We're joined this week by the King of Reference Guides himself, Dan Wallace! He's agreed to a no-holds-barred cage match with me, and by cage match I, of course, mean interview. Here we go...
MandyB: Letís get the Star Wars pleasantries out of the way: How and when did you become a fan?
Dan Wallace: Old schoolers like myself always relate the story of when they first saw the Star Destroyer zoom overhead in the movie theater. I hate that story because it's so played out. But it's true -- I was in a theater in 1977 and saw exactly that, and fell in love with the movie. But you know how your memory sometimes sucks? After leaving the theater that first time, I kept talking about the scene where Luke Skywalker shot a stormtrooper and the stormtrooper fell apart into pieces like a beer-can pyramid when you pull out the lowest beer can. Yes, of course that never happened. I was very surprised when I went back to see it the second time.
MB: You have an accomplished background of various in-universe guides. How did you end up pegged as the reference guy for the franchise other than being just that good?
DW: It was the '90s! There was very little out there when I started writing for Lucasfilm. I got a call from their publishing department in 1995, and at that point I was just a fan who had created a fan-centric guide to Star Wars planets that was available for download in America Online's file libraries. I had two things going for me -- both Steve Sansweet and Kevin Anderson had passed my name to Lucasfilm, and I was demonstrably a planet fanatic who might be suitable for writing a detailed guide like The Essential Guide to Planets and Moons. Because there was no Wookieepedia at the time, anybody writing a book needed to have both deep knowledge and a heavy bookshelf.
MB: The Star Wars: The Essential Atlas is, in my opinion, one of the best Star Wars reference guides in recent memory. The Atlas reads less like a treatise on maps and more like historical fiction. How did you and your co-author Jason Fry find this balance between narrative and facts?
DW: Having written Essential Guides in the past, the real reward is in coming up with the material that feels like historical fiction. I regret the Essential Guide to Planets and Moons only in that it was my first book and hewed too closely to established facts that fans already knew. Whenever there's an opportunity to create something fresh, to tie together obscure bits of continuity, or to make the Star Wars universe feel like a fascinating or creepy place, we want to go down that path.
MB: In some of your latest Star Wars Insider articles, you've discussed the Star Wars comic strip in addition to other semi-forgotten aspects of the franchise. Have these little bits always fascinated you?
DW: I love the Star Wars comic strip. Newspaper comics predate comic books by about 30-40 years. Even when a character like Superman hit it big in Action Comics, his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster didn't think they'd hit the big time until the got a deal to do a newspaper strip. So those parts of the chronology are fascinating to me. This extends to Star Wars, and also to forgotten bits of continuity. I in fact love the most obscure bits of continuity. At one point I used to look down on the Russ Manning newspaper strips and the Ewok TV movies, among other things. But a comment by Andy Mangels, writer of the first Essential Guide to Characters, stuck with me -- "for some fans, this is their favorite story. Who am I to tell them it never happened?" With that in mind I took more of a big-tent view, and now have a perverse affection for the most bizarre and overlooked portions of Star Wars continuity. Including the Mofference and Ken the Jedi Prince.
MB: In addition to the guides and articles, you also have some short stories under your belt. Between the two genres, reference and fiction, is there one you prefer?
DW: I've really enjoyed the short stories I've written in the Star Wars universe, including two tales about a con-artist team and one story that is probably the only story anyone will EVER tell about Captain Panaka. But what I do best is writing about and organizing factoids, from Essential Guides to encyclopedias. I have a number of similar projects out in the marketplace, including the Marvel Encyclopedia, the DC Comics Encyclopedia, and The Art of Superman Returns.
MB: Besides the favored franchise here, what other licenses are you involved in?
DW: DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Indiana Jones, Smallville, and Supernatural. The franchise I'd love to do something with is Doctor Who.
MB: Assuming that youíve been keeping up with The Clone Wars animated series, what are some elements that you are enjoying from season two?
DW: I like Cad Bane. A lot. I like his vague accent, his breathing tubes, his duster, and his hat. Cad Bane dresses like a classic Western villain, which is exactly how Star Wars characters should dress. They're archetypes, and better that they resemble Clint Eastwood than that they resemble some generic villager from Star Trek Nemesis, or some generic '90s design like Dash Rendar (with his shoulder pads and giant gun he could be Cable's brother).
MB: Tell us about George Lucasís Blockbusting: A Decade-by-Decade Survey of Timeless Movies Including Untold Secrets of Their Financial and Cultural Success. What was your role in the production of the book?
DW: It is perhaps the longest title ever, and in fact there were no less than 17 writers who contributed to the book, including me. The movies I researched and wrote were Superman, Superman II, E.T., Batman, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Batman Returns, The Fugitive, Batman Forever, Spider-Man, and Spider-Man 2. That's only a small portion of the info contained in this book, so please check it out.
MB: Whatís next for Dan Wallace? Anything you care to tease us with?
DW: In 2010 I have four projects scheduled for release, including Star Wars Year by Year (a real-world look at the Star Wars phenomenon), the DC Comics Chronicle (similar concept, but focusing on the publishing history of DC Comics), The Unknown Regions (a roleplaying sourcebook), and an unannounced book that will shed light on the practices of the ancient Jedi.
MB: Whatís your deepest and darkest moment as a geek?
DW: I just bought a scout trooper helmet. Why did I buy that? I'm looking forward to it arriving, but I fear it will lead me down the path of buying armor. Damn you Nilo Rodis-Jamero for creating such a cool if utterly nonsensical design. Seriously, it's designed as an air scoop and turning your head at high speeds would snap your neck. But it's awesome and I spent a hundred bucks on it. Star Wars is like this. AT-ATs walk like camels because it looks better that way, and Cad Bane wears a wide-brimmed hat instead of a helmet because he's freaking Cad Bane!
MB: Youíre in charge of the First Annual Epic Crossover ô for DC, Marvel, and LFL. What happens?
DW: Superman, Captain America, and Luke Skywalker sit down and realize they have a lot more in common than they realize, so why have a Mortal Kombat-style brawl?
More fun would be the Joker, Doctor Doom, and Darth Vader. The winner would of course be Lex Luthor, who would have arranged the whole thing in advance and brought a pet ysalamiri.
MB: You heard it first, ladies and gentleman: Dash Rendar is Stryfe and Dan loves Ken, the Jedi Prince. Dan, thank you so much for your time and we appreciate all the work you do for the franchise!
Pick up Dan's latestbooks at an online retailer or bookstore near you!