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'Star Wars': The Force Is with DK
Shannon Maughan -- 9/14/98
What kind of gear befits a Jedi Knight most? How d s Luke Skywalker';s lightsaber really work? And what would it look like if you were sitting at the controls of the Millennium Falcon? These and thousands of other questions are answered in Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary and Star Wars: Incredible Cross-Sections, two heavily illustrated volumes from DK that have a national laydown date of October 1.
Delving into a galaxy, far, far away -- a fictitious galaxy conceived in the imagination of film producer George Lucas, who first brought Star Wars to the big screen in 1977 -- would seem a most unusual project for the publisher long respected for its Eyewitness series and other nonfiction and reference titles. But according to DK v-p and children's group publisher Neal Porter, it was precisely his company's nonfiction know-how that made it the perfect choice to become an official licensee of the Star Wars franchise.

"When I joined DK in September 1997," Porter said, "one of the first things I did was travel to Frankfurt [International Book Fair], where I met with Lucy Wilson, the head of Lucasfilm. I wanted to explore doing Star Wars, DK-style. She knew our books and reputation and had been thinking of approaching us, too, so it's hard to say who had the idea first."

From that initial meeting, talks proceeded with Lucasfilm in California and DK teams in both New York and London. "We had never done a straight license before," Porter said. "But the idea from the beginning was to use established DK formats, and the visual dictionary and cross-sections formats seemed natural. To us, Star Wars wasn't a world that didn't exist; we immersed ourselves in that world as it existed in the mind of George Lucas. We used all the reference materials at our disposal and treated fiction like nonfiction. The books have the same third-person, factual, you-are-there tone as our other titles."

Accepting the Challenge

With a publishing plan in place, the next step was to find the right author for the books. Luckily, they discovered someone uniquely qualified for the job: archeologist and lifelong Star Wars fan (and now Lucasfilm employee) David West Reynolds . "My background is in archeology [he has a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan] and I had done some work in Egypt and Tunisia, where the original Star Wars films were shot," Reynolds explained. "A few years ago I thought it would be fun to go there and see all the locations of the film. It was a blast; many of the sites are unchanged from 20 years ago. We actually found some of the old props in the middle of the Sahara."

Reynolds wrote a magazine article about his Star Wars-inspired travels, which caught the eye of Lucasfilm producer Rick McCallum. McCallum promptly hired Reynolds as a location scout for the new Star Wars film, Star Wars: Episode 1, due out in May 1999.

Given his professional resume and consuming interest in the subject matter, Reynolds was soon writing the text. "It's actually been of a lot of value to have a background in archeology," Reynolds said about writing the books. "I was able to write in a historically convincing way, to create what sounds like real history. I was interpreting artifacts from another culture, just as I would on any other archeological project."

To help with the research, Reynolds was given unlimited access to the archives kept at Lucasfilm's Skywalker Ranch in California. "It was extraordinary that they opened the archives to me and that I am now able to share it with other people," he said. The books combine movie stills with brand-new photographs and original artwork. Because they had been sitting idle for years, many of the costumes, weapons and other props had been misplaced and had to be located and/or reconstructed with help from photographers and artists from Lucasfilm's Industrial Light and Magic special effects division. Evidence of wear and tear from the original film shoot can be seen in the Visual Dictionary photographs.

Reynolds also wrote the text for the cross-sections volume and praises the work of illustrators Hans Jenssen and Richard Chasemore, who were charged with creating visuals, literally from nuts and bolts. "We had the best possible people working on this," said Reynolds. "They were able to create these magnificent engines and interiors from scratch; the interior of these vehicles had never been seen before."

David Pickering, the editor at DK in London who was responsible for "keeping tabs on everything," recalls that the massive projects ran quite smoothly. "Everyone at Lucasfilm put a lot of time and effort into this. We are always mad for authenticity and they were very patient with all our requests."

On the flip side, all parties were equally patient about all the legal vetting required as part of the licensing agreements. "It's interesting how much depth has been added to the Star Wars universe in our time," Pickering said. "You can travel a long way in this strange and wonderful galaxy known as Star Wars."

Porter also believes in the broad reach of Star Wars -- one that will carry across several different readerships. "I think there's an audience of people who first saw the films as kids and a whole new audience of younger fans who saw them on video and when they were re-released in 1997," he said. In the U.S. the books will have first printings of 250,000 copies each and co-editions are scheduled in 10 additional countries. Two more books based on the new film are already underway, employing the same teams in London, New York and California. A release date has not been announced.

But in the meantime, Star Wars aficionados can see displays of the books -- and attend several signings by Reynolds -- at collectors' shows and at Star Wars fans conventions throughout the fall. The books will also be promoted on the official Star Warswebsite, and a floor display featuring C-3PO and Jawas (whose eyes light up) is also sure to attract attention from consumers.

"This has been an amazing opportunity. I've wanted to write these books ever since I first saw the film," said Reynolds. "I made notes and drawings of a cut-away lightsaber back when I was 12. To hand it over to ILM is what I've wanted to do since I was a kid." Lots of Star Wars fans are likely to be pleased that Reynolds's dream has finally come true.
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