In 1995, 18 years after the first Star Wars film, we would finally found out how the Death Star plans came into the hands of the Rebels. It was the videogame Dark Forces were players could control Kyle Katarn, infiltrating an Imperial facility to steal the plans. Two years later the first of three Dark Forces novellas were published. This time, fans could read about Katarn’s story and him becoming a Jedi Knight. Author of these books is American writer William C. Dietz, who was kind to answer several questions for this website!
Let’s start at the very beginning: what got you into writing and how did your career take off?
My mother loved to read, and took me to the library once a week, where I was allowed to check out any book I chose. It wasn’t long before I discovered authors like Heinlein, Asimov, and Norton. And, because we didn’t have any TV reception (cable was in its infancy, and video games didn’t exist yet), I had lots of time to read–typically a book a week. Often at the expense of my schoolwork.
When and where was your first encounter with Star Wars? And what did you think of it?
Based on press reports, I knew that a director named George Lucas was filming a science fiction movie unlike any produced before, and I couldn’t wait to see it. So, when Star Wars opened in my local theatre on May 25, 1977, I was there. The place was packed. The plot, the effects, and the “worn universe” blew me away.
How did you get the job to write a book trilogy about Kyle Katarn?
The offer to write the Dark Forces trilogy came along in September of 1995. Penguin/Berkley had published my first novel in 1985, and I had written books for them since, all of which were action-adventure science fiction novels. So, when Berkley entered into a partnership with Lucasfilm and Dark Horse comics to create the trilogy, they put my name forward as a possible author. And I was approved. I could hardly believe it! I was going to write books in the Star Wars universe! A huge thrill indeed.
The books were based on the two videogames. Did you play them to create your story? Also, how did you experience the fact that because of the games you had less freedom?
I owned a computer, but had never played a video game before. So, I had to learn a new skill, while taking notes and studying the backup materials that Lucasfilm sent me–including drawings, tie-novels, and lots of the Star Wars picture books. All while working full time as a corporate manager and team leader. I was overwhelmed, but thrilled, and eager to begin. Fortunately, I had help and direction from Lucasfilm’s Director of Publishing Lucy Autrey Wilson, without whom the project would have been impossible. Playing the games was a help rather than a hindrance in that they gave me a feel for the property, and a good introduction to what I would be writing about.
In 2014 ago 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’m opposed to what Disney did. I’m biased of course, since my stories were “decanonized.” If that’s a word. I believe the continuity issues could have been dealt with in other ways.
Your main character was Kyle Katarn, who stole the Death Star plans and his partner was Jan Ors. In 2016 Disney released Rogue One, where the Death Star plans are stolen by Jyn Erso (a name that sounds a lot like Jan Ors) and Cassian Andor (like Kyle, a bearded hero). What are your thoughts on this?
What an amazing coincidence!
But all joking aside, it’s important to remember that I was working for Lucasfilm, and they owned whatever I produced. And that applies to Disney, since they bought Lucasfilm. So, if they “borrowed” material from the Dark Forces books, that’s legit.
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.
One of the attributes of a classic is the test of time. And it’s wonderful to know that now, after all these years, people still enjoy the Dark Forces stories.
You wrote a fourth book: Escape from Dagu, which was sadly scrapped. Why was it never published and how do you feel about this?
I don’t know why the book was canceled. No explanation was given. Perhaps my editor, or someone at Lucas, thought the book was poorly written. Although one theory holds that my publisher dropped Escape to open a slot for what they thought was a more important Star Wars novel.
As for how I felt, I was disappointed. I still have a copy of the manuscript, and fans would like me to release it, but that’s impossible. Escape was written as Work for Hire (a legal term), which means that I was a hired hand, and Disney owns the copyright.
How do you look back at your Star Wars contribution?
I was fantastically lucky to get the chance to write the trilogy, and very pleased about the way the books were received.
What is the greatest Star Wars related anecdote you can share?
In the leadup to writing the trilogy Ginjer Buchanan, my editor at ACE books and I were invited to visit Skywalker Ranch to meet with Lucy Autrey Wilson, and a rep from Dark Horse Comics—plus the artists hired to create the beautiful art found in each volume. What ensued was a fantastic brainstorming session in which I pitched some ideas, the artists jumped in, and things began to jell.
You have written many other books. Which one stands out as your personal favorite, and why?
I would have to say my personal favorite is Legion of the Damned, which led to a series of books, plus short stories and a mobile video game.