October 14, 2012

Review: Star Wars The Essential Reader's Companion by Pablo Hidalgo

Star Wars publishing has been a constant companion since the third grade for me. No school backpack was ever without some kind of Star Wars novel or essential guide.  Over the years, I've had my ups and down with the Star Wars Expanded Universe - the good times being discovering the novels from the 90's at my local library and the bad times being anything mentioning Mandalorian "culture" or language.  Keeping up with every story told in Star Wars publishing is a task not to be taken likely; a task largely at odds with my other research reading as well.  On October 2, Del Rey released Pablo Hidalgo's Star Wars The Essential Reader's Companion, a 280+ page paperback reference.  With story summaries, publication dates, character lists, and chronological placement of each story, I finally have a resource to catch up on all the Star Wars stories I might have missed.

To my surprise and enjoyment, I found that The Essential Reader's Companion is actually one of the finest non-fiction resources to hit Star Wars bookshelves in years.  Certainly, its brief story summaries are indispensable for the well-read and EU lightweights alike; sorting out characters and their adventures in the chronology is the primary focus of the book.  But the insight provided into the background, story development, internal discussions, promotion, and connections between different stories is a rare look into the very real development process of these very fictional stories. Hidalgo is not afraid to call out the continuity errors (or their accompanying retcon) along the way. The Essential Reader's Companion is as much a history of Star Wars publishing as a summary of fictional events.  For example...

Did you know that readers of The Empire Strikes Back novelization knew about the film's shocking ending a full month before the public saw it on the big screen? So much has been made in the making-of books and documentaries about the secrecy of the story, but this little fact has gone largely unnoticed until Hidalgo's work.

I have no real complaints about the book - but will offer up one "higher-bar" to consider.  There are six illustrators who contributed to this book, almost certainly due to the sheer number of illustrations required to fill the 485 page text.  I find the intent of the illustrations excellent: a glimpse into events previously only told in literature.  Seeing moments from iconic (and even not-so-iconic) literature  illustrated makes the book more rich. I did find that the style of these illustrations varied and I found myself wishing that some moments had been done in the same quality of illustration as others featured in the book.

Overall, I find the Expanded Universe much more manageable (and often enjoyable) when Pablo Hidalgo reads it for me.  Whether you are an avid fan of the EU or not, I think this is a must-have reference for any Star Wars fan whose interest is greater than just the films and television.  Its historical account of Star Wars publishing catapults this guide to the top shelf in my library.  

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