It’s been a banner year for Star Wars reference books. We got Book of the Sith: Secrets from the Dark Side that chronicled various Dark Lords and their teachings. A few months later we got Essential Guide to Warfare, a dream for Star Wars and Expanded Universe military buffs.
Today perhaps the crown jewel of Star Wars references hit bookstores: The Essential Reader’s Companion by Pablo Hidalgo.
Just about everyone who has gotten their hands on the ERC has made this very comment, but it really can’t be said enough. This book is big. It’s nearly three pounds and nearly five-hundred pages of summaries, art, and analysis. That said, the dimensions are actually quite nice. This is a book that fits well on your bookshelf or would serve as a brilliant coffee table reader. But enough about the aesthetics, how does the content stack up?
To the jump!
The Written Content
The short answer is that this is book is an absolute wealth of knowledge that both newcomers and long-time Expanded Universe readers will be able to appreciate.
At the head is an introduction that sets the reader expectations for the rest of the book. Pablo takes care to explain what specifically is and is not contained within the pages. Specifically, the Essential Reader’s Companion covers prose fiction and not other EU materials such as graphic novels, video games, and illustrated storybooks. Primarily, adult and young adult fiction are covered. Of particular note in this introduction is a section covering canon and continuity that covers how real and authentic these stories are. This particular passage is a must-read for both new and long-time EU readers.
The ERC is broken down by era, one chapter for each unique time frame within the Expanded Universe and sorted chronologically from Tales of the Ancient Jedi and Sith to the Legacy era. Each chapter contains an introduction that offers an overview of the era as well as some very well done character portrait artwork that largely have not been seen before.
Within each chapter are entries for just about every adult novel and a large quantity of young adult and children’s literature as well as the countless short stories that appeared in various magazines over the years. Take a moment to consider just how large the scope for this project was. Go ahead, I’ll give you a moment.
Each entry begins with a listing of the author, the publication history, the cover artist (if applicable), point in the timeline the story takes place, worlds visited, and a listing of the major characters. From there, an in-depth summary is offered. When the opportunity presents itself, notes offering glimpses into everything from the writing process and how one story fits into the greater continuity will wrap up the entry. Throughout the ERC you can see how certain books managed to retcon various continuity discrepancies over the years, such as how The Krytos Trap fixed an issue between Dark Empire and the original Star Wars newspaper comic strips.
Also scattered throughout the ERC are various spotlight on other Expanded Universe material. While the focus of this particular guide is primarily novels, Pablo went out of his way to highlight certain comics, video games, and even children’s stories that were either pivotal to the EU or simply amusing in some way. On the one end of the spectrum, you have things like the X-Wing and TIE Fighter games. Then you’ve got Pablo’s wonderful page-long analysis and summary of the infamous Jedi Prince children’s books.*
*And for re-reading those books in the name of research we salute you, Pablo.
There’s an absolute wealth of information in this book and this review only scratches the surface of what a reader can find. There’s knowledge and trivia to be had for any Expanded Universe fans regardless of where their interests may lie
This book can’t be reviewed without discussing the tremendous artwork turned in by Jeff Carlisle, Joe Corroney, Brian Rood, Chris Scalf, Darren Tan, and Chris Trevas. Brand new art fills the pages of the ERC, images that have been designed specifically for this book. Long-time Expanded Universe fans will be delighted to find character portraits and illustrations of minor characters such as Bhindi Drayson, Mirax Terrik, and Talon Karrde can be found at the head of each new chapter.
Where the ERC really shines, however, is the half and full-page illustrations. Some of these images (such as the Mara illustration by Darren Tan on the right) have been circulating the web for a while now, but those are only a small handful of the new artwork available. Iconic scenes from numerous fan-favorite novels come to life in the Reader’s Companion. One of my favorites is an illustration of the showdown between Luke and his clone in The Last Command.
It can’t be overstated just how stellar the illustrations are. If for no other reason, Expanded Universe fans are going to want to buy this book on the strength of that alone.
The Bottom Line
While I do like to give numerical scores in reviews, I also want to boil things down to a simple yes or no question. Should you buy this book?
If you’re a longtime EU reader, should you buy this book? Yes. There’s all sorts of trivia, knowledge, and artwork for even the savviest EU fan.
If you’re a newcomer to the EU, should you buy this book? Yes. The ERC is the most complete, concise, and engaging chronology of Star Wars prose fiction available.
So, should you buy this book? Absolutely, unequivocally yes.
Author Pablo Hidalgo and Del Rey editor Erich Schoeneweiss deserve tremendous credit for the book they have put together. One quick skim will tell you that the Essential Reader’s Companion was an extraordinary undertaking. The simple fact that it succeeds as a helpful and thoroughly entertaining reference book is a testament to the work they put in to create it.
Bottom line, The Essential Reader’s Companion is a must-buy book that belongs on the coffee tables and bookshelves of Star Wars fans.
The Essential Reader’s Companion earns a 5/5.
Note: An advance copy of this book was provided for review purposes by Random House.