While wars may not make one great, they do make for great storytelling — the Star Wars saga is filled with small skirmishes and major battles between the powers vying for control of the galaxy. A new book, Star Wars: On the Front Lines, released this month, takes a look at some of the most spectacular battles of the galaxy far, far away, and presents them in words and pictures to fill out a larger history of the key engagements of the Clone Wars, the Galactic Civil War and beyond. Written by Daniel Wallace, produced by becker&mayer! and published by Titan Books, this beautifully illustrated book deserves to be enjoyed for its artwork and different perspectives as much as utilized as a reference guide. Daniel Wallace, author of Star Wars: The New Essential Chronology and co-author of Ultimate Star Wars, Star Wars: The Essential Atlas, and Star Wars: Year by Year, spoke to StarWars.com via e-mail to take us to the front of the class for On the Front Lines.
StarWars.com: On the Front Lines provides a view of key ground and space battles of the Star Wars saga from the plains of Naboo to the beaches of Scarif and the skies of Starkiller Base from many points of view. How did you decide which ways to explore each battle?
Daniel Wallace: Most battles have a very distinct flavor to them, something that jumps out in your mind when you think on it. Picture the Battle of Naboo. I bet you thought about the Gungans before you remembered Bravo Flight.
That principle largely dictated the narrative. I think there’s only one time where we had no choice but to focus on both the ground and space campaigns in equal measure: the Battle of Endor.
For each battle, the book takes readers through a stage-by-stage analysis including the pre-battle setup, the tactics used, and the aftermath. Sidebars include commander profiles and overviews of the equipment and soldier classes used in that particular conflict. Finally, “Tales of Valor” is an in-memorium look at a soldier who sacrificed their life, and “I Was There” is a first-person recollection written by a survivor.
StarWars.com: Eleven major battles are covered in this book. Tell us more about the selection process for choosing which battles to cover.
Daniel Wallace: Each of the seven movies in the saga — eight if you count Rogue One — contains one definitive, defining battle. That made picking the first eight pretty simple. From there, Star Wars: The Clone Wars made a lot of sense to focus on — we very nearly included the Battle of Malastare before deciding to go with Christophsis and Ryloth. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough advance prep time to include Star Wars Rebels.
The final slot went to the Battle of Jakku, which is the only battle in On the Front Lines that is never actually seen on screen. To write it I had to rely on sources like the Aftermath novels, the Battlefront game, and the young adult adventure Lost Stars, while filling in the blanks when necessary.
StarWars.com: How does the artwork enhance the experience encapsulated in this guide?
Daniel Wallace: Honestly, the artwork is easily the most compelling reason to get this book. If you can get past the striking cover by Brian Rood you’ll find some truly amazing pieces by Adrian Rodriguez, Thomas Wievegg, Aaron Rile, and Fares Maese. I can’t say enough good things about their work. On the Front Lines is fundamentally an art book. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
StarWars.com: What was the process for putting a section together?
Daniel Wallace: The Battle of Hoth served as our primordial ooze in terms of figuring out what this book would ultimately become. Way back when we were still kicking around ideas about structure, we went straight to Hoth for our design example. I also spent a lot of time paging through real-world war books that covered the American Civil War, or the Pacific Theater during WWII. From there, lot of the pieces fell into place.
From the Hoth example, we developed profiles of opposing generals and explanations of military hardware, and refined the history-book point of view that fits each battle within the larger context of shifting galactic power.
StarWars.com: For each battle, you include a tale of valor, showcasing a hero of that battle, as well as a first-hand account from someone who was present and some of these characters are familiar faces but not necessarily the main movie characters — how did you decide which characters to explore?
Daniel Wallace: No question, these were absolutely my favorite parts of working on this book, especially the “I Was There” feature. That one is a first-person tale as related by a survivor of the battle, using their own words.
You’re right that the book doesn’t lean on the big movie characters. Often, the movie characters aren’t the people on the front lines — and when they are, they’re soldiers in the service of a larger goal. For example, Lando gets a mention here, but only as Gold Leader. Luke shows up but only as Red Five.
The “I Was There” stories feature all-new characters, or at least the kind of people who don’t normally get a turn in the spotlight. My favorite stories are the Gungan foot soldier offering her candid recollections of serving under General Binks, and the tale of the rat-like rebel salvager who seized Imperial warships above Jakku.
StarWars.com: You also take a look at the generals and admirals in charge in each battle as well as the key combatants and their technology. What might readers find interesting in these sidebar sections?
Daniel Wallace: I think the commander profiles work in shining a light on the high-level strategic chess game being played out on the battlefield, and the shift to first-person narratives from ordinary soldiers helps emphasize the value of the people tasked with carrying out those maneuvers.
One of the more interesting aspects of the tech sections is the opportunity to trace the evolution of starfighters, walkers, and other war machines from prequel era to sequel era.
StarWars.com: What were some of the challenges and opportunities you had in writing this book?
Daniel Wallace: One big challenge was the fact that when we started working on the book, several of the battles hadn’t happened yet. We started in 2015, so our list of placeholders included the Battle of Starkiller Base and the Battle of Jakku from The Force Awakens and the Battle of Scarif from Rogue One. In the case of Jakku, I had to rewrite the entry every time new sources were made available.
StarWars.com: If you were a military historian in the galaxy far, far away, which battle would you most want to explore and document?
Daniel Wallace: Honestly, I’d do everything in my power to avoid dangerous situations. Hopefully I could at least program a droid, maybe R2-D2, to go down and make some holo-recordings for me while I remained with C-3PO or somebody less brave and more self-preservational.
That being said, there are some battles with unique visual flair that would be interesting to document from more angles. Christophsis with its elevated city-canyons, or maybe Geonosis with its sense of all-out mayhem on a massive scale.
StarWars.com: What makes On the Front Lines stand out from other Star Wars reference works that you’ve written?
Daniel Wallace: I’ve done lots of reference books — from Ultimate Star Wars to the Star Wars Atlas — and I’ve done war books like Star Wars: Battles for the Galaxy. But the thing that stands out about On the Front Lines is that it gave me the opportunity to combine multiple styles of in-universe information. There’s a big difference between the first-person “I Was There” versus the more inspirational “Tales of Valor” versus the big-picture observation of “Aftermath.” It’s great fun and I love it.
All images courtesy of Titan Books, © and TM 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd.
James Floyd is a writer, photographer, and organizer of puzzle adventures. He’s a bit tall for a Jawa. His current project is Wear Star Wars Every Day, a fundraising effort for a refugee aid organization. You can follow him on Twitter at @jamesjawa or check out his articles on Club Jade and Big Shiny Robot.