Star Wars New Jedi Order: Round Robin Interview (Part 7)
DR: On to the death of Anakin. Why Anakin and not one of the other Solo children? What was the reaction of the author, Troy Denning, to the angry fan response?
JL: Anakin was our first choice as the saga’s hero, not Jacen. When George nixed that idea, we were forced to rethink everything very quickly, as the first book of the series was already being outlined. For the same reasons we chose to devise dark moments for many of the characters, we wanted to have a personal tragedy accompany the fall of Coruscant. This was not something malicious on the part of the creative team, or especially manipulative, but yet another example of wanting to convey the sense that war has terrible consequences, and that no one is immune to those.
The book that became Star by Star was designed to be the nadir of the story arc. Like Bob Salvatore, Troy knew going in that he was taking a great risk and said as much at a story conference at Skywalker Ranch. And like Bob, Troy was bombarded by fans: all the more, perhaps, because Anakin had played such a prominent role in the Greg Keyes duology that precedes Star by Star. By then, though, a certain percentage of the readership had grown to expect tragic surprises, and those readers grasped that Troy shouldn’t be held personally accountable for Anakin’s death. My sense of it is that the fans were more forgiving with Troy than they were with Bob.
SS: The surprising thing was that Anakin had previously seemed to be a fairly unpopular character, at least judging by what a lot of fans were saying and writing. We did our best to grow him into a hero—I guess we succeeded!
DR: Which death was the most upsetting for fans?
LW: Chewie’s death had the biggest impact everywhere. A lot of people, even some internally at Lucasfilm who were not involved in the creative decision, would come up to me afterward and say, “How could you!” But to counter some of the criticism, we have encouraged more Chewie backstories in comics and other publishing since his death; in a way, it’s made him even more important than he would have been if he hadn’t suffered a fictional demise.
SS: There’s no question in my mind that Chewbacca’s death was more upsetting to fans. After all, he was one of the core characters—part of the basic mythos. But there were no confrontations at conventions or anywhere else. In person, the fans were great. A huge number of people were very supportive, saying they found the death very sad and moving, and they understood why it happened and could see that it was going to benefit the series.
SR: The fans at Celebration II were quite understanding of the process. I sat on two panels with Bob Salvatore, and the fans seemed to me to be polite and accepting of the decisions that were made, even if they didn’t agree with them.
JL: Even as irrelevant as he became in the Bantam novels, Chewbacca was a classic character and, more important, Han Solo’s sidekick. Anakin was relatively new to the Expanded Universe, but throughout the first eight books of the NJO, he was portrayed as the “strongest” of the Solo teenagers. Either way, when a reader invests that much time and emotion in a character, only to have the character yanked away—seemingly at the whim of the creative team . . . Well, anger and disappointment are bound to surface.