Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare by Jason Fry and Paul R. Urquhart – Book Review [Bellarius]
Returning once more to the realm of Star Wars, Bellarius takes a brief look at one last hurrah by the Expanded Universe before it was bulldozed away by the same director who dumbed down Star Trek to an action film franchise.
“A superbly written and concise piece which stretches across millennia, giving the full scope of just how massive the galaxy far, far away once truly was.” – Bellarius
Much like the previously reviewed Jedi Path, The Essential Guide to Warfare is a book which really helps to open the door to the Expanded Universe. Along with the many other Essential Guides produced over the years, the book ultimately serves to give greater insight upon background elements of the setting. However, whereas prior installments focused upon characters, droids, weapons and vehicles, this one emphasises upon the conflicts which give the franchise its name, showing how the galaxy as a whole has been shaped by fire many times over.
Divided up into multiple eras, The Essential Guide to Warfare is as much a book about the timeline as a whole as it is battles and conflicts. Starting out at the beginning, it covers the initial rise of the Infinite Empire and the battles which raged around those ancient eras, along with Xim the Despot’s wars and others. However, rather than simply focusing upon troop movements and the tactics used, many parts of the book divide themselves up into multiple sub-categories. In each one you’ll find a general outline of how the war progressed and developed over time, but with multiple sections breaking off to quickly examine the major players, key events and technologies involved. As a result of this, conflicts such as the Rebellion era and later Warlord eras both feel far more vibrant and alive, presented more like a collection of documents highlighting key areas of interest within these events. As a result, key figures such as Issard, Zsinj, Ackbar and Daala are all given a brief listing of their histories and what made them important to the war, giving the conflict a face without completely diverging to focus purely upon them.
The many sections of the book are often very brief and deliver only the basics, but in many respects that’s the major advantage of these tomes. While it’s always wrong to say that a universe can be too big or emphasise too much on continuity for its own good, it’s undeniable that so many books, comics and video games tying together can seem like a daunting experience to get into. Installments like these given a brief timeline of events, list the best and most interesting aspects of the universe, and leave enough information for an interested reader to follow up on in Wookieepedia or other areas.
It’s not that the book itself dumbs down the information or simplifies it, but it instead skims over certain points. While the Eye of Palpatine and Starbuster plots are both mentioned, neither is gone into to any great degree to keep things streamlined but there remains enough information for someone to follow up on. Equally, the starships and capital vessels involved have a few paragraphs devoted to them but as they are not the focus the authors give just enough information for someone to follow up on and examine for themselves. Even when it is in brief however, the information given is always the right kind of information, detailing the development of certain tactics or details about the setting. Notable among these are mentions of just why the AT-TE’s design evolved into the looming AT-AT and the direction of ship-to-ship warfare, veering away from the carrier emphasis seen in the real world.
What also helps to give this book real life is how authors Fry and Urquhart give some real balance to the depictions of every side. At no point does it ever seem that one faction is being pushed to prominence over others or being unfairly treated, a bullet the book narrowly dodged given that Karen Traviss was originally slated to be penning this one. This said, the very times it does delve into potentially biased accounts or information, it’s done intentionally, with many sections compiled being taken from interviews with other people. More often than not these are written with some contradictory aspects, as reading about Lando’s retelling of an old victory is entirely different from Daala’s acidic and vitriol filled accounts. Each is deftly handled however, both to capture the voice of each interviewee and also sell the reader on the idea of each conflict. As ludicrous as it seem to read about a stormtrooper detailing his battle against Ewoks as if it were a fight against the Viet Cong, the level of conviction in the description is just enough to be truly convincing.
Special mention also needs to be given to the artists involved in this one as many of the images here helped to give real impact to some of the descriptions by helping to punctuate certain points. As the book rarely focused upon single battles in any great detail in its writing, the occasional outstandingly well defined picture helped place emphasis upon certain engagements or victories. The fall of Coruscant to the Yuuzhan Vong and the infamous image showing two Super Star Destroyers engaging one another in a pitch battle are stand-out examples, and they do help to make the book truly memorable even beyond the well researched and crafted articles.
However, there are a few failings which are worthy of note. The unfortunate thing with focusing upon eras is that some sections of the Expanded Universe are swept under the rug as a result, with more time and dedication being spent in focusing upon the better known tales. As such the Warlord era is rather slimmed down while the Clone Wars and Rebellion era have more time and text spent outlining them, and some of the stories more akin to traditional adventures are barely mentioned. The Black Fleet Crisis and Kueller’s rebellion in particular are notably absent for the most part despite their impact to the setting. In addition to this, while some of the more unpopular stories are thankfully skipped, the much derided Second Galactic Civil War is given a massive chunk of the book to itself. Even with both authors doing their best to flesh it out and fit it in with events, it never fails to seem unnecessary or out of place in the timeline. Call it opinion, but trimming it down to a few pages and a brief mention, and spending that time expanding upon more acclaimed tales would have been a far better move.
Really though, beyond the occasional skewed focus, there’s very little to truly criticise here. While it might lack something akin to Xenology’s internal story or some potentially more immersive elements, it helps to open the door to a much bigger universe and outline areas of interest. If you want to see just how expansive a universe several decades of novels, video games and comics created, The Essential Guide to Warfare provides an excellent starting point and is well worth picking up if you’re at all invested in the galaxy far, far away.