Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our forty-second guest was one of the key figures in the Star Wars fan movement, having spent many years compiling, updating and editing the Completely Unofficial Star Wars Encyclopedia – Bob Vitas.
Lightsabre – Bob, welcome to Lightsabre.
BV – Thanks for having me!
Lightsabre – Star Wars has had a profound effect on all of us – it’s why we’re here talking about it, but what was it that started you off on your Star Wars journey?
BV – Well, it all started for me with the original release of Star Wars, back before there were episode numbers. I was 12, and an old friend asked me to go see the movie. I had been skeptical of sci-fi films of the time, which were pretty cheesy both in plot/story and special effects. Thus, I initially refused to go see Star Wars at all! Needless to say, seeing the film that first time blew me away. I spent the rest of the summer drawing Darth Vader’s helmet and X-Wing fighters, and I’ve been hooked even since.
Lightsabre – You’ve been involved in Star Wars fandom for many years through your work with the Encyclopedia. How does it feel to have carved yourself such a prominent niche in the Star Wars fan community?
BV – I wasn’t originally in the encyclopedia business for fame and glory. I just saw a niche that needed to be filled on the Internet, and set out to fill it as best I could. I thought that I was “on my way” when I heard that Steve Sansweet was going to write the official encyclopedia, and I actually talked to him about it at length, but he ultimately decided to write it on his own. (I’m sure that LFL’s decree to use experienced writers had something to do with it.) So, I just kept plugging away, never really trying to get famous. However, I figured that I had finally become a recognized member of the community when I actually got my own Star Wars character in the online version of HoloNet News. There was some trepidation, however, because the authors (Pablo Hidalgo and Paul Ens) were already hard at work on the official Star Wars Databank. I was assured that Vob Bitas’ fate had nothing to do with my own!
Lightsabre – Which of the six episodes stands out as your favourite?
BV – I’m a big fan of Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. It was the first of the six episodes that I actually waited in line for (in line, wrapped around the entire theater twice, about a week after the original opening), and it was the most emotional of the six films. It broke the conventional “happy ending” script, leaving the fate of the main characters completely up in the air. My friend and I then spent three years writing our own Episode VI scripts… none of which had Ewoks!
Lightsabre – There have been Star Wars encyclopedias since before the internet, that added characters, worlds, weapons and starships from the comics, as well as the novels and films. Now the net is the standard repository for knowledge about everything, never mind just Star Wars, how do you think this has helped the development of the encyclopedia?
BV – Well, as I mention in the preface to the encyclopedia, I always saw the Internet as the primary outlet for the encyclopedia. At the time I started, however, LFL wasn’t too sure about the Internet as a place where Star Wars fans could play. There were several mistakes in their attempt to create an Internet policy that allowed fans to express themselves while still maintaining the copyrights and trademarks of the Star Wars universe. That’s why, for many years, the encyclopedia lacked any form of images… LFL really cracked down on images, but the text seemed to be OK. As you say, the explosion of the Internet as an information repository has helped greatly, and even LFL has embraced the online version of the encyclopedia (the Star Wars Databank) as opposed to another print version. Add to this the continually-changing nature and content of the Star Wars universe, and the Internet became THE place to maintain the encyclopedia.
Lightsabre – As a fellow fan you must have many golden Star Wars memories. Tell us about some of them.
BV – Getting my own character is probably the top memory (if only he had an action figure…), although being named by Daniel Wallace in the acknowledgements sections of both Essential Chronologies was the most important of the memories. (Dan is my hero… the last non-prolific author chosen to write in the Star Wars universe.) One of my first memories was being interviewed in my hometown newspaper while I waited in line for the premier of Return of the Jedi, although rereading the article now makes me sound pretty childish! I also remember spending summer days with my friends, taping our own versions of the movies by taking parts and reading aloud from the scripts.
Lightsabre – Which of the Star Wars characters is the closest to you?
BV – I associate myself with Qui-Gon Jinn. He was one of the most knowledgeable Jedi Masters of his time, not above taking risks whenever he felt the Force was pushing him to a conclusion. Although he was emotional, he was always in control, and tried to act as the Force willed him. He accepted his mistakes as merely learning experiences, and continued to develop throughout his career. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if he had survived the struggle with Darth Maul, and had gone on to teach Anakin…
Lightsabre – What would you change about Star Wars if you could go back in time and make alterations?
BV – In the Episode IV cantina sequence, Han Solo shot first. End of story! His character, and his ultimate “redemption” during the Battle of Yavin, are more poignant in the original film. That fact that Lucas caved in to fan questioning and had Greedo shoot first (and badly wild, like he was in another room) lessens the impact of Han’s transformation.
Lightsabre – With new Star Wars product coming out weekly and new characters and situations being developed you must find yourself working almost constantly on the project. We write our own stories here at Lightsabre and I find myself working long hours just to keep that updated. How do you organize yourself to stay abreast of new developments?
BV – I try to schedule encyclopedia updates to occur in the relative lulls between major book releases. This gives me time to map out the major additions, investigate what comics are coming out, and gather up the online material. (The comic’s side of things is actually pretty easy for me. I have a loyal reader – Rilla Freeman – who maintains the most impressive comic’s collection I know. She reads all the new ones and then puts them in a pile, and sends them to me on a regular basis.)
For novels, I read them through completely, using a ballpoint pen to make notes in the margins. I then go back through the novel, scanning for pen marks and entering new information in the database. For comics, I’ll read a series through from start to finish, then reread them and add in information as I go. Games are the hardest, because I usually have to find ways to pause them and write stuff down while playing in “god mode,” so that I can find every secret and defeat every boss. That’s why I’m constantly using the Prima Games guides for games.
I end up spending about 2 hours a day (usually between 9-11 at night) typing stuff into the database. It then takes about a week to prep a new edition for publication to the internet. I think the best thing I ever did was migrate to using Microsoft Access to store the encyclopedia as a database. I can store tons of information on a relatively small footprint, and organize and retrieve it in any way possible.
Lightsabre – Where do you think Lucas will take us next on our trip through the Star Wars galaxy?
BV – I’d like to see the early history of the Jedi and the Old Republic explored some more. Dan Wallace hints about several pre-Republic civilizations in the New Essential Chronology, which might be cool to explore.
Lightsabre – What do you foresee for yourself and the Encyclopedia in the future?
BV – I want to keep doing the encyclopedia as long as there is interest in Star Wars. I think that LFL has more or less decided that they’ll never print another full-scale encyclopedia, let alone one that is all-encompassing. Thus, I believe that there will always be a place for me in the Star Wars universe.
I’d love to work on a “Holocron” version for offline reading, which has a nice graphic interface and is easily updated by pulling information from the website. Personally, I’ve had an idea for a trilogy of novels in the back of my mind, telling a tale from the Galactic Civil War in which a planet is subjugated by the Empire. The first novel would chronicle the initial invasion from the point of view of an Imperial Star Destroyer and her crew. The second novel would focus on the resistance by the local population. The third novel would resolve the conflict from the point of view of the Alliance. With any luck, I’ll get around to writing them someday, if only as fan fiction.
Lightsabre – A quick question about our site. Any comments?
BV – I have been out there several times, reading through your chronology. I recently stumbled upon the staff bios, and got a good chuckle out the pictures and their captions. I’m currently listening through the Setnin Radio broadcasts.
Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest. Just one final question. The GFFA contact you and offer to make your encyclopedia `official’, but with a few provisos. First, your book must be illustrated by Charles Shultz. Second, the audio version must be read out, Hitchhiker’s style by Joan Rivers and thirdly it will be published in only two languages – basic and Klingon. What would you do?
BV – I was OK until you mentioned Joan Rivers. If she’s narrating, then all bets are off! How do you say “Can we talk?” in Klingon? Anyhoo, thanks for having me on the site! I look forward to reading (and hearing) more from you and the team!
This interview was originally posted on lightsabre.co.uk on 23rd April 2006.