L. Neil Smith
Author: Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu / the Flamewind of Oseon / the Starcave of ThonBoka
Interview: January 2020
Nowadays various Star Wars books come out every year. How different this was in the early 1980s when, with the exception of the Marvel comics, there was hardly any Expanded Universe. Fans had to make do with Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye from 1978 and Brian Daley’s Han Solo trilogy (1979-1980). Three books were published in 1983 focusing on Lando Calrissian, written by the now renowned Sci-Fi author L. Neil Smith. In January 2020 he did the following interview for this website.
When and where was your first encounter with Star Wars?
I saw Star Wars the same way that everybody else did, after standing in line for a long time at a local theater that isn’t there anymore. I still think about it every time I pass by the location.
I’m afraid George Lucas had me the very moment I watched that big, endless triangular warship crawling past the screen. Everything else that came afterward was frosting on the cake.
Every Star Wars fan who grew up when the original trilogy was released knows your fantastic Lando Calrissian book trilogy. How did you get the dream job of writing these books?
It’s very kind of you to say that. My publisher at the time asked me to do it because LucasFilm wanted an additional writer to the great Brian Daley, whose premature death I still mourn, who wrote the Han Solo trilogy.
What was your inspiration while writing these books?
I’m not sure I can answer that. We had the very attractive character, Lando as we saw him in the movie. I was given only a request for three books about him. I decided to write about him before the adventure we’d seen onscreen, before he had the Falcon; even before he had a mustache.
It’s possible that James Garner’s wonderful character Bret Maverick was on my mind.
What directions did you get from Lucasfilm regarding which characters you could use?
I was allowed to use no characters or settings from the movie. I insisted on the Falcon or I wouldn’t do the job. I originally planned for my villain Rokur Gepta to be a dark Lord of Sith but that wasn’t allowed. Any animal species I mentioned, like Banthas, were to be
capitalized; any I invented were to be lower case. Very petty, I thought.
You introduced several new characters, like Vuffi Raa. Which character created by you is your favorite?
To ask that question is to answer it. I needed Vuffi Raa as a foil to Lando’s wit, sort of a Watson to his Holmes. I miss him very much, even today, but can’t write about him because he is the intellectual property of LucasFilm. I deeply respect intellectual property rights and have abided by them.
In 2014, Disney declared the Expanded Universe was no longer canon. It became ‘Legends’. What do you think of this, seeing all of your work suddenly become non-canon?
Vuffi and I didn’t know that and we don’t give a rat’s ass. Considerations like that are decided by literary history, not by faceless, unscrupulous, dull-witted corporate managers. I was the world’s greatest fan of Walter Elias Disney himself, growing up and have nothing but uttermost contempt for his profoundly unworthy successors.
What is the greatest Star Wars related anecdote you can share?
I know lots of stories I can’t share. Writing the books itself was an “adventure” in the Tolkeinian sense. After two different sets of editors, one in New York and one in Hollywood, piddled away five of the sixteen precious weeks I was allotted to do the work, messing up my outlines, I had nine weeks left to write three novels. I got up every morning, went straight to the keyboard until my wife came home for lunch. Then back to work until she came home again, we ate, and back to work until midnight or so. No re-writing. Nine weeks of that left me a physical wreck but I got it done and I’m pretty proud of it.
You have written many other books. Which one stands out as your personal favorite?
Thank you for asking that. I’ve written about thirty-five other science fiction novels, two books of collected political essays, and a couple of political thrillers.
In some ways, my pet is still my first book, the one I’m best known for, The Probability Broach, an alternate-worlds murder mystery and now, after 40 years, the signature novel of the libertarian movement.
Of all of my work, perhaps it’s Pallas, the opening volume of the Ngu Family Saga, a huge series mostly about humans homesteading the Solar System. In another sense, it’s Rosalie’s World, my current work-in-progress which carries the Ngu family out to its first extra-solar settlement.
And then there is Forge of the Elders, originally a trilogy, a series in its own right, and its prequel, Blade of p’Na.
See what happens when you ask a guy which of his children is his favorite?
What are you currently doing? Are there besides Rosalie’s World other novels you’re working on?
Always. I mentioned Rosalie’s World. In that series, Ares is already “in the can”, waiting to be edited at Phoenix Pick, my current publisher, as is Only the Young Die Good, my second J. Gifford/Surica Fieraru vampire novel which is more science fiction than horror. I’m also in the middle of a new Win Bear, The Probability Broach, adventure. The Frozen Stars, a science fiction novel about Theodore Roosevelt, and I’m looking forward to writing Beautiful Dreamer, the final installment of the Ngu Family saga. If I have time, I’m 73 years old, I’ll also finish the MacBear-Lysandra Heptalogy.
Final question: How do you look back at your Star Wars work?
That’s very difficult to answer both truthfully and politely. Mixed feelings. I wrote those three little books under terrible conditions, wasn’t paid very well for them, wound up firing an agent over them, and had to threaten to sue before I got paid royalties.
On the other hand, thousands of individuals apparently love those three little books, I hear from them all the time, and I’m more grateful and appreciative about that than I can adequately express.