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Aaron Allston
e-interviewed by Josephine Anna Kaszuba Locke
(October, 2006)

BetrayalIn 1997, Aaron Allston was welcomed into the Star Wars arena with the X-Wing series, launched by Michael Stackpole in 1996. Allston is a New York Times bestselling author of the Star Wars (New Jedi Order series) Enemy Lines novels: Rebel Dreams and Rebel Stand; as well as novels in the Star Wars X-Wing series: Wraith Squadron, Iron Fist, Solo Command, and Starfighters of Adumar. He is a former editor of The Space Gamer magazine, which won the H. G. Wells Award for Best Role-Playing Magazine in 1982.

Aaron was born in Corsicana, Texas in 1960. He began writing at the age of eleven, perpetrated (his word) his first short story at fourteen and first novel at sixteen, and graduated from high school in Denton, Texas in 1979. Aaron is now a writer of science fiction and fantasy novels, plus short stories; a designer of role-playing games; an independent filmmaker; and as he says, 'a columnist from-time-to-time'. Already in the works (for February, 2007) is Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Exile, fourth in the nine-book series. Busy, industrious, talented - these are just a few words that describe Allston.

Q: Where did the central theme of Legacy of the Force come from?

A: It came about in part from e-mail correspondence between Del Rey, Lucas Licensing, and several writers beginning in early 2004, I think - basically, idea exchanges as Del Rey began to ramp up on the new series, which at the time was just called the "post-NJO series." Then, late in 2004, we had a face-to-face meeting between Del Rey personnel, Lucas Licensing personnel, and writers at Big Rock Ranch, where we worked out the rough timeline for the nine books. The basic themes of a civil war where there were no clear-cut good guys or bad guys, and of watching a character experience a slow and detailed seduction to the Dark Side, emerged during those two periods.

Q: How did it happen that you became the pivot author of the nine-book series?

A: Well, actually, Karen Traviss is the pivot author, since she has the middle book in the series. That said, I'm not entirely sure how I came to be chosen as the writer of the launch title. I know that in the early days of the planning we didn't have the complete roster of authors signed, and there was discussion of which writer would launch the series - if one specific trio of authors was signed, the series would be launched by another writer (I won't say who, since that writer wasn't signed), and if it was a different trio, I'd have the first novel. Pretty much, it just had to do with the specific chemistry of the three writers and fan expectations about the series. Basically, I got lucky.

Q: What was the timeframe allocated for your Legacy of the Force: Betrayal to be on your drawing board and ready for publication?

A: From the time the outline was approved and I could begin writing to the time I turned in the manuscript was something like eight months. It should have been even less time, but Betrayal was a difficult project for me and went longer than I wanted it to. This was in part because of its complexity - the novel had more intertwined subplots than I was used to.

Q: Is it more difficult for the first-in-line to write the base (so to speak) that Traviss and Denning's creations will follow?

A: I don't know. With the three Star Wars series I've worked on, I followed one writer in the first series, followed several writers in the second, and started the series in the third, and all three approaches offer problems and benefits. I'd say they're equally difficult, but offer different challenges.

Q: With you as point author, how many collaboration/planning meetings with Traviss and Denning were there to discuss where the series would begin, and how it would evolve?

A: We've had two face-to-face meetings, the aforementioned one at Big Rock Ranch and a follow-up at San Diego Comic-Con in July of this year. We hope to have another one to fine-tune the closing volumes of the series. And we've done a lot of e-mail correspondence - when we're hashing out a very detailed point or one we have different opinions on, we can exchange dozens of e-mails in a day.

Q: Is the ambitious Thrackan Sal-Solo new to the galaxy far far away, or did I miss (or not remember) reading of him in my collection of all the Star Wars books since inception?

A: Thrackan has been around for a while, and has appeared several times, for example in Roger MacBride Allen's Corellian Trilogy and one or more volumes of the NJO.

Q: What method do you use to create battle scenes whether in the air, or combat on the ground? That is, do you plan and draw them out on paper, or develop the scenes as you write?

A: Well, I start by knowing what the various sides' forces are and what the battlefield is, then I try to develop the respective sides' tactics based on their resources and the environment. I also have to give thought to giving each battle at least one element to distinguish it from all the previous ones I've written - when you're doing starfighter dogfights, for instance, it's really easy to provide the same sorts of engagement details and the same sort of outcome. With the more complicated battles, such as the task force engagement in Solo Command, I have to plot things out on paper and work up a timeline, whereas with a simpler fight between two starfighters or a slugging match between two cruisers I generally don't.

Q: I am very impressed with your descriptions of the Kuat star system and Toryaz Station, with its many spokes and pods and the accommodations and pleasantries therein. When planning such a work of art, do you consult with Star Wars world builders?

A: Well, technically, I am a Star Wars worldbuilder, as is every Star Wars novelist. But if you mean with the conceptual artists - no. I rely on my editor, the good folks at Lucas Licensing, advance readers, and so forth to let me know if a detail, such as one of the set-piece environments, just doesn't work with the story or the universe.

Q: Reunions such as between Tycho Celchu and Wedge Antilles give a warm feeling to Betrayal. Do you use these scenes to more solidly cement the story?

A: I use them for a variety of purposes. One reason is to reestablish specific relationships in the minds of the readers. One is simply to present expository details - as two old friends catch up on the news, the reader can be caught up on important details. Sometimes I do it to establish the foundation for later emotions - when you see people together in friendship or comradeship, it heightens the poignancy if you later see them as opponents, which is one of the reasons for the Skywalker-Solo family reunion dinner toward the beginning of Betrayal. In that scene, we see the characters together, mostly at their best and most familial. We see hints of the disagreements that will come between them. And whether we, as readers, realize it or not, we see them for the last time, at least for some considerable time, as a happy, united family.

Q: In Betrayal, Jedi Knight Jacen Solo comes across as arrogant. In a discussion with his mother Leia, Jacen says, "I think Uncle Luke is dismissing a lot of information and premonitions he may be getting, simply because they don't match with what he believes ... it may mean there are things he'll never be able to see." Part of Leia's reply is, "I know he hasn't studied every esoteric Force discipline you have, but that doesn't mean he's wrong." Does Jacen feel superior to his uncle and is there any justification for his attitude, i.e. how has Jacen's training differed from Luke's?

A: To describe how Jacen's training has differed from Luke's would pretty much require a synopsis of every novel in which Jacen has learned anything, which is kind of out of the scope of this interview. Clearly, their training has differed, and clearly, the training of each has shaped, and has been shaped by, his outlook on the Force and the way things ought to be. But one of the basic differences between them seems to be this: Where Luke would say, "I think I'm right about this," Jacen would say, "I'm right about this." And, yes, that's arrogance - arrogance that can only be cured by Jacen having enough life experiences that demonstrate he's not right about everything.

Q: There are Star Wars fans who want beloved characters to live forever! However, others believe that some of the oldies - namely Han Solo, Leia, Wedge Antilles, et al. - should be eliminated completely, not just retired. What is your view on the disposal of these beloved characters? (My own two favs - Chewbacca and Yoda - were sadly written off long ago.)

A: I don't think anyone would benefit from experiencing a mass purging of the main cast of Star Wars characters. Star Wars isn't about tragedy, after all. But, clearly, repeatedly having a 100-year-old Han romping around with 90-year-old twins Luke and Leia in acrobatic hand-to-hand combat would stretch the readers' willing suspension of disbelief past the breaking point. I think the Dark Horse approach in setting up their Legacy series is one good structure - just cut to a point far enough in the future that the earlier cast is mostly gone, and don't dwell on how they reached their ends. I'd also like to see more series that focus on characters other than the Big Three. But as long as there's a strong audience for Han/Luke/Leia stories, Lucasfilm and the fiction publishers can't simply ignore that demand.

Q: The last quarter of Betrayal powerfully twists to an in-depth weaving of a tapestry of Sith history and an extension of their philosophies from different perspectives than previously revealed. In this section, Jacen, Ben, and Jedi Nelini Dinn travel to a Star System near Bimmiel with Brisha Syo, where Jacen senses: "The stone seemed to be resting on a pivot of pure energy ... Through the dark side of the Force." What brought on these Sith references? Will this become a major focus in the eight stories ahead of us?

A: Well, that specific setting, that asteroid, won't be a major setting for the series. But Sith philosophy and conflicting interpretations of it by various characters is one of the things at the heart of this series. You'll see more of that.

Q: How much of a break did you get before your next Legacy of the Force contribution?

A: A few weeks. Enough to get a breather and recharge my creative batteries. Then I jumped into the next novel.

Q: Which authors influenced your own writing most?

A: That's always a hard one to answer. When I was a teenager, I was influenced most strongly by pulp writers of the early 20th century. My taste broadened as I grew up, enough so that it's hard for me to point at one or two who influenced me more than others.
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