Pablo Hidalgo, a longtime Lucasfilm employee and ardent Star Wars fan, has just released the most exhaustive guide to the Expanded Universe ever published. The Essential Reader's Companion clocks in at almost 500 pages and is just shy of three pounds. It concisely recaps every essential story in the Star Wars expanded universe, provides new illustrations for key moments, and behind the scenes trivia throughout. It's one of the most thoughtful and well-put together tomes I've ever had on my shelf, and, for a Star Wars fan, it's certainly one of the most invaluable.
The book is out now, but we spoke to Pablo about his experience putting the book together.
Big Shiny Robot!: This guide is exhaustive. How many hours of work do you estimate you put into it and was it all worth it? How much did it interfere with your daily job?
Pablo Hidalgo: I can’t even begin to estimate it – and am a bit frightened to do so. I began formal work on it in January of 2010, and submitted the last piece in August of 2012. Not a day went by in that span that I didn’t do some sort of Star Wars reading, and that time included a brief stint in the hospital (long story), my shift from one department of Lucasfilm to another (longer story), and the writing of a whole ‘nother book in between (160-page-long story: The Transformers Vault). However, I’ve been doing groundwork on this book for over 30 years. The Companion has some summary material from the ‘90s novels that I had actually written in the ‘90s, when those novels originally came out, so it makes it very hard to estimate how much time was put into it.
The writing of these books is done in addition to my day job – I try to be honest in separating work so my freelance doesn’t interfere with my day job. In many cases – the Essential Reader’s Companion being one of them – they’re quite complementary.
BSR!: What possessed you to begin this epic undertaking in the first place?
PH: It felt like a challenge. Conceptually, when it was just known by the vague title The Essential Guide to Ficiton, it felt like a book I’d like to read, so I wanted to be involved in shaping it, since I knew there’d be a lot of definition work early on establishing just what is and isn’t in the book.
BSR!: What was the most surprising thing you read or re-read in the EU while researching this book?
PH: The Galaxy of Fear book Clones is just crazy. I like John Whitman’s Galaxy of Fear series a lot – they’re really fun to read – but that one is really out there. There’s a clone of Darth Vader. Think about that. Someone took a cell sample of Vader, grew a full grown Anakin Skywalker, and then presumably maimed and burned him and put him in a life support suit.
BSR!: Since you've literally had to read it all, can you pick a favorite book from the EU?
PH: Easily it’s Han Solo at Stars’ End. I think it is pitch-perfect. No one writes Han Solo as perfectly as Daley did. And it’s a 180-page novel, which they just don’t make anymore. I find that’s the perfect length of a Star Wars novel, because then the story ends up reading very much like a movie with an extremely tight pace.
BSR!: What is it you hope people will get out of this book? Personally, it'll give me a chance to find out what happened during the Vong invasion, since I skipped all of it.
PH: I hope it’s a resource that will help people keep up or catch up. That it saves some wear-and-tear on older books because you can look up the events by checking a single book. I hope newer readers are intrigued by summaries or illustrations to pick up something they hadn’t considered reading before.
BSR!: It sounds like it was the original intention to include the comics, are there any plans to do a separate tome for them?
PH: There is one from 2006 already out there, The Star Wars Comics Companion. I’d love to see that get updated to work in conjunction with the Reader’s Companion.
BSR!: How did you go about deciding which scenes should be painted?
PH: I took some notes about scenes that I responded to by imagining them “cinematically” – usually action sequences. I passed those along to my editor Erich Schoeneweiss, who was able to take larger view of the book and pare down or supplement that selection so that the book would have the strongest variety of scenes and artists showcased. In some cases, they weren’t scenes – for example, the aforementioned Daley books, I wanted instead the equivalent of a “publicity photo” that would have been taken by the unit photographer had these books actually been movies. A few of the books get that treatment – the Last of the Jedi series, and Young Jedi Knights books for example.
BSR!: Are you worried that this book might fall into the wrong hands and continuity wonks will use this to further bedevil the days of Clone Wars writers?
PH: Nah, not at all. If anything, the book goes out of the way to remind people that The Clone Wars is an extension of George Lucas’s canonical cinematic universe, on its own tier apart from the Expanded Universe of publishing.
BSR!: When will we get an index for the expanded Indiana Jones universe? You seem like the right man for that job. And there are far fewer books...
PH: Not a bad idea. That might all fit into a single tome – novels, comics, TV and videogames. I’ve actually been doing some research into unproduced scripts from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. There’s a lot of fascinating information in there – but I don’t know of an outlet for that info yet. Keep suggesting that idea to publishers!