spoils of (the clone) war
The Force Unleashed is the fourth novel I've written for the Star Wars franchise. Some people wonder why I'd ever do such a thing. Others understand immediately. Either way, this is one of the topics I'm most often asked about: What's it like writing dialogue for Darth Vader and Princess Leia? Did you get to meet George Lucas? How did you get the gig in the first place?
The answers are "cool", "no", and "it's a long story".
The best way to start is with the maths. I was born in 1967, which means the very first Star Wars movie came out just after my tenth birthday. There has probably never been a better present, ever. At its time, few science fiction movies had successfully captured the sense of wonder that is the primary drug of the SF reader. Children and adults around the world were hooked. I was one of them.
Scroll forward another ten years, to a time when I was seriously considering writing my own stories. There was no question that they would attempt to mine the same wonder-full vein that George Lucas had tapped into. Not that I had any real aspirations of writing Star Wars novels at that point. I had my own ideas, my own dreams. They came first.
It was my agent who first suggested the possibility of writing for Star Wars, and it was he who rang me at four in the morning a year later to say that the deal had been inked. At that moment I felt as though I had come full circle--that I was returning to a source that was both symbolic and real, and appropriately mythic. The story of Star Wars fired the imagination of a naïve ten-year old boy, born in Whyalla and raised in Adelaide and Darwin, and as an adult he returned to add his own stories to that galaxy far, far away.
My first three Star Wars novels, the Force Heretic trilogy, were written with Shane Dix--fellow Adelaidean and Star Wars fan--and published in 2003. Together we wrote a further nine original novels, and I've written fifteen on my own. The Force Unleashed came about through a happenstance of timing--the project was available when I was able to make room for it--and also because of the kind of story it is. It's exactly the kind of twisted tale I like to tell.
Alongside The Force Unleashed, September sees the launch of The Dust Devils, about a young boy trying to put his girlfriend's ghost back into her comatose body. Then there's Earth Ascendant, a space opera set over a million years from now about a man (occasionally a woman) whose own self has turned against him. The Force Unleashed fits right into this mix. All these stories are about complicated pasts, slippery relationships with good and evil, and the possibility of redemption, with a little bit of romance on the side.
The Force Unleashed is also based on a LucasArts computer game of the same name--a game that puts the hilt of a lightsaber right into the hands of the player (if they own a Wii) and allows them to take the ride through the story themselves. But it's a game with a story, not just a sabre-fest: Darth Vader has sent his secret apprentice on a mission to wipe out the last of the Jedi, but he inadvertently brings about the birth of the Rebel Alliance. That effectively makes it Episode 3.5, for anyone who's keeping score, and that was just another reason for me to be excited by the chance to work on this project.
With such opportunities come serious responsibilities. In many ways, writing in a franchise is harder than writing original fiction. You have to satisfy your own desires as an artist, since writing a book is tough enough without feeling as though you're just going through the motions. You also have to meet the needs of editors and licensing managers, whose job it is to make sure your creative streak doesn't run counter to anything going on elsewhere in the franchise. And, most importantly, you have to deliver something that the fans will like. You owe it to them to give this thing they love no less than your very best effort.
For all that, there's been a lot of talk recently about the literary value of media tie-ins. To me, it's like a jazz musician playing a standard or an actor attempting to portray someone from real life. It's a different sort of artistry than the normal kind, but there's still plenty of room for art to find itself, for someone willing to go that extra bit further. Many writers try something like this at some stage in their career--be it by writing a narrative non-fiction, or adding their own spin to a familiar tale, or even by taking characters made famous in other novels and taking them in new directions. It's one big sandpit out there, and I'm just lucky enough to be allowed to play with George Lucas's toys.
That there are lots of people interested in those toys has its benefits. Publicity for the game of The Force Unleashed and interest in its storyline propelled the book to debut at #1 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list. I am honoured to be able to play in a world so many people are passionate about, and I'm flattered that they have enjoyed my words. If some of them go on to read my other books, all the better.
When I launched The Force Unleashed in Malibu last month, it was in the company of several long-term readers, three people in costume, and a raft of young kids. It's those young, fresh faces I'll remember as I take the book on tour around Australia this month. The ten-year old in remembers very well what it was like to encounter such wonder for the first time, and he continues to fuel my art, and my dreams. Who knows which child will be inspired in turn by something I've written? At the end of the day, that is the most exciting thought of all.
Alternatively, because a picture is worth a thousand words, I give you this:
I'm a very lucky boy.