Michael A. Stackpole
May 2000, by Helen Keier
Part 1 of 3
Please note: There are discussions of topics from the New Jedi Order series contained in this interview that may be considered spoilers by some readers.
Recent months have seen the publication of Mike's Dark Horse Comics' UNION series, in which Jedi Master and perennial bachelor Luke Skywalker marries Mara Jade. Also, more recently from Del Rey, Mike has two books in the NEW JEDI ORDER series, DARK TIDE: ONSLAUGHT and coming in June 2000, DARK TIDE: RUIN.
We appreciate Mike making the time to chat with us. You can visit Mike's website at http://www.stormwolf.com/. On with the part 1 interview! Part 2 has been posted and part 3 will appear in upcoming days.
TFN: In ONSLAUGHT, we're seeing new facets to our favorite characters, such as Luke Skywalker and Corran Horn. Luke is very different in ONSLAUGHT, and the reader really gets the sense that he is a Jedi Master. For example, the two-lightsaber scene is a big hit. What was your inspiration for the two lightsabers?
MAS: Ever since I got my DVD player I've been collecting samurai films and swashbucklers. Watching someone like Toshiro Mifune use two blades is wonderful. It really marks him as being well above the competition. In ONSLAUGHT I wanted to be able to make sure there was no question that Luke was a Master. As for the direct inspiration for that scene, um, it was just something that felt right. I knew the readers would love it and it has, by far, been the scene that has garnered the most comments.
TFN: Are there any other things in ONSLAUGHT regarding Luke that you are particularly pleased with or proud of?
MAS: I was pleased with how Luke and Mara were together as man and wife. They're clearly in love, and its that sort of enduring love that will sustain them through anything. I also liked Luke having matured and settled more into his role as the leader of the Jedi. We've all known he was a Master, and folks always address him appropriately, but here we see him dealing with the responsibilities and difficulties in which this situation has placed him.
TFN: We also see through UNION and ONSLAUGHT a new dimension of romance to Luke and Mara. Was that fun to write?
MAS: Yes, very definitely. One of the knock on the SW novels has been that seldom, if ever, do we see adults acting the way adults do in a relationship. Timothy Zahn's Hand of Thrawn made it very clear the sort of bond that exists between Luke and Mara. In both UNION and DTO I wanted to reinforce that bond and layer in elements of romance. I think romance is very important in a story and if characters are deeply in love, I want them to act that way. The Luke and Mara scenes have garnered the second most numbers of comments. :)
TFN: Also in regards to Luke (and his exhaustion), we see that using even the light side of the Force has it's cost. What was your thinking behind this new direction? Or is it not a new direction, but rather the follow through to how Yoda and Obi-Wan really didn't over-rely on the Force?
MAS: The weakness angle comes directly from Empire Strikes Back where a major, overt use of the Force (raising the X-wing from the swamp) appears to exhaust Yoda. It is reinforced by Mara's discussion with Luke in Vision of the Future concerning how you use the Force, and this discussion has its echoes in Mara's talks with Anakin in DTO. The idea that such power comes without any cost is repellant to me. As for why Luke could do almost anything in the past, and now gets fatigued by it, I use the analogy about physical training. If you train for strength, you can lift a lot, but can't necessarily sustain it. If you train for endurance, you can do things for a long time, but in any one instance, you can't do as much. With the realization that the Force can bring him more than showy tricks, and changing his approach to the Force after VOTF, Luke has switched from strength to endurance -- in his case, using the Force as a guide rather than a lever. When he is called upon to use it as a lever, he tires.
TFN: This almost sounds like the opposing philosophical views of the Force espoused by Jacen and Anakin, where Jacen sees it as an internal path, and Anakin sees it as a tool. Would this be an appropriate analogy? Why or why not?
MAS: It certainly is appropriate for looking at where the two of them are at the start of the book. I think Anakin has his view of things expanded. By the same token, he's so powerful in the Force, and feels so at home with it, that using it to accomplish tasks is just second nature to him. Still, in ONSLAUGHT, he rose to the challenge of limiting his use of it, which husbanded his strength and is likely what saved him and Mara.
Jacen, on the other hand, is going to have to come to realize that while his search may take him on an internal journey, it doesn't cut him off from the world, nor lessen his responsibility to others.
TFN: Corran Horn is a full-time Jedi in ONSLAUGHT. We've really seen a maturity evolve in Corran, from his first appearances in the X-Wing series, to I, JEDI, and now in New Jedi Order.
MAS: Well, I'd kinda hope that readers would realize that Corran HAS evolved a lot. Writers know that some folks just won't like certain characters, and it is true that Corran starts out as incredibly egotistical, but he does mellow, he does learn and grow; but there are plenty of folks who refuse to acknowledge that he has. They're welcome to their opinions, but these will be the same folks who complain that no character ever grows, or that they're all unidimensional. Subtlety can be lost on some folks, I guess.
TFN: Can you give us an example of how Corran has grown?
MAS: Look at the core issue that tends to drive folks nuts about him: his cockiness. The Corran of the first chapter of Rogue Squadron would never have done what Jedi Corran did to free the students from the Vong in ONSLAUGHT. As Corran has grown in responsibility, his cockiness has diminished incredibly. He still IS very self-confident, but that's a confidence born out of rock-solid self-knowledge and examination, not the blithe cocky belief in his own immortality.
TFN: That is a big difference from the Corran of DTO, who seemed to be quite the opposite - accepting that he was going to die, and feeling at peace with the life he'd led. Was he?
MAS: Oh, I think he was, definitely. He knew that, at that point, he was putting his life on the line to save others. When you're willing to make that sort of sacrifice, while you may have certain regrets, you pretty much find a peace reserved for saints and heroes. Every atom of your being is screaming for self-preservation and you set that aside to help others. Decisions in life don't really come any bigger, and accepting the responsibility for spending your life that wayreally puts everything in perspective. He knew peace and would have died happily there.
TFN: What do you see in Corran's future?
MAS: As for Corran's future, well, he has yet more maturation go through. If he survives the Vong assault, I'd like to see him grow into the sort of contemplative peace Luke knows. Ideally I'd love for him to rise to the rank of Master, but I suspect he has a passel of parsecs yet to travel before that option is going to be open to him.
TFN: What would you have happen to Corran along those parsecs?
MAS: Well, he'd certainly have to bring an apprentice to Knight status, which would be fascinating to watch. Would it be his son? I'm not sure. I could also see some Corran/Ganner adventures out there, or even some straight Ganner adventures. He was fun to play with, especially in RUIN. In any event, the nice thing about being a writer is that I get to just let ideas roam around in my head and when the time comes to work on them, I get to go to town. The fact is, though, whatever happened with Corran, it wouldn't be the same-old, same-old.
TFN: For the record: is Corran Horn your alter ego?
MAS: No, not at all. There appears to be some confusion about that, primarily because I, JEDI was written in first person, Corran is about my height, and has my eye color (green). To the latter points first: in doing my research on ace pilots for the X-wing series I ran across the fact that the majority of them tend to be small (5'6" or so) and have light color eyes. I already had folks with blue eyes in the unit, so I gave him green -- which isn't that rare a color to someone who looks at them every morning in the mirror when shaving.
The confusion because of the first person nature of I, JEDI is natural and, in part, the fault of English Teachers everywhere. We're all told in school that all characters are all a facet of the author -- in effect, the author is his characters, and this linkage seems to be easy to see in first person novels. The fact is, however, that I'm no more Corran Horn than Ralph Fiennes was an extermination camp administrator [as he portrayed in Schindler's List]. My job is to make youbelieve in all the characters, which means either I've got more personalities in here than the UN has delegates, or I'm good at figuring out how such characters would think and react and that's what I deliver. (And a majority of the personalities in here have just voted that the latter case is true.)
No, Corran and I are not the same person at all. If I met the younger Corran I'd think he was an egotistical fruitcake. If I met Jedi Corran, I'd be thinking he was pretty sharp.
TFN: A focus of New Jedi Order is Luke's effort to re-establish the Jedi Council, and in the UNION comic books, the rebuilding of a Jedi tradition. How have you contributed to this and where is it going?
MAS: If I tell you where this is going, the implant will explode, so I'll duck that part of the question. As for what my contributions are to this sense of a new Jedi tradition, I guess it comes in trying to reflect the dynamics of how such an order would grow and evolve. In I, Jedi Corran and Mara have difficulty with what Luke is doing, but are committed to his goal. By the end of I, JEDI, Luke and Corran have resolved their differences and when Corran leaves Rogue Squadron (with the peace with the Remnant), he joins the Jedi Knights. He and Kam are, as I see it, Luke's staunchest allies there. Even in the NJO, however, we see a split.
This is natural and normal for such groups, developing rifts, healing them over. The questioning makes everyone double-check what's going on, to make sure they're on the right path. Jacen is clearly uncertain as to what his role within life is and will be. He has a relationship with the Force, but it does not feel, um, I guess, COMPLETE to him. He wants more, but is uncertain how to get it. As a result he's looking around at others, seeing what they have, trying to determine if it is right for him. So far he's not found anything that completes him, and this is a theme we will see explored more in the NJO.
So, I'm laying the groundwork for a future. What the future will become is part of the evolving NJO story.
TFN: Han is really taking Chewbacca's death hard. Will Han appear in Ruin?
MAS: Yes. I felt bad about not being able to do more with Han Solo in my novels, but the two books that follow mine focus on him, so my job was help him to mark time until Jim Luceno can roar back with a pair of Han Solo novels. I can't wait for them.
TFN: Can you tell us anything about Luceno's AGENTS OF CHAOS series, or will that cause your implant to explode also?
MAS: Yep, the implant would explode, IF I knew anything. I don't. I've not seen outlines nor have I seen copies of the books. Jim and I did pass material back and forth, but he's the 3rd leg of the relay, so I didn't need to see how he was running, he just needed to know what was going on with me.
TFN: The epilogue to ONSLAUGHT reveals just how different the Vong are from the heroes we are used to, in terms of culture and their seemingly unlimited capacity for violence. They will stop at nothing, and fear nothing. What can you tell us about your conceptualization of the Vong?
MAS: Well, most of what I think about the Vong is there in the epilogue and throughout RUIN. They are an implacable foe that view the universe and life and their purpose in it in a way that we see as dark and twisted. This leaves little room for understanding or compromise. Most importantly, though, they are intelligent and constantly learning. As the New Republic adapts to them and their tactics, so, too, will they change. This is not going to be some "it's page 325, soit's time to find their weakness and exploit it," series. The Vong are likely the nastiest thing to ever hit the GFFA, and there will be lots of "disturbances in the Force" before our heroes can even dream of stopping them.
TFN: That sounds like a reference to Ben's sensing the destruction of Alderaan in ANH. Is it?
MAS: Oh, yeah. Some seriously bad stuff goes down in RUIN.
TFN: Does the "DARK TIDE" title hold any significance for the duology? Does it refer to the "rising tide" that is lifting some of the Jedi towards the Dark Side, a tide that Luke is persevering to fight?
MAS: There is a little of that, sure, but mostly it refers to the Vong as this Dark Tide. Make no mistake about it, RUIN is a very descriptive title.
TFN: In the Hand of Thrawn Duology, Zahn suggested that there was a never-before-seen threat in the Unknown Regions of the galaxy. Has there been any coordinating or connecting with what Zahn set up in the "Hand of Thrawn" to be brought up in NJO? Is this threat the Vong?
MAS: There has been no direct link, so far, between the threat alluded to in VOTF and the Vong. This point is expanded upon a bit in DTR.
Click here for Part 2 of this interview. Check back shortly for Part 3 of Helen's new interview with Michael A. Stackpole.