This is cross-posted from TheForce.net — I wrote it in the middle of an argument about fleet sizes, sector group capabilities, etc. It’s a reaction both to that and to other message-board discussions of The Essential Guide to Warfare, as well as reviews/conversations about other Star Wars books over the years.
If you’re not a pretty serious Star Wars fan, it will be impenetrable to you. And it’s a little emo. But I wanted to get it off my chest:
Hope you’ll allow me a little essay of my own, about what Star Wars authors like me can and can’t do.
The argument above (and soon to be below) will never be won: Either side will always be able to “prove” its point by citing specific, out-and-out contradictory information and different interpretations of/extrapolations from conflicting info. And when the argument is as civilized as it generally is here, that’s a good thing. Though we should all remember it’s an odd form of argument. This morning my kid and I had a brief discussion about who was the greatest baseball player in history. In the real world you can discuss that without the complications of record books that show Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Jackie Robinson with very different career stats, and their teams having won or lost variable numbers of World Series. Star Wars continuity is a lot cleaner than that of a lot of other franchises, but you’re still stuck with some of those complications. We’re taught to argue in the real world, but Star Wars arguments don’t follow the real world’s rules of evidence.
I suppose I could have tried to put an end to this weird situation by submitting hard numbers for all the relevant things, but I didn’t want to do that for reasons discussed earlier in this thread and in various interviews, and think I was wise not to. Besides, the counterargument would just be that Warfare is lower on the canon rung than novels/the Clone Wars show/the movies, and so round and round we’d keep going.
Anyway, I like reading all these passionate, well-informed arguments, even when they’re aimed at me. But the one thing that’s a bit frustrating when that happens (in hot-tempered criticisms/one-star reviews/etc.) is that a lot of the arguments people make aren’t actually about Warfare (or the Atlas, or whatever the title) but about the underlying continuity — their beef is really with Tim Zahn or West End Games or Curtis Saxton or Karen Traviss or somebody else. What those passionate folks don’t understand or won’t accept is that as a Star Wars “non-fiction fiction” author, my job is to make as much of the EU continuity work as I can, not to overwrite it or discard it wholesale. And I do mean EU continuity, which includes how the movies are interpreted within that framework. Sure, there are contradictions so big that I have to pick and choose, and minor things that can be sliced away/tweaked when they don’t fit, but for the most part I must work with what’s already established in the EU, and with the general practice/preponderance of evidence when what’s established doesn’t perfectly fit together. (Which it rarely does.)
I’m not complaining at all — it’s usually fun, and part of one of the greatest jobs in the world. But it means I have to work with 3 million clones, a large Unknown Regions, 25K years of galactic history that’s remarkably static in terms of technological advancements, and other things that drive some people crazy. I can’t invalidate big chunks of the Expanded Universe because I disagree with them or they don’t seem to make sense for a galaxy-spanning civilization, or by invoking an interpretation of the movies that Lucasfilm doesn’t share as it applies to the EU. Do I play a role in some smaller pieces getting overwritten/ignored/reinterpreted? Yes — but it’s as a last or nearly last resort, at the margins, and subject to LFL’s approval. It’s the exception, not the rule.
I came to the Atlas with a bit of an established POV in terms of the structure of the galaxy, but the job Dan Wallace and I had was to weigh the EU evidence, which clearly included a galactic disk with large unsettled areas; a hyperspace barrier west of the Core; 1,024 Republic sectors; and a majority of maps that were in agreement about the location of settled areas of the galaxy, trade routes, etc. We made some calls where canon was hopelessly contradictory (galactic diameter), offered some hard numbers where we had hard numbers to extrapolate from (settled systems etc.), fixed some clear errors (location of Lorrd) etc., but departing from the EU basics wasn’t an option available to us, even if we’d wanted to go that route.
Same with approaching the maximalist/minimalist question, about which I had no preconceived notions, or at least none I’m aware of. I weighed the evidence and interpreted it based on where I thought the bulk of EU practice lay, and fit in the other stuff as best I could within a depiction of Republic/Imperial/NR power that I felt was coherent and logical. Nick quoted my conclusions above, so I won’t go over them again, but I want to emphasize that I didn’t see them as a compromise between maximalist and minimalist camps — there are chunks of both philosophies that are supported in the EU (even if they don’t fit together well) and that I found persuasive.
I think the Atlas and Warfare are pretty clear about their depictions of these things. What I try to avoid in those depictions, however, is absolutist language. The main reason for this is I don’t want to tie future authors’ hands — the Essential Guides exist to support and hopefully spur good storytelling. A secondary reason is I try to at least preserve the spirit of stuff that just doesn’t fit. And finally, I just don’t like using canon to ram arguments down people’s throats, particularly when their own different view of the galactic settlement/fleet composition/etc. might be a big part of why they love Star Wars.
If a byproduct of this approach is that the same old arguments continue ad infinitum, and I take some flak for the EU itself, I can live with that.
Anyway, I know — TLDR. But I feel better anyway. Thanks.