The Datacronicles: Bringing Order To Chaos

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Welcome To Another Dataconicles

Welcome to the second issue of a regular column that discusses anything related to the Star Wars universe. Here’s where we discuss trends, comic books, games, TV shows, toys, movies, etc. In this issue, we’re going to talk about “Order” and more specifically, “Reading Order”. Keep reading Young Padawans to see what I mean.

How Did We Get Here?

Marvel Ultimates #3 Cover
First, some history. Way before I was a Star Wars enthusiast my first love was comic books, more specifically superhero-based comic books. I’ve been reading comics probably as early as 8-years old. Framing that timeline places it somewhere in the early ’70s. In the late ’80s, I put my passion for comic book collecting and reading on hold due to the financial needs of raising a family, buying our first house, etc. When I jumped back into the comic book reading fold I wanted to read some of the stories I missed.

Once such universe I wanted to tackle was Marvel’s, now defunct(?), Ultimates universe. I set a goal to read all the comics in the Marvel Ultimate universe brand, which ended up being 764 issues! To make it a more hefty goal, being the type of person I am, how about reading them in chronological order? Egads! Given the complexity of today’s Internet, I figured someone out there good surely help me with this goal?

Introducing my savior a man named Travis Starnes! In 2011-ish Travis started his own website named “The Complete Marvel Reading Order“! What I liked about Travis’ site is that I could create an account and check-off issues I read in his chronological order. Most entries even had direct links to Marvel’s on-line Unlimited digital reading service! His site also kept track of personal sites, allowed you to write reviews, kept track of the next issue you should read, allows you to earn badges, forums for discussions, etc. Incredible stuff for a personal project! It proved to be a valuable resource, so much so I’ve since subscribed to help pay for ongoing maintenance costs. And by the way, I used this site to actually read all 764 issues in the Ultimate reading order!

Uh, This Column Is About Star Wars, Right?

Star Wars Reading Banner
So what’s this have to do with the Star Wars universe? What started as a one-off pet project, hence the uncomfortable URL “cmro.travis-starnes.com“, has now flourished into ten additional “reading orders”, including one for the Star Wars universe! The Star Wars Reading Order is broken down into two lists; Canon EU (“expanded universe”) and Legends. Both lists incorporate movies, comic books, novels, magazine novelettes, etc. It’s a Star Wars fan’s dream tracking tool!

Having watched this site personally grow into the massive project it’s become we had a lot of questions about how, who does the coding, etc. So we were able to get some time with the master himself, Travis Starnes, to have our queries answered!

Interview With Travis Starnes, The Man, The Myth, The Master Of “Order”

Gamespace.com: starwarsreadingorder.com (SWRO) pertains to the Star Wars universe but this site is part of a much BIGGER “reading order” project of yours. And it all started with a meager (at that time) “the Complete Marvel Reading Order” (CMRO) site named cmro.travis-starnes.com. What were CMRO’s initial scope and purpose?

Travis Starnes: CMRO started because I was trying to read my way through Marvel and I didn’t always have access to the excel spreadsheet I’d started out using. I decided to put up my reading list so I could access it when I wasn’t at home. That’s why the URL is so terrible. When I started I never expected it to be anything but a reference for myself so I just stuck it on a URL I had available.

GS: How did CMRO blossom into a project that currently covers ten pop culture universes?

Travis: People started finding my list and emailing, finding my email, and emailing questions about why this or that comic was in a given order. Eventually, I started getting lots of suggestions for better ways to order sections until it became too much to handle through email, so I set up a forum to keep track of the suggestions. Things kind of snowballed from there. Because I was using it so much I expanded the site from just a table listing comics to something more graphical and made it so I could track my own reading.

Every time I added features to the site, more people would find the order and make more suggestions and requests for features until it expanded out into an actual tracking platform. It became more than I could handle by myself, so I added features to let some trusted users edit listings on the site, which increased the rate things changed exponentially.

The other sites sprang out of the forums. We started talking about other shared universes and the ways to read or watch those in order. Phase 3 of the MCU started and Disney announced the old Star Wars EU was becoming Legends and there’d be all this new material and I was really excited to experience those universes as well. By this point, CMRO was a whole thing, so it made sense to make something similar to CMRO, but for those other universes so I and others could track everything. From there everything got a life of their own until now we have the 10 universes plus ideas for a whole bunch more.

GS: Do you do all the web programming yourself? If so, was these learned skills or a profession?

Travis: Yes, I’ve done all the programming myself, although I have gotten help a few times from people smarter than myself when it comes to programming. I learned to program through just doing it. When I put up the site eleven years ago I’d just learned basic HTML, because it seemed interesting. The original site was just a bunch of HTML pages, each edited manually. As the site grew and I wanted to do more things, I’d go and learn how to do something and then implement it. It’s why CMRO has had to have large overhauls to it’s framework every few years. I’ll learn enough to realize the way I was doing things was either inefficient or outright wrong, and have to go change things to handle the ever-growing user base.

It’s All About “Order”

GS: Does the SWRO chronological “ordering” fall mainly on your shoulders? Do you read, see, etc. each item on the order personally?

Travis: Thankfully, none of the orders falls mainly on my shoulders anymore. SWRO I started ordering myself through a combination of what I already knew and reading a lot of existing orders out there, although filtered through the rules I’d decided on for my sites which are often different than the page by page chronological listings that existed. Keep in mind when it started there was only a handful of stuff in the new canon universe and no new stuff was being made for the Legends universe. All of the orders, including SWRO, are works in progress. They all change as new material comes out, confirming the placement of stuff around it chronologically. While sometimes stuff moves because I read or see it and decide on a move, most of the changes these days happen through the forums. There are several users who are actively reading everything Star Wars as it releases, so we discuss it as a group and find the best placement for the listing.
The orders wouldn’t be nearly as good as they currently are without the active user base in the Forums. Honestly, this is true of all the sites. I’m not nearly as exacting as some of the users who do a much better job decided what should go where then I did in my initial ordering. The sites would be a shadow of what they’ve become without these people. At this point, it really is a community project.

GS: When first putting the SWRO together how did you go about gathering book titles, movies, etc. that needed to go on the list? You have a very complete list like including game guides.

Travis: The original list was a combination of research across the web, suggestions from users in the forums, and reading through my own personal library. I was a big gamer back when the west end stuff was being produced and own most of the guides they produced, so having those books on hand really helped. The majority, however, was done by reading company websites, synopsis, and blogs across the web and synthesizing that all down into a workable order. Once the initial ordering was done, however, it was adjusted by active users in the forums. The order as it exists now is a collective work by the community as a whole.

GS: How many hours a week do you put into the “reading order project” as a whole?

Travis: Probably between 60 and 70 hours a week on average.

GS: Regarding the Star Wars reading order, how do you determine what goes on the “Canon EU” list and what goes on the “Legends” list?

Travis: We go by what Disney and the Lucas story group have listed. They were pretty specific when they broke the old EU off into its own thing, and the exceptions like Clone Wars and one Darth Maul comic series were specifically called out by them as existing in both.

On Fan Interaction

Reading Order Maul
GS: Have you ever gotten into any heated discussions with a fan, user, etc. on placement in the order of something?

Travis: Yes. Fans, especially the type that want to order experience their fandoms in a specific order, are pretty passionate. Luckily the community that has built up around the orders is generally really respectful of each other. I do try and be clear at the end of the discussions, stating plainly “this is the decision I’m going with and these were my reasons” and be clear that once a decision is made we move on unless new information comes to light.

We have lost a few users over the years who couldn’t go with whatever final decision was made, but that is bound to happen with anything that has subjective standards like“which is the best for narrative flow”. I have found that if you really hear people out, give them their say and honestly consider what they propose, even if you don’t go with their suggestion they’ll be okay.

GS: How about you personally, is there a favorite point in time, a favorite series, etc. in the SWRO that you enjoyed and why?

Travis: My favorite time period is probably between ANH and Empire. That’s probably fifty percent nostalgia since I grew up in the eighties, but I also think the rebellion against the empire and impossible odds still have the richest base material to tell stories about. As for favorite series, I still defer to the movies first, but after that, I really enjoyed the original Marvel comics from the 70s & ’80s and the Knights of the Old Republic comics.

GS: Does it cause a lot of grief to your project when someone like Marvel releases material that goes back to a past time period, e.g. their new Star Wars series that kicks in right after the “Empire Strikes Back” movie? Does inserting something into the middle of the list cause “headaches”?

Travis: Not really, since for Star Wars that’s how it’s always been. Star Wars as a whole has never been released in a chronological way (except for the original movies I guess) and every new series has jumped around. It’s always a case of looking at the new material and figuring out where things fit in the overall narrative of the universe.

Tracking Futures
Star Wars New Order
GS: In the spirit of planning future SWRO updates do you try and make it a point to keep track of future projects coming from Marvel, Dark Horse, Lucas, etc. through news sites, Previews magazine, etc.?

Travis: Yes. The Star Wars order finished about three years ago, so from that point, it’s just been updates. We try and do an update with new releases once a month, putting everything that has a hard release date, finished cover and enough details to place it in the order. Once it releases the community reads it and decides if it should move to a better spot in the order. I keep an eye on what Disney and Lucasarts announce as far as licensing goes and then check in on those monthly releases from the various companies with the license. Disney keeps a pretty tight leash on everything though, so it’s not difficult to just watch the various news feeds Lucasarts and Disney put out.

GS: One of the unique things I personally like about your “reading orders” is that I can create a personal account and keep a running checklist on your site of items I’ve read, watched, etc. Does this take up a lot of website disk space?

Travis: Not so much disk space, since it’s all stored in databases and the sites themselves just pull the information dynamically. It does take a lot of processing power, which is an ongoing battle. There are some things I’d like to do with the orders to make them even more personalized, but which aren’t feasible, since the costs would be prohibitive.

Are You Famous Yet?

GS: Has the SWRO project caught the attention of any big celebrities or icons?

Travis: CMRO has probably gotten the most notice since I know some people at Marvel are aware of them and I’ve gotten the occasional mention. As far as Star Wars, I haven’t ever had any notable shout outs, so I don’t know. I hope someone at Disney and Lucas have both noticed the order, of course.

GS: Are the SWRO and all the reading projects “self-funded”? I know people can register as “Gold” members and help fund the continuing project?

Travis: Yes, all the orders have been self-funded. The community has been great in supporting the site and thanks to the gold members, along with ads and things like Amazon affiliate links to buy books and movies, the sites have been almost break-even over the last year and a half or so.

GS: With reading orders for ten pop culture universes already I’m guessing people throw “reading order” ideas at you quite often. What is the weirdest reading order request you’ve ever gotten?

Travis: They do. I have a list of “future orders” in the forums that I add to when I get a good suggestion. I think at the moment it sits at about 30 additional universes (some that would be full-blown sites and some that will eventually get added to more theme bases sites for orders to small to justify their own website).

I don’t know about weirdest, but the most impossible one that seems to come up regularly is the Tommy Westphall universe, which basically would collect hundreds of television shows into one order. The sheer scale of what a Tommy Westphall order would boggle the mind.

On Major Future Plans…

GS: Any large project plans, cool features, etc. forthcoming for the SWRO project or the “reading order” projects in general? Anything you’d love to do but it just seems unattainable or not technically feasible?

Travis: Nothing specific. The sites are always evolving and I tend to add new features when I hear a good suggestion that I can figure out how to do practically. I’d love to make the sites flashier and more slick looking, but a lot of that is outside of my ability to actually design since I’m not much of an artist.

GS: Any additional “reading order” lists coming in the future that you can hint at?

Travis: There’s an active list of “upcoming someday in the future” orders, but the most likely next order will be for the DCEU/Arrowverse (depending on how the whole crisis on infinite earth brings the various DC TV continuities together).

GS: Knowing how big the “reading order project” has become, if you could do it all over would there be anything you’d change or do differently?

Travis: Had I known it was going to become what it has, I would have made a more sensible framework. As it is now, all the sites but CMRO exist in a more modular framework. I wish CMRO could be put into that same thing so all the sites shared the same backend, but it’s such a hodgepodge built up piece by piece over the years without any planning that it’s impossible without scrapping it and starting over.

GS: Travis, thanks for taking time out to talk with us, myself being a huge Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and Buffy fan. In closing is there anything else you’d like the readers to know?

Travis: No problem and I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the orders. The main thing I’d like everyone to know is that all of the orders are a community project and I encourage anyone who wants to participate to come over to the forums and get involved. Without the community that’s built up around the orders, they would still be the list of Marvel comics it started out as. The more people that come and take an active part in the community, the better the orders become.

Written by
Scott is a comic book, music and gaming nerd since the late 70s. Gaming all began on the Colecovision and Atari 2600. He buys and reads new comics every Wednesday from his LCBS and helps run an online Heavy Metal radio station.

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