Building Worlds: A look at Star Wars: Complete Locations (DK)

“When I wasn’t outside, I would spend hours inside looking through an encyclopedia, marveling at its cut-away view of the pyramids. Or getting lost within NASA illustrations of space stations and future moon bases.”

Doug Chiang, from his foreword

When I was ten or eleven years old I would visit my local library to photocopy drawings and maps from J.R.R. Tolkien books. Many of which would later be Blu-Tacked to my wall. One of the titles that fascinated me the most was Journeys of Frodo: An Atlas of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings by Barbara Strachey. It’s basically a collection of ordnance survey maps created from a very close reading of the text and Tolkien’s Middle-earth maps. What a wonderfully specific response to The Lord of the Rings! Sitting here looking through my paperback edition (bought years later), it strikes me how much dedication must have been involved in what amounts to a pretty niche undertaking. As a kid it just made sense that it existed. Why wouldn’t it exist? Tolkien’s legendarium — his mythological backdrop to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings that he shaped over his lifetime — is world building on a par with reality. Those maps were as real as anything to me.

Our beloved galaxy far, far away is just as believable. George Lucas didn’t have to spend decades beforehand writing historical context to give his fictional universe the illusion of reality. (Notably, Tolkien set LOTR within his legendarium rather than create it for LOTR.) The very notion of ‘The Journal of the Whills’ hints at a Star Wars lengendarium, yet it does just that: it hints. Lucas achieved the seemingly impossible with Star Wars: A New Hope. Within the scope of a two hour movie he made audiences believe in an entire universe. What we saw on screen was clearly part of something bigger. The lived-in aesthetics sold us a multiplicity of potential stories behind the primary narrative. Snippets of dialogue communicated a history (“You fought in the Clone Wars?”), glimpses of varied background aliens and tantalising discussions about the Force gave us peoples and philosophies. This was a place you could go to. A New Hope exists within and beyond the confines of its thrilling, action packed story. Just like The Lord of the Rings before it, Star Wars is the perfect realisation of a fictional universe. These universes may have been pulled kicking and screaming into our world, but once they had arrived it was as if they had always been here.

Lucas himself has of course expanded upon what was previously only hinted at through the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars series. Across the many supporting materials (novels, reference books, games etc.) others have had the opportunity to build upon it all too. What this hasn’t done is demystify or make dull; quite the opposite. Lucas’s genius extends to bringing out the finest, most inventive work in those inspired by his creation. Star Wars reference books published by DK have certainly become go-to volumes for those wishing to wander through the backgrounds of their favourite stories. Turning the pages of Star Wars: Complete Locations is akin to stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia. Or indeed peering at that book of maps in the library as a kid. It is a magical experience.

Certain material in this volume was previously published as Inside the Worlds of Star Wars Episode I (written by Kristen Lund), Inside the Worlds of Star Wars Attack of the Clones (written by Simon Beecroft) and Inside the Worlds of Star Wars Trilogy (written by James Luceno). A collected edition including Revenge of the Sith (written by Kerrie Dougherty) was published in 2005. The 2016 edition has been updated with brand new The Force Awakens content written by the always brilliant Jason Fry. Not only that, but we’re treated to a foreword by Star Wars production designer Doug Chiang, a more detailed new map of the galaxy than that in the TFA Visual Dictionary and planet profiles including Jakku. It’s all beautifully illustrated in exquisite detail throughout by Hans Jenssen, Richard Chasemore and Kemp Remillard.

The two page Planet Profiles section is in itself Star Wars reference heaven(s). The presentation of certain facts had my mind returning to some of the most intriguing mysteries of the moment. Take Geonosis for example:

“Population: 1 billion (none in Imperial era)”

Or Jakku:

“few knew that the forlorn planet was the site of a secret Imperial research base used as a jumping-off point for exploring the galaxy’s Unknown Regions.”

Seriously, I can’t get enough about the Emperor’s interest in Jakku. And as far as Starkiller Base information goes, this book is a treasure trove. I mean, here’s what we’re given to start out with:

“the Empire secured a small, frozen world with a natural abundance of energy-focusing kyber crystals.”

There is more later on.

The format is perfect. Each movie is introduced by an iconic photo and opening crawl text, then broken down by world and specific location. We get some scene-setting text and photography followed by those fantastic illustrations. The illustrated pages themselves go from maps and buildings with cut-away sections to even an action sequence or two. (The four page super-detailed retelling of the speeder chase from Attack of the Clones is mind blowing. I’m stunned by the effort involved.) The Force Awakens material is particularly intriguing. We’re so close to it still, but so far out from Episode VIII, that any fresh material is more than welcome. It’s also great seeing the influence of the TV shows, novels and comics being subtly drawn into the earlier work.

The cut-aways really do allow you to dig deeper behind the stories. You could get lost in them and you probably will. Hours will tick on by without notice. When you finally drag yourself out of the pages, you’ll realise that you’ve forgotten to do some really important stuff. Unlike returning from Narnia, time is unfortunately lost to you. However, with Complete Locations you will be able to go back again and again. No restrictions where Star Wars is concerned. So get lost. In a good way.

Star Wars: Complete Locations is published by DK and is available now in the UK. I’d like to thank Lucasfilm Limited 2016 and DK for making a copy available to Future of the Force.

Stewart Gardiner

Unreliable narrator. David Lynch nerd. Star Wars fan. International assassin. Arthouse and classic film. Co-editor-in-chief at Future of the Force. Writer at 25 Years Later.

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