Daniel Wallace is the author of a slew of ‘Star Wars’ tie-in books that explore the history of characters in the universe with works such as ‘The Jedi Path’, ‘Book of Sith’, ‘The Bounty Hunter Code’, and the ‘Imperial Handbook’. More importantly, he also helped pen the recently released ‘Star Wars – On The Front Lines’ which takes a look at some of the greatest battles in ‘Star Wars’ history. Honestly, I quite enjoyed this work from amazing art to some fun write-ups. If anything, my complaints are wishing it was longer, even more in-depth, and included some of the newer material such as from ‘Star Wars Rebels’ and recent novels. Of course, that is always what a second installment should be for though!
We had the opportunity to interview Wallace about his latest novel and what’s to come in the his future.
Science Fiction (SF): Daniel, thanks for agreeing to the interview! You’ve long been filling the role of exploring various aspects of the Star Wars universe and have put together quite a treasure trove of information over the years. How did you get involved in a galaxy far far away?
Daniel Wallace (DW): I was fortunate to make some professional connections in the mid-1990s, when ‘Star Wars’ fandom was just starting to put its roots down on the early internet. This led to writing tryouts with Lucasfilm’s publishing department and the publication of my first book—Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Planets and Moons—in 1998.
Since then I’ve stayed busy, not just with ‘Star Wars’ but with some of my other favorite universes like Marvel, DC Comics, and Ghostbusters. Most of my books are non-fiction. Sometimes that’s literal, as in “how did this movie get made behind the scenes,” but other times it’s more of a “fictional non-fiction” narrative where I assume the POV of the in-universe historian who’s writing all this stuff down. Star Wars: On the Front Lines is more of the latter approach.
SF: ‘On The Front Lines’ takes us to eleven of the most epic battles in the ‘Star Wars’ Universe How did you pick which ones to choose?
DW: Every one of the Star Wars movies contains an epic battle. Therefore, given the seven numbered saga films plus Rogue One, we had a starter list of eight armed conflicts starting with the Battle of Naboo and ending with the Battle of Starkiller Base.
Beyond that, the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars make a lot of sense as a place to look for important historical battles. After much debate and hair-pulling, we settled on two pivotal Clone Wars battles: Christophsis and Ryloth.
The only battle in On the Front Lines that is never directly seen on screen is the Battle of Jakku, though fans are indirectly familiar with it after seeing the crashed Star Destroyers littering Rey’s desert homeworld in The Force Awakens. For that one, I had to rely on spinoff material such as Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars, Chuck Wendig’s Empire’s End, and the video game Star Wars Battlefront.
SF: Was the artwork for the collection created around your writing and battle choices or did you work around the artwork presented?
DW: The writing and artwork were largely done in parallel, but we had a pretty good idea of what artworks we needed by the time I finished my outline.
I really want to emphasize that the artwork is the single best thing about On the Front Lines. It’s as much a coffee-table art book as a reference book. The illustrations are an entertaining mix of gritty battle scenes and moody portraits of severe military commanders. Look for pieces by Adrian Rodriguez, Thomas Wievegg, Aaron Rile, and Fares Maese, plus a cover by Brian Rood.
SF: I doubt you can pick a favorite but have to ask which companion piece of artwork do you think either was the best or fit your material the best?
DW: They’re all great, but fans who want to get a taste of the artwork should take a look at the double-page spread that depicts the Battle of Hoth. This is a raw, visceral snapshot, taken from what is probably the most iconic conflict in the entire Star Wars saga.
SF: A variety of characters add details into each section. Did you have any mandates to follow on which characters you could or couldn’t choose? How did you pick which ones made the final cut?
DW: Deciding on characters turned into a surprisingly fascinating game. The most recognizable movie characters aren’t always the most important battle commanders. For example, if you’re discussing the tactics used to plan the assault on the first Death Star, Luke Skywalker isn’t nearly as important to the narrative as General Dodonna or Red Leader.
In other cases, I had the freedom to create all-new characters to fill specific roles. Who was the Republic commander at the Battle of Coruscant trying to push back General Grievous’s fleet? Who was the trooper that took down that AT-AT on Jakku? I found room to explore these unexplored corners.
SF: Now, there was only one from ‘The Clone Wars’ and one from the novels. If you were to work on a sequel, would there be a strong push to include ‘Star Wars Rebels’ and other novels?
DW: Well, there were two from The Clone Wars—Christophsis and Ryloth—but I agree with you that Star Wars Rebels is an obvious candidate for a followup. Unfortunately, we couldn’t include the epic battles from that series due to timing issues, but I’d love the chance to revisit it in the future.
SF: What kind of research did you have to do when putting this together? What was the hardest aspect in creating ‘On The Front Lines’?
DW: The trickiest part was the real-world release schedule. We started planning On the Front Lines in 2015, before the release of The Force Awakens and over a year prior to the release of Rogue One. Obviously, that resulted in some headaches.
By the time I got the chance to take a crack at the Battle of Starkiller Base I had already completed most of the manuscript. And then we were forced to enter a holding pattern until I could secure early access to the Rogue One script for the Battle of Scarif. The Battle of Jakku was the last holdout, and the novel Empire’s End provided critical plot points that resulted in last-minute rewrites.
SF: You’ve done quite a few reference books for ‘Star Wars’. How do you feel this one is different than your past work?
DW: I’ve done military-focused books like Star Wars: Battles for the Galaxy, and I’ve done history-focused books like Star Wars: The Essential Chronology or Star Wars: The Essential Atlas.
The most obvious break with those earlier books is that On the Front Lines takes place under the new, official Star Wars canon. But it’s also a different animal, in which the density of facts is less important than the words and images working together to convey a sense of atmosphere.
SF: Which was your favorite section or section type to write when putting together this collection?
DW: My favorite part of each battle overview are the sidebars. In the “I Was There” sidebar, a survivor of the battle recalls in their own words what it was like to live through that experience.
Basically, these sidebars became micro-stories written in first-person perspective. I like that they showcase underused characters like Wedge Antilles and Nien Nunb, or if not they put the spotlight on all-new characters instead.
I was lucky to get the chance to create so many new voices. On the Front Lines contains the experiences of an outgunned Echo Base trooper facing an AT-ST, a Gungan conscript serving under Jar Jar Binks, a communications officer who bears witness to the last words of the “Rogue One” squad on Scarif, a rat-like scavenger hired to hijack Imperial ships at Jakku, and lots more.
SF: There were previous reference books like this for the Expanded Universe before Lucasfilm retconned it. How did you try to stand apart from the cinematic battles which those had already covered?
DW: That’s true, and it’s important to note that this is the first official book to focus on the military side of Star Wars since Disney/Lucasfilm wiped the slate clean with their new continuity.
But I don’t really consider On the Front Lines to be taking the place of exhaustive, immersive books like Jason Fry’s The Essential Guide to Warfare. At its core, On the Front Lines is an art book. And while I put everything I had into making the words as engaging as possible, the best experience is one in which the reader dips in and out of the columns of text in between long, lingering looks to absorb the full emotional impact of the art.
SF: Could you share what you’ll be working on next?
DW: Coming this November, Star Wars: The Rebel Files is an in-universe book that follows the style of my earlier projects like The Jedi Path and Book of Sith. In this case, the book is a repository of historical documents chronicling the foundation of the Rebel Alliance, interspersed with Mon Mothma’s candid journal entries and other bits of Star Wars ephemera. The book has the feel of a scrapbook, but a close read of the material will reveal new information about Mon Mothma’s relationships with the people she feels closest to.
And, much like The Jedi Path, November’s deluxe edition of The Rebel Files is also an interactive collectible. This time, the book comes packaged inside a Rebel Alliance strongbox—basically, the Star Wars equivalent of the U.S.’s “nuclear football.” Star Wars sounds play when you open the strongbox, and if you hit a different button a little arm pops up and projects an image of the Death Star plans. So far I’ve only seen the prototype, but the engineering is genuinely amazing. I can’t wait to play around with the finished version.