- Matt Wilkins
Star Wars New Jedi Order: Round Robin Interview (Part 6)
DR: Moving right along, how do you respond to fans who complain that they look to Star Wars for an escape, for entertainment, rather than for reality of this sort?
JL: I think it’s a valid criticism, as far as it goes. But the fact is that the Bantam books had taken these same characters through so many betrayals, kidnappings, and Davidversus-Goliath strikes against superweapons that we had nowhere else to go. For that reason, we felt compelled to shake things up by undermining Luke’s ability to use the Force, testing the younger characters at every turn, having Chewbacca and Anakin die, sending Han and Leia into brief estrangement and grief, and even giving Threepio and Artoo something to worry about.
You know, what did surprise me was how much flak we took for having Han withdraw into himself after Chewbacca’s death. From the start, the NJO was conceived as darker, more “adult.” But perhaps this sometimes led to our being too realistic in our thinking—going beyond the sensibilities inherent in the films.
SR: Well, we wanted the NJO series to have more of the feel of reality, with conflict and emotion. By shaking up the universe, we felt we were adding an emotional depth to the stories that wasn’t there before, and we were confident that our readers were up to the challenge.
LW: Again, we go back to the original stories that George Lucas was telling in the films. Good things happen and bad things happen in the Star Wars universe—as in our own world. Since we wanted to model the books on some of the same themes and story elements George was drawing on in the films, we did not want to always play it safe and simply provide an entertaining escape in the fiction. Had we done that, I don’t think the novels would have had the same emotional response with our readers. We are always pushing the boundaries of Star Wars storytelling so as to not repeat ourselves or fall into a formula.
SS: Sales for the Bantam Star Wars books were significantly down, the books weren’t hitting the bestseller lists the way they once had: clearly, readers were losing interest. One complaint that arose consistently was that it was nothing more than the same-old, same-old: someone gets kidnapped or a situation is saved by the superweapon of the month. Nothing is ever unpredictable.
There were complaints that all Leia did was be a diplomat; that Han had become nothing more than a house-husband, and Chewie, a nursemaid; that Luke was so all-powerful, authors had to find some ways to weaken him to make any fight fair enough to be even interesting. Right or wrong, we were attempting to address these concerns. The death of a character close to all the other major players was a perfect way to give those other characters a natural and believable reason to reevaluate their lives and their roles—to change and (we hoped) to revert more to the characters we all knew and loved from the movies. It also gave us the chance to grow the characters of the Solo children, who seemed to be disliked by a lot of the adult fans.
I do understand the complaints about wanting an escape, not reality. But I don’t think that one major death—okay, two—is a sledgehammer of reality to an otherwise entertaining universe. Having your emotions challenged is, to my mind, part of a good entertainment. When George ended a movie with Han encased in carbonite, who knew what would happen to that character? We all waited with bated breath, truly worried. And we loved it.
I do regret the relentlessness of the war against the Yuuzhan Vong—and some of the grimmer aspects of their culture. I would have preferred to make them dark side Force-users: that would have kept their darkness in the arena of magic and mystery, which, oddly enough, would have made them seem less “dark,” I think. As for the war . . . Well, we had no idea when we started this series that September 11 would happen, or that we would go to war in Iraq. If we’d known that real life was going to take such a dark turn, perhaps we would have planned our story arc differently. I can’t say.