❉ Titan’s Guides hark back delightfully to a less busy era of beyond-the-screen backstory.
“Combining interviews and other behind-the-scenes pieces with “in universe” biographical detail, both books significantly expand upon the onscreen fundamentals of both movies. While the two films are contentious among a subset of Star Wars fandom the guides’ mix of pop-culture context and beyond-the-screen backstory makes them both pleasant diversions.”
Though a vocal minority of fandom might claim otherwise, Star Wars is as popular now as it’s ever been. Of the many creative decisions at the heart of its current multimedia renaissance, none looms larger than Lucasfilm revising their approach to the saga’s canon. For more than two decades the “Expanded Universe” supplemented the history of that galaxy far, far away with stories set in the years before, during and after the six films of the Skywalker saga. Wiping these narratives – some of them mainstream bestsellers – from continuity was controversial but also necessary.
At a time when no one seriously believed there would be new Star Wars movies set after Return of the Jedi, the parade of births, deaths, battles and marriages offered a welcome continuation of the saga. In the context of a new trilogy picking up the onscreen story of Luke, Leia and (against all expectations) Han three decades after the Empire’s defeat, though, keeping those stories in place was untenable. The plot developments that made numerous books and comics so compelling for devoted fans offered very little latitude to take the story forward for the entertainment of an audience not conversant with “BBY” and “ABY” as chronological reference points.
Whatever else the change accomplished, it restored a sense of mystery to the saga and its key characters. In place of relentlessly documented eras full of never ending strife and heroics, the periods before and especially after the original film trilogy are now defined by questions. This holds true even as a growing assortment of novels, comics and animated series fills in various blanks. That state of play pervades Titan Books’ recently-released Star Wars: The Last Jedi The Ultimate Guide and Solo: A Star Wars Story The Ultimate Guide.
Combining interviews and other behind-the-scenes pieces with “in universe” biographical detail, both books significantly expand upon the onscreen fundamentals of both movies. While the two films are particularly contentious among the aforementioned subset of Star Wars fandom – a very different entity than actual fans, it should be noted – the guides display no traces of that static. Instead their mix of pop-culture context and beyond-the-screen backstory makes them both pleasant diversions.
By accident or design, the books bring to mind the first great epoch of Star Wars’ popularity, where each revelation about a character’s history felt all the more precious because of their rarity. In those early days, no one seemed to understand how effective the less-is-more approach was in making Star Wars the stuff of legend better than George Lucas. Despite its effectiveness, Lucas seemed to abandon that mindset after Return of the Jedi, often treating the Prequel Trilogy as an exercise in connecting the dots, forgetting that what fans think they want is seldom what becomes a legend most.
With its Wikipedia-worthy dramatisations of previously referenced events from its hero’s life, 2018’s Solo is the closest any of the post-Lucas Star Wars movies have come to that fill-in-the-blanks approach so far. The film and its guidebook both benefit from delving into the fictional universe’s less savoury elements, such as the criminal gangs the White Worms and Crimson Dawn as well as new characters like Han’s mentor Beckett. Even when dealing with established entities such as Lando Calrissian, it’s counterbalanced by a sense that neither the viewers nor the characters themselves quite know who they are yet.
Fortunately the actors and those working behind-the-scenes seem to have a pretty good idea of that, as demonstrated by an interview with writers Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan and producer Kathleen Kennedy. Another highlight is the interview with director Ron Howard. Though he came to the production late in the process, Howard offers some interesting insights on Solo and Star Wars in general, the latter informed by his decades-long history with George Lucas.
Like all their predecessors, these recent Star Wars movies are underpinned by questions of identity. However, where Solo is on some level a romp, the stakes in The Last Jedi are existential on a grand scale, which is reflected throughout Titan’s companion book for it. In keeping with the film itself, the most compelling parts are those dealing with Luke, Rey and Kylo Ren – both onscreen and from a production standpoint. Likewise, the twin sections on Leia and Carrie Fisher are a fitting tribute, while those about Poe, Finn and other Resistance members point to the saga’s future.
This being Star Wars, though, the appeal of the bad guys is not to be underestimated. The sections spotlighting key First Order characters such as General Hux, Captain Phasma and Supreme Leader Snoke are interesting as well. All three biographies point to tantalizing questions about the years that led from Return of the Jedi to The Force Awakens.
For now, those questions remain unanswered and hopefully will stay that way – at least for a while longer. Historically speaking, ambiguity has been good for the story of Star Wars. In the present, these guides offer more than enough detail for fans to immerse themselves in.
❉ STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI THE ULTIMATE GUIDE (Titan Comics) was published 11 December 2018, RRP £19.99. ISBN: 9781785869297
❉ SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY ULTIMATE GUIDE (Titan Comics) was published 11 December 2018, RRP £19.99. ISBN: 9781785869587
❉ Don Klees has spent many years in the video business. This continues to enrich his life in many ways, chief among them being able to tell people he watches television for a living. An avid consumer of pop – and sometimes not-so-popular – culture, Don is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.