Author: The Illustrated Star Wars Universe, Darksaber, Jedi Academy trilogy, Young Jedi Knights series and Editor of the Anthologies: Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, Tales from Jabba’s Palace, Tales of the Bounty Hunters
Interview: February 2010
Kevin J. Anderson, how did you start your career as a writer? Was writing something you always wanted to do?
I have always wanted to be a writer, particularly in science fiction. I was watching movies and fascinated by the genre since before I could read or write. I started drawing pictures and telling stories aloud when I was just a kid, then I pecked out my first novel on my dad’s typewriter when I was 8, bought my own typewriter when I was 10, started submitting stories to magazines when I was 12.
You did your first official Star Wars work in the mid nineties. How did you get the job to do official Star Wars related books?
I had already established myself as an original novelist with six or so of my own novels published; they were well received and, most important, I worked well with the editors, did what I said I was going to do, and I turned in my books on time, vital characteristics for a Star Wars writer. My editor at Bantam suggested my name to Lucasfilm and sent them some samples of my novels, and next thing I know I got a phone call from out of the blue offering me a project to write three sequels to Star Wars; the Jedi Academy trilogy. At that point, I think Tim Zahn’s first novel had just been released, but there wasn’t an actual Star Wars publishing program yet.
Were you a Star Wars fan when the movies came out?
Oh yes, I was just a freshman in high school at the time and I went to see Star Wars -it wasn’t called A New Hope then- the first week in the theater. I hadn’t heard any hype at all about it yet, nothing but a rather cryptic radio commercial, and I went with some high-school buddies to see it. We were all completely blown away, it’s hard for new fans to imagine now, seeing something as genre-shattering as Star Wars without having any expectations whatsoever. I went to see it several times, but always had to bum a ride, because I didn’t have a driver’s license yet.
As a writer of Star Wars books you have certain restrictions when it comes to the main characters. For instance, you can’t have Han Solo die. How do you deal with this and do you feel restricted a lot because of this?
You have to play within the rules, and you have to deal with the characters the way they’re presented in the films and write a story that feels like Star Wars. But that’s not overly restrictive, Star Wars has a whole universe to play around in! Every writer deals with certain restrictions: a writer telling a story about medieval Japan has all kinds of historical restrictions, a writer writing a story set in London has to deal with the geography of London. You still have a lot of room to move around in.
In Darksaber you have General Crix Madine killed by Durga the Hutt. Was this something you had to have approved by Lucasfilm?
Certainly. At Skywalker Ranch, we brainstormed that idea with the Lucasfilm people. At this point in the publishing program, some of the fans were starting to get jaded, convinced that nothing major would really change in the series. We all decided maybe it was time for one of the characters to go. Actually, I suggested Lando, but they wanted someone a little less prominent. Crix Madine is only in one of the three original films, and for only a couple of seconds. But even so, his loss made a big impact on the fans.
You were the editor of the great Tales of/from series. What did you exactly do as an editor on this anthology?
I pitched the idea to Lucasfilm and Bantam in the first place. They wanted to do anthologies of short stories, but they didn’t want to interfere with the continuities of the main novels. I suggested they could tell all the side stories of the characters in the cantina scene, and they loved the idea. Jabba’s Palace and the Bounty Hunters were obvious follow ups.
As the editor of these anthologies, I was something like a movie director. I contacted all of the established Star Wars writers at the time: Tim Zahn, Dave Wolverton, Tom Veitch, Kathy Tyers as well as other writers who were known for fiction that would be suitable for Star Wars. Alan Dean Foster couldn’t fit it into his schedule. It sure wasn’t hard to find a lot of Star Wars fans among my fellow writers. I had basic background materials from the West End Games guides -excellent source material!-, summaries of the characters, and I let the writers pick which characters/stories they wanted to write. It was something like putting together a seating chart at a wedding.
Rather than just having random stories, though, I developed an overall story arc so that some of the tales tied together into a bigger story — I just wanted to have something more. I got the “interactive” writers to talk to each other so they could make their stories mesh. It was a LOT of behind-the-scenes work, but I am very satisfied with the result.
For this anthology you wrote the background stories for Het Nkik the Jawa, the Rancor keeper and IG-88. Where did you get your inspiration for these great stories?
The inspiration for the Rancor keeper was those couple heart-wrenching seconds in Return of the Jedi when the horrified, devastated rancor keeper staggers forward to the monster Luke has just killed, sobbing. I knew I had to tell that story, and being the editor, I got to pick. The Jawa story was inspired by several of Ralph McQuarrie’s great paintings of the Sandcrawler and Jawa swap meet which is on the cover of the hardcover Illustrated Star Wars Universe. IG-88, in the Bounty Hunters book, I had room for a much longer story so I could tell more of an epic. An assassin droid that can be duplicated…well, just let it run from there.
You wrote the book the Illustrated Star Wars Universe. For this book you created a lot of history for planets like Tatooine, Hoth and Dagobah. How did you approach this task? Did you get ‘directions’ from Lucasfilm from Lucasfilm for instance?
Also, the art was done by the legendary Ralph McQuarrie. How did the two of you collaborate regarding this book? Did he gave you instructions and did you meet a lot?
I met with Ralph McQuarrie every month in his studio, and we would focus on one planet at a time, sharing ideas. Ralph would just sketch crazy ideas as we talked…many of those became full-blown paintings, and ideas for strange critters or landforms. I remember in particular the ice geysers on Hoth, and also the woody spider creatures on Dagobah that planted their legs into the mud to become roots and grow into trees. I also made a monthly trip up to Skywalker Ranch to dig through drawers and drawers of their sketches and art archives, looking for other material to use as illustrations, Ralph couldn’t paint enough new works to fill the whole book. Whenever I found something really imaginative or interesting, I would try to find some fantastic explanation to fit that creature into the book.
We framed the chapters, one planet per chapter, as fake National Geographic articles written about the worlds in the Star Wars universe, it made the text more readable, instead of a “book report.”
Over the years there have been a lot of Star Wars novels. When you were writing yours did you read the books of the other writers to keep up with the continuity? For example, you used Mara Jade (created by Timothy Zahn) in your Jedi Academy books.
I was lucky at the time, since I was one of relatively few writers working in the Star Wars universe. I had read all of Tim’s novels – the third one in manuscript, and Dave Wolverton’s Courtship of Princess Leia in manuscript, and all of Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy’s Dark Empire series. I also read Kathy Tyers’ Truce at Bakura. I talked with all of them on the phone, finding out what their plans were, brainstorming, when possible, we would try to tie details together.
You have written books for another legendary and epic sci-fi saga: Dune. Are there in your opinion similarities between Dune and Star Wars?
George Lucas was a big fan of science fiction; Dune is the best-selling SF novel of all time, so he was certainly familiar with Dune. The Jedi Knights are similar to the Bene Gesserit in Frank Herbert’s books, Luke Skywalker is similar to the Kwisatz Haderach, Tatooine is very much like the planet Dune, the sarlacc is a lot like a sandworm, and let’s not forget the spice mines of Kessel.
But science fiction is a big conversation. Lucas reads things and is influenced to do a great work of his own; I have certainly been heavily influenced by George Lucas’s work, and I hope I’ve used that inspiration to create some decent fiction of my own.
Looking back at all the things you have done for Star Wars: what are you most proud of?
It’s a tough call. We certainly struck a chord with our Young Jedi Knights series and the characters we created, Lightsabers is my favorite. Personally, my favorite works in the Star Wars universe are the Tales of the Jedi comics, Dark Lords of the Sith, the Sith War, and most especially Redemption.
What are your upcoming projects? And is there the possibility of a new Star Wars book?
It would be tough for me to jump back into the continuity right now because I haven’t kept up with all of the extensive New Jedi Order, Legacy of the Force series. I still see some of my friends at Lucasfilm, and I would like to do something else in the Star Wars universe at some point, but it just depends on what project would work best.
For myself, I’ve got quite a full plate with several more Dune books to write with Brian Herbert, as well as our original SF series Hellhole. I just finished a seven-volume SF epic very much like a cross between Star Wars and Dune, The Saga of Seven Suns, and now I’m doing a sailing-ships and sea monsters fantasy trilogy, Terra Incognita. I’ve got details, news, etcetera on my website www.wordfire.com.
Thank you for this great interview!
Thanks for the questions and the interest. I hope you all keep reading.
I will certainly re-read the Tales of/from series again soon!