Face To Face With The Masters
Any citizen of the galaxy may be summoned to answer to the Jedi Council. Here you may read the transcripts of such sessions. Cellblock 1138 - 1997-1999 - 2000 - 2002 - 2003+
Continuing from Part 1....
You've already covered a lot of the ground I was thinking of when I mentioned "contrasted states of being" – though I was also thinking of the "clash of phenomena" between the Force and technology, and perhaps even the duality between life and death – or is that "known" and "unknown" states of being? We see introduced right at the start, with that vignette squaring off Mara Jade with the reanimated cyborg Lumiya in "The Emperor's Pawns", don't we?
(... and how much does this always come back to Vader?)
Oh yeah, I’d completely forgotten about those. “Droids, Technology, and the Force: A Clash of Phenomena” is one of my personal favorites. I actually wrote that one without having any go-ahead from a Lucasfilm licensee, and figured I’d worry about selling it later—one of the few times I’ve been so bold. But the philosophical question of “What is life?” speaks to me very strongly, and the project developed very organically to take the question head on. I’m still somewhat shocked that heady piece ever saw the light of day and quite proud of it. Maybe it was the droids with lightsabers that sold Lucasfilm on the idea. That was another guilty pleasure.
There’s a line about a silicon-based sentient species called the Shard in that piece that I think captures the essence of what we’ve been talking about: “There were some Shard, however, that were still more persecuted than the rest.... For not only were they aliens, and not only were they droids, they were Jedi.” That one goes beyond duality, I think. I often have a favorite line in each of my projects, and that’s the one for “Droids and the Force.”
As for Lumiya and Mara, they’re really two sides of the same coin, and I tried playing that to the hilt in the introductory vignette to “The Emperor’s Pawns.” At one point I write, “Mara caught her own distorted reflection in the cyborg’s metal crown.” Definitely not my most subtle or best line from that piece, but I really wanted to get the point across that Lumiya is what Mara could have become. Lumiya draws a similar parallel between herself and Mara in the Legacy of the Force series, so I definitely wasn’t the only one to notice this.
I guess there are two ways I could take this here – more on whether that sense of "two souls" is inherent in the idea of being a fanboy; or perhaps lower the tone slightly, and ask what your acknowledged influences and personal favourite works are within the closed world of the Star Wars storytelling canon.
Certainly the concept of two souls or identities is present in the fanboy and girl. I think there’s one label every fan outside of sports enthusiasm has to deal with regardless of how individual said fans think of themselves, and that’s the label of nerd or geek. It’s a label I dislike, much like the term “crazy,” conceived by the ignorant and abused by the insecure. I have a friend, who, bless his soul, isn't the brightest clone in three million but is what we'd call one of the beautiful people. One night, we'd had a few drinks and got on the topic of how cool the first Matrix movie is, and my pal philosophized, of course the movie was a hit—who wouldn't want to be Neo? I slurred in response, "Hey, you can be Neo, fool, but I'm the *other***kin Architect." His face screwed up, practically in disgust. "The Architect?” he scoffed, sincerely bewildered. “Who the ***k wants to be the Architect?"
True, we were blotto, but the disparity between my statement and his reaction, between what we might call the joke itself and the inability to comprehend the joke or unwillingness to accept it, is a familiar attitude responsible for bar fights and wars alike, depending on the touchiness of the subject at hand. And this primitive law of big dog, as Mace might call it, is also responsible for disparaging and demasculinizing labels like nerd, crazy, b*tch, and f*g. Now, I won’t say I haven’t used similar expressions at some point myself—exposure to the hip-hop and bodybuilding subcultures produces its own vices. But they are vices, and hypocrisy, as I've said, is inevitable. When we recognize this, we may then pick our battles and fight with impunity, for compassion is already a given.
In any case, I pointed out to my friend that Neo dies in the end, and the Architect not only knew Neo’s fate, among other things, but warned him about it. He didn’t like that. Omniscience is the undying desire of my youth.
Speaking of undying … to answer your other question, Dark Empire with its immortal Palpatine is one of my favorite Star Wars stories. The first Dark Empire, at least. Like the Matrix, Dark Empire’s sequels did the story no favors. I think the only Star Wars comic that’s proved superior to that one, at least from a literary perspective, is Jedi Vs. Sith. What a shame that its author Darko Macan hasn’t been back to do Star Wars since.
As far as novels, I count the Thrawn Trilogy and New Jedi Order: Traitor as my favorites. Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy needs no introduction, of course; it, along with Dark Empire brought me back into the Star Wars fold. Those stories made me feel what I’d felt as a kid watching Star Wars. But Traitor, much like Jedi Vs. Sith, was something else all together. In reading these two, I felt something similar to what I was describing earlier with Dante and Lynch, a touch of privilege and something secret. Of course, I have eccentric favorites too, specifically Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which I mentioned, and The Glove of Darth Vader series.
But I really wouldn’t call any of those my Star Wars influences. In that regard, I’d have to cite George Lucas, which is an easy and clichéd answer, but nonetheless true. From him, I take the idea that Star Wars should never take itself too seriously, and a one-two punch of love and cool always trumps other storytelling considerations.
West End Games’ Star Wars source material also had a huge and obvious impact on my work. Those writers made me feel that writing Star Wars intelligently was okay. And out of that genre, I owe the most to the works of my friend Pablo Hidalgo, who became the inspiration for the fanboy author, and to Michael Allen Horne, whose Dark Empire Sourcebook remains a masterpiece of tone and continuity. I’d say Daniel Keys Moran, who wrote a few Boba Fett short stories, and Archie Goodwin’s work on the Marvel Comics also count as Star Wars influences.
I notice a lot of clearly defined protagonists there – or antagonists; strong central characters, whether in terms of physical and mental capabilities or a memorable personality/appearance.
The Architect, Tom Veitch's take on Palpatine, Mace Windu, Boba Fett... Tomcat (from Jedi Vs. Sith) and Trioculus (from The Glove of Darth Vader).
Just to prove that nothing's simple, you do give some sharp nods to the virtues of ensemble work, both in terms of creators and characters: George's movies, the Goodwin/Infantino comics, the WEG sourcebooks – but it seems to me that the strengths of central, defining characters were something of a recurring theme in your response.
Glancing backwards, it now – belatedly – strikes me how many of Borges' most memorable pieces are character portraits on one level or another; Dante's protagonist is his own poetic self-characterization; and Gilgamesh is almost the original version of the epic hero.
In your own work, you tend to be constructed around a prominent protagonist as well – though in Star Wars terms, it can be General Grievous, Tam Azur-Jamin, or Kyle Katarn, a pretty mind-boggling combination.
I think it’s funny when authors sometimes try to deny reader accusations that they’ve written themselves into their heroes or even villains. Either they’re lying to the reader or lying to themselves. The most basic reader suspects this dissimulation intuitively. I may even use this denial as a defense from time to time, but of course, I’m a philodoxer—everything I tell you is a lie.
As storytellers, particularly fiction tellers, we wish our stories to be enjoyed divorced from our own real lives. We don’t want our stories to be utilized as windows for psychoanalysis. Philosophers face this same crisis, though perhaps with more justification. My personal wish would be for time to annihilate all record of my personal life and for only my writing to represent me. Time will tell if I’m holding this lottery ticket.
In my take on General Grievous, you find my fear of, even desire for, self-destruction; in my take on Tam, you find me as the quietly mourning son I will one day be; in my turn at Kyle Katarn, you find me in my cocky and unstoppable early twenties, down to the goatee.
I think I’ve avoided Gary Stuing myself, but if I am constructed in my own work as you say, then I’d say Jeng Droga in “The Emperor’s Pawns” and Grand Admiral Osvald Teshik in “The Imperial Grand Admirals” are the characters in which I see myself the most. There’s something heroic about these characters for me, and it may be their loyalty to their principles. Strangely enough, for both Droga and Teshik, when my collaborator Joe Corroney showed me his finished illustrations, my surprised response was that each character’s depiction had a Frankenstein quality, which is one of my favorite books. Joe’s a big horror movie fan, so he took that as a compliment too.
To cut to the chase: is there something to be said here about heroes? Or just about the virtues of a third eye in your forehead and a slick black uniform with spiky epaulettes?
For the record, Star Wars poster artist Drew Struzan’s depiction of Trioculus just plain works.
There’s always a lot to be said about heroes. It’s a theme I’m fond of. One thing I’m not fond of is the popularity of compromised heroes, of the substitution of the hero as a role model by the antihero. I’m thinking of some of the protagonists of the TV show “Heroes” but also the general popularity of Darth Vader and even Han over Luke, and the weak performance of Superman Returns at the box office. I suppose this preference has always existed in secret, but it seems to have become more openly expressed. This is likely a consequence of people feeling freer to express their preferences, but I confess that it’s a bit disturbing for me. The storyline of Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come follows this misguided adoration to its logical disastrous conclusion.
Now I think about the forms you've used to tell your stories, and I wonder if these ostensibly "documentary" or "biographical" forms actually lend themselves better to character-centered storytelling than what we now think of as "conventional" narrative forms. You're not trying to hide behind a variety of different third-person-limited POVs in each story – though you are making me wonder where the (deceptively) narrator-less style of the standard modern novel came from.
Perhaps a single narrative voice (which is, of course, a fictional character in its own right) actually enables the author to define the nuances of the story more sharply?
I don't know – do you?
Abel’s answer to that question follows in Part 3. You can also visit his website and his StarWars.com VIP blog.