In-universe reference books about the ‘Star Wars’ universe have been published on a regular basis for many years, labouring hard to generate a niche in what might seem a thoroughly saturated market. As its name suggests, ‘Star Wars: The Essential Guide To Warfare’ focuses squarely on the whole point of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise: fights between goodies and baddies that take place against a backdrop of spaceships, robots and alien worlds.
The basic idea is that across twenty-one chapters the authors will retell the many (seemingly endless) wars in the ‘Star Wars’ galaxy, teasing out the important battles, personalities and technologies for particularly detailed discussion. Authors Jason Fry and Paul R. Urquhart take their job seriously and, unlike some of the older ‘Star Wars’ reference books, there’s a lot here to read. To be fair, you’re unlikely to read this book cover to cover, which means that the lack of an index makes it difficult to read about a particular event, character or weapon, but the chapters do break the book up into segments equivalent to the various ‘Star Wars’ book and film eras.
Their approach is to start off each chapter with some history and given the scope of the book ranges across the whole ‘Star Wars’ time-line, that means much of the history comes from the novels rather than the films. That means that those fans who enjoy the films but haven’t read many of the books are likely to find the first four and last five chapters confusing to say the least. But that still leaves a large part of the book firmly rooted in the ‘Star Wars’ universe seen on film and consequently of interest to the more casual ‘Star Wars’ fan. In any case, Fry and Urquhart extend the historical part of each chapter with sections on key vehicles and weapons, including all the iconic ones like X-Wings and Star Destroyers. There are subsequent sections on important military figures as well, but also imaginative reports from minor or unknown individuals in the ‘Star Wars’ universe, like the female stormtrooper Isila Drutch, that serve to reveal a point of view the films and novels tend to gloss over. Although hardly original, these sorts of things give ‘Star Wars: The Essential Guide To Warfare’ a bit of extra depth it might otherwise lack.
Matching Fry and Urquhart’s solid prose is artwork from thirteen different painters and illustrators. ‘Star Wars’ reference books work best when the artwork balances out the fiction. After all, the ‘Star Wars’ stories themselves don’t make too much sense when thought about and it’s the visuals of the films that keep things ticking along nicely, allowing the viewer to maintain a certain suspension of disbelief. For the most part, ‘Star Wars: The Essential Guide To Warfare’ works well in this regard. There’s a lot of really good artwork and, at worst, what’s left is merely average. Such paintings tend to include portraits of actors from the films and the need for a good likeness taken from a photo or film still means the painting looks a bit forced.
But these few duff notes don’t really detract from the overall value of the artwork and the range of styles used is a definite plus. Among the most effective pieces is Bruno Werneck’s painting on page 134 that shows Imperial walkers from the perspective of a group of Rebel soldiers. The use of light and shade is spot-on and the palette of colours is eerily effective, resulting in a painting that suggests the mood of a real battle amazingly well. Another notable artist is John Van Fleet, whose layered illustrations have a photomontage quality to them that sets them apart from the single point-of-view illustrations used elsewhere in the book.
Given the length and page size of the book, ‘Star Wars: The Essential Guide To Warfare’ is clearly good value even at the full cover price of £19.99. Recommended for casual and serious ‘Star Wars’ fans alike.