Sunday, September 30, 2012

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

I like to think Pablo Hidalgo wrote this book  just for me.  My favorite area of Star Wars fandom is the novels, I love reading the books set in the galaxy far, far away.  The benefit of this is that my mental special effects budget is unlimited. The downside is that at this point there are so many novels and short stories that it can be easy to forget what happened where and keep the hordes of supporting characters straight.

I have been forward to this book for a number of reasons. The handy ability to quickly check out a books summary to remember what it was about when I am contemplating a re-read. The ability to catch up on the more obscure short stories or tales that I may have missed along the way.  The hopefully entertaining and insightful editorial comments inserted by Mr. Hidalgo. Then once we started seeing rough artwork from the book I also became very excited to get my hands on this reference book for the artistic eye candy.

What did we end up getting?

The Essential Reader's Companion is a bookshelf busting 496 page, 2.8 pound tome. It is structured chronologically with an Introduction, two appendices and eight chapters. While it is a massive book in page count it is smartly designed in terms of height as to be very readable and not become difficult to handle while reading.  The book comes with a MSRP of $29.95 but you can find it on sale for much lower than that.

The Introduction:

In the introduction Pablo lays out the scope and mission of the book. He discusses what is and what is not in the book and the reason behind those decisions. He also touches upon a suggested reading order and the issue of canon and continuity.

This is important to set the reader's expectation. What you get here is an exploration of the Star Wars prose fiction universe.  While Pablo touches upon comic books, the Clone Wars series or video games where it is relevant those topics are only brought up in relation and how they interact in a specific way with the prose fiction. Without this limitation the project of writing this book would not doubt have been impossible.

The Chapters:

The body of the Companion is broken down into eight chapters.

  • Chapter 1: Tales of Ancient Jedi and Sith
  • Chapter 2: Height of the Republic
  • Chapter 3: The Clone Wars
  • Chapter 4: The Dark Times
  • Chapter 5: The Galactic Civil War
  • Chapter 6: The New Republic
  • Chapter 7: The New Jedi Order
  • Chapter 8: Legacy

It should be noted that as of it's publishing the Companion includes five yet to be published works of fiction.

"The Last Battle of Colonel Jace Malcom" from Insider 137(Pub. Date 10/24/12), The Old Republic: Annihilation (Pub. Date 11/13/12), "Heist" from Insider 138(Pub. Date 12/12/12), Scoundrels (Pub. Date 12/26/12), and The Clone Wars: Darth Maul: Shadow Conspiracy (Pub. Date 1/1/13).

If you want to avoid spoilers from those stories you should skip the sections that talk about those pieces.

Each entry in the Companion features the following information when applicable:

  • Author
  • Cover Artist
  • Publication History (Format and Date)
  • Time Line Placement (In universe BBY/ABY calendar)
  • World Visited (Atlas coordinates included)
  • Main Characters (In dramatis personae style of name, role, species and gender)
  • Summary

Hidalgo's editorial comments generally appear after the summary when they relate to that book or in a separate box if it relates to a larger issue or series of stories.  These comments range from trying to untangle continuity messes to cool behind the scene tidbits about what almost happened with certain stories. In terms of the text of the book, I just wish we had more room for these pearls of wisdom from behind the scenes, but there are only so many pages and some secrets have to remain secret.

One addition that I would have liked to see more explicitly spelled out in the bullet points for each work is a list of books or stories that heavily referenced that work.  This way make it easier for the reader to follow story or character through-lines which may not be contained in a specific series.  I believe Hidalgo does this to an extent in the book, but I would have liked a more definitive and spelled out list of connecting works.

On top of the entries we also get a variety of artwork in the book. We get the story source's cover art, we get full and half page illustrations and we get character portrait galleries.

Jeff Carlisle, Joe Corroney, Chris Scalf, Darren Tan and Chris Trevas provide the illustrations throughout the book, while Brian Rood handles the character portrait galleries.

The art takes the Companion to another level.  It is very well done and there is a pretty good variation in styles. I think the variation in styles is smart, as I tend to prefer the works of Tan and Trevas over those of Carlisle, but I think some fans may feel the opposite.  It doesn't put all of your eggs in one artistic basket.

In any book particularly one this large there are no doubt editorial decisions that are made with great difficulty.  My one major criticism of the book is that the character portraits by Brian Rood are done so well that it is a shame that the portraits are only about 1.75" x 2.25" and arranged six to a page.

The book is printed on very nice slightly glossy paper that really makes the artwork pop.  There is a nice mixture of major character and minor characters and some truly strange and unique choices of subject matter scattered through the book.

The Appendices: 

The Companion contains to appendix, Appendix A: Works in Publication Order and Appendix B: Works by Author.

These two resources also include the page number in the Companion where that work appears. Say did you like an Aaron Allston novel you read and want to find out what other Star Wars books he has written, you can go the Appendix B and then shoot to the page offering the description of the books.

Say you are relatively new to the EU and come across something that strikes you as odd or out of place in the EU. Check Appendix A and when the work was published may help explain why something doesn't seem to fit. Or say like me you took a few years away from the EU, then if you go to the appendix you can look and see what was published in the years you missed and seek out those items.


 This long awaited book by author Pablo Hidalgo and his rogue squadron of talented artists satiated this bibliophile's Star Wars book addiction. If you are a veteran of the EU pick up this book and let it remind you of some books or stories you may have forgotten and reconnect with those old friends. If you are new to the EU pick up this book and perhaps it will help you navigated the twisted hyperspace lanes that make up Star Wars publishing.

The Essential Reader's Companion will turn out to be both essential to my collection and a true companion that I turn to often.

The Essential Reader's Companion goes on sale October 2, 2012 in trade paperback (MSRP $29.95) and e-book (MSRP $12.99) formats.

Note: Review copy of The Essential Reader's Companion provided by Random House.

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