories you would like to go back and enjoy at your leisure?
A lot of the material that was coming out as I was writing – the books from 2010-2012 – had to be read very quickly. Some were written based on near final drafts. In some cases, like for Annihilation or Scoundrels, I was working off of detailed outlines, because the final manuscript hadn’t been delivered yet. Those, I’d like to spend more time with.
You sprinkled many interesting out-of-universe nuggets throughout the entries. Was most of this information you already knew from your time at Lucasfilm? Or did you reach out to the authors and editors for their insight and archived files?
A lot of the insights came from the Lucas Books editors, because they had a much bigger view of the publishing program as a whole. I looked at a lot of correspondence and notes from story conferences – in some cases, these have been printed out and have been kept in binders here at Lucasfilm. These offered a lot of interesting insights from the writers as they were writing. Leland Chee has kept extensive records of story development as part of his role as Keeper of the Holocron. And yes, I had a fair amount of firsthand experience based on my time here since 2000.
Can you share something that surprised you during your research?
The number of people who met Yoda while he was hiding in the swamps before Luke found him is distressingly high. Way to keep hidden there, Master.
The artwork in the Essential Reader’s Companion is just stunning. How did you determine which scenes or characters would be depicted visually?
It was a pretty equal contribution from both Erich and myself. In some cases, there were some very specific scenes in my mind that I wanted to see illustrated – Adari Vaal atop an uvak, Boba Fett inside the Sarlacc, Jacen defending his mother against the Yuuzhan Vong. Other times, my first instincts would be checked because they spoiled the ending of a book too much, or we had too many combat scenes in a row and not enough character moments.
The character portraits (or the “yearbook photos” as I called them) underwent some changes in scope. At first, I had many many more characters slated per chapter, but the reality of the book’s size and budget pared that down to a single page for each era.
Now that the Essential Reader’s Companion is complete, I have to ask the big question: would you do it again?
Now that I see it completed, yes. If you asked me while I was writing it, though, I probably would have had a different answer.