Published: November 2, 2021 (US); October 28, 2021 (UK)
Publisher: DK Publishing
Authors: Cole Horton, Jason Fry, Amy Ratcliffe, Chris Kempshall
Design Artist: Robert Perry
Map Artwork: Richard Chasemore
RRP: $40 (US), £30 (UK)
Formats: Hardback (256 pages), eBook (256 pages)
Explore the “Wars” in Star Wars as never before!
Enter a galaxy ravaged by conflict and discover the complete story of the epic struggles that define the Star Wars movies. This ambitious book presents major galactic conflicts from an in-world “historical” perspective: each battle is depicted with captivating imagery, explored with newly commissioned maps, and explained through a detailed analysis of tactics, famous commanders, legendary warriors, key moments, and its impact on wider galactic history.
This is the perfect book for any Star Wars fan, budding military historian, or would-be rebel hero!
A Star Wars reference book may seem like an odd choice for a literary review. After all, what does one call a text on a make-believe universe, a fictitious work of non-fiction? But I would argue that the Star Wars canon has a long tradition of such work and within them a narrative emerges which compliments the ones on page and screen nicely.
For example, most fans (and players of the flight sims) know that the Imperial TIE Fighter lacked deflector shields while the starfighters of the Rebel Alliance did not. But how is that common knowledge amongst us fans? It was never mentioned in the films. The attributes of the TIE Fighter and the X-Wing were mentioned in early Starlog magazines of the late 70s, but this concept was really expanded upon in the West End Games Star Wars Sourcebook by Bill Slavicsek and Curtis Smith. In it, we learned that the lack of a shield was an intended feature of the Empire – not a bug. Imperial pilots were drilled to be interchangeable, replaceable, and ultimately, disposable cogs in the Imperial war machine. Lucas’s visuals showed us a faceless military of a totalitarian fascist state, and the reference works ever since have reinforced that idea.
The early articles in Starlog magazine in the 70s, West End Games supplements in the 80s, Star Wars Essential Guides in the 90s, Dr. David West Reynolds’s Visual Dictionaries in the 2000s, to Pablo Hildago’s most recent visual guides, are all part of a long tradition of presenting fiction as fact while continuing to tell a story. Star Wars: Battles That Changed the Galaxy by Jason Fry, Cole Horton, Chris Kempshall, and Amy Ratcliffe is now a part of that tradition as well. This review will show that it is a worthy edition indeed.
The book’s authors are familiar names to the Star Wars community at this point. Jason Fry certainly isn’t a stranger to readers. He is a veteran “in the trenches” of Star Wars literature. I’m not only referring to his prior work in the amazing Essential Guide to Warfare, but also his works of prose in various short story anthologies.
Cole Horton is back talking about the wars of “The Warz”. This is most appropriate, as Horton presented “From World War to Star Wars” at Celebration Europe 2013, a topic he evolved into a fantastic ongoing blog series on Starwars.com. Horton also has to his credit works such as Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know and LEGO Star Wars: Chronicles of the Force.
Author, editor, and Celebration stage host Amy Ratcliffe is also no stranger to fans (if you haven’t checked out her earlier work Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy, do yourself a favor and do so– wonderful prose, powerful subject, and breathtaking art). Ratcliffe has also penned A Kid’s Guide to Fandom, The Art of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and, like Fry, has ventured into Star Wars short stories. You can read her short story “Heroes of the Rebellion” in the anthology Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View: The Empire Strikes Back.
Dr. Chris Kempshall brings his academic talents to the book, rounding out the list of authors. This is his first credit as a Star Wars author, although he has several essays on the topic of history and political science in the galaxy far, far away. A collection of these will be published sometime next year (unaffiliated with Lucasfilm) according to Dr. Kempshall’s website. Of course, he is no stranger to the wider breadth of academic writing, penning multiple works on the First World War, and being a contributor for the BBC’s First World War centenary events.
Upon first cracking open this coffee table sized book, and flipping through the pages, the reader is presented with a colorful, easy to navigate, history of the wars that make up the Star Wars. There is a nice flow to the book, an accessible logic to each page and each chapter. The book starts with a look at the Battle of Naboo and ends with the showdown on Exegol; with the battles of Mimban, Scarif, Yavin, Hoth, and Endor sandwiched in between. A color-coded system quickly and easily alerts the reader as to what era each battle takes place in. The conflicts of The Clone Wars and the Prequel Trilogy are colored orange in the section labeled “Battles of the Republic”. The era we fans refer to as “The Dark Times”, that is to say the time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, is colored blue and referred to as “Sparks of Rebellion”. The events of the Original Trilogy are colored green in the section entitled “Galactic Civil War”, while the Sequel Trilogy gets a purple section labeled “First Order-Resistance War”.
By laying Star Wars: Battles That Changed the Galaxy out like a modern-day textbook, even casual fans of the films can get engrossed in the tactics, personalities, and hardware of the events of their favorite films; as well as those from the Star Wars comics, novels, and video games – and never get lost or overwhelmed. This is a contrast to the earlier Essential Guide to Warfare by Jason Fry. I adore that book for its rich history and dense prose and the deftness with which Fry weaves over three decades of Star Wars lore (now labeled Legends), yet when my young nephew took it off my shelf to flip through, he wondered where “the Star Wars parts were”.
Don’t get me wrong-o, I am not suggesting that it doesn’t give us fleet junkies, hard core nerds, and Force fanatics any red meat. It does indeed! We get call outs with technical information on ships and vehicles, including the stealth ship from The Clone Wars, the mass driver cannon; the Mud Troopers from Solo: A Star Wars Story, the Phoenix Home from Rebels; the Shield Gate from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; weapons factory Alpha from Marvel’s Star Wars comic, the Nadiri shipyards, and the First Order Superlaser from The Last Jedi. I mention those, just so one doesn’t think that the book just reproduces the same infographic on X-wings, TIE Fighters, and the Millennium Falcon that a lot of us are used to. Jason Fry’s “Anaxes War College System” of capital ship classification returns and is updated for the new Star Wars storytelling era.
The book gives us a new day zero in the calendar of the galaxy far, far away. The formation of the Empire after Order 66 marks the zero point in this in-universe timeline. Battles before the formation of the Galactic Empire are demarcated with a BFE (Before the Formation of the Empire). The Invasion of Naboo, for example, was 13 BFE. Events afterward are labeled AFE, or After Formation of Empire. The Battle of Jakku took place in 24 AFE. This replaces the old BBY/ABY system that put year zero at the destruction of the death star at the Battle of Yavin. And this makes a lot more sense. The Summer of 1977 was a turning point in our lives here on earth but was just another day to most of the galactic denizens that live on screen. I hope Star Wars media keeps with this system as the canon gets flushed out.
My personal favorite addition is the chapter on the Battle of Jakku. The writers did a great job of synthesizing the various media that has thus far told the story of what we told was the biggest and last battle of the Galactic Civil War. The battle was first mentioned in the Claudia Grey novel Lost Stars, but it has also been flushed out in other novels so far like Aftermath: Empire’s End, and Alphabet Squadron: Victory’s Price. It has also been shown in video games like Battlefront II and Star Wars: Squadrons, and in comics like Poe Dameron and even in LEGO Star Wars animations. Here, all these disparate elements are synthesized into a cohesive whole. The writers’ prose, along with the visuals, help to form a gripping narrative of a climatic conflict between two vast navies in a way we have never seen before.
That is not to say this book is perfect. While the layout and design are attractive, easy to follow, and pretty to look at; the lack of original art is a disappointment. Other Star Wars reference books on my shelf, like the aforementioned Essential Guide to Warfare, and Ratcliffe’s Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy, feature fantastic art by fan favorite artists like Chris Travis, John Van Fleet, and Jen Bartel.
Here we have colorful stills taken from the various Star Wars media, arranged wonderfully on the page, but no new art. I remember how exciting it was back when Pablo Hildago’s Essential Guide to the Expanded Universe was released and we finally had portraits that showed us EU readers what obscure characters like Cal Omas looked like. No such luck here, as characters like Republic Commander Honor Salima, Imperial Captain Adre L’Mendi, Prelate Verge, and Gallius Rax, and are not represented by artwork but instead the logo of their faction. Perhaps, and to be fair, Lucasfilm may not want to peg down the look of characters that at this point have only been in novels, in case they were to be depicted later in live action. And this is not that farfetched! Take Vance Cobb. We first met him in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath, and we first saw him as actor Timothy Oliphant. We might see the cunning but evil Imperial Gallius Rax on Disney+ one day (start your “fan casting” now!). It is a great time to be a fan after all.
I should mention that there are new maps commissioned for the book, and they are very well done. Map illustrator Richard Chasemore does a great job giving the reader an artistic but easy to follow representation of some of the more complex battles, like Exegol and Scariff. His work is particularly helpful in the chapter on the Battle of Jakku as it helps to show the events from all the disparate media in one cohesive whole, without sacrificing any of the narrative.
Star Wars: Battles That Changed the Galaxy is a great addition to the libraries of super fans, and more casual viewers or gamer alike. Not only have I bought myself a copy, but I bought one for my nephew as well. Now I just must get him to give me back my copy of the Essential Guide to Warfare first.
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