Making Droids: by Ryder Windham
A few years back, Ryder shared this article with me. I'm not sure if it was from a previous resource but wanted to share it all with you today because it was an interesting read. - Matt
Nowadays, if you're asked to write a Star Wars story (really, these things can happen), you'll likely wind up consulting more Star Wars comics, novels, and reference books than you can lift, all in an effort to maintain continuity. But the continuity wasn't so unwieldy in early 1993, when Dan Thorsland and I were editors at Dark Horse Comics. Dark Horse had only recently published its first groundbreaking Star Wars series, Dark Empire, and the novels Heir to the Empire and Dark Force Rising were still on the bestseller lists. Other than those titles, the bulk of Star Wars publishing consisted of a relatively modest number of books and a run of Marvel Comics, most of which were—like the movie trilogy that spawned them—over a decade old.
Dan was an editor on Dark Empire II, and I had edited comic adaptations of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, so we both had some experience working on Lucasfilm properties. Lucasfilm's Lucy Autrey Wilson wanted to see C-3PO and R2-D2 in humorous adventure stories, suitable for all ages, and cited Carl Barks' Donald Duck comics as a role model. She said we didn't even have to tie in with the Droids animated cartoon series or any previously published novels or comics. All we had to do was to assemble a creative team to come up with something new and fun. Sounds like a breeze, right?
Dan and I approached a number of freelance writers, but we repeatedly struck out. Some writers were too busy, others disinterested, and the rest—despite our efforts to convey Lucasfilm's directives—were determined to take C-3PO and R2-D2 in either sinister or outright ludicrous directions. This discouraging process went on for about five months.
At some point, I realized that Dan was more thoughtful about the material than any of the writers I'd been talking with. It wasn't just that he was a Star Wars fan (although that certainly helped), but that he was weirdly sympathetic to the droids. While others regarded the droids as little more than comic relief, Dan spoke of their "unfortunate plight as intelligent machines" who were "treated worse than slaves." Furthermore, Dan had somehow gotten his mitts on a copy of actor Anthony Daniels' own script for the Star Wars Radio Drama, in which Daniels himself had made notations of revised dialogue for C-3PO. Dan knew how C-3PO talked, but Daniels' script had taught Dan how C-3PO didn't talk, which was more than other writers had considered.
More desperate than ambitious, Dan and I got permission to work up a proposal on our own. Following the example of the Han Solo novels by Brian Daley, we created a scenario for adventures set in an ambiguous period before Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope, and attempted to avoid potential continuity problems by avoiding references to the Empire and Rebel Alliance. Although a "prequel" trilogy was still just a rumor in 1993, we were aware that George Lucas had once told interviewers that C-3PO and R2-D2 might appear in the prequels, so we allowed the possibility that both droids may have had "memory wipes" to erase their knowledge of prior events. Our proposal included outlines for a three-chapter serial launch (it would appear in the anthology Dark Horse Comics), six relatively self-contained stories, and a few art samples by Bill Hughes. The plan was that Dan would write the scripts and I would edit, except for a trade off with Droids #5 because he insisted that I write the "babysitter droids" story.
We were promptly informed that Lucas himself would have to sign off on the proposal because it involved the droids before A New Hope. Did I take that as a hint that new Star Wars movies were on the horizon? No, I wasn't that imaginative. But I do recall that when we saw Lucas's signature of approval for our outline, we felt very pleased and proud. Can you blame us?
Droids officially debuted in Dark Horse Comics #17 (January, 1994), which utilized one of Bill Hughes' art samples for the cover. Bill was an easy choice for penciling Droids. I'd edited his creator-owned series She Buccaneer for Monster Comics, and loved the way he drew cartoonish machinery. I was also eager to work again with inker Andy Mushynsky, who had done great work on Indiana Jones comics. Dan and I both admired Ian Gibson's art for Halo Jones and various 2000 A.D. titles, and considered ourselves lucky to sign him on too.
I hired Dark Empire artist Cam Kennedy to draw the cover for Droids #1, and Kilian Plunkett for the remaining issues. Some stories almost entirely evolved from ideas for cover art. For example, I figured a cover of a protocol droid holding a ridiculously large blaster would be a good eye-catcher, so I invented the C-3PX. Dan conceived the rock monsters and the ambulatory wrecking droid for similar reasons. As for the babysitting droids, who might slightly resemble robotic versions of Donald Duck's nephews, I confess that I was desperately hoping to please Lucy Wilson at Lucasfilm.
If the mail we received were any indication, the biggest fans of Droids were young children and their parents. When Dark Horse was assembling the collected edition of Droids: The Kalarba Adventures, I sent copies of the comics to Anthony Daniels and asked if he would write an introduction. A few weeks later, I phoned him to ask if he'd had the chance to read the comics, and he said, "Check your fax machine." I did, and found he had already sent the introduction, which read in part: "Some of the pages are as convincing in character to me, as though I were actually there, playing the part. When a character you have created and loved has been reproduced commercially in every way from bubble bath to bubble gum, you can get a little protective. But with these stories, I know Threepio is safe."
A few random notes…
Rebellion. The vacuum cleaner-wielding droid on Nar Shaddaa is Zee Zee, who was introduced as Han Solo's droid in Dark Empire.
Season of Revolt. I had nothing to do with this story, but I sure enjoyed reading it.
The Protocol Offensive. The story was based on a short outline written by Brian Daley in 1995. After
Brian's untimely death the following year, Anthony Daniels and I were enlisted to transform the outline into a full script. My dear friend Mr. Daniels not only contributed greatly to the story but wrote every line of C-3PO's dialog.
Disregarding George Lucas's approval and Anthony Daniels endorsement and significant involvement, how does Droids hold up with continuity since the release of the prequels? Well, obviously, C-3PO and R2-D2 must have strayed from the Tantive IV for a spell. And just how did that happen?
That, as they say, is another story.
—Ryder Windham, January 28, 2008