”Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova.” — Han Solo
A Small Galaxy
Ever since the release of the Star Wars movies, and especially with the start of the former Expanded Universe, people were longing for a map of that galaxy far, far away. While early novels didn’t include a lot of new places, the rise of West End Games’ role-playing works brought about a lot of new worlds, trade routes, and even galactic regions. Unfortunately, a full galaxy map was to be a future dream for about two decades, and early cartography enthusiasts had to do with partial maps only in official publications. West End Games provided several such detailed maps of specific regions or sectors within the galaxy, for use in role-playing adventures and campaigns. Players were introduced to areas like the Elrood sector in Planets of the Galaxy, Volume 3, the Brak sector in Flashpoint! Brak Sector, the Kathol sector in The DarkStryder Campaign and the Tapani Sector and Rimma Trade Route in Lords of the Expanse.
Blazing New Routes
The first official full galaxy map was published in 1998, with the release of Behind the Magic. In this digital encyclopedia, that was spread over two compact discs and included information on almost every conceivable topic, a galactic map was included that placed the most important planets from the movies and Expanded Universe (01). The map provided a top-down view of the Star Wars galaxy, with concentric rings indicating the various regions from Deep Core to Outer Rim. It even included a placement for Naboo, which would feature in the then-upcoming new movie, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
One year later, in October 1999, Del Rey began their nineteen-novel course of the New Jedi Order series with Vector Prime. This whole new chapter in the now-Legends timeline came complete with its own map in each novel. The maps in these books showed an isometric projection of the galaxy, and included the spiral arms and empty galactic west known as the Unknown Regions (02). Each novel included the same basic map, which mapped planets from the existing lore as well as newly visited worlds of the New Jedi Order stories, and also visualized the Yuuzhan Vong invasion corridor. With the release of Inside the Worlds of Episode I in October 2000, the galactic map fell back into the concentric circles shown in Behind the Magic, now including the new worlds from the novelization of Episode I, as well as all planets mentioned in the book itself. Future publications in this series of books would continue to use the circular galaxy, including Complete Locations. Other publications, however, would not stick to the concentric circles, but elaborate on the idea introduced in Vector Prime. A map packed with Star Wars Gamer #5 added more detail and little planet icons for each world.
The success of the concept in Gamer was apparent, as it was largely adopted into the first run of The Official Star Wars Fact Files, a notable difference however was the use of a backdrop that resembled an actual galaxy rather than mere contour lines of the galactic regions. The first issue in December 2001 came with a huge poster that had a galactic timeline on one side, and a galaxy map on the other (03). The Fact Files would continue to use this map in various issues, detailing sections and expanding with new planets. The Outer Rim was fleshed out more in issue #56, and the penultimate issue #139 included a map of the Clone Wars (as seen in the 2D cartoon, comics, and novels at that time). Star Wars Insider also used the design in issue #65 of February 2003 and highlighted the worlds of Star Wars Galaxies.
Similar maps would continue to appear after, as the tone set with Vector Prime and Fact Files became the standard. The New Jedi Order Sourcebook by Wizards of the Coast in February 2002 would use maps to detail the Yuuzhan Vong invasion corridor in a similar fashion to the novels (04,05). Maps would change slightly between sources to include worlds relevant to the publication, but apart from the different rendering styles, the map would stay roughly unchanged. The Revised Core Rulebook of May 2002 set the stage for Wizards of the Coast’s revised role-playing games (06), and put special emphasis on the planets that appeared in the films.
The first galaxy maps onscreen are seen later in May 2002, with the release of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. When Obi-Wan Kenobi goes into the Jedi Library to seek out the location of the planet Kamino, we see an in-universe depiction of the galactic map (07). One thing that stands out is the inclusion of two smaller satellite galaxies. Later in the movie, when Padmé Amidala tells Anakin Skywalker they need to go rescue Obi-Wan on Geonosis, a top-down view of the Galaxy map can be seen on the console of her yacht (08). Interesting to note is that while Tatooine and Geonosis have always been mapped in the galactic south-east (although orientation was lacking until the Atlas), Padmé highlights an area in the top of her map.
The New Essential Chronology, released in October 2005, combined the little planet icons of Fact Files with the more clearly readable contour lines, and was one of the first to include the planets of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Comics publisher Dark Horse used a similar map to the Revised Core Rulebook for an online map in 2006, which was the first to feature a grid that allowed easier localization of planets from an index.
The Essential Charts
The next major breakthrough with galactic maps came with the release of The Essential Atlas in August of 2009. As the name of the book implies, the focus of the work by Daniel Wallace and Jason Fry was on providing an atlas of the Star Wars galaxy. As such, it obviously had to include maps. Lots of them. The Atlas did away with the isometric projections of the galaxy in favor of a top-down chart, whilst keeping the shape of the galactic regions and planet placement mostly intact (09). A tremendous amount of research went into the development of the maps. Although the maps themselves provide placement for more worlds than ever before, an index at the back of the book provides placement for every world known in the Expanded Universe at that time. This appendix lists known planets and systems with their region and coordinates. The Atlas uses a coordinate system based on a grid that has a justifiable in-universe meaning. The grid is based on the Coruscant coordinate system, and each grid square in the map corresponds to a an area of fifteen by fifteen parsecs (3.26 light-years per parsec).
Furthermore, the maps include an orientation (a galactic compass), which places the uncharted Unknown Regions in the galactic west. Several variations on the galactic map were included in the book, such as maps detailing the eras of exploration (10), galactic population (11) and various military campaigns (12). The highly detailed maps of the galaxy were made by Hungarian artist Modi, who had previously gained fame with his fan-made star charts and was invited to work on Atlas. Wallace and Fry also made good use of the discussions on the boards of TheForce.Net, which had an active cartography topic since 2005, and even put most users in the acknowledgements of Atlas.
The Atlas was made into a living document, with articles published on the official website to expand on the work. Maps detailing the placement of the sectors in the Outer Rim (13), Mid Rim and Expansion Region have been added along with updates of the index to include new planets from books and comics, as well as changes in planet placement. The sector maps were left without any gaps, often adding planets and sectors that were new to fill out the map. The planet Couronne, for example, was one such an unused world until it was made into the Imzig homeworld in the Rogues Gallery feature of Star Wars Insider #148. Other additions to the Atlas were The History of Xim and the Tion Cluster published in December 2009 as part of the Hyperspace-exlusive Xim Week, and The Knight Errant Gazetteer of November 2010, which detailed the Grumani sector.
The Essential Guide to Warfare of April 2013 continued in the tradition of the Essentail Atlas, by using maps in the same style to accompany various topics such as the Alsakan Conflicts or the location of major shipyards. Fantasy Flight Games would also adopt the new star chart system, including the coordinate grid, into their role-playing game that started with Edge of the Empire. The only notable difference in the 2013 Edge of the Empire Core Rulebook is that they rotated the map 90 degrees counterclockwise, placing the galactic west at the bottom.
All Fun and Games
While sourcebooks have been the main source for galaxy maps for most people, some video games include maps as well, some even pre-dating the above-mentioned charts. The missions in TIE Fighter, released in June 1994, are preceded by a galactic map that displays the location of the mission (14). The image is very close to the one that was later used in the Jedi Library in Episode II, even including the satellite galaxies. Rebellion, released in February 1998, also includes a galactic map, which displays a multitude of systems in a dozen different sectors (15). However, most of the placements are incorrect. The map that came with Star Wars: Galaxies in June 2003 was highly inaccurate as well, and was more of a network of planets overlaid on an image of a galaxy (16). The same holds for the map in Knights of the Old Republic, released Juli 2003. Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy of October 2003 included planet placement maps similar to TIE Fighter, although some placement were incorrect, such as the planet Chandrila.
Things went south (or actually planets went west) in Empire at War, released February 2006. It sacrificed accuracy for game mechanics, evenly spreading the planets over the galactic disc (17), most of them in an equidistant network, also occupying the usually empty galactic. With the release of The Old Republic in December 2011, there were already so many published maps that it would not be justifiable anymore to include such an inaccurate map (18). As such, the different maps tied into the game are mostly correct, and even add some details about the size of different territories. Let’s hope future game makers pay as much attention to detail when it goes to making maps.
- The Essential Atlas Online Companion
- The Making of the Map by Daniel Wallace
- Mapping Hutt Space by Jason Fry
- The Essential Atlas and Galactic Cartography: Official Discussion
- Star Wars Galaxy Maps (unofficial pre-Atlas) by Modi
Thanks to Stefan Pfister for some useful insights when writing this article.
Kevin Beentjes (Wild Whiphid) is a molecular biologist working at the Dutch natural history museum. He is an editor for TeeKay-421, an administrator for Yodapedia, and fascinated with the myriad of alien life forms, in that galaxy far, far away.