You wrote your first official Star Wars book in the mid 90’s; X-Wing: Rogue Squadron. How did you get this dream job?
Bantam Books had great success with the Timothy Zahn novels, and wanted to expand the line, but Lucasfilm didn’t want to extend the original deal because it was early days yet. So Bantam hit on the idea of taking a license out on the X-wing computer game. When Bantam looked through their stable of authors for someone who could write military Science Fiction, who understood computer gaming, who worked fast, who had done tie-in work and who could actually do a good job, I was pretty much the only author that checked all of the boxes. Bantam suggested me to Lucasfilm, Lucasfilm called Kevin J. Anderson to ask him if I could do the job. He said yes, so Bantam got to offer me the series. So, in short, I was VERY lucky.
Your book I, Jedi was written in first person, which no other Star Wars book at the time had done before, so I wonder if that was something you had to push for or was it something Lucasfilm suggested?
I’d had a talk with Tom Dupree, my Star Wars editor about I, Jedi and wanting to tell it in first person. This was just a pipe dream we discussed while walking around in Baltimore at a convention. There was no contract or even the inkling of a contract. Then Bantam talked to Lucasfilm about a new set of a dozen books, and Tom offered I, Jedi as one of them. Lucasfilm liked the idea, and I got a phone call.
I, Jedi is about Corran Horn, who was created by you and became of the most popular Expanded Universe characters. Since he’s one of my favorites as well I’d like to know ‘everything’: how did you create him?
Wow, you want me to reveal all of my secrets for character creation.
Because I was writing about pilots, I did research. The best pilots are shorter than average, with light colored eyes. So Corran is about 5’7” and has green eyes. I knew having him be a Corellian would immediately give him a link to Wedge, so that made sense. But Wedge and Han both had smuggling backgrounds, so I made Corran someone from the Law enforcement side of things, to provide contrast and some tension between him and Wedge. That also let me use Wedge’s smuggling background to bring Booster and Mirax in. As for the name, well, at the time for Corellian last names we had Antilles and Solo, both nouns. So I picked Horn for no particular reason I can remember. Corran came because I wanted that hard K sound, which is good for characters. Makes them seem more heroic.
And, tangentially, I gave Whistler his name because it’s kinda obvious for an R2 unit.
Besides I, Jedi your best known Star Wars book is of course the X-Wing series. What was your inspiration while writing these books, and what directions did you get from Lucasfilm?
From Lucasfilm and Bantam what I got was this for direction: Write military Science Fiction set in the Star Wars universe. You should probably include Wedge. Everything else was me putting things together. Specifically I wanted to set the series during the conquest of Coruscant. In Tim’s books the New Republic already had it, so I asked if I could do the conquest of it. I figured, that way, that even if folks weren’t interested in the new characters, they’d at least want to read about this critical piece of history. A bit later I made references to Black Sun from Shadows of the Empire because tying things together is always fun, and given the timing of the books/events, it was just natural to do so.
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?
I never felt restricted and I even asked for a clarification at the start because I was using a different license than the mainline books. So I asked, “I can’t use any of the major characters without permission, right?” And I was told I was correct. Which was fine with me because I really didn’t want to involve the major characters. These books were about the everyday people who made the Rebellion work. Having Luke, Leia and Han around for cameo appearances was fine, but I didn’t want them to dominate the books.
Which existing Star Wars character and which character created by you did you enjoy the most writing about?
Wedge was a pure joy to flesh out, so I really liked working with him. We all knew who he was, but I had to work out why he was like that, then present it in a fun way. Mara Jade was also a blast to work with. Tim was very generous in reading over the manuscript to make sure I’d gotten her right. Clearly creating and writing Corran was a lot of fun. In the eight books he really grew up a lot. In that aspect, I, Jedi was the most fun to write, but I enjoyed it all. And it was an added treat to be able to bring him into the X-wing comics without spoiling continuity.
Were you a Star Wars fan when the movies came out?
My first encounter would have been 24 December, 1976 when I saw the trailer for Star Wars at a showing of Clint Eastwood’s The Gauntlet. Within two days I bought the novelization of the movie, then was at the first screening in Vermont when it came out. So I’ve been a fan for a LONG time.
In 2014, Disney declared that 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?
No one gets past their outrage to read the second paragraph of the Disney statement. In it they said that the Expanded Universe would continue to be mined as a source for material. And they have been true to their word. Thrawn is back. When ABC needs a good series on Thursdays, or as part of the new Disney streaming service, we could easily have an X-wing series and the whole crew could go back. Nothing in those novels contradicts the things in the new movies—at least not in any way that can’t be easily tweaked.
As for the Legends label, when the largest entertainment conglomerate in the world wants to declare what I’ve done is Legendary, I’m good with that.
What is the greatest Star Wars related anecdote you can share?
There are so many. Aside from making folks happy with the stories, and having kids write me that Rogue Squadron was the first book they ever read through by themselves; or other folks telling me that I, Jedi is a book they return to when they just want to escape for a bit; what I’ve enjoyed the most out of the association with Star Wars is meeting folks from all over the world. Because of Star Wars I’ve gone to Australia twice, Belgium, England, Ireland, Germany and Russia. It’s very cool to see Star Wars and the love of Star Wars uniting people on levels that, if you read the headlines, would seem to be impossible. It has been an honor to be part of that family.
Looking back at all the things you have done for Star Wars: what are you most proud of?
Again, so much. But I guess the best thing I ever did wasn’t in writing. I introduced Aaron Allston to Tom Dupree, and we all know how wonderfully that turned out.