Author of Star Wars: The Clone Wars – New Battlefronts – A Visual Guide, Jason Fry, was kind enough to give us some of his valuable time to answer a few questions…
JN: When compiling a book like this, which takes a mixture of both familiar
and unfamiliar characters, locations and events, is it a case of purely
regurgitating what has already been written, or do you have some freedom to include your own material?
JASON: There’s definitely some freedom to include new stuff — I placed the location of Eeth Koth’s encounter with General Grievous, for instance, and there was a ton of new stuff in the Season 1 Episode Guide. Lucasfilm is great about working with authors like me when there are opportunities to knit the Clone Wars material more tightly with existing Expanded Universe lore.
That said, you have to be careful because the show’s creative team likes to jump around within the chronology, filling in old storylines with new chapters. For instance, last year’s standalone “Senate Murders” is now part of a much richer arc about political maneuvering within the Senate. You don’t want to craft new material that might tie the writers’ hands, or get overwritten by future episodes. That’s why you see less new material in my more recent Clone Wars books than you did in the early ones — like everybody else, we’ve learned things as the show has evolved.
JN: What is the typical brief that you are given when asked to write the Visual Guides?
JASON: By now I know the format pretty well. I think of the Visual Guides as serving as a handy reference guide you can consult while watching the show or after you’ve seen an episode, and as a fun way to relive favorite episodes while away from your TV. I’ve had lots of parents come up to me and say the Visual Guides always get taken along on car trips, and that’s great to hear — anything that gets kids to read!
JN: When writing about familiar characters, how difficult is it to avoid repeating yourself from previous editions, or do you tend to view each guide separately.
JASON: Each guide has to stand alone — every one has to include the major characters, the key Republic troops and Separatist droids, and so forth. It’s not fair to a new reader if you assume they’ve bought the other two and so don’t talk about Anakin and Ahsoka, or Rex, or what a droideka is. That said, the major characters are pretty well-known by now, so we don’t need full page spreads for everybody — quick recaps will generally suffice. Within those spreads, I definitely look for ways to keep the material fresh, by writing the material a bit differently and looking for new art.
JN: With the focus very much on season 2 of The Clone Wars for New Battlefronts, how far in advance did you have access to material from that series?
JASON: A few months, if I’m remembering correctly. That said, the scripts don’t tell you everything. The way scenes are shot and paced and how lines are delivered are important to the storytelling, and you can’t grasp that until you actually see an episode. For example, “Duchess of Mandalore” from Season 2 is a wonderful film noir that hearkens back to 1940s detective-movie classics, but that’s a product of the pacing and lighting and camera angles. The script gives you the story, but not how it feels on-screen. Which has been a great learning experience for me in appreciating how these episodes come together and the artistry of them.
Another wild card is the show’s creators like to improvise. When I wrote the Clone Wars Character Encyclopedia, I had no idea Embo had this awesome flying hat. That episode was very late in the season, so my deadline had passed. I was like, “I wish someone had told me!”
JN: What is your criteria for what topics to include when compiling the content of the book?
JASON: That comes out of collaboration with the publisher — in this case DK — and Lucasfilm. For the Visual Guides, you know the returning characters, vehicles and themes you need to revisit, and then you look at the new characters and ships and droids fans will want to know more about. Then you mix in some “plot spreads” — pages in which you retell crucial parts of an episode chronologically through visuals. At the end of that process you inevitably have more pages than you can fit, so you look for what can get combined and then have to make some tough choices about what’s in and what’s out.
One limitation is what art is available as deadline approaches: Book production requires a longer lead time than TV production, so particularly with the final episodes of a season art you might want may not be available when you need it. I’ve learned that the final few spreads of a Visual Guide inevitably change from the original plan. Which is kind of fun, actually.
JN: Do you limit yourself to a set amount of text per subject when you are writing or do you pull together everything and then trim what you have to fit?
JASON: I generally write to fit. A page spread will typically come to me with the art in place, and the text written in a crazy quasi-Latin, which I’ll replace with the right amount of actual text. That said, sometimes I’ll ask the DK designers to change the order of images around for storytelling purposes, to eliminate text where things would get too repetitive or I’m really forcing the issue in finding something interesting to say, or to give me more space to describe something. They’re terrific about accommodating such requests while making sure I’m not losing sight of the overall look and feel of the page. And then Lucasfilm is very helpful in reading things over and noting when certain spreads aren’t quite working. We reworked the Pre Vizsla spread from New Battlefronts several times before we got it right: I kept trying to pack too much information into it and losing the essentials of the character and his role in the story.
JN: Who decides what images to include and what approach is taken in choosing these? Is it a case of writing the text and then choosing the images to match, or writing the content to suit the pictures?
JASON: That’s changed a bit over time. For the first two Visual Guides I was given finished spreads for which I wrote text, but for the third one I mapped out the overall page plan and took the first crack at page layouts and art ideas/requests. But it was still absolutely a team effort: I had Lucasfilm’s notes about what they wanted to emphasize and felt was particularly important, and DK was great about helping refine the plan from my rough draft. These books really are collaborations, and that makes them a lot of fun.
JN: Are there already plans in place for another Visual Guide that focuses on Season 3?
JASON: I don’t know of any plans yet, but that’s not necessarily unexpected at this point in the cycle. I certainly hope the series continues, and I’d love to keep the authorial reins if that fits with what DK and Lucasfilm want to do. Meanwhile I’m really busy — I’m working on three Star Wars books (including one for DK) as I write this!
JN: How do writing the Visual Guides differ from something like the Essential Atlas?
JASON: The audience for Essential Atlas or the Essential Guide to Warfare is quite different, as is the subject matter. That said, I always try to remember that there isn’t one kind of Star Wars fan, and do my best to make sure books appeal to as many points on the fan spectrum as possible. With the Atlas, Dan Wallace and I were very conscious of not writing a book that was so dense and wonky that it would terrify a casual fan who picked it up in a bookstore — there had to be paths into the material for people who weren’t familiar with the EU. By the same token, I try to include information in the kids’ books that veteran fans will find useful or get a kick out of.
And always, you should be able to hear the theme music while you read and look at the art. If you read too long and don’t think of thrumming lightsabers or ships flashing overhead or crazy aliens or evocative alien landscapes, time for a rewrite!
JN: Do you tend to work through a series in chronological order, or do you approach things another way?
JASON: When writing, you mean? Essential Guide to Warfare was written in chronological order, because part of the book was tracing the evolution of technologies and military strategies, and that worked better when tackled chronologically. With the Visual Guides, the schedule of when spreads are produced often depends on when art is available. But that’s OK — it can be fun to jump around chronologically during a project.
Our thanks to Jason for sparing the time to answer our questions, and if you want to know more about Star Wars: The Clone Wars – New Battlefronts – A Visual Guide, you can read our review.