James Luceno e-interviewed by Josephine Anna Kaszuba Locke (March, 2005)
James Luceno is The New York Times best-selling author of the Star Wars: The New Jedi Order novels Agents of Chaos: Hero's Trial, Agents of Chaos: Jedi Eclipse, and The Unifying Force, as well as Star Wars: Cloak of Deception, and the eBook Darth Maul: Saboteur. He also co-authored the popular ROBOTECH series with his close friend, the late Brian Daley.
Luceno wrote the film adaptations for The Shadow and The Mask of Zorro. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland, with his wife and youngest child. Luceno wrote his new adventure, Labyrinth of Evil, with access to detailed Episode III information from Lucasfilm, ensuring an authoritative prelude to the final Star Wars chapter. Congratulations, Jim, on your successful Star Wars novels, and the latest Labyrinth of Evil, the tie-in to the forthcoming Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith book and movie.
Q: Anticipating the release of the Revenge of the Sith book and Lucas's Episode III film, how much coordination was needed between you and Matthew Woodring Stover so that the two stories would tie together smoothly?
A: Matt and I spent two days at Skywalker Ranch, discussing the script with Shelly Shapiro, our editor at Del Rey, and with Sue Rostoni and Howard Roffman, who ride herd on Lucas Licensing's publishing projects. During his meeting with George Lucas to discuss the novelization, Matt was kind enough to pose to George a list of questions I had prepared. Over the course of the next few weeks I worked up an outline for Labyrinth of Evil, and shared it with Matt after it had been approved by LucasFilm. In the meantime, Matt was toying with different approaches he wished to take in adapting the script as a novel, and kept me updated on his progress. Matt read Labyrinth while he was writing the novelization, the first draft of which contained many more references to the "prequel" than are contained in the final draft.
Q: What Star Wars novel have you most enjoyed writing, and do you have any favorite characters?
A: If I had to choose, I would probably go with Cloak of Deception, because it presented a unique challenge. The book had to pretend that readers were unfamiliar with the Star Wars universe of Jedi Knights, the Force, and the dark side, as well as hinge on a single reference – to Chancellor Valorum - contained from The Phantom Menace. Where Han Solo was my favorite character for many years, I've since come to appreciate Obi-Wan's wit, and the depth of Darth Sidious's villainy.
Q: What was your favorite segment, in writing Labyrinth of Evil?
A: I don't have a particular favorite. I enjoyed writing Obi-wan and Anakin as friends, rather than as teacher and apprentice. I also enjoyed describing General Grievous's sneak attack on Coruscant, after having explored similar territory in The Unifying Force.
Q: We know from the original Star Wars trilogy that Anakin is headed for the dark side. Did you encounter any difficulties in Labyrinth of Evil in setting up the Darth Vader role to come?
A: Anakin's incremental turn to evil began as far back as The Phantom Menace, especially in some of the scenes that didn't appear in the film's theatrical cut. Following Attack of the Clones, the Dark Horse comics and the Clone Wars novels did a great job in depicting the slow emergence of Anakin's dark side. I merely had to build on that solid foundation, by showing that Anakin no longer feared drawing on the dark side of his power, and in fact was becoming infatuated with it. I was helped, too, by being allowed to illustrate that Anakin's relationship with Palpatine had progressed to the point where Anakin trusted the supreme chancellor more than he trusted some of the Jedi.
Q: In your novels, I especially enjoyed the Xi Charrions species, the physique of General Grievous, and the banter between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. Are such descriptions and dialog your choice, or are they coordinated with Lucas, other authors, and graphic staff?
A: A bit of both. The plot and the dialogue are essentially mine, although I asked for George's input regarding Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas and General Grievous. I had already been asked to create a backstory for Grievous, but when I pressed George for more, he said that I should consider the general a joint product of the InterGalactic Banking Clan and the Geonosians. George also suggested possibilities for the attack on Coruscant. Based on the first draft of the script, I thought that most of the action was going to take place on the ground, so I had Palpatine being whisked about, as President Bush was in Air Force One on 9-11. George later clarified that most of the action would be in the sky, and that I should think in terms of what the Secret Service did with Vice President Cheney, which was to sequester him in a hardened bunker.
Q: It boggles my mind that so many authors are able to work on the huge canvas of Lucas's galaxy far, far away, and keep track of names of characters, species, planets, stars, moons, ships, and so on. I image a colossal database of information. What is the magic formula for keeping track of who, what, when, and where, especially when new names are to be created?
A: There is a colossal database of information, but no magic formula. Most of us rely on the dozen or so essential guides and encyclopedias that have appeared over the years. There also exists an ongoing electronic database, called the Holocron, which is being compiled by Leland Chee, who also reads the novels and comics for continuity. Names are usually created by individual authors – although we're asked not to double-up too many letters!
Q: What is the most difficult and lengthy task in data collection to create your story premise(s)?
A: After six years of work in the franchise, I'm conversant enough with the data not to have to do much research. Since, however, I have always attempted to make the novels "movie-like" - as if adaptations of a film - I typically spend more time thinking through the stories than writing them. The difficult part for me has been to translate the scenes that run in my head to the page.
Q: Do you propose the niche and plotline for a Star Wars book, or does the general outline come from George Lucas and company?
A: Lucas Licensing and Del Rey decide on the types of books they want to publish. This can be as general as saying "An Episode III prequel novel," or as specific as "a novel focusing exclusively on Obi-Wan Kenobi," or "a MASH-like duology set during the Clone Wars." With the New Jedi Order series, each of us had pieces of the story to tell, but the outlines were ours, and did not originate at LucasFilm. After an outline is submitted, a project becomes more collaborative, and some revision is usually necessary. Titles can be suggested, but in the end are chosen by Lucasfilm. With Cloak of Deception and Labyrinth of Evil, my assignments were specific, and I had more direct oversight from Lucas.
Q: Yoda is a beloved character of mine, as I am sure of many Star Wars followers. Yet, there has not been much written about his personal background. Do you foresee a story ever being dedicated to Yoda? Or is Yoda's long life intended to remain shrouded in mystery?
A: For the foreseeable future, some areas are going to remain off-limits. These include Yoda's species and backstory, details about Darth Sidious's apprenticeship, and information about the mysterious Whills.
Q: Are there genres other than science fiction that you personally enjoy reading? Which authors do you most admire?
A: I enjoy reading what is often called travel literature or travel essay. My two current favorite authors are Alain de Botton – The Art of Travel - and Geoff Dyer – Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It.
Q: Can you tell us anything about what you are working on next?
A: I have just completed Dark Lord, which is set in the weeks following the events depicted in Revenge of the Sith, and features Darths Vader and Sidious, along with a handful of fugitive Jedi. The novel will be published in January, 2006.
Q: Do you have any closing comments, or wisdom to share with Star Wars followers?
A: I believe that there is a lesson in the character arc of Anakin Skywalker. Anakin initially surrendered compassion for power. In the end, it took him twenty years to surrender power for compassion. The wisdom is not to reserve that choice for the last act of one's life.Find out more about James Luceno's Star Wars novels at Random House's Author Spotlight.
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