Controlling the Narrative — A Discussion with Pablo Hidalgo, cont’d

Star-Wars-Propaganda-Poster-Set_Page_06[1]Today we conclude our week of Star Wars Propaganda coverage with the second part of our interview with author Pablo Hidalgo. This piece is a continuation of last Friday’s interview segment, where we discussed the development of the Propaganda book and how both it and its art was commissioned. Last Wednesday, I shared my own thoughts about the Propaganda book, particularly enthusing over how it used art and narrative to create an open and accessible form of world-building that enhanced storytelling seen in the Star Wars movies and novels. Appropriately, this second part of our conversation with Pablo focuses on narrative and in-universe storytelling.

My questions below are in bold, and Pablo’s answers are in plaintext.

Speaking of the in-universe work already done – one of my favorite parts of this book that it’s in-universe. I like in-universe work in general, whether it be travel posters or propaganda posters. How did it help in writing this book for it to be in-universe? You could have just as easily written it as an out-of-universe book like the Visual Dictionary. How does being in-universe help and what guided that decision?

For one thing, it’s more fun because I get to play a character, rather than my usual character of the omniscient third-person narrator. By playing a character – I don’t really do a lot of fiction, though, this book is technically classified as non-fiction. It is a work of fiction though, because this book is describing a fictional space in the way that it does. So as a result, I don’t get to do a lot of character work in the material that ends up being published. So this is my chance to be a character, which is fun. The thing that it [does] is that it allows you to play with point of view, and it gives you a stronger ability to editorialize and duck out of conversations that you may not be ready to talk about. An example is, if I was going to tell you the history of any country—if I was going to tell you the history of the U.S.—I would edit that to tell you what I thought was important for you to hear. But sometimes when it comes to telling histories of fictional universes, there’s this weird burden to tell you everything. That would be the equivalent of me telling you the history of the U.S. and starting with, “When the Earth cooled, the landmasses distributed themselves…” but you don’t need that information. As a result, an in-universe narrator can take for granted what you as an in-universe reader should already know. And the funny thing is, those are things that maybe haven’t been defined, such as the origins of certain institutions and the origins of certain parts of history. But I can avoid getting into that detail because presumably you already know that even though outside that universe [you] don’t.

The narrator, Janyor of Bith, also experienced change in his own point of view. He used to work for the Republic, then he was an Imperial propagandist, and then he switched over to the Rebels. It makes sense to have a single narrator for the book, of course. How did you decide to have the character undergo these changes that match the political changes in the text?

I thought that was how we actually got character development into the book. In a real way, the book is meant to be this historic work but also the story of the narrator. By having him cross the line on either side of various wars, he’s able to speak with a degree of authenticity, with a degree of authority. And with a degree of growth.

The main character went through personal growth, but we have all these different in-universe artists with their own styles who have these caption biographies in the back of the book. What function do they play and how do they help you flavor/texture the story?

In ways large and small, it kind of builds this cast of fictional characters and also allows me to talk about the potential consequences of being propaganda artists. You’re supposed to read between the lines and see that their fates are not very pleasant because of the art they’ve done for certain regimes. And there was a way to – the bios at the end of the book are, in a way, the sort of bios you’d get at the end of a non-fiction movie. Or even American Graffiti does that, where you’re able to add a little coda to the story you’re telling by this little paragraph encapsulation of what happened to these characters.

Star-Wars-Propaganda-Poster-Set_Page_07[1]Yeah, it gives their fate—like “so and so had three kids and got married,” or whatever. So now to pull back the curtain, or go back to real life. What sort of real-life research went into this book? I saw that in the book you mentioned going to the Imperial War Museum and that you were really struck by that. Did you have any other research or eras of propaganda you found helpful?

That is a big part of it. I’ve been, every time I’ve gone to London – even in the last few years, several times – I make a point to visit the Imperial War Museum. It’s one of the most amazing institutions, in one of the most amazing buildings, with some of the most amazing displays in a museum. There are incredible resources there, incredible examples of certain periods of time. Periods of time that Star Wars is often attempting to invoke. So it felt super authentic to go there and be inspired by the works there. Beyond that, I have a number of books at home on the subject. Particularly World War I and World War II. That’s really when propaganda and mass communication was just getting started, so propaganda was getting a lot of its foundational works there. Even just like, I have playing cards based on World War I and World War II propaganda that I’ve had for years and I always find inspiration in them because it really captures a moment in history.

And we’ve seen our share of propaganda in Star Wars as well. The Clone Wars has the war reel footage before each episode, and we’ve seen the various posters associated with the PR campaign for Rebels. How do you see propaganda working in a futuristic setting? Obviously in the book they’re all presented as 2D images and you get a set of ten posters with the book. But do we imagine a lot of the propaganda being old-fashioned posters or is there a different way that propaganda is being disseminated throughout the setting?

I’m sure there are high-tech equivalents of everything we present in the book as 2D art, but to be honest, even though Star Wars rarely leans on paper as being a form of communication, we’ll still have posters and we’ll still have the back-lit equivalent of posters in spaces. And I think that’s kind of important, I think part of the Star Wars DNA that I don’t ever want to forget is that it’s accessible from a certain point in history. My yardstick – and not that this is an iron-clad rule – is that any Star Wars story you’re trying to tell should be understandable for an audience from, say, the 1930s or 1940s. You shouldn’t have technology in it that completely jumps ahead of anything that they may have a pre-digital analog of. So you can dress up a poster as a hologram or an electronic transmission, but ultimately it’s still going to look like something that could’ve been imagined by someone who was living and creating art in, say, the 1930s or 1940s.

Makes sense – sort of grounding Star Wars in a sense of historical reality that matches the eras that it fit in. I think we’ve hit all the questions that I have for you. Thanks again for talking with us!

Thanks so much for your interest!