Interview with Ryder Windham, Author, “The Millennium Falcon Owners’ Workshop Manual”


Did you get a Corellian Engineering Corporation YT-1300 light freighter for Christmas? Are you confused because you can’t find the air conditioning controls? Or maybe you don’t know what that big set of levers does and you think you ought to learn? Ryder Windham has the answers for you. (Well, maybe not literally for those examples.) Windham, the author of many Star Wars reference books and novels and a former Star Wars editor at Dark Horse Comics, has a new book out today, The Millennium Falcon Owners’ Workshop Manual, that provides all the information a novice space jockey could ever need to adeptly pilot his or her brand-spanking-new Corellian freighter. To learn more about this in-universe manual, which was produced in partnership with actual car repair manual publisher Haynes, I located Ryder Windham in a greasy starfighter garage and asked him a few questions.

What did you learn while editing Star Wars comics at Dark Horse that still informs your approach to writing in the EU?

When editor Dan Thorsland and I were assigned to develop the first Droids mini-series for Dark Horse, Dan introduced me to the Star Wars roleplaying books published by West End Games, and pointed out that they were valuable resources for information that Lucasfilm had already approved. Lucasfilm didn’t want Droids to mention the Empire or the Rebellion, so Dan and I created some new worlds for the adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO, but we also inserted occasional references to previously published Star Wars stories and characters. Although that worked well for Droids, I eventually realized that I generally preferred culling material from previously published stories and reference books for new story ideas. Unless there’s a crucial reason for inventing a new character or planet, I think it’s best to work with established material, and I think readers appreciate that effort too. Star Wars reference books aren’t just good for information, but also for inspiration.

That said, whenever I get a Star Wars fiction assignment, I always do a lot of research into the characters, locations and the continuity aspects. For the Millennium Falcon Haynes Manual, that meant digging deep into dozens of novels and reference books. The goal wasn’t to impress readers with my research, but to produce a comprehensive and entertaining book that genuinely meshed with all the other books.

You’re one of the few Star Wars authors who writes both novels and reference books. Can you compare the writing process for these two formats?

An editor might ask for a novel that’s approximately 40,000 words long, give or take several hundred words, and the layout of the body text as well as the size of the chosen font are factors in the novel’s final page count. With reference books, the page count is usually determined at the outset, before a single line of text has been written. One has to plan the contents for each spread, accommodating text along with illustrations or photos. In my experience, working on reference books is usually more time-consuming than novels. Every entry in a Star Wars reference book has to be thoroughly researched and footnoted, and also has to be written to fit a specific amount of space on the page. I’ve never been asked to “write seventeen more words to fill out this block of text” for a Star Wars novel, but that kind of request pops up frequently with the reference books. Either way, it’s important to do the research first, to sort out a lot of details in advance.

Are you familiar with Haynes’ other owner’s manuals, especially their fictional tie-ins?

The first Haynes Manual I ever bought was for an MGB that I owned years ago. I wanted to find out why my MGB consumed more motor oil than gasoline, and if there were any particular reason a company would deliberately manufacture a car that needed to be serviced by a mechanic every other week. Much as I loved the MGB when it was running well, I learned after several months that the book had more life to it. When Haynes editor Derek Smith approached me about the Millennium Falcon manual, he sent me copies of the Haynes Manuals for Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise and also the Apollo 11 spacecraft. I thought those books were terrific, and they gave me a very good idea of what the Falcon book might look like.

What was your favorite part of the Falcon to explore?

Working on the first chapter, the history of the YT-series, was very interesting. It was an opportunity to weave information from an incredible variety of sources, everything from the West End Games books and James Luceno’s novel Millennium Falcon to The Star Wars Holiday Special and Hasbro’s Legacy Collection Falcon toy. But if you want to know my favorite area of the Falcon herself, I’ve always been fond of the main hold. It just looks like a great place to sit around with friends.

What did your collaboration with Haynes involve? How did they assist you in writing the book?

I worked very closely with Haynes editor Derek Smith, and also the artists Chris Reiff and Chris Trevas. I wrote a rough outline with proposed topics for each spread, and then Chris and Chris added more stuff, and then we shuffled things around until we filled 125 pages of material, including the inside back cover. All involved can correct me or beat me up if I’m wrong, but I think it was my idea to present other ships in the YT-series to help illustrate the evolution of the YT-1300. If I had a question about some part of the Falcon and I couldn’t find information in a reference book, Chris and Chris either sent me the info or gave me their own suggestions for how I might write certain bits. The project was very collaborative.

The owner’s manual has an in-universe element to it, sort of like The Jedi Path. Did you approach this in-universe manual differently from your strictly out-of-universe projects like The Complete Vader or Star Wars Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle?

Yes. With out-of-universe books, my angle of approach is to write as objectively as possible, presenting facts without opinions, and it’s perfectly acceptable to make references to our own real world. For example, a picture of an old Millennium Falcon toy might read, Kenner produced this Millennium Falcon playset in 1982, and it was packaged with five die-cast mini-figures, one of which is highly sought after by collectors, etc. For the Haynes Manual, I adopted the voice of an unidentified narrator from the Star Wars galaxy, a guy who is thoroughly versed in the history of Corellian Engineering Corporation (CEC), and also has an uncanny knowledge about Han Solo’s YT-1300. The narration was meant to make the reader to feel immersed in the Star Wars universe, as if the Haynes Manual were an actual CEC publication.

Did anything that you learned about the Falcon from existing sources surprise you?

Chris and Chris sent me a file for an article titled “Secrets of the Falcon” by Christopher West, which originally appeared in a magazine called Polyhedron. I was unfamiliar with West’s article, which he illustrated with different interior configurations for the YT-1300’s interior, and I was very impressed by how much thought and effort he put into the details, his explanations for each floor plan. We included West’s name in the Haynes Manual’s acknowledgments, but I should have indicated how much I appreciated his article, how much I utilized the information he’d presented.

In general, I’m continually surprised by how much information has been written about a fictional ship. I don’t mean that in any condescending way at all. I’m genuinely amazed that so much attention is given to a ship that exists primarily on celluloid or the digital equivalent, and exists even larger in our imaginations.

You also wrote Millennium Falcon: A 3-D Owner’s Guide. Is the Falcon your favorite Star Wars ship?

Yes, the Falcon has my always been my favorite Star Wars ship. When I was a kid, I bought a Kenner die-cast Millennium Falcon, which I still own and treasure. I just love the way the Falcon looks. I’d get claustrophobic in a starfighter, and I’d get lost on a Star Destroyer. Relatively, the Falcon is just right, the ultimate getaway vehicle and motor home.

Is there anything you still don’t know about the Falcon that you’d like to find out and/or enter into canon yourself?

Scenes from the movies indicate that the Falcon is substantially taller than it appears from the outside, that there’s more space between the quad cannons in the central ladderwell, and also in the maintenance pits and bays below and above decks, Chris and Chris will be the first to tell you that the only way to build a full-scale replica of the Falcon is to fake a lot of details, but I’d still love to see the finished result.

As for entering anything into canon, no, I don’t have any personal agenda in that department. For the Haynes Manual, I proposed incorporating the mini-fighter from Hasbro’s Legacy Collection Falcon into our book as an optional extra for the YT-1300, which I thought was fun and appropriate, but not because I wanted to “canonize” the mini-fighter. When we were working on the Star Wars Blueprints project, Chris and Chris presented evidence to convince Lucasfilm that the Falcon’s previously published measurements were inaccurate. That was a significant accomplishment.

I suppose if I could revise anything about the Falcon, it would be the notion that Han won the Falcon from Lando just a couple of years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, at least according to the novel Rebel Dawn. I don’t know whether that idea came from the novel’s author, A.C. Crispin, or from another book, or from someone at Lucasfilm. I realize I may sound silly, but I just instinctively disagree with that idea, that Han and Chewie had only owned the ship for two years before they met Ben Kenobi and Luke. The way Han and Chewie move inside the Falcon is beyond familiar territory. You can tell they know every inch of that ship, and Han loves her dearly. My take has always been that it takes longer to build a connection like that with a vehicle. The Falcon is an extension of those characters, not a recently acquired accessory. Also, if continuity allowed them to own the Falcon longer, they could have that many more years of smuggling adventures, and I think that would be a very good thing.

Let’s say hypothetically I was going to write ad copy for trailers promoting additional Haynes Star Wars ship manuals. Which vessels do you think would make great sequel material?

That’s a tough one because I like all the vehicles too much. Wouldn’t the X-wing look great on the cover of a Haynes Manual? And a TIE fighter? And a landspeeder, and an AT-AT, and a skyhopper? Yeah, they’re all great. The Executor and the Death Star would be incredible opportunities too, what with all the interior levels on those vessels. Even if you never manage to own a Death Star, you should read the Owner’s Workshop Manual so you’ll know your way around inside, just in case.

I want to thank author Ryder Windham for talking to me about his work. I thought his suggestions for sequel manuals were great, so I went ahead and wrote ad copy for some of them. Enjoy!


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