Author of The Galaxy of Fear series and several other Star Wars books
Interview: November 2022
There’s a good chance John Whitman is the only person in the world who has written over 20 Star Wars books AND has a 6th degree black belt in Krav Maga! His best known contribution to the Star Wars saga are the 12 books he wrote in his Galaxy of Fear series. Besides this he was also responsible for several other books and no less than 10 Star Wars audio dramas.
When and where was your first encounter with Star Wars?
I saw Star Wars: A New Hope, although it was just Star Wars back then, in the theater in 1977, when I was ten years old. I thought it was amazing!
How did you get the job to write a Galaxy of Fear book series?
I had been the Executive Editor for Time Warner Audiobooks. We were searching for ways to expand the audiobook market and we approached LucasFilm with the idea of turning the Dark Horse Comics series Dark Empire into a multi-cast audio (essentially a radio play but for release on CD).I wrote the adaptation. LucasFilm liked my work and asked me if I was interested in writing some original material based in the Star Wars universe. Naturally, I said yes!
How did you create the characters Zak and Tash, the main characters of the series?
Having a brother and sister was always part of the original idea.My main goal was to make them equals. I didn’t want the stereotypes of a cautious girl and adventurous boy.I wanted them both to have a mixture of qualities. It helped that I have two children, a boy and a girl.
Mammon Hoole was first mentioned by Kevin J.Anderson in a 1995 book. What was the reason he appeared (as the uncle of Zak and Tash) in the Galaxy of Fear series? Was this something Lucasfilm asked you to do?
Yes. The idea was pretty basic and I did a lot to flesh it out, but Lucasfilm suggests that we use Mammon Hoole as a lead character.
Several characters from the films appear in your books: Han Solo, Boba Fett and even Dr.Evazan. Did you have to ask permission to use them and which rules or guidelines did you get from Lucasfilm?
I definitely had to ask. Lucasfilm has always been pretty careful about the use of their characters. The main conditions was that I couldn’t break continuity, nor could I commit the characters to anything that might interfere with their future storylines, which is why they have cameos rather than much bigger roles. I did (possibly) kill of Dr. Evazan, and I had to get permission for that.
In 2014 Disney declared the Expanded Universe was no longer canon and discontinued it. It became ‘Legends’. What do you think of this, seeing almost all of your Star Wars work suddenly become non-canon?
To be honest, I’m OK with it. Every contributing writer in the Star Wars universe back then, including writers creating much bigger stories than mine, understood that Lucasfilm was going to tell its own story without feeling bound by anything written by contributors. The books exist and entertained some people. That’s enough for me.
Even though Disney declared everything non-canon, there’s still a fanatic hardcore group of fans (and I count myself as one of them) who feel that those stories are the best and hold them in high regard. Are you aware of this and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
I agree that there’s some really good work that was put under the Legends category.The Timothy Zahn novels (along with a lot of other novels) were amazing and, in a different category, the whole roleplaying game from West End Games was incredibly elaborate. I look at it the way I’d look at Arthurian legends.There are many, many retellings of King Arthur, and many of them are enjoyable, even if some of them conflict.
You wrote two more books: Jaina and the Hanadak and The Twins and the Taloden. Why were they cancelled and what happened to the scripts?
There was an idea to write picture books for very young children in the Star Wars universe. I was always sorry those never were one, simply because the artwork that we were considering was fantastic!Frankly, I think my writing in that age group was so-so, but the artists were amazing.
Why did you stop writing Star Wars books?
Partly, I think Lucasfilm was just trying to bring in a number of writers on different projects. Also (and don’t hate me for this), I had some Star Wars fatigue. I’d written the Galaxy of Fear books, and a few other adaptations, and I had been asked by Lucasfilm to help edit and monitor a lot of the West End Games game books that were being produced. I loved it, but one can have too much of a good thing.
What is the greatest Star Wars related anecdote you can share?
I wrote the first Galaxy of Fear book, which Lucasfilm really liked. I wrote the second one when I was also busy with some other projects. I thought it was good, but it came back with a giant “NO” written in read letters on it! I had to really buckle down and do a serious rewrite.
Also: when the books came out, I did quite a few author appearances and elementary schools, etc. Many of the kids had read the books, but some were too young to really understand that I was a Star Wars author, but not THE creator of Star Wars. More than one kid told me “you look a lot older on TV” because they thought I was George Lucas.
You have a 6th degree black belt in Krav Maga, founded the Krav Maga alliance and were president of Krav Maga Worldwide. Are there any similarities between Krav Maga and the world of Star Wars?
No one’s ever asked the questions before. Interesting! To be honest, yes, although it’s a very politically dangerous topic to describe the origin of Krav Maga in Israel, where a small group is trying to survive against a much bigger, more powerful “Empire.”