Since its release over 24 (!) years ago, it has never disappeared from my top 10 “best Star Wars reference works”: The Illustrated Star Wars Universe.
In 1995, the Star Wars Expanded Universe was in its early years. The Star Wars franchise came from the “dark period” in which hardly anything appeared. And then this book appeared, full of new information and new artwork from an old master.
I wrote in my review of Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie that besides George Lucas himself Ralph McQuarrie may have been the most important man for the original trilogy. His drawings determined the looks of the films. McQuarrie created many new drawings for this book, while his older work was also used, just like that of Joe Johnston (then ILM, now director of Captain America) and Nilo Rodis-Jamero.
Anyway, what is the book about? The Illustrated Star Wars Universe is written as a kind of extensive travel book. A total of 8 planets are covered: Hoth, Endor, Tatooine, Coruscant, Yavin 4, Dagobah, Bespin and Alderaan. Each of these planets is described in detail by a new Star Wars character. Pollux Hax (one of the advisers to Emperor Palpatine) reports on Coruscant and Mammon Hoole (a Shi’Ido) goes to Tatooine to visit Jabba’s Palace and Mos Eisley, among others. The great thing is that the reader learns a great deal about the worlds of Star Wars in a fun, original way as it is really presented as stories instead of dry facts. In addition, things that were not in the original trilogy but that did exist were processed. In the report on Endor, for example, Terak and the marauders, Charal, Teek and the Blurggs; all characters from the two Ewok spin-offs.
As mentioned, new artwork (created by McQuarrie) can be seen, but it also contains work that was made for the original trilogy and the Ewok films. In fact, several drawings of McQuarrie specially made for this book were used two decades after the book release for Star Wars Rebels. His drawings for the planet Alderaan have been used in this series for the planet Lothal. In addition, the First Order Snowtroopers can be recognized on Hoth and we see a gate at Jabba’s Palace that we saw in The Force Awakens at Niima outpost in Jakku.
The stories are written by Kevin J. Anderson, an author who meant a lot to Star Wars in the 90’s. In addition to this book, he was also responsible for the book Darksaber, the Jedi Academy trilogy, Young Jedi Knights and he was editor of the three Tales of books. (In 2010 I had the honor to interview him; this interview can be read on this very website).
This 5-star book is an absolute gem from the Golden Age of Star Wars.