The Making of the Map


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 Allan, brace yourself.  We’ve made an enthusiastic attempt to map the primary planets in the Star Wars Universe.

—e-mail from Haden Blackman to Lucasfilm editor Allan Kausch, April 1998


That salutation, ominous as it was, seemed perfectly appropriate, for attached to Haden’s e-mail was the first attempt at mapping the mythical.  As part of the Behind the Magic CD-ROM interactive encyclopedia, LucasArts writer/researcher Haden Blackman and designer Vince Lee had decided to provide the latitudes and longitudes for something that had never been touched by cartography.  For the first time, the galaxy far, far away would be captured on a chart.


Once started, there would be no going back.  By their nature, maps have a built-in authority that can’t easily be overturned.  Thanks to satellites, modern maps of the Earth are accurate down to the last hillock.  But even Medieval maps, with their “Here there be dragons” warnings and the fantastic monsters populating the margins, are more interesting because of their facts rather than their embellishments.  Their crooked continental outlines represent the extent of human knowledge at that point, knowledge obtained through Herculean risk.  As National Geographic founding editor Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor said, “A map is the greatest of all epic poems.  Its lines and colors show the realization of great dreams.


Not to oversell it, of course.  Star Wars is, after all, an imaginary universe.  But with its mythological underpinnings and its powerful pop-cultural hold, it is essentially an epic poem for the present day.  Other modern mythologies, such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, had maps from the get-go, giving readers of the books a visual assist as their imaginations took them from the Shire to the Land of Mordor.  But Star Wars resisted a map of its own for over twenty years, despite an in-universe history spanning more than twenty-five millennia and an entire galaxy as its backdrop.


Part of the reason for the delay was a desire to avoid getting pinned down in a restrictive framework, but in fact the absence of a framework produced problems of its own.  Writers of Star Wars novels often mentioned planets from the movies, throwing in a Dantooine or Ord Mantell reference as a familiar pinch of movie spice.  This led to distance relationships between familiar worlds that weren’t always compatible.  Meanwhile, roleplaying materials from West End Games started to name sweeping geographical territories—the Expansion Region, the Colonies, and the occasional trade route—with no background to set them against.  The result, in the late ‘90s, was a well-meaning mess—difficult to work with and impossible to visualize.


Such was the situation faced by Haden Blackman and Vince Lee as Behind the Magic edged closer to its ship date.  As Vince observed ruefully in another e-mail to Allan Kausch, “There is much conflicting information about some locations and very little useful information about others.”  They moved ahead in spite of the data fog, puzzling over how to deal with a 2-D representation of 3-D space (“Vince suggested that we use Tinker Toys to visualize some of the relationships” says Blackman) and relying heavily on a roleplaying Gazetteer from West End Games that listed travel times between famous Star Wars planets.  If time translated to distance, they both assumed, the Gazetteer would be an invaluable head start.  “Unfortunately,” recalls Lee, “the Gazetteer showed travel times that seemed inconsistent.  For instance, sometimes it was faster to go from A to B to C than directly from A to C.  To get around this problem, we came across the idea of rationalizing the longer travel times by placing the systems so that longer travel times could be justified by obstacles in a travel path.  After all, it’s believable that a navigation computer might need to break up a hyperspace flight into many smaller, indirect sub-jumps.  Poorly-charted routes could take more time as well.”


Another resource was The Essential Guide to Planets and Moons, at that time existing only in rough layout form.  The book placed more than 100 planets into regions ranging from Deep Core to Outer Rim, but didn’t include a map of its own.  For mapmakers, this was the equivalent of a rental car company telling you your vehicle is waiting somewhere in Lot E but withholding the number of your parking space.  As the writer of The Essential Guide to Planets and Moons I was brought in to consult on the Behind the Magic map, but Blackman and Lee already had the project well in hand.  When the CD-ROM shipped to stores in mid 1998, fans learned the locations of the worlds featured (and hinted at) in the classic trilogy: Tatooine, Dagobah, Dantooine, Ord Mantell, Yavin, Mon Calamari, Kashyyyk, Alderaan, Corellia, Kessel, Nar Shaddaa, Bespin, Hoth, Endor, Coruscant, and Naboo, which made a special sneak appearance a year before the release of Episode I The Phantom Menace.


It was a welcome start.  But sixteen planets didn’t even begin to express the busyness of the Star Wars galaxy.  A more comprehensive map was still needed, and an ambitious undertaking on the horizon between Lucasfilm and Del Rey looked like the ideal impetus.  The New Jedi Order series of novels would chronicle a five-year invasion by the alien Yuuzhan Vong.  In the books, planet after planet would fall to the unstoppable enemy, including the New Republic’s capital world of Coruscant.  It quickly became apparent that planning the five-year storyarc without a vastly expanded galaxy map would be a logistical nightmare.


Lucasfilm’s Sue Rostoni and Del Rey’s Shelly Shapiro agreed to move forward with a new map, and named Jim Luceno the point person in December of 1998.  Luceno, author of the New Jedi Order’s first-year Agents of Chaos duology Hero’s Trial and Jedi Eclipse, quickly contacted me to hash out the details.  As Jim and I contemplated the Behind the Magic map and the advance outlines of the NJO storyarc, we wondered where to begin.  R.A. Salvatore’s Vector Prime would kick off the series in less than a year, and our map had to be finished well before that.


The following excerpt of an e-mail from Jim Luceno to me from those first few weeks illustrates the extent of our blank tableau, and how geography and story went hand-in-hand to chronicle the Yuuzhan Vong invasion:


Draw a capital J, beginning at Dantooine, passing close to Kashyyyk, curving left somewhere between Nar Shaddaa and Tatooine, and coming to finish at Coruscant.  This sort of end run around Corellia might work as an invasion route.  The events in Bob’s book [Vector Prime] could be set in the Outer Rim, with Lando’s asteroid mining enterprise, the SETI base, et al.  If we could locate the Unknown Regions from, say, 8-11 o’clock, the Invaders would pass close enough to Zahn’s Nirauan system to allow for involvement of the Chiss (in Mike’s books), and Ithor, providing we could locate that somewhere between Dantooine and Ord Mantell.


An important step in this new map was to avoid duplicating or overturning any prior contributions to Star Wars cartography.  This meant scouring every West End Games product for sector maps, even those that showed a mere cul-de-sac in a weird alien backwater.  The effort paid off—the module Secrets of the Sisar Run revealed a slice of Hutt Space, the Star Wars Adventure Journal offered up a pocket of the Core Worlds, and the backbone of the Rimma Trade Route was outlined in Lords of the Expanse.  Unfortunately, these small-scale maps were like finished jigsaw pieces for a puzzle that hadn’t even been designed yet.  Looking at a roleplayer’s chart of the Tapani sector, I felt like I was holding a road map of Vienna yet had no clear sense of Austria, or Europe, or even if the Earth was round or flat.


Setting these existing pieces against the Behind the Magic map escalated into a maddening exercise of hunt and find, that ran through our heads like a fanboy rendition of “Dem Bones.”  The Parmel sector’s connected to the Sarin sector, the Sarin sector’s connected to the Quence sector…  Plotting a new planet sometimes seemed equivalent to tugging the ace at the bottom of a house of cards.  To avoid disturbing the unseen webs that sometimes tied planets to one another, I began drawing up flowcharts that diagrammed every possible link, relying heavily on a 3,000-entry planetary database compiled by Star Wars Insider writer Jason Fry.  On one occasion, an attempt to locate the gambling world of Elshandruu Pica resulted in a spaghetti riot of lines, circles, and arrows that could have passed for a staffing chart in Pandemonium.  Jim Luceno  took one look at the faxed exhibit and dryly replied, “thanks for that...thing, the likes of which I haven’t seen since my days as a psychiatric aide at a mental health facility.”


The effort drove home one simple principle: draw the roads, and the rest will follow.  The Star Wars universe is unique among sci-fi franchises in its approach to faster-than-light travel—ships can’t just fly wherever they want.  As Han Solo puts it in A New Hope, “without precise calculations you’ll fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova.”  Safe passages through the shoals of hyperspace are rare and treasured, and these supernova-bounce-proof “hyperlanes” serve as the arteries of galactic travel and commerce.  Once Jim and I had inked the main hyperlanes—the Corellian Trade Spine, the Hydian Way, the Rimma Trade Route, and the pie-wedge Slice outlined by the Perlemian Trade Route and the Corellian Run—we’d finished the hard part.  In terms of understanding the environment, plotting these superhighway slipstreams was the Star Wars equivalent of circumnavigating all seven continents.


The trade lanes also solved a few galactic mysteries.  Their “eastern” orientation helped explain the presence of the impenetrable Unknown Regions in the galaxy’s extreme western quadrant.  It also explained why the heroes of The Phantom Menace would have headed from Naboo to Coruscant by way of distant Tatooine—the desert planet sits just off the Corellian Run, a celestial Route 66 for impatient Star Wars travelers. 


The first New Jedi Order map was completed by Christmas and included more than fifty planets.  It became a part of story planning, but Del Rey had no firm intentions to reproduce the map in the New Jedi Order novels themselves.  Convinced that it would prove just as useful to readers as it had been to story architects, I purchased paperback copies of Vernor Vinge’s sci-fi epic A Fire Upon the Deep and Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, a dramatized retelling of the Battle of Gettysburg.  The former featured a galactic map of its own; the latter used battlefield maps to track the movements of the Union and Confederate armies.  Jim Luceno brought both books to a story meeting at Skywalker Ranch in March of 1999.  With clear evidence that maps could be used to clarify and propel a story, the map was greenlighted for publication that fall.


Chris Barbieri came aboard as the project’s official artist.  “Chris offered a couple of different approaches,” recalls Luceno.  “I remember several discussions regarding the limitations of 2-D, the overall style, the type face, and assorted ways of rendering the Unknown Regions, Wild Space, and the invasion path.”  Barbieri’s hand drawn pen-and-ink lines were quite different than the computer-assisted chart of Behind the Magic, evoking the romantic feel of an old pirate treasure map.  In November of ‘99, the finished illustration appeared in the frontispiece of Vector Prime as a double-page spread.


Meanwhile, work continued on enhancements.  At one point Jim Luceno and I envisioned Killer Angels-style campaign maps that would zoom in to show Yuuzhan Vong and New Republic fleet movements within a contested sector of space.  While campaign maps never came to fruition, we did develop an “invasion map” for the series’ fifth book, Balance Point.  Barbieri’s ominous black arrows, showing the progress of the Yuuzhan Vong advance to date, called to mind the black-and-white graphics of the Nazi army’s European encroachment as seen in the newsreels of the 1940s.


With multiple maps now in the public eye, it seemed appropriate to extend them to other projects, some of which could provide great detail by using a giant-sized canvas.  The book Inside the Worlds of Episode I from Dorling Kindersley showcased the lesser-known Phantom Menace planets on a tiny thumbnail graphic, while the massive fold-out map included with Star Wars Fact Files shipments in the United Kingdom contained twice as many worlds as the map from Vector Prime and reworked the whole sheet in lavish full-color.  In 2001, Wizards of the Coast produced a smaller fold-out map based on the Fact Files design and polybagged it with issue 5 of Star Wars Gamer magazine. 


Revisions to the map occur regularly—with a civilization encompassing a “thousand-thousand” worlds, there will always be more planets to add.  Most recently I had the privilege, along with Lucasfilm continuity editor Chris Cerasi, of plotting the new locations seen in Episode II Attack of the Clones.  Padmé’s comment that Geonosis is “less than a parsec” from Tatooine made that manufacturing center an easy one to plot, while Jedi librarian Jocasta Nu’s identification of Kamino as “just south of the Rishi Maze” involved some work pinning down a location for the planet Rishi, a world introduced in Timothy Zahn’s novel Dark Force Rising. 


The galactic map, in all its constituent forms, succeeds in its most basic goal of educating fans on the locations of their favorite Star Wars planets.  But it also stands on its own, in all its lopsided glory, as a testament to the romance of adventure.  The Unknown Regions are the map’s terra incognita, the Perlemian Trade Route its Northeast Passage.  For all the Old Republic explorers who blazed its hyperlanes—and more importantly, for the all the real-world cartographers who sweated out the details of its fictional topography—the map truly is “the realization of great dreams.”