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Star Wars Veracruz (SWV): When did you become a Star Wars fan and how did you receive the opportunity to write in an official manner?
Jason Fry: I saw A New Hope when I was eight years old in Lake Grove, N.Y., and by the time I glimpsed the engines of Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer I knew my life had changed. I was a big fan throughout my childhood and kept up with the books, comics, etc. as a teenager and into my twenties.
In the mid-1990s I met Dan Wallace on an America Online discussion board dedicated to Star Wars. We both loved Star Wars geography, and Dan had landed a gig writing The Essential Guide to Planets and Moons for Del Rey. I had a database of Star Wars planets that I’d created, and wanted to send it to him but hesitated because I was worried he’d think I was trying to step on his turf. When I finally did send it Dan was basically done with the book, and he was like, “Man, this would have been really helpful – why didn’t you send it before?” Whoops.
Dan suggested that we team up to work on some articles for the old Star Wars Adventure Journal from West End Games, and Lucasfilm vetted me as part of that. I was so excited – but then the Adventure Journal folded. Happily, I got another shot – the Star Wars Insider was looking for a books columnist, and took a chance on me. I believe my first column was about Vector Prime, which I read under a vow of silence before interviewing Bob Salvatore. That was my first Star Wars publishing credit, back in 1999.
After that I put my hand up for any Star Wars job I could get. I wrote RPG material for Wizards of the Coast, relying on what I could remember of first-edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and spent years as the Insider’s book columnist. All of that was fun, but I got my big break when DK hired me to write the Clone Wars Visual Guide (which came out in 2008) and Del Rey let me and Dan try to turn a crazy idea about mapping the entire Star Wars galaxy into The Essential Atlas.
SWV: Regarding your latest novel which will soon arrive to Mexico, "The Weapon of a Jedi", tell us how did you create a story that as C-3PO says, hasn't been told a million times?
Jason: Lucasfilm gave me the basic plot of The Weapon of a Jedi—Luke explores mysterious ruins on a jungle world in search of Jedi lore and winds up dueling a determined enemy—and I immediately smiled, because I’d had my yellow-haired Kenner Luke with the lightsaber sticking out of his arm go on similar quests, except back then the ruins were made of LEGOs and couch cushions.
After that, though, I definitely felt some pressure. Luke is such a beloved character—there are many Star Wars fans who have spent their whole lives watching and reading his adventures, and they have superb radar for how Luke thinks, speaks, and acts. If you get that wrong, they’re thrown out of the story.
I should know, because I’m one of those fans, and Luke is a tricky character to get right. He’s not at all your typical action hero, in part because he possesses a gentle quality that a lot of them lack. Recall that in A New Hope Luke wins by “letting go” and allowing the Force to guide his proton torpedo, and in Return of the Jedi he wins by throwing his saber away and awakening his father’s love for him. The Empire Strikes Back is where he acts most like your typical action-movie protagonist, ignoring his teachers’ counsel and racing off to save his friends. And how does that turn out? It’s a disaster – he gets his hand cut off, is saddled with this awful secret he’s not ready for, and the friends he went to rescue wind up having to rescue him.
I also have to admit that by temperament, I’m more of a Han guy. Even as a kid, I thought zooming off in the Millennium Falcon sounded cooler than being a rebel soldier or figuring out the Force. So I not only felt pressure to get Luke “right,” but I was a bit uncertain at the beginning about being a Han guy writing Luke.
The good thing was that sent me off on an exploration of the character, starting with Mark Hamill’s performance and how that shaped the character George Lucas had created. Watching Hamill again was the starting point for figuring Luke out, and that turned out to be really rewarding. It unlocked Luke for me in a way that hadn’t happened before, and that was simultaneously helpful as a writer and a lot of fun as a fan. So now I like to say that I’m still a Han guy, but I’m also a proud member of Team Luke.
One thing about the book is I kept in mind that the Luke of Weapon of a Jedi isn’t the Luke you meet in Return of the Jedi. This Luke is trying to choose between two paths – being a rebel hero and an ace starpilot, which is what he dreamt of doing all those years on Tatooine, and living up to the legacy of Ben Kenobi and his father by following the Jedi path, which is something that came out of nowhere. It’s a wrenching choice, and he has no one to help him make it. We had to see both those Lukes, and feel those choices tugging at him from either side.
And then I tried to give the book a certain fairy-tale quality. Luke goes off into the woods with a strange guide, and he learns lessons from and is rescued by the animals of the forest. That story’s thousands of years old – but if we’ve heard it a million times, it’s because it’s one that still speaks to us.
SWV: Imperials always spell trouble no matter the character, but, what is your opinion on old stories where Luke was always crashing his ship? How can this pattern be avoided in the new canon?
Jason: I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Star Wars has a lot of Flash Gordon in it, after all, and Flash couldn’t keep a ship flying to save his life. Lots of great stories begin “stranded on a deserted island…” and so forth.
SWV: I've noticed a smoother and slower path for Luke to achieve mastery of the Force in the new books, how does this concept affect writing Luke?
Jason: I’ve been able to leave the overall path to Lucasfilm and concentrate on individual stories. For Weapon of a Jedi, we knew we wanted to see a bit of Luke’s training. In Empire he can levitate objects and fight a little bit, which is more than he could do in A New Hope but nowhere near the powers he’ll display in Return of the Jedi.
In terms of how Luke learned, we were very conscious of the fact that Luke would get a little guidance from Obi-Wan’s spirit, but mostly have to recall the couple of days’ worth of lessons he’d had before Ben was struck down by Darth Vader. We didn’t want Luke to learn from some other teacher who’d conveniently die so he needed to find Yoda – that would have been a poor story because the reader would immediately know the fate of this mysterious teacher they’d never heard of until then. I also didn’t want Luke learning from a book or a recording or something he found – I think that’s a pretty clichéd tale that doesn’t give you much in terms of characters. I wanted Luke to have to find lessons within himself.
Those limitations helped me figure out that Luke would have to gain insights into the Force and how it’s bound up with life – what he learns anticipates the things Yoda tells him on Dagobah. What happens on Devaron is a breakthrough for Luke, and an important one – it needed to be for the story to have some weight. But it’s only a step – to truly become a Jedi, he needs an extended period learning from a teacher such as Yoda.
We also had a couple of older sources we wanted to draw on. One was the Star Wars radio drama by Brian Daley that was broadcast years ago on NPR – the lightsaber forms Luke remembers Obi-Wan teaching him were described by Daley way back in 1980. We also wanted to use concepts envisioned but not shown for Empire – for example, in the Empire novelization there’s a scene of multiple remotes challenging Luke, so we ran with that. Those things were fun to incorporate.
SWV: Speaking of which, was it a challenge for you to continue writing Luke after Kevin Hearne's "Heir to the Jedi"?
Jason: I didn’t read Kevin’s book until Weapon of a Jedi was finished. I let Lucasfilm guide me in terms of coordination between the two.
SWV: To write your books, “Weapon of a Jedi” and the “Incredible Cross-Sections”, what were you told of “The Force Awakens” and when did you have enough information to create the technical book?
Jason: I was told what I needed to know. For Weapon that was a little, for Cross-Sections it was a faint amount … though not everything. Cross-Sections was very much a team effort – I got a lot of help from my DK editors and from Lucasfilm and Disney’s writers, editors, art folks and special-effects wizards to make sure we had everything right. Though the most important partner for Cross-Sections was, of course, Kemp Remillard. He’s a great artist and was a joy to work with.
By the way, nobody believes me but it’s true: it’s not really that fun being in the know about upcoming projects like this. I mean, it’s fun discovering secret stuff, definitely, but not so much after that. You’re scared you’ll forget what’s secret and what isn’t and make a mistake, and even if you don’t mess up, you don’t have anyone to talk about the new movie or book or whatever with. That’s the fun of stories – talking about them with other people. It’s kind of lonely spending months not being able to do that.
SWV: After incredible feats of flying during the Clone Wars, what is the status of starfighter maneuver knowledge during the Empire era?
Jason: That’s an interesting question! A lot of the incredible flying you see during the Clone Wars is done by Jedi, who can see things before they happen and so can maneuver and dogfight at superhuman speed by letting the Force guide them. Fun to watch, but hardly a fair comparison to Imperial and rebel aces of a later period. I imagine the galaxy’s best pilots are pretty amazing in any era.
SWV: Speaking of which, did you ever play the starfighter simulators (X-Wing, TIE Fighter)?
Jason: A little. I was terrible at them and quit after getting destroyed about 60 times in 60 minutes. Seriously, I was bad. For TIE Fighter I once found the control that let you film your game from behind. I played it back and it was like two minutes of me moving uncertainly side to side and then flying straight into an asteroid. I was really depressed.
SWV: You are also the writer of an entertaining series of novels based on Zare Leonis, the Imperial Cadet shown in Star Wars: Rebels, whose story now we know had some impact on the Force Awakens. What was the difference between writing those books and "Weapon of the Jedi"?
Jason: Zare was created by the Rebels creative team, but he’s a relatively minor character on the show, so I had a fair amount of freedom in writing him—and other characters such as Merei Spanjaf and Yahenna Laxo and Lieutenant Chiron are my own creations. With Luke or C-3PO or R2-D2, the audience has definite ideas about how those characters sound and act. That doesn’t mean you can’t push the characters or take them to unexpected places, but you have to honor that bond the audience already has with them.
Beyond that, I had a lot of freedom with the Servants of the Empire books, which was great. I knew the series would overlap with the episode “Breaking Ranks,” which is when we first meet Zare, and with his cameo in a later episode. And I’d also have to keep track of wider developments on Lothal, of course.
But beyond that I was pretty free to chart my own course for Zare and Merei. It was my decision to start the series a year before “Breaking Ranks” and my call to tell a Star Wars sports story, which came about because I was intrigued by the frontier/farm setting and thought it would be fun to do “Friday Night Lights” in space. Arkanis was a setting I detailed – it had been mentioned but never seen in Legends – and I got to determine how Zare’s quest to find his sister ended. So all that was enormous fun.
SWV: The callback to Episode II when R2 suggest 3PO to switch heads with a droid was funny, but how about Luke's phrase "but that's not how it works", was that a reference to "The Force Awakens"?
Jason: Nope, coincidence. For Weapon of a Jedi I was only told a little bit about the Resistance and its pilots so I could write the frame story set in that time period, and I got a description of Sarco Plank and the happabore. At the time I was pretty confused. I was like, “What do you mean no one knows where Luke is? And why can’t I use R2-D2? What’s going on here?”
SWV: Did you have any input about Phil Noto's work illustrating "Weapon of a Jedi"? His work inspired the animated Nestlé videos, what were your thoughts upon seeing these recreations of your novel?
Jason: If I remember correctly I had some art suggestions and sent Phil descriptions of the relevant scenes, but that was it. I loved seeing what he came up with. The Nestle video was awesome – I actually did the script for that, which counts as my first comics credit. I particularly loved Farnay’s voice and how she was portrayed. Farnay was entirely my invention, so that was a treat seeing her brought to life.
SWV: The realization that Luke can’t swim seems logic, but was he able to learn before being exiled in Ahch-To, the planet seen at the end of “The Force Awakens”?
Jason: I don’t know! That was actually a bit of a joking reference to Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. One of the earliest Star Wars controversies came about way back in 1978: in Splinter Luke could swim but Leia couldn’t, while in one of the early Marvels it was the other way around. Fans lost their minds fighting about it, of course. Thank goodness we didn’t have the Internet.
The end of Weapon of a Jedi was a more deliberate homage to Splinter – as well as to Marvel #33. Luke fighting blind and his taking out Sarco is very similar to the climax of a story where he fought Baron Tagge, and Sarco staggers and falls in a pit the same way Vader did in Splinter – even down to how Luke describes sensing that Sarco’s still alive. All of that was on purpose – those were the first lightsaber duels involving Luke when I was a kid, and so I wanted to honor them in telling a new story of his first duel.
SWV: Scavengers can be very different, as Sarco and Rey clearly show, what's the difference between the characters in respect to how they treat their profession?
Jason: I think the only thing connecting them is the term. Rey’s trying to survive in a situation she was forced into, while Sarco is an amoral killer with no regard for anyone except himself.
SWV: In my head I heard the Wilhelm cry during the encounter with the Imperials, was this intentional or just a product of my imagination?
Jason: Makes sense to me!
SWV: Have you written an Easter egg, either visual or auditive, that was ultimately not described or cut from the novels?
Jason: Hmm. I don’t really recall ones that were cut. I do remember when I was co-writing a Transformers series with my pal Ryder Windham that Ryder changed a couple of characters’ names, and I had to confess they were part of an Easter egg and wouldn’t make sense if changed. He agreed to change them back. That was funny.
There are a lot of Easter eggs in my books, including ones that folks haven’t found. Which is fun – I’m content to wait for readers to figure them out, even if it takes years. I think Easter eggs are great as long as they aren’t obvious – I generally avoid Tuckerisms, for instance, because it’s hard to rearrange someone’s name and have it still sound convincing. Plus I hate what I call “space apostrophes,” where you have no idea how to say a name because it’s full of random punctuation. More generally speaking, if an Easter egg yanks a reader out of the story, that isn’t good. Ideally they’re little treats that people figure out later.
SWV: How did Sarco Plank survive and end up in Jakku? Also, were you upset about his appearance being cut to mere seconds in the movie?
Jason: I don’t know how he survived, other than by being tough and mean. I wasn’t upset that we barely saw him in Episode VII. I knew his part in The Force Awakens would be pretty small and didn’t worry about it – my job was to make him a compelling character in The Weapon of a Jedi.
SWV: You started as a reference book author and are now an accomplished novel writer, which activity do you like the most?
Jason: Fiction. I’ve always been in love with storytelling above all else. Plus I’ve come to believe that world-building should never crowd out storytelling – it’s there to support a tale that’s being told, not the other way around. Sometimes as a reference writer I forgot that, and it took a while to learn the lesson.
SWV: Adding double page images from "The Force Awakens" to the "Incredible Cross-Sections" book was a great idea, how does this work as providing context for the readers?
Jason: We were aware that there simply weren’t that many vehicle designs available from the film, and so wanted to supply some cool art that linked up with the cross-sections. Plus since the book came out on the same day as the movie, we knew people would just like having big beautiful stills from it.
Some folks have complained those pages are filler, but it’s not like they replaced cross-sections we would have done otherwise. The alternatives were a shorter book or no book.
SWV: The fact that Rey’s speeder is also an airspeeder easily debunks the misconception of her being unable to fly the Falcon, why was this not shown elsewhere or referenced?
Jason: I’m not sure that debunks it, actually – airspeeders and the Falcon are pretty different. Rey can fly the Falcon because she’s flown simulations of any number of different craft. I was glad that Greg Rucka covered that in Before the Awakening, because I was wondering myself.
SWV: Regarding "Moving Target" which you co-author along Cecil Castellucci, what was your level of involvement on the novel? How is it different to write with another person?
Jason: Collaborations are pretty personal for writers, so I’d rather keep that one between me and Cecil. We used the Force, let’s leave it at that! (Well, OK, the Force and the storytelling powers of Lucasfilm and Disney.)
SWV: Can you also tell us about your non-Star Wars projects? What should interested readers acquire?
Jason: Check out my young-adult space-fantasy series, The Jupiter Pirates!
Jupiter Pirates is set in the 29th century, when Earth’s colonies in the outer solar system have broken away and are in a state of cold war with the mother planet. The series follows the adventures of the Hashoones, a family of pirates turned privateers who are based on Jupiter’s moon Callisto.
The Hashoones operate their pirate ship as a family – the mother is the captain, the father is the first mate, and the three children are midshipmen. They have to cooperate, working together as a crew under dangerous conditions, but they’re also competitors—the captaincy of the family ship is passed down from one generation to the next, but only one sibling can be captain.
The first book in the Jupiter Pirates series, Hunt for the Hydra, came out in December 2013. The second one, Curse of the Iris, is out in hardcover and comes out in paperback in May. The third book, The Rise of Earth, will be out in June. And there will be two more to come!
Jupiter Pirates isn’t Star Wars – it has no aliens or droids, and the action’s limited to our solar system – but it’s got a lot of Star Wars DNA, as you’d expect from someone who fell in love with A New Hope as an eight-year-old kid. There are space battles and family secrets and all sorts of intrigue. Folks who are interested can learn more at jupiterpirates.com.
SWV: Finally, have you ever been to Mexico or another Latin-american country? Do you speak any Spanish?
Jason: I don’t speak Spanish but yes, I have been to Mexico. Years ago I prowled around Puerto Penasco to research a novel – this was when it was still primarily a fishing town, without many of the tourists who discovered it later. And last year I got to go to San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato, both of which are just amazingly beautiful. The tunnels and mines of Guanajuato could inspire any storyteller.
SWV: And now, some questions from our fans:
José Piña from Veracruz, Mexico asks. as a writer, what influences (not only Star Wars) have you had over your career as a writer? Also, has the conversion of the old Expanded Universe to Legends benefited or hindered you as a writer? And from all Star Wars stories ever written, which one is your favorite and why?
Jason: I can’t really say who my influences are – I mostly read fantasy and science fiction as a kid, and wrote stories in the style of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber and writers like that, but their voices never felt quite right to me and I dropped those styles pretty quickly. Ursula K. LeGuin probably influenced my style somewhat – I was dazzled by the Earthsea books and remember being struck by how they were quiet yet had a lot more meaning. Very different than, say, Conan!
As an adult my favorite writers have included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Larry McMurtry, Flannery O’Connor, Roger Angell, Michael Chabon and Jack Vance. But I feel like my style was fairly set before I encountered those writers, so they’re more favorites than influences.
I don’t know. Influences are hard to figure out because when they’re at work on you you aren’t aware that’s happening and later you can’t reconstruct how you got to where you are.
I don’t think the Legends switchover’s really had much of an effect on me one way or the other. I love producing Star Wars stories as a writer and consuming them as a reader/viewer. That was true during the Legends era and it’s true now. As for my favorite Star Wars story, it’s Brian Daley’s Han Solo at Stars’ End. It’s the best depiction of Han Solo outside the movies, no question.
SWV: Andrés Lescano from Rosario, Argentina asks, after the acquisition, how is the relationship between Disney, publishers and authors? There is also a nagging feeling that the new writers cannot describe important events for the galaxy or the characters, which are now reserved for other media like movies or TV series, would this be true?
Jason: The relationship is great from my point of view. Everyone I’ve dealt with at Disney values storytelling above all else, and that’s what conversations among authors and editors and story folks revolve around: how to tell the most satisfying stories possible. Yes, this is a business, but the feeling is if the storytelling is good, the business side will take care of itself. I think that approach is really heartening as both a writer and a reader.
I’ve never been told that important events are off-limits to book writers or reserved for other media. If people feel the way you describe, I think that’s a misinterpretation of what’s going on right now.
I’ll try to explain what I mean. We’re now getting a Star Wars movie every year and a new Rebels episode every week. That’s very different than getting a movie every three years, and it can’t work the same way. What’s happening now is a massive undertaking for Lucasfilm and Disney, and those screen stories eat up a lot of time and attention. I think the folks involved would freely admit that they’re still figuring out how to handle it all.
But they will. And to my mind, they’re off to a great start. The novels and comics in the new canon have been really good. Look at Lost Stars, or Twilight Company, or the tales Marvel’s been telling.
And my goodness, we get a new Star Wars movie every year! I never dared to imagine there’d be even one more. How great is that?
SWV: Okir Mundo from Cuernavaca, Mexico asks, do you think the new canon can surpass the old Extended Universe in size and originality, and if so, how?
Jason: I don’t really think or worry about that. To me they’re all Star Wars stories, and Star Wars stories make me happy whether the cover says Legends or not. It doesn’t matter to me if they were written in 1976 or 1996 or 2016. As long as I can hear the John Williams music in my head, I’m good.