Dan Wallace at New York Comic Con (courtesy of the author)
Interview: Book Of Sith Author Dan Wallace
Posted By Eric on February 10, 2012
Today is a big day for Star Wars fans. Not only is Episode I: The Phantom Menace back in theaters (and in 3D!), but voracious readers can also get their hands on Book of Sith: Secrets from the Dark Side by Daniel Wallace. Inside the packaging, a deluxe Sith holocron holds a compendium of lessons in the art of the Dark Side from some of the saga's most illustrious villains. Wallace is no stranger to this type of Star Wars book, having written 2010's The Jedi Path. He's also written numerous Essential Guides, New Essential Guides, The Essential Atlas, and a host of Star Wars Insider and Star Wars Gamer articles. In short, he knows his stuff.
After poring over Book of Sith and practically drinking in its Dark Side teachings for my TFN review, I still had some lingering questions, so I summoned Daniel Wallace to my creepy, murky interview chamber (a.k.a. Gmail) for an enlightening (oops!) chat.
Book of Sith is the obvious sequel to The Jedi Path, but how did the original light-side project come about?
The original was sort of an experimental melding of a book with a collectible. Luckily people seemed to really like it. The idea of creating a book that's not just written from an in-universe perspective but actually exists as an in-universe artifact is something that hadn't been done with Star Wars before, but has been seen more often in recent years -- there are in-universe journals included in collector's editions of Halo, Modern Warfare 3, and other games for example. So The Jedi Path was partially about me writing a Jedi textbook and partially about the designers and artists creating something that you could hold in your hands and feel like you had recovered a rare treasure.
Who is your favorite Sith Lord and why?
Aw, this is like asking who's my favorite child! I love all the Sith Lords, but in the movies I'd have to give an edge to Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine. Not only does he achieve his ultimate objective of galactic domination, but he's so wickedly evil while doing it. Ian McDiarmid's performance throughout all the movies, including his scenes as mild-mannered Palpatine, are delicious.
Did you approach Book of Sith differently from The Jedi Path?
Book of Sith is different in that it's not really a textbook. From the outset we decided that we didn't want to just make an "evil textbook," since that didn't seem to fit the way the Sith operate. They're very secretive and power-hungry, and not the type to spill their secrets to just anybody. Instead Book of Sith is a one-of-a-kind collection of ancient writings that were selected and bound together by Palpatine himself. So each fragmentary text is a standalone and doesn't relate to the other texts, but they all feature running commentary in the margins from Palpatine and from Luke, who recovered this artifact many years later.
What is uniquely appealing to you about in-universe books like this and The Jedi Path?
It's huge fun to write "fictional non-fiction" and it's so much better when it's packaged in a really immersive way like The Jedi Path and Book of Sith. I've written books before like The Essential Chronology and The New Essential Guide to Characters that were ostensibly in-universe, but basically just consisted of an intro written by a New Republic historian. These projects are really a step beyond, in which I really have to consider who's writing which section and what their unique tone and POV will be. I love it.
Did you draw inspiration from any non-Star Wars sources for the way you wrote these Sith Lords' inner thoughts? Can you summarize each of their writing styles in one word or phrase?
Just like with The Jedi Path, I tried to understand the Sith philosophy as if it were a real thing. With the Jedi I drew a lot on Catholicism, Buddhism, and Arthurian codes. With the Sith I went even broader since each of the writers was so different. Sorzus Syn is kind of like a lawful evil Dungeons and Dragons magic user. Darth Malgus's section is like a Napoleonic war journal. Darth Bane is an egotistical combat master. Mother Talzin is like a close-to-nature Wiccan shaman. I viewed Darth Plagueis as a scientific skeptic who wrote like Leonardo da Vinci. And Palpatine is the supremely arrogant know-it-all who thinks he has it all figured out.
Sith Lord Sorzus Syn makes her debut in this book as one of its authors. Why did you decide to create her and not give an established character that first chapter? What makes her appealing as a co-author?
I wanted to have a new character if possible, and I wanted to have gender balance if possible. In the final book there are four male authors and two female authors, but it would have been more skewed if I had used Karness Muur or somebody. Sorzus Syn is the lead alchemist and monster-maker among the Jedi Exiles, and she both despises the Sith while admiring their ritualistic skill at spellcasting.
As you prepared the Sith teachings for this book, did you attempt to recreate the conversational instruction style that Sith Lords would use for an actual holocron (where the teachings were relayed via a hologram and not a print book)?
True, the case resembles a Sith Holocron but it contains a book; I'm assuming Palpatine was just using Sith aesthetics here rather than actually having something that was programmable. Presumably a Sith Holocron would contain hundreds and hundreds of hours of data and recordings. The Book of Sith is really Palaptine's cheat-sheet of what he considers the most useful teachings of the Sith Lords who have come before him. And they would have actually written these on paper. Darth Malgus's section, for example, was ripped out of his war journal.
I'm sure you considered other chapters that didn't make it into the final book. Can you talk about what got left on the writing room floor?
We had ideas at the outset on different writers and different themes, but once we got a general structure nailed down we stuck to it pretty precisely.
If you were experimenting with the Dark Side, which of these chapters do you think you would find most enticing?
I don't consider myself super evil, so I'd probably gravitate toward the powers that didn't involve ritual sacrifice. Therefore I think Mother Talzin's section would be the most accessible for the lay person, since it's focused on the power of nature and the dangerous but ethically-neutral balance of predator and prey.
How did you select the inserts that are tucked into the book? Can you share your ideas for other inserts that didn't make it to production?
We started out with a long list of possible removable items, then had to whittle it down based on what was practical and what was affordable. It wouldn't make sense to include a piece of sheet metal from a crashed Sith starfighter with a painted insignia on it if it was going to increase the price of the package by $50. Also things like including liquid-filled vials couldn't survive the brainstorming stage, since things like that would violate import and shipping laws.
Can you say anything about the third-generation Essential Guide to Characters that you're writing? Last I heard it was scheduled for a Summer 2012 release, but there's been not a peep about it.
We're still working on it! I've put together a detailed outline for Random House that they're reviewing and I hope to have more information soon. It's definitely still in the pipeline, but I think has been back-burnered a bit while the Warfare and Reader's Companion guides get finalized.