Over the past few years, Matthew Reinhart has made a name for himself, along with his collaborator Robert Sabuda, with a slew of bestselling pop-up books including the Encyclopedia Prehistorica series, Castle and Mommy?, which feature intricate, innovative and unexpected elements as hallmarks. His latest, Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy (Orchard), is one of his most ambitious projects yet, with pop-ups within pop-ups that often interact with each other, and light sabres that actually light. Reinhart spoke with Bookshelf over the phone from the New York City studio he and Sabuda share.

How did the idea of a Star Wars pop-up first come about?

I’m a huge Star Wars fan. A lot of what I am today is because of the movies. As my career as a paper engineer and illustrator has grown, and after working on Sharks, Dinosaurs [both in Candlewick’s Encyclopedia Prehistorica series] and The Jungle Book, I was able to approach Lucasfilm through my editor Ken Geist. They were so surprised by my enthusiasm about the Star Wars universe.

So the idea for the book was originally yours, then.

I’ve been thinking about doing this project probably since I began doing pop-ups. I actually have very early prototypes from six or seven years ago of the Darth Vader head. They were terrible. It always had to be put on the back burner. And now it’s a real thing.

Of course being the tremendous fan that I am, it was always a dream to be able to work with Lucasfilm on a project because I love the characters and the universe that has been created. And so to be able to make something in tribute to something so beloved was an honor and something I’ve always wanted to do.

Did you see the original movies in the theater?

I did. The first movie came out in 1977, 30 years ago. I was about five so I don’t really remember seeing it. I did see it again about a year or two later, but it wasn’t until 1980 when The Empire Strikes Back came out that I was full-on into Star Wars. Ever since, I was hooked.

I understand you have a massive collection of memorabilia. What can you tell us about it?

Reinhart with a few of his
fans at Star Wars Celebration IV
this past May.

These days you have to be very directed when you have these sorts of collections. I am very much a toy person. I have a huge collection of Star Wars toys and action figures from back in the ’70s and ’80s, all the way until now. I probably have hundreds or thousands of figures. I recently acquired a vintage complete collection of the original figures in their original packaging.

It’s a pretty massive collection. I have to start databasing it now so I don’t get doubles of things. I was a pretty fastidious kid, so I kept everything in good condition, though not in the packaging. Thank God for the people who did. And thank God for eBay.

Is there a particular item you hold dear?

There are a couple of things. I went to visit the archive [at the Lucas ranch]. Some of my favorite things are the digital photos I took there. C-3PO was in a crate and I have a perma-grin on my face. And there’s a picture with Robert Sabuda and me with dueling light sabers. It was pretty cool to see and touch those original props. So those are the most treasured things.

How was the process for creating this book different than your previous pop-up titles?

It was different because there was one extra layer of approval with Lucasfilm. They’re very easy to work with and very excited to let artists spread their wings. I [also] had to be extra detailed with the style of art I do, which is cut-paper collage, more so than ever before. It taught me to become very delicate with the artwork and to be very patient and exacting. Now that I’ve learned how to draw all those faces—Princess Leia was one of the hardest faces to draw—I feel like I’ve really grown as an artist, because it was really hard.

Was there a point in the project when your obsession for the series really jumped to the surface?

Uh, like the entire book! This book is intended for a lot of people. I wanted the casual fan to be able to understand it and be involved. It’s easy for a hardcore fan to forget those people. It was important to explain things in a certain way, but to also have Easter eggs and nods [for diehard fans].

With six films’ worth of source material to choose from, how did you decide what characters, scenes and events to include or to leave out?

I was lucky enough to only concentrate on the original trilogy of movies, because it’s the 30-year anniversary. If everyone likes this one I’m sure we’d consider doing a version for the prequel trilogy. I knew that there were iconic characters that needed to appear. I divided the spreads into locations, vehicles, creatures and aliens, dark side and light side. Those things were really important.

Then there are the iconic scenes: no one can forget seeing those walkers [move] across the snow. For me, the most important monster was the rancor. We really included the main characters from the movies, not the books. We were focusing on what most people have seen.

How long did it take you to complete the book?

About a year, really. I am lucky enough to have really talented designers in the studio to clean up my messy initial work and help work out the problems there are with some of the pops.

I think my favorite pop-up has to be when Han Solo gets trapped in carbonite. Is there a particular pop-up or spread you’re especially pleased with?

Princess Leia is one of my favorites. Every time I see the artwork I’m really happy with it. Also Darth Vader’s helmet. And the [light up] lightsabers look spectacular, better than I had imagined. And the way the rancor’s arms thrash at you—we’d never done that before.

I was not an easy person to deal with—I was somewhat of a Sith Lord myself and became Darth Matthew, I was so obsessed. The last few months of doing the work and making the artwork, I was really unpleasant. I was working seven days a week, all day. I wanted to make something that truly honored Star Wars and was really fantastic.

What kind of early feedback have you received from Star Wars fans?

I have talked to a lot of fans, but so far nothing but positive [feedback]. I’m sure someone will tell me ‘So and so didn’t wear that color outfit,’ and I’ll just say ‘Oops.’ I have an amazing reference library of all of the books, so I made sure ‘OK, this is this guy’s color.’ I tried to be as close as I could. Lucasfilm is really careful about everything they’ve licensed.

Do you have any other deep-seated obsessions you’d like to explore in pop-ups?

Oh yes, many. I’m working on a series for Candlewick about mythical creatures [Encyclopedia Mythologica]. I’m starting on Fairies and Magical Creatures right now, and we’ll eventually do Dragons and Monsters, and even Gods and Heroes. I think I’m obsessed with everything I do. I always pick things that I love, and I’m lucky that I get to do these kinds of projects.

Finally, who is your all-time favorite Star Wars character?

It’s a toss up between Jabba the Hutt and C-3PO. I like C-3PO because he’s such a mess. He talks about how he hates dealing with trouble and he’s scared, but he ends up going though it anyway. Everyone talks about Han Solo being a reluctant hero, but C3PO is the most reluctant hero.

And Jabba. There’s no pretenses about that character. He’s just disgusting and awful and he loves himself. He was one of the most memorable things about Star Wars as a kid. Everyone loves bad guys, everyone loves Darth Vader, but no one loves the disgusting ones.