Star Wars New Jedi Order: Round Robin Interview (Part 9)
DR: How did your ideas about the Force change over the course of the series? How much was preplanned and imposed from the outset, and how much evolved as the series was written, shaped by the demands of plot and character? I’m thinking specifically of Vergere here.
JL: Vergere was created at the onset to serve as Anakin’s, then Jacen’s, mentor. At a story conference at Skywalker Ranch in March 1999, we saw a way to insert Vergere into Greg Bear’s novel, Rogue Planet, and thus tie the prequel era to the New Jedi Order. Subsequently, Greg’s novel assumed even greater importance to the NJO and became the focus of Sean Williams’s and Shane Dix’s Force Heretic trilogy. Vergere was also designed from the start to be an unorthodox teacher. Our intention was for her to serve as a voice for the Republic-era Jedi and in that capacity answer some of the questions Luke had been pondering for most of his adult life. We also wanted Vergere to demystify the Force, or at least convey a sense that the ability to use the Force was not simply an accident of birth. In Traitor, Matt Stover not only ran with these ideas, but took them beyond our wildest imaginings.
SS: I personally would like to see the Force return to the more mystical life force we saw in the first three movies, but in the end, the plot and the characters are more in charge than I am, and they moved in that direction naturally.
LW: But you know, we didn’t really change anything about the Force. It’s more how the Jedi understand, think about, and use the Force. That definitely evolved as the series was written.
SR: Well, it had to be that way. I mean, all the original Jedi were wiped out by Vader and Palpatine. Luke’s training by Yoda was never completed. So Luke has always had questions about the Force, as have all the Jedi trained by Luke. Vergere was a bridge back to the earlier Jedi. And she’d taken her understanding of the Force in new directions, too, because of her long experience with the Vong.
DR: I’m still not sure I understand how the Vong can be immune to the Force.
SS: Me, neither <g>. They’re not exactly “immune” to the Force, though—they just can’t be “sensed” through the Force.
SR: This is all explained in The Unifying Force, never fear!
JL: Our original idea was to give the Yuuzhan Vong dark side powers and test the Jedi in a way we imagined the Republic-era Jedi had been tested. When that proved unworkable, we began to wrestle with the idea of making the Vong immune to the Force, which of course led to countless discussions about midichlorians and the possibility that the Force was peculiar to the Star Wars galaxy.
All this was admittedly muddled, and almost every writer had a slightly different take on the notion of “immunity.” The basic idea was that the Vong could not be perceived through the Force and therefore were not susceptible to certain actions by the Jedi: very much in the same way that Toydarians, Hutts, and other species are immune to Force suggestion, and Tim Zahn’s ysalamiri are capable of repulsing the Force. At the conclusion of the NJO . . . but perhaps I should leave that discovery to readers!
DR: Who came up with the idea of a biologically based technology and a culture with a fanatical aversion to machine technology and a value system and sadomasochistic theology based on conquest, violence, sacrifice, and pain?
SS: Bob Salvatore invented the biotech concept, which we liked. We built on that to come up with the fanatical aversion to machine technology. We kind of liked the flip-flopping of the way it had been in the original movies: there, the high tech was mostly in the hands of the bad guys, while the good guys wore homespun and seemed much more low tech. So here it’s the reverse: the good guys are high tech, and the bad guys seem more low tech, although they’re really just “different tech.” The sadomasochistic theology was not planned, and while we tried to pull back on it, not stress it so much (we really wanted it only to be the extra-fanatical Domain Shai—of which Shedao Shai was a part), it took on a life of its own.
JL: the time of the first story conference, I had just returned from an extended trip in Mexico and Guatemala, and during the brainstorming sessions, Del Rey editor Steve Saffel wondered aloud if the Aztecs or Maya might serve as models for the Vong. We began to work with this by imagining a kind of organic-tech Aztec society with a pantheon of gods, rituals of automutilation, a rigid caste system, and a hatred of machines.
We weren’t out to reinvent the wheel. We were simply trying to come up with villains who had the potential to become as interesting as Palpatine and Darth Vader. Our original conception of the Yuuzhan Vong expanded in all directions after Bob Salvatore, working from scant notes, gave them an actual look and created examples of their wondrous biotech. Mike Stackpole was largely responsible for the system of ranks, and we borrowed heavily from Central American mythology in creating the pantheon of gods. Kathy Tyers and Greg Keyes contributed immensely to this process, further defining the warrior and shaper castes and in enlarging the Yuuzhan Vong menagerie of creatures. Yuuzhan Vong words and phrases accrued as the series progressed.