Friday, October 05, 2012

Book Review: Star Wars Essential Reader’s Companion

When it was first announced, I was skeptical of the purpose behind this Essential Guide. Who is this for exactly? Haven’t most long-time fans likely already read all or most of the books that will be covered by this kind of guide? Wouldn’t this be overwhelming for new fans looking to make their way through the large amount of Star Wars books available to read? Why would either group be interested in the Essential Reader’s Companion? Well, I’m here to set aside my skepticism and answer those both of those questions.

As described by Pablo in our Q&A yesterday, the book follows a chronological order, from the ancient past thousands of years before the Star Wars films, through the eras of the movies and TV shows and well into the futures of those characters and their adventures after the films. There are divisions for each time-period, making it easy for readers to hone in on an era they are most comfortable in or familiar with, or just want to learn more about. In each of those sections you’ll get a full list of books and short stories taking place in that era, the publication history as well as plot highlights, main characters, author and cover artist, planets visited, etc. There are also references to important interconnected comic books and young adult/children’s books which are major parts of the timeline as well. As a parent of kids who are very “into” The Clone Wars, I found it helpful to check out what books are available in that era (especially since that’s probably the era that I am least familiar with in terms of books).

For long-time fans, there are two major pluses to The Essential Reader’s Companion, and one more minor one. The first major point in its favor is the inclusion of story notes or annotations which were included after many of the story summaries. These are not one sentence notes, but full paragraphs describing earlier outlines for the books, or changes which were made to the stories – basically a wealth of knowledge that fans might otherwise not know (and in some cases, maybe we’d have been better off not knowing, like the alternate proposal for Invincible which would have solved two of the Expanded Universes’ biggest issues with one alteration to that story – ah well). The second major point in its favor is the inclusion of all this wonderful original artwork by Jeff Carlisle, Joe Corroney, Brian Rood, Chris Scalf, Darren Tan, and Chris Trevas. These are all great artists, and the choices made to include never before seen characters and classic scene’s only presented in written form before – that just brings this book to a whole new level. As previously mentioned in the Q&A, my favorites were the chapter opening pieces, which include 6 character sketches, mostly of people who’ve never been given likenesses before. And finally as a more minor use, I’ve long since realized that there are some Star Wars books I’m never going to read, and some I’ll never re-read, and yet they have plotlines which I sometimes find referenced in newer books. In the past I’ve maybe gone to online sources to look up the plots of those books, but this reference makes for an easy place to go and get a refresher on those books.

It might even accomplish for the long-time fans the same thing that I think new fans can get out of The Essential Reader’s Companion. This book in essence brings the timeline that you’ll find at the beginning of any Star Wars book to life. By introducing the eras and the highlights of the stories and characters, it provides the opportunity for new readers to see what strikes their fancy, what part of the Star Wars universe they may be intrigued by and want to try out. It can also be used as a reference to help keep a reader away from books or eras they might not be interested in, and provides context for all the books so as to make it easier should they just happen to want to pick up a random book and start reading. For long-time fans it may also remind you of a story you missed, or want to revisit, or even one you skipped on purpose but now that you’ve read a summary and seen the context of that story within the greater timeline, perhaps it’s one you want to revisit (I find for me, that’s happening more and more with books in the prequel era).

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been too surprised by how much I enjoyed The Essential Reader’s Companion. I had the opportunity to review Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare earlier this year and I absolutely loved it, as both a concise history of the Star Wars universe as well as for the multitude of short-stories which were included within. The Essential Reader’s Companion hits completely different notes from the Warfare book, but manages to be an invaluable resource just the same. Within these pages new fans may find a way to help guide themselves through the myriad of book choices which await them in the Star Wars universe, young fans can find books that might be of most interest to them, and long-time fans will find a great resource all about the literature of the Expanded Universe. I’d highly recommend the book to anyone looking to explore this galaxy far, far away.

1 comment:

Reid Kemper said...

The Star Wars universe does a good job making sure everything fits in a timeline, but some contradictions arise. Does it mention the books that are not cannon?