Review – Star Wars: Essential Guide to Warfare

I’m a fleet junkie.

Sure, the lightsaber duels, the Jedi versus Sith battles, and political games were neat, but that wasn’t my favorite part of the Star Wars mythos growing up. It was the blaster fights. The showdowns between X-Wings and TIE Fighters. The sight of the Death Star looming in the distance. Military warfare in this universe has always held a special place in my heart, which is why Jason Fry and Paul R. Urquhart’s Essential Guide to Warfare was one of my most anticipated Expanded Universe titles of 2012*.

*Which isn’t to say that there’s nothing about the Jedi and Sith in this book. There are a great many words were written about them.

It’s worth pointing out that the creative staff could have simply compiled abridged Wookieepedia-type articles,  slapped some new artwork on it and I would have been moderately happy. What we lucky readers got instead was a product that cleared that bar by a staggering margin. While I was mostly looking forward to the new artwork in the book (and that is more than enough to justify a purchase), it was the written content that pushed EG to Warfare over the top and elevated it to must-buy territory for casual to hardcore Star Wars fans alike.

Quite honestly, I didn’t expect a fraction of the new and original written material that appeared in the book. EG to Warfare is part history text, part documentary, and part encyclopedia. The scope is grand, spanning the earliest days of Galactic civilization to the events of the Legacy comics. Despite the tremendous amount of ground it has to cover, it gives just about every era an in-depth and detailed overview. If there is one complaint fans may have, I suspect it is that they would have liked to see the Legacy comics get a touch more page time, but in all the book succeeds at covering its many bases.

The Written Content

Much of the book can be considered overviews of the numerous wars that have plagued the Galaxy Far, Far Away, but there is something for everyone here. Broken down into distinct war eras, the book examines key battlegrounds, individuals, technology, warships, war maps, and political factions.  No matter where your interests may lie, there’s something for you within this book.

When I was but a wee lad growing up in the rainy suburbs of Seattle, I spent a great deal of time burning holes in our family’s VHS copies of the original trilogy. Where did the tape start to wear thin, you might ask? The starfighter battles. If I could put a copy of EG to Warfare into nine-year-old Brian’s hands, he’d be absolutely giddy. Well. Twenty-three-year-old Brian was also pretty pleased.* Rosters for Rogue and Red squadrons, detailed histories of every starfighter the Old Republic and Rebellion deployed. Details of the military structure and profiles of pilots and high-ranking officers.

*I will never review in third person again I will never review in third person again I will never review in third person again …

Essential Guide to Warfare is shockingly character-driven, the last thing I would have expected from a book like this but a very welcome surprise nonetheless. One of my favorite features from the book were the War Portraits, extended articles that focused on key military and Jedi figures. Occasionally these segments were done in a straight-ahead biographical style, but numerous times the authors decided to take rather creative approaches, letting the characters of the universe “write” the article. One notable example that I immediately bookmarked was the War Portrait of Baron Soontir Fel, Imperial fighter ace. The article is framed as a transcription of an interview with another notable pilot, Wedge Antilles, who was asked to provide his thoughts on Fel’s military prowess.

There are numerous examples of characters taking center-stage in this book. Be it the interviews or memos from one character to another, there’s almost a narrative being told. EG to Warfare is sort of a mashup of a Star Wars themed encyclopedia and a Tales Of novel. This is a fusion that, intuitively, doesn’t sound like it should work but the execution is flawless. It’s so much more than just a dry reference book with pretty pictures. It’s a thoroughly engaging read.

The Artistic Content

Simply put, it’s gorgeous.

From Star Wars Books

Del Rey went above and beyond to illustrate this book, bringing in numerous artists to fill the pages with brand new artwork and maps. Star Wars Books has been previewing some of the new pieces in the book, but it’s only a fraction of the art to be found. Of particular note are some of the new character paintings, my personal favorite of the bunch being a meeting between Mon Mothma, Garm Bel Iblis, Bail Organa, and Ackbar as they overlook a holographic prototype of an X-Wing starfighter.

Like the written content, there’s some art for everybody in this book. Ancient species that predated the Republic, lightsaber battles, blaster fights, sprawling space engagements between capitol ships and starfighters. Even if you don’t care for the backstory and universe building within the text, EG to Warfare is worth the cost just for the artwork within it.*

*I’d also like to point out that I would pay money to get some of this new art as prints

The Bottom Line

It’s hard to review a book like this simply because it contains such a diverse wealth of information. Much of what I’ve discussed here are the things that caught my eye and play to the elements of Star Wars that resonates with me most. Still, fans of Jedi, Mandalorian, and even Trade Federation exploits are going to love this book for the same reason I did. There’s more than enough pages devoted to whatever faction, topic, or individual that catches your fancy.

I’m happy to say that one of my most anticipated releases of 2012 did not disappoint. The artwork is beautiful, the new original written content is deep and engaging. The verdict? Essential Guide to Warfare is an absolute must-buy.

Score: 5/5