THE WRITES OF SKYWALKER
What it’s like to author a novel in a galaxy far, far away…
The Star Wars Expanded Universe effectively began when Alan Dean Foster wrote Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye, a novel that
– in another universe – could have formed the basis of the first Star Wars sequel movie. “George Lucas said, ‘Do whatever you want,’” he recalls, “‘except you can’t use the character of Han Solo because Harrison Ford has not signed on for any future projects’. The other restriction was it had to be filmable on a low budget, the idea being that if the first film was neither a complete flop nor an enormous success, he would be able to reuse as many of the costumes, props and sets as possible, and make a low-budget sequel. That’s why I set the film on a fog-shrouded planet. It’s an interesting way to write a novel!”
The number of stories from a galaxy far, far away told in print has since gone on to dwarf the number told on screen. And after Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, new tie-in novels became part of the official Star Wars continuity for the first time.
“The Star Wars books generally begin with a prompt,” explains Claudia Gray, the author of six books including Bloodline and Leia: Princess Of Alderaan. “Sometimes it’s only one line long but Bloodline was longer than most, with about two paragraphs of information I’d need to cover: Leia being in the Senate, the Napkin Bombing, her decision to form the Resistance, and the galaxy at large finding out who her birth father was. But the story development was still mostly organic.”
Part of the fun of being a fan is asking “What if?” questions about your favourite characters, and Gray admits that still applies when you’re an author.
“The best book for that was Leia: Princess Of Alderaan,” she explains. “They said, ‘We want you to tell the story of how Leia first got involved with the Rebellion.’ I said, ‘How did that happen?’ They said, ‘You tell us.’ That was just about the single most blissful moment I’ve had writing Star Wars books!”
The flipside is that you have to surrender control of characters you’ve created – as Gray found with Ransolm Casterfo, a pivotal player she introduced in Bloodline. “I repeatedly pitched to write a book about Leia and the proto-resistance breaking Casterfo out of prison,” she says. “But the publisher gave Casterfo’s jailbreak to someone else as a very small part of a bigger book. To be clear, I think it was written extremely well, and if I didn’t get to do it, I’m glad it fell to someone as talented and passionate about the character as Rebecca Roanhorse. But I really wanted to do it! That’s the downside of writing tie-in fiction: the characters aren’t yours, and the story isn’t yours.”
So does working in Star Wars change your relationship with the saga?
“To some extent,” says Gray. “The main way it shows up is that I’m less likely to go rewatch one of the movies or TV shows purely for fun, because I know I’ll be rewatching them at some point – probably soon! – for work’s sake. But let me tell you, there are few sweeter moments in life than realising that, as a mature, mortgage-paying adult, the most important thing you can do with your time is rewatch The Empire Strikes Back.”