Author: Pablo Hidalgo
Publisher: Del Rey
Release date: October 2, 2012
Era: Essential Guide
Since the beginning of the franchise, Star Wars authors have been expanding upon the films with hundreds of books and short stories. This is great from a content perspective, but it often makes it difficult for new readers to jump into the Expanded Universe. Even experienced long-time readers, like myself, often have trouble remembering every detail. That’s where Pablo Hidalgo’s The Essential Reader’s Companion comes in. The first Essential Guide not set in-universe, the Companion is a must-have resource for fans of every sort, from those looking to get into the EU to those who have been steeped in it for many years. Just how good is it? Read on to find out.
The Essential Reader’s Companion is organized chronologically – with one chapter for each era – instantly making it the definitive go-to timeline for the novels, young readers, and short stories. The introduction sets the tone for the book, and the discussion on continuity, in particular, is not to be missed. Each chapter in the book opens with a brief look at the creation of the era, which often includes insights into Lucasfilm and its publishing partners. The works are then listed in order, complete with a summary and cover art, as well as useful details like the author, cover artist, publication history, time line placement, worlds visited, and main characters.
While I have read every Star Wars novel (and most of the short stories) at some point, I often find myself forgetting things. This is due in large part to the fact that I started reading the books at a young age, and I went through most of the EU over the span of just a few years. I could – and certainly plan to – go back and re-read everything at some point, but the summaries in the Companion are the perfect resource for someone like me. I will admit that I almost became giddy with excitement while reading about the Jedi Apprentice series, which kick-started my EU experience. Suddenly, a flood of great memories came rushing back to me.
But the real treat for long-time fans is the special behind-the-scenes section found after most of the summaries, which provides valuable details and insights about the story in question, from continuity errors and time line shifts to what the authors and Lucasfilm were thinking at the time it was written. These alone are worth the price of the book.
It should be noted that the Companion includes a comprehensive list of titles up through the beginning of next year, so spoiler-conscious fans should be wary about reading the entries for The Last Battle of Colonel Jace Malcom (Insider #137), The Old Republic: Annihilation, Heist (Insider #138), Scoundrels, and The Clone Wars: Darth Maul: Shadow Conspiracy.
The previously mentioned list of main characters and worlds visited makes it easy to look up important elements in a story. The latter even has grid coordinates next to each planet which can be used in conjunction with the maps in The Essential Atlas to locate a planet’s position in the galaxy. Also included is a list of works in publication order, as well as one sorted by author.
One can’t review the Companion without mentioning the beautiful artwork by veteran Star Wars illustrators Jeff Carlisle, Joe Corroney, Brian Rood, Chris Scalf, Darren Tan, and Chris Trevas. A number of fan-favorite moments from the novels are depicted, and Mara Jade fans will be excited to see her in many of the images near the end of the book. But believe it or not, my favorite piece overall is actually the cover art (above right), which features Yoda surrounded by piles of novels in his hut on Dagobah. Is this how he passed the time between Revenge of the Sith and The Empire Strikes Back?
At 2.8 pounds and nearly 500 pages, the Companion is a massive resource spanning hundreds of books and 25,000 years of galactic history. It occasionally touches on the comics and games in sidebars and notes, but the focus is on the novels, young readers, and short stories – as it should be. It’s these books that got me into the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and it’s great to finally have the ultimate resource for fans new and old. If you’re at all interested in the EU – and really, why are you reading EUCantina if you’re not? – The Essential Reader’s Companion should be your next purchase. You won’t be disappointed.
Advanced Review Copy (ARC) courtesy of Del Rey. All staff members can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.