So you’ve seen it.
Three, four, five, eight times?
Yes, my friends, we are now officially living in a post-The Rise of Skywalker world, and even just writing that sentence, I still can’t quite believe it. For years, we waited for every bit of news we could get our hands on, and as the media team over at Lucasfilm slowly began to pump out content, we salivated like eager puppies upon our master’s arrival.
A character name? We’ll take it. A blurry set photo? Sure! An out of context interview? Why not?
And now, we know how the story ends. We’ve witnessed our heroes come together to destroy the greatest of all evils, and regardless of your feelings about the execution of the final film in the Skywalker Saga, I can likely guarantee one thing...you want more.
The start of 2020 has been an undoubtedly tumultuous time in the world from natural disasters to political upheaval to the reemergence of toxic fandoms possibly louder than they’ve ever been before, but nonetheless, I can unequivocally say that there’s never been a better time to be a Star Wars fan. More books? They’re coming. TV Shows? Better believe it. Movies? Just you wait. And in the meantime, I bet you’re begging for answers to every question that you’ve had swirling around your brain since your most recent viewing of The Rise of Skywalker.
Luckily, we have Pablo Hidalgo and The Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary.
Just as Episode IX closes the final chapter of the Skywalker Saga for movie going audiences, The Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary brings Pablo Hidalgo’s illustrious trilogy of visual guides to an end. Both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi received similar treatments by the Creative Executive of the Lucasfilm Story Group, and right at the top, I’ll assure you that Hidalgo stuck the landing with his final creation in the series.
Naturally, you’ll want to discover most of the book’s secrets for yourself, but throughout this review, I’ll give you a slight glimpse into what you can expect to find in the Visual Dictionary as well as an overarching look at how Hidalgo’s genius helps enhance the reader’s understanding of the source material.
At first glance, the layout of The Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary is simultaneously pleasing to the eye, deliciously informative, and refreshingly user friendly. The book is separated into a number of thematic chapters including Story So Far…, The Rise of Skywalker, The Resistance, The First Order, and others, so when you return time and time again to refresh your memory about a specific fact or easter egg, you won’t need a wayfinder to find your desired place within moments. The Story So Far section is especially helpful for those who haven’t flipped through the visual dictionaries for the earlier films; think of it almost as an introductory crawl for the main film that is the rest of the guide.
The pages, themselves, are laid out in a way that beautifully catches the eye, and all the praise in the world must be attributed to the graphic designers at work here. Character portraits sparkle in glorious high definition with labels that are unobtrusive, detailed, and occasionally humorous. Planet descriptions and factoids are stowed away in corners and margins to further explain the titans you view on the page, and every part of every weapon gets explained beneath the stroke of Hidalgo’s pen.
Needless to say, this book is an absolute dream for lovers of Star Wars minutiae. Do you want to know what model of blaster the Sith Troopers use? It’s in here. Do you want to see where Ajan Kloss fits on the entire map of the galaxy? It’s in here. Do you want to know the dimensions of the carrier that flew the Orbacks to Exegol? It’s. In. Here.
At its core, The Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary enhances the enjoyment of the film, adds an exhaustive amount of background knowledge to the saga, and instills readers with immeasurable excitement for the future of the Expanded Universe.
ENHANCING THE FILM
While this review will not get into any specific praise or criticism of the film, any universe with as much lore as Star Wars is bound to contain specific plot points, historical events, and easter eggs that even the most dedicated fan will not be able to pick up on during their first showing.
For example, did I know that Dominic Monaghan’s new character, Beaumont Kin, helped translate the Ancient Jedi Texts (of which there are apparently 8 volumes) with Rey thanks to his background as a professor? Of course I didn’t! But for my next viewing of Episode IX, that information may pop into my brain while Kin is listening to the Emperor’s broadcast from Exegol, and my enjoyment and understanding of that moment has an opportunity to be enhanced.
This, for my money, is the most astonishing part of this guide. The Rise of Skywalker was admittedly not my favorite film in the franchise, but so much of that was due to the frankly breakneck pacing and information overload that I experienced during my first few viewings. I couldn’t possibly keep track of everything that I was being exposed to, but this visual dictionary expertly fills in the gaps in my knowledge so I can more fully immerse myself in the film.
I don’t have to wonder how Rey’s lightsaber got reforged as I’m watching her first scene, because I know that she discovered the secrets of that reconstruction within the Chronicles of Brus-bu. I don’t have to wonder where Kylo got the first Sith wayfinder, because I know the first scene takes place on Mustafar.
The additional clarity that this guide adds to a movie that never stops moving is unbelievably helpful, and I can guarantee that I’ll be going back and forth between Episode IX and this guide to discover more and more secrets for years to come.
FILLING IN THE BACKGROUND
Star Wars is famous for a lot of things in the lexicon of pop culture. Charismatic characters, wondrous mythology, world-changing technological achievements. But perhaps nothing is more impressive to me than the ability Star Wars has to imbue its background characters with rich, fascinating history.
Just ask Delilah S. Dawson who go to write an entire short story, The Perfect Weapon, about Bazine Netal. You remember -- the assassin with a single line from The Force Awakens?
The franchise’s ability to imbue even the smallest extra in a scene with a name, race, and life is second to none, and The Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary gallantly carries on that fine tradition with grace and ease. You’ll meet every single Resistance Pilot, First Order Officer, and Kajimi citizen that walks across the silver screen within the pages of this guide, and as I read the brief bios for each new character, I couldn’t help but laugh thinking how much fun it must have been to create them.
My personal favorite had to be the Resistance Y-Wing Pilot, Lega Fossang, who keeps track of her TIE Fighter kills by marking them on her helmet. She’s currently on her third.
Small details like these may not shake up the timeline of the galaxy, but they will absolutely make me look for that helmet next time I walk into the theater! And let’s be honest -- is there anything better than picking a random First Order Officer to be your favorite just to brag about them to your friends?
Aside from the folks that crawl across the screen for a fraction of a millisecond, the visual guide also does a great job filling out some of the history of our major players. Zorii Bliss, Babu Frik, D-O, and more are featured on double-page spreads that fill out the species, home planet, and ages of some of our newest friends while sprinkling in some additional fun facts. Did you know that Maz Kanata is 1,008 years old? You do now! Did you know that Lando still keeps the Lady Luck parked undercover on Pasaana? You do now!
The actors in any film should be continuously applauded for their ability to infuse a character with life, breath, and intention, but no less praise should be heaped upon Pablo Hidalgo for giving them a history.
GAZING INTO THE FUTURE
As fans of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, we exist within a very specific section of pop culture fandom. When we see a new Star Wars film...it’s not just a movie to us. Rather, it’s another piece of a puzzle that is ever growing and blossoming into something new. Does this reality diminish the maximum emotional effect of a movie due to the amount of other content we consume? Possibly. But I like to think that our ability to live within the realm of all Star Wars content lets us continuously look toward the future and avoid any possible hang ups that we may feel about a single piece of media.
All of that to say...The Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary has succeeded in getting me more excited for the future of the Star Wars Canon than ever before. As I examined the wonderfully detailed cross-sections of the Y-Wing and the Treadspeeder, I thought, “Oh I can’t wait for those to show up again.” Reading through the adventures of Zorii Bliss’s Spice Runners, I got chills imagining those future comics. Every time that a bio said “Unknown” for a character’s race or homeworld, a smile spread wide across my face, because I know that someday, it will be filled in.
Star Wars Canon is constantly continuous for those of us that choose to be immersed in all of its mediums, and this visual guide has the potential to permeate far more than just the movie that’s on its cover. This week, the second issue of Charles Soule’s The Rise of Kylo Ren comic came out, and you better believe I had the bios of Trudgen and Ap’lek at hand as the Knights of Ren made their appearance in the issue.
Because this guide isn’t simply a reflection of a single film; it’s a database of constantly evolving information on a universe that defies finite explanation. It’s a promise of what’s to come, and if that doesn’t get you excited, then I’m not sure what will.
One of my favorite things to do in Chicago is to occasionally frequent a local cantina when they’re having a Star Wars trivia night. Depending on the location, the questions can vary from the name of Luke Skywalker’s father to the tool Han uses when he’s working on the Falcon. No matter the difficulty, a little surge of joy races through my blood every time I get a question right, and as I absorbed every little tidbit of information plastered over the pages of The Rise of Skywalker Visual Dictionary, I felt that very same surge.
At the end of it all, this guide is pure Star Wars. It’s the characters, locations, techonology, and mythos of our favorite universe written by someone who knows more about it than possibly any person living. In preparation for this review, I poured over the pages for hours and hours, and believe me when I say that I’ve only scratched the surface at this point.
We’ll never know all there is to know The Rise of Skywalker, but this is a hell of a place to start.
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EXTRA EASTER EGGS
Finally, in case you’re all wondering, here are a few of my favorite bits that I learned about The Rise of Skywalker as I flipped through this guide. Let me know some of yours by tweeting them to us at @youtini_us or @EricEilersen
- The visual dictionary introdces a new date system: BSI (Before Starkiller Incident) and ASI (After Starkiller Incident), but Matt Martin confirmed on Twitter that BBY/ABY is still the main timeline for Star Wars. BSI/ASI was simply used to better illustrate the events of The Rise of Skywalker.
- Starkiller Base is confirmed to be Ilum, the icy planet that once held the kyber crystals for new Jedi Padawans.
- The description of the functionality of Starkiller Base is epic.
- Amongst all of the Resistance pilots, we see the helmets of Teza Nasz and Pacer Agoyo from Rebecca Roanhorse’s Resistance Reborn!
- It is very, very heavily suggested that Jannah is Lando’s long lost daughter who was born when he was 56 years old.
- The construction of the wayfinders was helped by studying the PURRGILS, one of the best animals from Star Wars: Rebels.
- There’s a character who has remade himself thanks to a number of cybernetic enhancements who may be a very familiar bounty hunter...you’ll have to figure that one out for yourself.
For even more Easter Eggs, check out this fantastic video by MetaNerdz Lore, and let them know Youtini sent you!