Ultimate Star Wars and the Writer’s Journey

The co-author of DK's definitive new encyclopedia discusses unlearning what she had learned.

There are no words to describe the moment you are asked if you would like to work on a Star Wars book. When it happened to me, I squealed and ran around the room before being overcome by a fangirl flail. The urge hit to reach out to somebody, anybody, and tell them, “I am working on Ultimate Star Wars!” Then I realized I wouldn’t be able to do that quite yet. Along with recognizing my excitement would have to be contained, the weight and the importance of DK Publishing’s project began to loom large in my mind. This wasn’t just a dream come true, it was a big deal.

The other names on the project only added to the sense of significance of compiling important information from the existing lore. Longtime Star Wars contributor, Ryder Wyndham, headlined. Also on the team were Dan Wallace, who has authored an impressive volume of franchise books, and Adam Bray, who knocked it out of the park with the Star Wars Rebels: Visual Guide. DK had assembled a team of experts charged with archiving the relevant characters, locations, vessels, and technology from the movies and television shows. We were creating source material to connect where the franchise has been and where it will go in its amazing future.

Ultimate Star Wars, Luke Skywalker entry

As the new girl in a team of Star Wars experts, my initial expectation was that I probably would be working on a lot of the periphery material, but when the allocation of writing assignments dropped in my inbox, it was immediately clear that everything is important to the galaxy far, far away. Each author had key characters to write.

Skimming my assignments, I realized I’d been charged with condensing Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia into three relevant arcs and vital character data, each spanning two pages.  My authorial heart started bounding. These characters are central to the lore and they mean many things to many different fans. Even more importantly, I imagined the new generation of fans picking up Ultimate Star Wars and this book helping to shape their understanding of the saga.

Back in high school I’d discovered that I had a passion for tackling stories from unique angles. I once took a 20-page deep dive into the meaning of four paintings in The Catcher in the Rye. Later, that passion, combined with my love for Star Wars, led to a holistic critical analysis of the saga at my website (FANgirl Blog), and more recently, several feature articles for Star Wars Insider on the evolution of the hero’s journey in relation to sociological factors during the time the stories were told.

One thing I have learned from those experiences is that expertise on Star Wars is only mastered when a person recognizes that she will always be a student of it. I needed that insight — as well as every ounce of my storytelling creativity — if I was going to condense some of the saga’s most important features into mere hundreds, sometimes dozens of words.

In some part, the authors of Ultimate Star Wars had to unlearn some of what we knew. Star Wars is embarking into an exciting era unencumbered by the enormous expanse of past lore. Even for characters like Luke and Leia, it was important to find the essence of who they really are in the movies, not who we remember them to be. I owed future generations of Star Wars screenwriters, directors, authors, comic book creators, and even aspiring fan writers — anyone who might turn to this resource — the purest form of the characters from which they could build their own stories.

In my experience, the easiest way to distill a character is by finding direct quotes from creators and actors. Luckily for Star Wars fans, interviews and the earliest history of the saga’s conception can be found in amazing resources like The Making of Star Wars books. Reading thoughts from George Lucas, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher really helped shine a light on their characters.

Ultimate Star Wars, Princess Leia entry

A substantial amount of my writing assignments focused on Star Wars: The Clone Wars. While I am a huge fan of the series, having to draw the important elements into the pages of Ultimate Star Wars illuminated how much lore was created during the run of that show. The breadth of characters, planets, vessels, and technology is impressive and proved daunting. One of the advantages of tackling The Clone Wars era, though, is that it was produced in the newer, interactive era of the internet. Episodes had received online episodic guides and trivia pages here at StarWars.com, along with information compiled in the Databank and at fan sites. Even more helpful were interviews with supervising director Dave Filoni, his animation team, and the talented cast.

When writing the entry for Ahsoka Tano, I found great insight in a StarWars.com blog post by voice actress Ashley Eckstein after The Clone Wars Season Five finale, in which Ahsoka walked away from the Jedi Order and her Master, Anakin Skywalker. In the post, “E-mails Between Master and Padawan About Ahsoka’s Decision,” Eckstein shares her exchange with Filoni as she prepared to record Ahsoka’s final moments as a Jedi. It was in this discussion that I was able to identify what was important about Ahsoka Tano to the Star Wars universe.

Ashley: Does Ahsoka always do the right thing at all costs?

Dave: No one is ever really sure what the right thing is. She follows her heart, in a way this defies some Jedi teachings. It is what Anakin and Qui-Gon do. She is governed by her heart, not logic or her mind. She is not entirely selfless, but that is not entirely bad. Doing the right thing at all costs is an absolute, and only a Sith deals in absolutes. One would say follow the Chancellor or the Republic at all costs, but is this the right thing to do? It seems like it, but it can also be a blindness.

Ashley: Is that just her moral compass and who she is?

Dave: Her moral compass is guided by her heart and instinct. She cares, takes things personally, at least more personally than a normal Jedi. Thus she can get hurt, as we see she is hurt by what the Council decides. In some ways she is not mature enough to appreciate the peril the Council is in, and the greater decisions that do not involve her, which are transpiring all around her. She at this point only sees what is happening to her, and feeling the sorrow, frustration, and anger that comes along with it. People want to flock, they want to be a part of something, an order, follow a crowd, but often the greatest movements forward in history are caused by people that walked differently and acted out of line with what was “popular” of what seemed “right” or even “ethical.” Ahsoka must now decide what is right to her, what is ethical, and what her greater role is in all of this.

At the time I was drafting her write-up for Ultimate Star Wars, I had no idea Ahsoka Tano would be emerging again as key character in Star Wars Rebels. But looking back at Filoni’s words, it is clear why Ahsoka Tano fits into the fabric of the new television series, too.

Now is one of the most exciting times in Star Wars. Not that I would change being a child of the original trilogy generation, but we didn’t have access to creators through venues like StarWars.com or Celebration Anaheim, behind-the-scenes featurettes after each movie, or resource books to enhance the fandom experience. Today it is easier than ever to meet our fellow Star Wars fans and share our love for the franchise with each other. The authors of Ultimate Star Wars are excited to be part of that experience.

This May meet the authors of Ultimate Star Wars on DK’s 2015 Ultimate Star Wars Book Tour. Each tour stop will include a game of trivia, a Q&A with the author(s), a book signing, and in-store raffles and giveaways. Visit DK.com for more information.

Tricia Barr is a professional engineer, author of the award-winning space opera Wynde, and a regular feature contributor to Star Wars Insider. She co-hosts the popular Star Wars podcast, Fangirls Going Rogue, on the RebelForce Radio network and can be reached on Twitter @fangirlcantina.

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