Friday, October 14, 2005

Star Wars books and toys

Guiding Fans Through the Galaxy: Ryder Windham
Breaking into the World of Star Wars
Any fan that has a bookshelf full of Star Wars resource books, young adult novelizations and comics will recognize the name Ryder Windham. The Rhode Island native author, who originally started his career as a graphic designer and freelance illustrator, has penned everything from Star Wars: Droids comics to the newly-released Ultimate Visual Guide.

"I never planned on being a writer," Windham confesses. "If anything, I thought I might be an illustrator because I loved children's picture books, and I've always liked to draw. One of my favorite children's book artists is Tomi Ungerer, and at some point I realized he also wrote his own stories, so I'm sure that made an impression. But I was never possessed by the urge to write as much as I just enjoyed reading, mostly fiction."

As an avid reader in high school, Windham was a fan of Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and John D. MacDonald novels. Later while attending college at Southeastern Massachusetts University (now named University of Massachusetts Dartmouth), Windham took a few creative fiction writing courses for fun as he was earning his BFA in Visual Design. In the mid-1980s, he rediscovered his interest in comic books, and later in 1990 tried writing and drawing his own comic.

"I put together a dummy book of the first issue, and mailed copies to several publishers," Windham recalls. "A few publishers expressed interest, but then I learned that Fantagraphics Books had an editorial job opening, and I wound up getting hired. A couple of years later, I was hired to edit licensed titles at Dark Horse Comics. While working at Dark Horse Comics from 1992 to 1995, I contributed to the comic titles Aliens, Young Indiana Jones, and Indiana Jones comics. Dark Horse landed the license for Star Wars comics shortly before I started working there, but I never lobbied to edit Star Wars. The assignment just came, and I was happy to have it."

"Editor Dan Thorsland and I were asked to develop Star Wars: Droids featuring C-3PO and R2-D2," Windham adds. "Lucasfilm liked Dan's story ideas so much that he wound up writing several stories, but he encouraged me to write Droids #5 after I came up with the idea of the three babysitting droids Q-E, 2-E, and U-E. For those who have read the story, the three little droids were meant as an affectionate tribute to cartoonist Carl Barks and a certain trio of ducks. Ian Gibson drew the story, and Kilian Plunkett was the cover artist, so it was a cinch that the comic would look great. Dan was editing the other Star Wars comics, and when he left Dark Horse, most of his titles were reassigned to me. Next thing I knew, I was only working on Star Wars."

Though Windham worked primarily on comics at this time, it wasn't until he left Dark Horse in 1995 and Lucasfilm Continuity Editor Allan Kausch asked him if he'd consider writing books that his role as an author expanded.

"I'd scripted a few comics but I'd never had any prose fiction published before, so I was surprised when I suddenly found myself working on a series of Star Wars books for Scholastic," Windham says. "I guess I've been a writer ever since."

From then on, Star Wars dominated his resume. Windham has written juvenile novelizations of the Star Wars original trilogy, fiction and game books for Scholastic, three scrapbooks for Random House, numerous scripts for Dark Horse, gift books for Chronicle and Running Press, articles for Star Wars Galaxy Collector and Star Wars Kids magazines, action figure cards for Hasbro, and two children's books and the new Ultimate Visual Guide for DK.

Considering his impressive bibliography of work, it's not surprising that Windham has a unique system for tackling his various assignments from Lucasfilm.

"Assignments are usually very specific such as text for a 48-page photo-illustrated book to tie-in with a movie, or a story set in a designated period that plays off other books that are in development or have been previously published," Windham explains. "If I don't already have a necessary reference book, I track it down and read it. For the resource book assignments, I break down the information into a series of spreads, and make suggestions for images. For fiction, I iron out the story parameters with the editor; then write a detailed outline. It's important to resolve editorial concerns at the very start, to make sure that my work complements other projects and doesn't cause negative ripples."

"For comic book scripts, I sometimes draw up character designs and thumbnail sketches for the layouts for the artist's reference," Windham continues. "Stories can evolve in interesting ways, but if I'm ever tempted to stray from the outline, I always check with the editors first. Because the editors and I work out so many the details in advance, it's a fairly smooth process, and I'm rarely asked to do rewrites."

Compiling the Ultimate Guide
Approaching the gargantuan task of compiling information and visuals from all six films, various comics, cartoons, books and video games for the Ultimate Visual Guide was a bit more involved than his previous assignments. The first task at hand was deciding how the massive amount of material would be displayed in the book.

"Early on there was a lot of back-and-forth emails with DK and Lucasfilm about how information would be presented in the book," Windham explains. "At first, it was proposed that the book might be a chronological history of the Star Wars phenomenon, beginning with George Lucas's earliest drafts for Star Wars and ending with the release of Revenge of the Sith, with every page something of a visual smorgasbord of film stills, comics, toys, cartoons, and behind-the-scenes information. It was ultimately decided that the book would read better if broke it down into chapters for different aspects of Star Wars, but it would still be a blend of everything."

"Because the Ultimate Visual Guide draws from over two hundred previously-published books, the first thing I did was reorganize my office to accommodate all the reference books so I could access them easily and spread them on and around my desk," Windham continues. "I suggested numerous images for each spread; then the designers at DK would send me sample layouts, for which I would write text to fit. What's really cool is the variety of images on every spread; it's not unusual to see a still photograph from a movie, a comic book panel, cover art from a novel, and a scene capture from a video game on a single page, and yet because of the designers' skill, nothing looks out of place. Pure eye candy."

As the first fully-illustrated book to present an overall history of the Star Wars saga, Windham says he believes that even die-hard fans and collectors will be surprised by how much the book covers.

"Because the book is so loaded with images from the Expanded Universe, I certainly hope it prompts new fans to explore the comics, novels, and games," Windham says. EDITOR'S NOTE: THE EU ROCKS!

While compiling the book, Windham learned quite a bit about George Lucas' struggle to get A New Hope made, as well as more background on the merchandising side of Lucasfilm.

"I learned a lot more about the making of the original trilogy," Windham says. "I dug out several interviews with George Lucas that were originally published between 1977 and 1983, some of which I hadn't read in years, and it was enlightening to read them again. It's very difficult for me to imagine life without Star Wars, and I think younger readers might have a tough time conceiving just how difficult it was for Lucas to make the first Star Wars movie."

"I especially enjoyed working on the last two chapters, 'Behind the Scenes,' which involves the making of the movies, and 'Expanding the Universe,' which deals with licensing and merchandising," Windham says. "These were both areas I'd never written about before, so it was an interesting change."

Even with all the impressive amount of content packed into the book, Windham says he regrets not having enough page space to dedicate to two of his favorite behind the scenes icons.

"I didn't get to write much about Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston as I wanted to, but it was hard to write about them without sounding like a raving fan," Windham says. "Their contribution can't be emphasized enough. As difficult as it is for me to imagine life without Star Wars, it's impossible to imagine Star Wars without Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston."

In addition to the release of the Ultimate Visual Guide, fans can also make room in their bookshelf for the upcoming Star Wars: The Comics Companion for Dark Horse, due out in stores January 2006.

"I co-wrote with Dan Wallace the Star Wars: The Comics Companion for Dark Horse last year," Windham says. "It's a very comprehensive guide to all the collected editions of Star Wars comics that Dark Horse has produced, with exclusive notes on continuity details. I'm hoping it will be a big hit with longtime comic enthusiasts and new fans too." EDITOR'S NOTE: I HOPE IT FIXES....OR AT LEAST EXPLAINS....ALL THE WEIRD CONTINUITY STUFF FROM THE EARLY YEARS OF THE COMICS.

Picking Favorites

When prompted to choose which book project he's most proud of, Windham gladly offers reasons of why certain projects will always hold fond memories for him.

"I can't say I have one favorite," Windham says. "Picture books, comics, and fiction are such different creatures, and I like them all for different reasons. For example, I really enjoyed working on the junior novelizations of the Star Wars original trilogy for Scholastic because I'd never written a novelization before, and I liked the idea that I could incorporate information that was introduced in the prequel trilogy. The Star Wars original trilogy DVD set had yet to come out, and I worked from the original screenplays, the widescreen VHS tapes of the Special Editions, and also drew from Brian Daley's scripts for the Star Wars Radio Dramas. The screenplays rarely specify whether a character might lower his voice or roll his eyes, or the specific direction that characters move through a room, so the assignment forced me to watch and listen to the trilogy in an entirely different way, closely examining the actors' movements and voice inflections in every scene."

"But if I could only take one of my own Star Wars books with me to a desert island, I would take the Ultimate Visual Guide because there's so much to read and look at," Windham continues. "I'd also pocket a copy of Star Wars: Episode I Who's Who (Running Press, 1999) -- the book for which I was encouraged to invent brief biographies for most of the Podracer pilots and several members of the Jedi Council. It was a kick, being allowed to create a minimalist story for the Podracers, and to coin names for so many new alien species and worlds for Star Wars." (Windham's back-stories for the Podracers made its way into an online comic that you can only read at

However out of all the original tales he's crafted, Windham does quickly admit that his 10-page story "Thank the Maker," which appeared in the anthology Star Wars Tales (Dark Horse Comics), represents his best fictional work.

"The story is set during the events of The Empire Strikes Back, and offers an explanation for why the Imperials, after first attempting to destroy C-3PO on Cloud City, would have transferred his shattered parts to Chewbacca's cell," Windham explains. "I wrote the story shortly after the release of The Phantom Menace, which inspired me to suggest that Darth Vader did, in fact, recognize C-3PO (in Empire) as the droid he'd made as a boy. I've worked on other stories that have attempted to neatly resolve continuity issues, but the thing that makes 'Thank the Maker' remarkable is, I think, that it carries a heavy emotional weight."

"I know it sounds silly, because I wrote the story and drew the thumbnails, and knew that Kilian Plunkett would be drawing it, but I'm still touched by the artwork that shows Darth Vader contemplating C-3PO's remains," Windham adds. "The fact that neither character has a visage that permits any range of expression somehow adds to sadness of it all, that they're both trapped by their circumstances. Kilian's impeccable artwork doesn't hurt either."

When Windham isn't painstakingly analyzing the Star Wars galaxy in books and comics, he teaches a Continuing Education course on character design at the Rhode Island School of Design.
"It's funny, it wasn't until I was asked if I'd be interested in teaching the course that I realized just how much character design I'd done over the years," Windham laughs. "Besides various Star Wars aliens and droids who've appeared in the comics, there was Herk Mondo for Aliens and the Lord Howe Monster for Godzilla comics, and everything from anthropomorphic eggs for a restaurant to a likable bunch of monsters for Metropolitan Life Insurance."

As a teacher to aspiring writers, Windham gladly dishes out advice from his experience as an accomplished Star Wars author.

"First read more Star Wars books and comics than you can lift, then try contributing stories or articles to a fan-oriented magazine or website," Windham suggests. "Obviously, you have to bear in mind that Lucasfilm is the owner of all things Star Wars, but it might be a good way to get started, and also get feedback from other fans. I'd also encourage writers not to obsess on Star Wars when they could be developing and writing stories with their own original characters. They should be aware that most Star Wars assignments are indeed given to freelance writers, and that these assignments almost entirely originate from either Lucasfilm or their publishing licensees. For legal reasons (primarily to prevent any aspiring writers from later claiming that their ideas were stolen), Star Wars editors generally discourage unsolicited story proposals."

"If you want to write, you should start writing," Windham continues. "Don't wait for an assignment. Create an assignment for yourself, and give yourself a deadline. If you're not sure whether your writing conveys your ideas clearly, then ask some friends to read it, demand merciless criticism, and consider the criticism thoughtfully. There are a lot of books about how to get published, but if getting published is your goal, you first need to know how to write and be critical of your own work. And if you expect to live off the royalties from your first book or you're easily dismayed by rejection, you might think of a backup plan. Also those interested in breaking into the comics field should learn to draw first. There are loads of aspiring comics writers, but a writer who can draw has a better advantage."

Separation of the Twins" Figures

"Hidden, safe, the children must be kept... split up they should be."

After the tragic death of their mother, Padmé Amidala, the fate of Luke and Leia is uncertain. Knowing that the infants would be in grave danger should the Emperor discover them, Yoda decides that the twins must be hidden separately.

These new 3 3/4" scale figures from Hasbro come in new packages which bridge the gap between the Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith design and the upcoming 2006 Saga Collection look.


Infant Luke Skywalker with Obi-Wan Kenobi

Obi-Wan Kenobi takes Luke Skywalker to live with the infant's Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru on Tatooine, knowing that one day Luke will prove instrumental in the return of the Jedi.

Infant Leia Organa with Bail Organa

Bail Organa offers to adopt the infant Leia and raise her with his wife on his home planet of Alderaan, where she will one day join the fight against the Empire. EDITOR'S NOTE: TWO OF THE HUNKIEST GUYS AROUND...CARRYING BABIES! HOW'S THAT FOR ODD AND WONDERFUL TOYS!?

New SITH Vader Coming Soon

Medicom Toy Corp. will soon be releasing a 12" Darth Vader figure, using their high quality Real Action Hero Body.

The figure will feature a cloak, light saber, removable helmet, and will come with detailed accessories.




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