Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia (An Imperial Talker Review)

Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia, co-authored by Tricia Barr, Adam Bray, and Cole Horton, is at one and the same time intensely fascinating and slightly overwhelming. This latest addition to the catalog of Star Wars reference books contains a veritable mountain of images and information broken into five distinct chapters, each chapter having a handful of subsections. The breadth and depth of Star Wars knowledge in this book will certainly keep the more “die-hard” fan occupied for long periods of time, but might also leave the more casual fan feeling somewhat dizzy by the scope of what Star Wars has to offer. Even as a self-proclaimed die-hard fan, I readily admit that I felt a bit overwhelmed at times by all The Visual Encyclopedia has to offer. Still, this was and is hardly a reason not to explore the book. In fact, I encourage Star Wars fans of all types to do so, patiently and methodically working through the book so as to savor the journey to the summit of the Star Wars mountain.

So what exactly does this particular mountain of Star Wars knowledge contain? In the book’s foreword, Dennis Muren (Senior Creative Director, Industrial Light & Magic) notes that, “In this title you’ll see firsthand the thousands of objects that are inspired by our world, but are uniquely Star Wars.” And right he is, as this reference source presents through countless images and bits of information how the galaxy far, far away is derived from concepts and ideas that we are all familiar with on some level. Identifying specific categories of inquiry, the authors, as I already mentioned, organize the the Encyclopedia into five chapters: Geography, Nature, History, Culture, and Science and Technology. In this way, the book’s organization invites readers to begin in a chapter of their own choosing, beginning an exploration based on one’s personal interests in the real-world or Star Wars universe. Of course, one can also start on page one and simply go from page-to-page, but know that this isn’t required to grasp all the Encyclopedia since it is not set-up in narrative form.

Mustafar
Southern and Northern Mustafarians.
Photo Credit – Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia

For me, going through the book page-by-page, skimming through the images and info, gave me my initial bearings before really digging into anything concrete. From there, I worked through the book in non-linear fashion, very slowly jumping to different pages based on momentary interests and personal inquiry. During one reading I found myself enamored by the chapter on Nature, discovering new things about the various creatures and alien-species in Star Wars. I never knew, for example, that two types Mustafarians existed, Southerners being stocky while their Northerner counterparts are tall and thin (see image above). In turn, as I explored the chapter on Culture, I was struck by the vast array of royal outfits that Queen Padmé Amidala of the Naboo wore in The Phantom Menace. Fashion in Star Wars has never been a personal point of interest for me (I don’t do any form of cosplay) but the images of Amidala’s outfits, and the explanation that her “elaborate gowns reflect their [Naboo’s] culture,” left me intrigued and reflecting upon other forms of royal and political attire in Star Wars.

To this point about personal interest, the majority of my time spent in The Visual Encyclopedia thus far has centered on the Science and Technology chapter. Of the five, it is the longest chapter, having the most subsections arranged into categories ranging from binoculars, equipment, and medical technology to blasters, warships, all forms of land vehicles, plus a whole lot more. For the sake of brevity I won’t go into detail about everything I found so fascinating about this chapter, but I will note that I was particularly happy to encounter two specific land vehicles that I have always desired to see more of in Star Wars: the UT-AT “Trident” tank and the AT-OT Walker. While the Encyclopedia only has a picture of these two war machines accompanied by their respective names, it is never-the-less reassuring to know that there are Star Wars writers/authors keeping the lesser known vehicles (among other things) in mind.

The Star Wars universe is exceedingly vast and The Visual Encyclopedia does a nice job of covering a great deal of the expanse, the UT-AT and AT-OT being a clear example of just that. Still, the reference book does have its limitations, hardly a shock since Star Wars is far too great to be encapsulated in only 199 pages. Since the Encyclopedia is rooted primarily to the Star Wars movies and television shows, one will be disappointed if they enter the book hoping to encounter a wealth of information and images from the array of Star Wars novels, comics, and games. Further, the book does contain a handful of notable absences. While he is quoted, and his unique shuttle Delta-class shuttle is depicted, there is no image of Director Orson Krennic, the antagonist in Rogue One. One will find Rogue One protagonist Jyn Erso in the book, but her father Galen Erso, who developed the Death Star’s planet-killing weapon, and her mother Lyra are no where to be found. And speaking of parents, perhaps the most disappointing absence is that Anakin’s mother, Shmi Skywalker, does not receive an image in the Encyclopedia, just another reminder that she continues to be an unfortunate afterthought in the Star Wars canon.

Limitations and curious absences aside, Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia is never-the-less an enjoyable reference book that will leave an interested Star Wars fan occupied for quite a while. Try to take in all it offers in a single sitting and one very well might abandon the effort with feelings of being overwhelmed. But fortified with the patience of a Jedi Master and an eager willingness to savor the journey, and one will surely end up expanding their personal knowledge and understanding of the Star Wars universe.


Thanks to DK Publishing for providing me with an advanced copy of Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia

4 comments

  1. “Curious absences” is definitely a good way to put that! Not having Shmi in the book? That seems a little outrageous since she was kind of one of the key reasons Anakin turned to the dark side and she played such an important role in his life. And no Galen either? Also seems to be someone who set a lot into motion… Since it was published just a few days ago, there is no reason they shouldn’t have Rogue One stuff.

    My problem with Star Wars encyclopedias is that there is *always* new information coming out about Star Wars. I have quite a few from when the Prequels were done because I thought that would be it in terms of movies. But then it kept expanding because of TCW and then Disney taking over made me rethink ever buying them again.

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    1. Agreed, the abscenes were very odd, especially considering the book does have a lot of Rogue One content (Scarif, Death Troopers, Jyn, Cassian, K2, etc). But no Galen or Lyra, and no image of Krennic was just odd. And of course, no Shmi is just disheartening. She is so underutilized and easily forgotten, and I think there is a lot of potential for them to do something (anything!) with her as a character. In fact, I am working on a piece about Shmi to present some ideas I have (but more on that later).

      I am definitely in agreement with you, too, about the problem being more information. I got the book “Absolutely Everything You Need to Know About Star Wars” a while back and, well, that title is nothing short of misleading at this point. Plus, many of these books just focus on the movies/tv shows, with the books, comics, and game content being an afterthought. Towards the end of the Expanded Universe era, there were some solid reference books bringing in info from across all storytelling mediums (The Essential Atlas for example) but even those succumbed to not having the entire story once other tales were told. Heck, even the Star Wars Databank on the Star Wars website fails to include a lot of the info/events of comics, books, and games. It is all rather odd and disappointing, almost as if those mediums are second-tier in some nature.

      The other thing about reference books is eventually sites like Wookieepedia will just become the repository of the information anyway. At some point, that site will include all the info (and a lot of images) from this Encyclopedia, so one could just hit up the internet for info they might seek. I tend to be more of a purist in that if I cite something, I will start at Wookieepedia and use it to direct me to the primary source, but if I am casually looking for information it is far easier to hit the interwebs than to run downstairs and grab a book (which I admit is sad).

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      1. I loved all the old “Essential” books, especially the Species one. I used to pour over that and the old Wizards of the Coast Species book for creating characters in that roleplaying game all the time. For a while, I did a decent amount of play-by-post Star Wars RPG gaming, and would frequently use those “Essential” books as supplemental material. (It occurs to me that starting up a new play-by-post campaign is a really good idea…) Anyway, I miss those and hope to see new, updated versions of them some time down the line…

        Also, I fell for the “Absolutely Everything You Need to Know About Star Wars” trap as well…that book is…let’s just say I haven’t cracked it more than twice…but, based on your review, oddly-missing information aside, I think I might have to pick up “Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia” since I have the visual guides for both TFA & Rogue One and find myself referring to them regularly (because I still prefer books to Wookieepedia)…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Excited on the piece re: Shmi.

    I had the Essential Atlas! Or…have. But yeah, a lot of it is moot now.

    I actually love Wookiepedia. It’s so much easier but I do double check sources on something if I have a weird gut feeling about it. I’m not sure it’s sad though – it is definitely easier. I love my books and my Star Wars encyclopedias and I still use them occasionally, but when writing a blog post, it’s easier to consult Wookiepedia.

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