It’s A Thrill!: A Chat with Star Wars Authors

Bryan Young welcomed veteran Star Wars novel authors Kevin Anderson, Claudia Gray, E.K. Johnston, Michael Stackpole, and Timothy Zahn to a packed Hyatt International South Friday night to discuss their work, and the dynamics of writing in the Star Wars universe. The notion of a universe is key to understanding these authors and their approach to the work. They were all drawn to the expanse of Lucas’s creation. Unlike the Star Trek universe, in which only the “best of the best” got to play, the Star Wars universe is, in the words of Johnson, “accessible to all.” Anyone can jump into it and play a role. Zahn concurred, pointing out that this was a universe populated with an entire spectrum of people, and that made it a remarkable playground. Stackpole, author of the Rogue Squadron books, likened his experience to that of a “kid in a candy shop.” Lucasfilm’s only dictum was that he not use the main characters. For him that was fine, because if it was the case that the rebellion was galaxy-wide, then he wanted to know what it actually looked like!

Anderson, another first-generation Star Wars novel author, described his motivation in a different way. As a child from small town Wisconsin, Anderson found refuge in science fiction novels. He described them giving him a true “sense of wonder.” His reading of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was so powerful that he “wanted to explode.” He desperately wanted to share what he had discovered in the genre, but found no kindred spirits in his school. The first Star Wars movie changed that. “Mundanes” (as he described them) finally “got” it. His desire when approached to develop the Jedi Academy books was to bring to this new audience what Lucas’s film and the genre brought to him. Gray saw Star Wars: A New Hope in the theater at the tender age of 7, and never looked back. She wrote her first adventure in the Star Wars universe at the age of ten (a revised version of which did make it into one of her novels). She echoed Anderson pointing out that in her view the two great “world builders” of the twentieth century were Tolkien and Lucas.

The issues of old canon versus new, and the change in management were raised as well. Because his Thrawn character appears across both, Zahn was well qualified to address the question. For him, the character wasn’t different it was the circumstances that had changed. As for the supervision of the story group, Zahn felt that in many ways the situation was better. There were lots of continuity issues before (Han Solo won the Millennium Falcon at two or three different points in the timeline) but now, with more eyes on it, and a real awareness among the publication team to keep things aligned, it made for a better product. Anderson added that originally it was just the authors who grappled with these issues. It really was, in his words, a situation where they had to police themselves. Gray and Johnston echoed Zahn’s sentiment, pointing out that it’s been great working with the new team.

Writers bring their experiences, as well as their skill, to their work. When asked to discuss the inspirations they brought to their Star Wars novels, each offered a unique answer. For Gray, it was Star Wars, with its sweep and grand scale. Anderson, who had to write the story of Skywalker and the loss of his one true love, studied Gone with the Wind and the Thornbirds. Stackpole, when asked to write military fiction in the Star Wars universe, found inspiration in a collection of Medal of Honor citations with its tales of self-sacrifice. For Johnston it was the fandom that inspired her. She is a huge fan of Tumblr and found great inspiration from the stories that occur as people do the best they can to live their lives in a meaningful, fruitful way.

The panel was unanimous in their sense of gratitude. Each is still first and foremost a fan of Star Wars. Being able to create work that is part of that universe is a huge blessing that never fails to excite them. Anderson summed it up by declaring that it is an absolute thrill to be able to shout “I’m writing a Star Wars book!”

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