Lucy Autrey Wilson (Lucasfilm Director of Publishing)
Lucy Autrey Wilson
Lucasfilm Director of Publishing
Interview: November 2022
In 1974 Lucy Autrey Wilson had the honor of becoming the first fulltime employee at Lucasfilm. During the 35 years she worked there she was responsible for various things, from typing the first Star Wars script to (as the Director of Publishing) setting up the successful Expanded Universe after the original trilogy was done.
You have worked for more than 3 decades at Lucasfilm. How did you get started there? And is it correct your first task was to type the Star Wars script?
I went to work at Lucasfilm in September 1974, and by a combination of luck and hard work, I lasted until April 2010 – not quite 3 decades. In 1974 I was working in the Machine Shop at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla doing accounts payable work – having recently returned to the states after a second year living in Madrid, Spain. I realized I was going to have to work for a living and thought I would get more serious about what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in publishing but there wasn’t much of that in Southern California and I did not want to live in New York. One of my sisters was living in San Francisco, and I thought the Bay Area would be a better place to pursue a career than the party path I was on in San Diego County. I called my sister Jean to see if she knew anyone who was looking for a bookkeeper. Turns out her boss, Richard Tong, was the accountant for both George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. George Lucas had just set up a new office at Parkway in Marin County and was looking for a bookkeeper/assistant, Richard Tong recommended me because I was related to my sister, who was good at her job, and I was hired.
My main job, when I started at Lucasfilm, was to set up an accounting system to track office and preproduction expenses. Because I was also a great typist, Bunny Alsup (sister-in-law and assistant to the Producer Gary Kurtz) handed over to me the task of typing the various updated drafts of the Star Wars screenplay. The hardest part was deciphering George’s hard to read handwriting.
You started at Lucasfilm years before their major success Star Wars. Studios weren’t interested in Star Wars and passed on the script. Did you have faith in the film?
I wasn’t much of a movie buff. I grew up in a household with no television and rarely went to the movies. But I had seen American Graffiti and liked it a lot. So, I had faith in George Lucas’s talent. Because we were such a small group when I started, we all got to watch the dailies as the editing on the film progressed. I remember getting goosebumps at one of the screenings, which was a very good sign!
You established the Star Wars publishing program. What did you hope to achieve when you started and did it turn out the way you had hoped?
For the first three films, the Star Wars publishing program consisted primarily of books and comics that tied in directly to the movies, released by only a few publishing partners. I did not work on any of the publications, but I did do some auditing of the publishers, which helped when I had to negotiate agreements with them later. I wanted to create a larger program of original fiction and non-fiction that came as close as possible to literature, and I wanted to work with a lot more publishing partners creating books that benefited from each publisher’s expertise.
The new Star Wars publishing program turned out way more successful than I could ever have dreamed. I knew from the original movies there was a strong fan base. I also knew the demand for more Star Wars stories was pent up because nothing had been released for a few years. I lobbied hard to get the OK to develop new material. Because no one at Lucasfilm thought new books would do much without a new film, I was given the chance. Without having to do tie in material, we had a clean slate to do whatever we wanted, within reason, which gave our authors much more creative freedom. And, because I went with a lot of new publishing partners including Bantam, Dorling Kindersley, Chronicle Books, Dark Horse Comics, and others, who had never been involved with the program before, our new partners put a lot more creative and marketing efforts behind their new titles.
I read that it was you who came up with the idea of a multi-book story arc, an idea that was used for the New Jedi Order series. What attracted you to that idea and did the New Jedi Order series turn out to be the thing you had in mind?
After several years of letting our writers come up with their own stories (subject to editorial and continuity controls), the publishing program needed something new. Prior to licensing the publication rights to the prequel movies, I had dinner with some talented science fiction writers at a convention and put my problem to them – i.e. how to juice up our program. They told me about a non-licensed science fiction series that was successfully launched with a multi-book story arc. I was already aware that this was done in the comic world at Marvel and DC Comics. The difference was those comic publications did not adhere to one consistent continuity. I thought we could do something similar, only tie it in with what we had already been publishing and pre plan it together with multiple publishing partners. I then waited to negotiate the rights to this new concept by combining it with the agreements for the tie-in publishing rights to the Prequel movies. That would ensure the new original titles would have the best chance of success. Because our pre planning group included great editors and writers, and the authors who came on board for each book were also top notch, and the books were coordinated to not cannibalize the movie tie-in titles or each other, the whole series was a big success.
There’s a lot of debate about the fact whether the Expanded Universe was canon or not. Since you were the Director of Publishing I hope you can give the final answer to that question?
Our expanded universe books and comics were never intended to be canon. Only what George wrote was canon. We tried to keep an internal consistency so our writers did not contradict anything George had created or anything any of our others writers had added.
How much was George Lucas involved with all the books and comics? Did he know (almost) everything that was going on in the books?
In the beginning, George was not very involved. He had given me and my group the freedom to develop stories in the future so as not to compete with what he planned to do in the past. He was getting copies of all the comics and books only after they were published. After he read the Dark Horse trilogy Dark Empire, he mentioned to me that the Emperor would never have been cloned. I realized then I needed to pre clear major plot points with him. So, for each new storyline, I sent him memos with Yes/No questions to get his input before we went too far astray.
Speaking of Mr. Lucas: how was he to work with?
He is a genius which can be a bit intimidating. Generally I would only hear from him if I did something he didn’t like. He expects perfection, which made me strive to deliver. When he does say something complimentary, it is a wonderful thing.
In 2014 Disney declared the Expanded Universe was no longer canon. It became ‘Legends’. What do you think of this, seeing almost all of your Star Wars work suddenly become non-canon?
I knew they would do that way before they did it. It’s not that it was no longer canon, it was that they were no longer going to try to coordinate new storylines to be consistent with what we had published. The continuity we had worked so hard on was being put aside. They didn’t have much choice. We had developed so much of the universe, it would have been very difficult to hire new talent and tell them their hands were tied as to what they could do. There were lots more people getting into the action besides the novel and comic writers including multiple film directors, TV developers, computer gamers, etc., which made things much more complicated. I think we were the luckiest, being first, because we were developing stories with little competition from others internally at Lucasfilm when there were very few limits on what could be done.
What do you regard as the best decision you have made as Lucasfilm’s Director of Publishing?
Hiring good talent, making deals with good talent, and keeping the talent engaged with new challenges to keep things fresh and new were my best decisions. Towards the end of my reign as Director of Publishing at Lucasfilm, I got a new boss. I was now told to direct my energies into sales and marketing and to be less involved in the creative. Flying to Arkansas to make sales pitches to Walmart was to be a new priority. Adapting our games division storylines into novels was another. I did not want to do either of those things. I was happy to have a chance to leave Lucasfilm Licensing and go develop a few books of interest to George Lucas at JAK Films before my long and adventurous career ended.
How do you look back at your time at Lucasfilm and all the great things you have done for Star Wars?
I was lucky to go to work for George Lucas in the beginning, before all the money and new executives poured into the company. Otherwise, I would probably never have been hired. And I was lucky to be able to transition from finance to publishing, which is what I always wanted to do since getting my BA in English Literature at UCSD. Because no one thought Star Wars publishing had any potential, I was given a chance I otherwise would not have been considered for. Through hard work and luck, I managed to outlast various purges and upheavals in the company. So, I’m grateful it all worked out and amazed and proud to have created something that is still going strong.
After you retired you pursued a career in art, something you always loved if I’m correct. Have you ever made a Star Wars themed painting?
After working for so many years in George Lucas’s creative universe, I’m happiest now trying to develop my own. Just as I was once eager to learn from and work with a variety of different book publishers and authors, my art interests now lead me down multiple paths of interest and exploration in different mediums (paint, photography, fabric, animation, and music). I’ve always been interested in art but never really had the time to pursue it fully until I retired. I wouldn’t call my various creative outlets a new career. It’s more of a passion to continue learning new things, within what I consider to be the world of entertainment. You can see some of my efforts on my website and on my blog. Although once in a while a Star Wars character might pop up in something I’ve created, I have never made a Star Wars themed painting.