Pablo Hidalgo doesn’t remember the first time he saw Star Wars.
The Lucasfilm writer and Creative Communications grad (1996) wasn’t old enough to catch the film when it first came out in 1977. Instead his childhood was soaked in the references, merchandise and culture of a galaxy far, far away.
“I had the storybook and the trading cards and a few toys before I ever saw it,” Hidalgo says. “Definitely the kids in the neighbourhood and schoolyard kept you immersed in it because it was all they talked about.”
The tale of lightsabre-wielding Jedi Knights, galactic rebels and planet-destroying spaceships stayed with Hidalgo through his adolescence as a hobby interest, setting a standard for storytelling and emotional investment. When it came time to turning those skills into a career, Hidalgo chose Red River College.
“It seemed a very practical alternative to university. The track record of people finding work after completing a course like Ad Art (now Graphic Design) or CreComm was very positive… A friend of mine had recently completed Ad Art, and I was impressed with the skills he had picked up. It was really a toss-up between CreComm and Ad Art for me, and CreComm won out.”
The coursework challenged Hidalgo’s time management skills, while building his talents in writing, technical production and, to his deep surprise, public speaking. He came out of the program and hit the ground running, landing a job at McKim, Manitoba’s largest advertising firm – officially as a copywriter, but also using his diverse skill set to assist with design and production work. At the same time he was freelancing online for Pennsylvania-based West End Games – the company that developed the first Star Wars roleplaying games – networking with others in the Star Wars universe.
Networking also helped him land his next job, the springboard for his move to California. Frantic Films was an up-and-coming visual effects studio at the time, attracting the interest of Hollywood studios as well as local client McKim. Hidalgo made the switch when an opening presented itself, landing a diverse portfolio that stretched from 3D animation and storyboarding to press releases.
Then one day he saw an invitation to an epic adventure.
“I saw an interesting opening at Lucasfilm that required writing skills, knowledge of the Star Wars brand, and knowledge of what goes into film production,” Hidalgo says. He applied, without much hope of landing the job.
“My roommate at the time kept saying, ‘Oh, you’ve got this. You’re so going to end up there.’ But I tried not to think that many steps ahead. It must have been an overwhelming idea, because I only concentrated on the small steps.”
“Because it was a small team, I got to work on a lot of different projects related to marketing and PR and publishing. As someone who came from the fan community and could speak from that perspective, I’d work often in fan relations and would, say, develop programming and host panels at Comic-Con or our own big Star Wars conventions.”
The fan base Hidalgo counts himself a member of can be a demanding audience. Diverse, passionate and occasionally obsessive, Star Wars fans are known for being incredibly vocal with their support and disapproval, notably with the launch of the prequels beginning with The Phantom Menace in 1999.
“It helps being a fan, because you know the level of scrutiny that your work will be subject to, and how it must exist as part of this larger experience,” Hidalgo says. “But you also understand the fan base is extremely diverse, and what is beloved by one set of fans is not by another set of fans. So you can’t please everyone, but you should demonstrate what you’re writing has been done in a thoughtful way.”
In recent years, Hidalgo has transitioned into the story development group for film and TV projects, imagining long term plot lines while working to keep multiple directors, producers and writers on the same page. In the fictional Star Wars universe, it’s easy for a storyteller to branch out in exciting, conflicting and potentially brand-damaging ways. Hidalgo’s job is partly to keep peace and maintain order with the storytellers – a literary Jedi Knight.
But he hasn’t forgotten his home, nor a unique quality of growing up on the Prairies that helped launch him into the Galactic Republic.
“I think one lesson I’d like for people to remember is never underestimate the importance of hobby skills. Winnipeg, being frozen for so much of the year, is an incubator of hobby skills. I consider myself fortunate that I’ve found a way to turn a Star Wars hobby into a professional career.”
Profile by Matt TenBruggencate (Creative Communications, 2013)