‘Death Star Owner’s Technical Manual’ Interview with Ryder Windham
Our interview with author Ryder Windham covering the Death Star Owner’s Technical Manual.
What did you learn from working on the Millennium Falcon Owners’ Workshop Manual that you were able to apply to this book, the Death Star Owner’s Technical Manual?
Ryder Windham: I think the overall layout of the book. The Millennium Falcon provided a template for different parts of the ship—the interior, hyperdrive, weapons—sort of a chronology of different aspects of the ship. But the Death Star was so big that we sort of ditched that. At various times I thought, “Oh, we’ll just sort of follow the blueprint that we had for the Falcon,” but it became kind of its own book.
Even things like the hyperdrive for the Falcon, I thought, “What could I possibly write about the Death Star’s hyperdrive, I’ve already exhausted all the details about the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive”. But I realized there’s such different creatures that I found plenty of new things to write about.
Did you find yourself not going into the same material that you covered in the Falcon? Instead of going and covering that same material again, maybe doing something different or covering it on a bigger scale?
RW: It was definitely on a bigger scale. The thing that was really different about the approach on both books was that with the Falcon book it was written as if here’s a book the Corellian Engineering would have produced this manual. And with the Death Star it’s not as if we could say, “Oh, this is a book published by the Empire about how to own and operate your Death Star.”
So early on while working on the book, I talked with the editor, Derek Smith, and we were just bouncing ideas around, and I said, “My concern on this book is unlike the Millennium Falcon book, it’s not like we can make this read like a Corellian Engineering handbook, manual or promo. Everyone knows theDeath Star blew up.” And so, in talking with him, I said, “I’m thinking about writing this kind of like the Titanic—an enormous ship on its maiden voyage that fell short of expectations in a disastrous way.” But the obvious difference is I didn’t want to romanticize the Death Star. It’s hardly a tragedy. It was a warship, a very different function.
So Derek promptly informed me, “Well you know the Haynes manuals have done the Titanic Owners’ Workshop Manual.” And he sent me a copy. So the angle of approach on this was very different: to try to write it as if it isn’t the past tense and to make it look as massive and impressive as it deserves.
I noticed in the end credits you mentioned the Star Wars: Death Star Technical Companion which was a West End Games guide. With some of the existing material that was already out there, how much new material do you have to come up with for this book?
RW: The Technical Companion—the artists Chris Trevas, Chris Reiff, and I agreed—it was like having our gold mine, because so much of the material remains sound that there wasn’t a need to change a lot things. However, there were some parts where Chris Trevas and Chris Reiff would review data and said, “You know, we’re thinking maybe we should try things slightly different.”
As far as opportunities, we weren’t hell bent on developing new things just for the sake of doing new things. But we were thoughtful about not wanting to do something as a total retread because that would have been easy. On many levels we were very faithful to the Technical Companion, but there were opportunities to develop certain new things because we thought it seemed practical.
I’ll give you an example which was in the original Death Star Technical Companion. There’s a page dedicated to the stormtrooper and crew barracks. Because Chris, Chris and I watched Star Wars: The Clone Wars—I don’t remember which Chris first suggested it—but they said after watching The Clone Wars, seeing how clone troopers and their barracks had these individual slots/bunks/ little mini-chambers and that they would climb up a ladder. I remembered the episode as soon as they mentioned it (“Clone Cadets”, Season 3, Episode 1). So they thought, “Wouldn’t that be kind of interesting as say a carryover from the clone troopers and those barracks—what if they design something similar for stormtrooper barracks?” And I thought, “That sounds great.” So it wasn’t identical, it was just similar to the Clone Wars episode, but it was different than the way it was visualized in a floor plan in the Technical Companion.
Again, we weren’t hell bent on doing something new just for the sake of doing something new. We wanted to make it look and feel as much as possible likeStar Wars. We considered various aspects of things that have happened in the continuity since the publication of the Technical Companion, and worked from there.
In the book there are a lot of specific parts of the Death Star mentioned and they have very technical sounding names that strike a nice balance between something that would actually exist and have a purpose even though it’s not expanded upon in the book. There are things called raw power diversion selonoids and cosmic ray sinks. Were those elements you drew from other material or were some of those new things you had to come up with?
RW: I’m broadly grinning and trying not to laugh out loud because most of those things…again, I’m a research hound. I looked at the previously published technical manuals and cross-sections and everything else that I could find. So when I wrote text for each spread, I would include as many items as I could based on previously published sources or based on information that I’ve read about. Chris Trevas and Chris Reiff also had a lot of input on that and also the placement of the callouts—the little bullet points with the numbers—they would put those things into position and I would read them over and connect the dots and check them but my brain kind of seizes over on some level at looking at all those details. So if Chris Trevas and Chris Reiff say this is the precise location of that whatcha-ma-call-it, I really can’t question them because they’re looking at it very closely. I don’t mean to shirk duty, but they’re very good at what they do.
Considering some of the more abstract details, what were some of the most fun ones to include?
RW: One of the things I found really fun, because it was such a surprise to me when I saw it, was the hyperdrive station A-226 (on page 54). It wasn’t until I saw the rough layout for the spread that I saw Chris Trevas and Chris Reiff had manipulated a photograph of Vader and Tarkin facing a viewscreen so that they were looking at a view of hyperspace as if they were traveling in the Death Star through hyperspace. To me, that just screams fun. It looks like a shot from the movies that we’ve never seen before. That was a thrill.
Another thing was unintentional fun. The command sector duty posts on pages 108-109. If you look at the image in the upper right corner of page 109, you’ll notice the duty post station, the way it’s drawn, it has this slide out base to allow someone to step up into it. That was my idea because the way it was initially presented was just this aerial view, there was no indication of a slide out base, it was just this circular thing. When I saw it I thought, “How do people get in and out of that thing?” It was funny because Chris and Chris were just being faithful to the photographs and the blueprints or schematics of things they were looking through. I guess objectively, or thinking from a different perspective, I looked at it and I thought, “I doubt the crewmen are lowered into these things by some hydraulic or come up through the floor.” But it just seemed practical to me to have this slide out thing, so I submitted a very crude little cobbled together image and said, “I think it should be able to do something like this.” So of course they make it look like it’s perfect. It was fun to work on and to sort of think of the technical aspects and how they work.
Another fun thing about working on the book was watching Star Wars: A New Hope and Return of the Jedi and really scrutinizing things that I had never studied so closely before. Just looking at various shots and wondering, “What is that thing coming out of the wall right there. I’ve never noticed that before,” thinking it might serve some kind of purpose. So it was fun to just explore the Death Star, because I’d done that previously with the Millennium Falcon but I’d never looked at the Death Star so closely.
Were there any difficult continuity issues you had to deal with using all the sources and pulling them together in this book?
RW: The only thing that was a challenge, which I admit I kind of ignored it, was the opening pages. There’s a communication between Moff Tarkin and the Imperial Palace (on page 5). This text was lifted pretty much verbatim from the Death Star Technical Companion. It also appeared in other West End Game books, maybe even a novel at some point. If one reads this really closely, if you compare it with continuity since the end of Revenge of the Sith revealed theDeath Star was already under construction, or that’s what appears to be the Death Star already under construction, and then the Clone Wars episodes revealed that prior to Revenge of the Sith, Tarkin was introduced earlier on into the story. Well in the Bill Slavicsek version from the Technical Manual, Governor Tarkin sends this letter to the Emperor and he’s subsequently promoted to Grand Moff Tarkin for submitting this idea. That was not my invention, that was from the Technical Companion, and I wrestled with this one because I thought, “You know, I’m not really sure how to put this.” Lucasfilm has not revised any data about when precisely did Grand Moff Tarkin become Grand Moff Tarkin. Here it is Governor Tarkin submitting and idea for the Death Starto his Imperial majesty Emperor Palpatine. And you figure this takes place when, after Revenge of the Sith? And yet we see at the end of Revenge of the Sith that Tarkin is with Palpatine. So you can understand the vortex I’m in trying to sort the thing out.
I figured attentive readers are going to see this and are going to question it and are going to wonder, “Why didn’t Windham do a retcon? Why didn’t he make things tidy,” and all that. The answer is because I figured I could have offered up a retcon and it’s also possible for all I know that some upcoming story is going to rewrite everything. I don’t know. I have no idea. But I thought out of respect to Slavicsek’s book and just the wording, the phrasing, I’m going to keep this as is. And I indicated that when I submitted it to Lucasfilm. I said if anybody questions it, I’ll say, “Okay, you want a retcon, you can say the text in this book was a misinterpretation of Imperial propaganda. Just dismiss it as that.” That was the one item continuity wise that I really pondered over for a good hour or so trying to think like, “Can I do anything with it?” Until finally I thought, “You know, the best thing to do is just to preserve this on some level and work with it, and if I have to I’ll just dismiss it as Imperial propaganda someday.”
I’ve heard as a complement from too many fellow fans of Star Wars that they appreciate that I have always tried to maintain continuity. This one didn’t just bounce off. I didn’t say, “Ah what the hell, I’ll let it go.” I did kind of struggle with it. But the more I thought about it, I thought, “Why don’t I leave this one as is and see what happens,” because I don’t know what will happen.
Was there a reason why Tagge and Motti were not included in the personnel section?
RW: That’s a good question. I was tempted at one point to include a bunch of characters. That was a missed opportunity, definitely. Part of the problem was just realizing the available photos that we had. We’ve got this conference room scene, except for Tagge and Motti, we didn’t really have good, clear views of anybody else. It’s not that we disregarded them, we just tried to introduce something new. These characters have been profiled elsewhere, so we did something that looks new for the book.
On the selection of other superweapons that were included in this book (like the Death Star prototype and the Eye of Palpatine) I was wondering why there wasn’t any mention of the Sun Crusher or the Eclipse-class Star Destroyer which actually had a superlaser on it?
RW: The reason for that was because, as with the Millennium Falcon Owners’ Workshop Manual, I went into this thinking if it takes place after Return of the Jedi, we can’t use photos for reference. Part of it is keeping in mind the awareness of the general reader. They know the movies. If they know the Expanded Universe, great, I’ll try to please them, too. Just for the focus, we had to concentrate on doing spreads that would incorporate stills from the movies. As far as the ones that were included, we went with the ones that were constructed before the events of Return of the Jedi.
One image that might have caught your attention, if you check out page 19 and if you look at the Death Star prototype and at the upper illustration, you might think, “Why does it look like an oval as opposed to a circle?” Because the first time I saw that image, I thought, “What’s going on with that?” The reason for that is because if you look at the lower illustration, you’ll see there are two vertical hoops that make up the superstructure. The artists worked it out in a digital model and they said, “Well, okay, if you have a ship that’s built like this, and it has this superstructure with these six hoops, they don’t meet at right angles. If you were to look at it head on facing the superlaser dish, this is what it looks like.” And I realized, “Oh, my gosh, you’re right. That is what it looks like at that angle.”
If the Death Star I and the Death Star II were to race each other, who would win?
RW: I think the second Death Star probably has a faster hyperdrive, however, it’s never been tested.
Once again, we’d like to thank Ryder Windham for taking the time to answer our questions. If you’d like to find out more about Ryder, you can check him out on Facebook and Twitter. For those interested in picking up a copy of the Death Star Owner’s Technical Manual, you can head on over to Random House’s product page for all the retail links as well as a preview of the book.