This is part two in a four-part series of interviews with the authors of the new book Ultimate Star Wars. The DK reference guide is intended to both introduce new fans to the Star Wars franchise and refresh the memories of longtime fans about the state of the universe.
Tricia Barr, a self-published author, Star Wars podcaster, and blogger, wrote most of The Clone Wars content in the book, in addition to the weighty biographies of two rather major characters: Luke and Leia. It was also Barr's job to help pick the "Key Events" that are interspersed throughout the book, marking the most important moments in the saga. In our interview, she explained how rewatching The Clone Wars for this book reinforced the series' importance to the broader mythology.
What attracted you to this project?
Star Wars! [Laughs] That's the easy answer. What attracted me to it, ultimately—wow, I worked that in, too. I'm almost being punny!
So what attracted me was, this was going to be the new start for resource material for Star Wars, and I felt like I had a lot of my own perspective to bring to Star Wars as far as things I saw as a fan. I was looking forward to the next generation looking at this as a resource material, as a way to dive in. Also, I really have this great appreciation for what Star Wars fans who are there in it now, who buy this type of stuff, are looking for. I thought I had this mix of—you know, I've got nieces and nephews, and I hope they get into this kind of book and can fall into Star Wars that way and use it as a resource, but also, I know that longtime Star Wars fans love this kind of stuff.
I love this kind of stuff, so that's why I wanted to really dive into this project.
How did they pitch this to you?
It was sort of like the ultimate adult encyclopedia, of a sort. It's not totally [an] encyclopedia, but [it's] the resource that you could go to to find out about Star Wars now in this new era.
I like how you sprinkle in a few key events. Was there a lot of debate over which ones to choose, or were the choices obvious?
I think there might have been some debate. I helped pick the key events, so that was one of my tasks. I [created] a list with some alternatives, because you could go a lot of different ways, and it depended where they wanted to stick it—if you can make it relevant to vehicles or character moments or the planets. It all had to work out [thematically]. I helped break those out.
It really helps you frame the saga: What are the things that happened that were really key moments that you need to know going forward? You [will see those and] go, "Ah, yeah, that's important!"
Was this book going to be chronological from the start, or were you involved in the decision to do that?
That was decided long before I became involved. When you look at it and look at how they laid it out, it makes sense. As you watch [the saga], you can see [the book come to life]. Essentially what we got was a map that said, "These are the characters, this one is an A-level character and they have a couple pages." Different characters [got] different size information that you were going to have to pull up. That was all laid out when I came in. It was in there, it was decided, and it was pretty much, "Go," and find whatever you needed to make the characters or the vessels or the planets that you were writing about pop.
Finding the quotes was one of the hardest things. You [got] one quote to speak to a character. [Laughs] You had to make it work. What quote is going to make Leia matter, or really speak for her? Because she has a lot of snark. So then you're like, "Okay, how am I going to find the one that really works for her?"
What was the process like to catalog every single entry?
I did a lot of The Clone Wars stuff, [and I] somehow ended up with Luke and Leia with how they showed up in the timeline, which lucked out for me. When you're building out the big character pages—because it depended. If you were doing the smaller character entries, sometimes, especially in The Clone Wars, there's a lot of info and a lot of storytelling in The Clone Wars, and you're looking at a character like, say, Sugi, who comes up a lot of times, but you have to boil her down to 50 words, say.
But for the larger character entries, you essentially wanted to create three or four little stories that really framed who they were in the saga, and then take those and figure out the pictures that would be relevant. Then, of course, you're working at the same time [as the other authors] trying to find pictures. For instance, I had a lot of Luke and Yoda pictures that were coming up based on things I was working on, but they didn't want to conflict with pictures that were being used in other Dagobah or Yoda entries. [For] the Death Star, another big entry, you wanted to frame out three or four important, relevant things that spoke to that story.
How did you coordinate and split up the work?
There was this amazing lady, Jan, who was like the ringleader, who kept us all going and making sure that we were meeting our schedules and getting everything in and to the editors and reviewed. We were all working at the same time, we were doing our research, first getting pictures in. That helped lay stuff out, because later on we would have to come back and give them appropriate-sized captions. And [we were also] laying out the timelines that were on the side for characters and stuff like that. There were steps that you were given.
Sometimes, you'd say, "Well, that picture isn't really going to work." So they worked with you. Jan was the resource that pushed everything around and made sure the editors got what they needed, and then she would file back with questions from editorial or Lucasfilm. It was definitely a massive project-management task to keep it going.
Did you get to create any new tidbits of canon in any of the character backstories? Adam mentioned that he had given Ezra's slingshot some new backstory.
I don't think so. He had a little bit more leeway because he was working in the new era, more Rebels stuff. I was working on trying to take characters like Luke, Leia, [and] the Millennium Falcon and boil them down to all the things. [Laughs] You could look at Luke Skywalker's entry, say, on Wookieepedia, and it goes on forever. But you had to figure out what is important in his story from the movies. There's not really a lot of other source material. His material is from the movies.
It was sort of like distilling down, filtering out all the things that weren't really relevant—taking all that out of your mind, things that you thought and knew from Expanded Universe stuff. Who are these characters? What are their stories? What's relevant?
A lot of the entries I did were Clone Wars planets. Planets like Hoth and some of the other planets from the original trilogy didn't have a lot of political oomph in their stories. Hoth was essentially deserted, and that was a good thing for the reason it was in Empire Strikes Back. But Alderaan has a tremendous amount of political history that we see laid out in The Clone Wars. So you had to bring all that in and make it relevant. That was one of the tasks, especially going through The Clone Wars and saying, "What about Alderaan is important? It's not just a pretty planet that got blown up. It has some history that is relevant in the saga. And maybe someone hasn't seen The Clone Wars."
I'm hoping that people who haven't seen The Clone Wars read this and go, "This is really interesting. I want to go back and watch these [episodes]."
It strikes me that you had some of the toughest work, writing about Luke and Leia, the biggest characters in the saga. You're an EU reader. I know that you know all their EU travels. It seems like your challenge—to filter all that out—encapsulates the challenge that EU fans face as we pivot from that era into a new view of canon. How did you keep the EU from influencing your work?
Well, with Luke and Leia, [I] went to the movies, because that's really our resource on them. And yes, there are a lot of other things that we hope and believe about them. I felt like, as a storyteller myself, I would not want to box in future Star Wars storytellers—because that happened a lot, where, ten years ago, there'd be a little piece of something in [the EU] from a resource guide and they would say, "Well, you can't conflict with that." I was trying to not make any instances that would create a source of conflict for future storytellers.
This is really looking at the movies and the television show. But yes, The Clone Wars was a massive undertaking, just to sit down for some of the characters and…you had to really look and see what happened for those characters. I was watching The Clone Wars. It wasn't just reading. It was watching, going back through things. One of the best resources for me was the StarWars.com Databank, because I could find pictures for the episodes of The Clone Wars and figure out where I needed to go for those characters, to figure out what I was writing, if I had any questions.
What was your favorite part of working on this book?
One of my favorite things was working on the key moments. One of my favorite pages was one of The Clone Wars pages, it was 98-99, which had Mother Talzin, Savage Opress, Lux and Mina Bonteri, Greedo on that page, which is kind of funny because you think of him as original trilogy, but he kept popping up in The Clone Wars!
Yeah, you got quite a few characters in your section on The Clone Wars whom we think of as original trilogy characters.
Yeah, so that as fun, and I really just ended up with this great appreciation for the lore that was being built in The Clone Wars. I loved writing about the Daughter and the Father and the Son. The Mortis episodes [are] some of my favorite episodes. It was interesting to…sometimes you might have a designer who [would ask], "Are they just called the Mother, or…?" [Laughs] "How does that work?" And I'm like, "Yeah, the Daughter, and Son, and the Father." [Laughs] Trying to…it's like, wow, this is really deep stuff. Make sure you get it right. Don't mess it up! [Laughs] We knew there were good people there at Lucasfilm making sure that we got it all righ.t
One of the things this book emphasizes to me is how interconnected all of the canon stories are, especially the importance of The Clone Wars. Did you learn anything about Star Wars while putting this book together?
Luke really popped out to me, because I had to go back and look at who he was, which ended up really helping my Star Wars Insider article on Luke Skywalker that happened shortly after I had written Ultimate Star Wars. [It helped] to really think about…a lot of times, fans are talking about him being the Rebel hero, pilot, Jedi. And the things he did were so…he's not the conquering hero. It's really a different type of hero, which to me is still amazing, but you really had to go back and think about, "Who is Luke, why is he important to Star Wars, and why is he important to the saga?" Sometimes you realize that he's not necessarily what, as a child, I thought he was, or even as a teenager. His important things are far more difficult things to do, which is to set aside anger and emotions and attachment and just be a hero in that way.
Can you talk about attending Star Wars Celebration as a new Star Wars author, signing at the DK booth, and attending the Saturday night launch party? What was that experience like?
I saw the book for the first time! I had seen the sheets and spreads, but [I saw] it all together for the first time at the convention, which was really exciting! [Laughs] It was an amazing honor and a pleasure to speak to everybody. I think I ended up signing for eight hours total. You end up realizing—I've heard professionals talk about, "How was the convention?" "I don't know, I was sitting at my booth, doing art or whatever." But I loved every minute, getting to talk to people and really reminding me of how important the fans are to Star Wars. That was fun and great.
The DK party was amazing. Just getting to take a couple photos with Anthony Daniels, who wrote an amazing foreword for this book. I had been able to talk to him at the costume exhibit at the Seattle EMP museum when it opened. It was funny, because back then, he had literally just written the foreword, and it had just all been signed off. So I knew he had written it, but it wasn't out there. So I said, "So, you wrote the foreword for Ultimate Star Wars." And he sort of looked at me, like, "How do you know that?" [Laughs] And I was like, "I'm one of the authors." So he says, "Oh, we're going to party at Celebration Anaheim." It was fun to get to see him again. We were definitely all being fanboys and fangirls [about] getting to take a picture with him.
Ultimate Star Wars is now available from DK Publishing. My thanks to Tricia for taking the time to talk to me, and to DK for providing me with a review copy of this book.
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