EUC Interview: Jason Fry

Jason Fry is the author of numerous Star Wars books, perhaps most notably The Essential Atlas. His latest project, The Essential Guide to Warfare, is a highly anticipated book that will provide a fresh and fascinating look at what war is good for in the GFFA. As described on RandomHouse.com:

Like many a great epic, Star Wars is rooted in a rich history of armed conflict. Now, for the first time, the facts, figures, and fascinating backstories of major clashes and combatants in the vast Star Wars universe have been documented in one fully illustrated volume.

Jason took the time to answer some questions for EUCantina about his upcoming book, covering everything from what the process was of the project being transferred to him after Karen Traviss ended her Star Wars career, to the content that had to be cut from the finished version. The interview also features a first look at two images from Warfare, provided by Del Rey.

Cover art for The Essential Guide to Warfare. Due out April 3rd.

EUCantina (EUC): The Essential Guide to Warfare was originally The Essential Guide to the Military written by Legacy of the Force author Karen Traviss.  How did the project end up in your lap?

Jason Fry (JF): I’m not privy to what Del Rey or Lucasfilm were thinking in turning to me. But The Essential Atlas, which I co-wrote with Dan Wallace, had been fairly well-received by fans, and perhaps they liked the way its approach had tamed a pretty unruly subject: Here’s the history of the galaxy, as seen through the lens of geography. Given a few tweaks, I thought that was a good basic template for a military guide. Plus I’d shown my Star Wars knowledge was pretty deep, which was going to be essential for Warfare.

While I took the assignment with the gratitude shown by any freelancer writer who knows he’s now less likely to starve, I’ll confess that also came with a certain amount of trepidation. My knowledge of Star Wars geography was a lot deeper than my knowledge of military units, warships and the like, and I knew Karen had a huge fanbase that was really eager for her take on the galactic military. But the latter was out of my control and therefore not worth worrying about. As for the former, I addressed it in a couple of ways. I signed up Paul Urquhart as a helper — Paul’s a fleet junkie of the first order, with pretty amazing recall for all things Star Wars. I leaned on Lucasfilm for help more than I had with the Atlas. I did more crowd-sourcing, reaching out to fans who knew their stuff on TheForce.Net and elsewhere. And then I just plunged in.

EUC: What was behind the decision to change the title from The Essential Guide to the Military?

JF: One reason was that I wanted to break the link between what folks had been expecting from Karen’s project and whatever my project would turn into. I thought that would be more fair to Karen, to me, and most importantly to the book itself. Though to be clear, nothing prepared for the project was passed on to me in the transition except the title.

The far bigger reason was that I thought “Military” sounded like a book that would be really heavy on hardcore quantitative stuff — unit organizations, warships specifications, fleet data, and so forth. I have immense respect for that way of looking at the subject, but I wasn’t interested in writing that kind of book — and, frankly, I thought the audience for such a book would be relatively small.

I was interested in widening the focus beyond numbers and specifications — I wanted to look at history, and military philosophies, and personalities, and to keep shifting the narrative back and forth between historical overviews and in-universe documents and individual soldiers’ stories. Titlewise, “Warfare” felt like a much better fit for that approach.

EUC: The guide covers The Clone Wars in detail, including stories from the novels, comics, and now the television show. Was it hard to mix them together? Or was there a timeline made available that indicated when these events occurred?

JF: Ah yes, the Clone Wars Holy Grail. As far as I know such a timeline doesn’t exist, at least not yet. That’s an example of where widening the focus helped. I was able to skip around from clone troopers’ tales to warship profiles to discussions of cloning to first-person accounts without having to worry too much about how it all fit together chronologically.

With the Clone Wars, I was more worried about thematic differences than timeline problems. For instance, the idea that Mandalorian culture is a key part of clone culture was explored quite a lot in the EU, but hasn’t appeared in the show — yet the show has done a wonderful job showing us how the clones are individuals with their own hopes, fears and dreams. Things like that were tricky to think about how to balance.

EUC: In the Acknowledgments section of Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse, Troy Denning thanks you for the email brainstorming regarding the “Celestial overlap,” and then writes that he wished the chapter had made it into The Essential Guide to Warfare. What did this chapter focus on, and why was it cut? What can you reveal to us about the Celestials that we might not already know?

JF: Oh, cool — I haven’t seen Apocalypse in final form, so I didn’t realize he’d done that. That’s awesome — Troy is both a great writer and a super-nice guy. Seriously, go find a copy of the old WEG adventure Scoundrel’s Luck — it is the great lost Han Solo novel disguised as a solitaire adventure.

Originally, Warfare began with Admiral Motti and a bunch of Imperials interrogating this scientist who explains to them how galactic civilization emerged from the remnants of the Rakata Empire, which had been powered by the Force, and how the Rakata had seized power from the Celestials. Motti, as you might imagine, regarded that testimony as equal parts fairy tales and treason.

I wrote it because I thought a historical overview from an omniscient narrator was a poor fit for exploring the earliest days of the galaxy, and because I liked opening with the spooky idea that the Imperial military, for all its might, couldn’t do things that these ancient empires had done routinely.

The main reason it got scrapped wasn’t really anything to do with continuity, though — it was that between the Celestials and a lot of stuff I’d written about Xim, it took a long time to get to familiar elements of the Star Wars universe and for the reader to read about people actually shooting at each other. My superstar editor Erich Schoeneweiss pointed that out, and he was absolutely right. So a lot of that early material came out, and I hit on the idea of a first-person account from Grand Admiral Teshik that would give us some immediate action and arresting visuals, while also having the historical sweep I wanted. It was a better start, and one that helped the book fall into place thematically and stylistically.

As for things I can reveal about that last chapter … well, I’m afraid there isn’t anything. The ideas about the Celestials were largely mine, they predated our encounter with the Ones in the TV show, and they never got submitted to Lucasfilm. So they were all essentially written in water continuity-wise. But it was a lot of fun to write, and I don’t think anything I came up with has been rendered impossible by the show, Apocalypse or anything else. So maybe someday….

First look: Jedi Grandmaster Luke Skywalker duels Yuuzhan Vong Supreme Overlord Shimrra Jamaane by Bruno Werneck. (Click for larger image)

EUC: Were there any other chapters or content that was ultimately cut from the final version of the guide?

JF: Oh goodness yes. My original outline for Warfare was way too ambitious, and I plunged in and was having such a good time that I didn’t pay attention to the word count. So imagine my horror when I discovered I’d reached the Rise of the Empire chronologically and had already overshot my budget for the whole project by a good 30% or so. There’s probably half of another book worth of material that got cut.

I really miss some of that stuff. I had to cut two guest-star pieces that I really loved — Michael Kogge’s great new poem from “The Despotica,” and Dan Wallace’s story of the Waymancy Storm. I had a ball explaining what the blast shield on a helmet like the one Luke wears on the Falcon is actually good for. Plus tales featuring Rex, Valance the Hunter, Captain Lennox, more Clone Wars stuff … you get the idea.

But part of writing a book is finding its focus, and that involves cutting stuff. You have to make tough choices based on what the book needs to say and how best to say it. You can’t play favorites, however much it hurts to see stuff go.

EUC: When creating a guide with such a massive scope, where do you begin? How do you decide what’s important and what can be glossed over or left out?

JF: Well, you spend more time on the outline stage than I did — I can definitely attest to that now. If you’re a budding writer, please listen to the testimony of a convert: A robust, detailed outline will save you tons of work and frustration. It is so much easier to fix problems when you spot them in a good outline than it is to fix them when you’re wading through a manuscript.

Speaking more generally, one thing I always think about is the relatively casual Star Wars fan who’s going to pick up the book at Barnes & Noble or search inside it at Amazon. That reader has to find familiar things without looking too hard, so that those familiar things can be ways deeper into the book and the EU. There’s so much Star Wars lore by now that it’s frankly intimidating to the uninitiated, even if they’re pretty big Star Wars fans, and I try to push against that, though it’s counter to my own fanboy desires. For instance, I would LOVE a 240-page Essential Guide to Xim the Despot — I would fight you for the first copies at midnight, and so would a few hundred other hardcore fans like me. But that book would fail the casual-reader test pretty badly.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t some crazily hardcore discussions of things in Warfare, and an Easter Egg or two that I hope will make longtime fans dance with glee. It’s more that the book can’t be all things like that. I always try to keep that in mind as an author: Books like this should be guided tours for new fans, not locked doors.

EUC: The guide is very detailed, even detailing the events that occur in the recently released Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse. Were you given any insight into events that will take place in future Star Wars books?

JF: Nope. I read an early draft of Apocalypse so I could write that one section, and understand what Luke’s frame of mind was and what he’d be thinking about in addressing the Jedi Order and its future. If that in any way winds up seeming like foreshadowing of future books, it’ll be because I got lucky, not because I knew anything.

First look: A clandestine meeting of Rebel leaders Ackbar, Garm Bel Iblis, Mon Mothma, and Bail Organa by Paul Youll. (click for larger image)

EUC: According to Star Wars Insider #132, there will be definitive continuity answers in The Essential Guide to Warfare. What continuity errors or questions did you tackle in the guide?

JF: Hmm. I didn’t think of the book as a list of things to tackle, so that’s a bit tricky to answer. I suppose the biggest thing was the capital-ship classification system — I felt the book needed one, and there were a couple of established ones that were hopelessly contradictory. And yeah, I took on the “3 million clones” thing, because it would have been pretty craven to ignore it in a book with this title. That said, I didn’t make too big a deal about it — I hate retcons that exist only for their own sake, or seem to put down previous work.

Beyond that, though, Warfare was mostly about weaving a lot of tales into a coherent whole. A lot of new continuity information went into that weaving — from new details about Mandalorian history to pilot rosters for Yavin and Hoth to New Republic campaigns against the crumbling Empire. Hopefully the new stuff fits seamlessly with what’s come before, and it all tells a compelling tale.

EUC: With constant releases, is there a worry that this guide will feel outdated in a short time? Is there any plan to release subsequent volumes or additions, whether through a physical medium or digitally?

JF: I don’t know of any such plans, though if Del Rey and Lucasfilm are up for it, I’d love to be a part of any such efforts. My hope is that Warfare will cover the basics for years to come, with new Star Wars tales fitting nicely within the framework it’s established. That’s a lot of the fun of Star Wars — the prospect of new tales you’ve yet to hear.

EUC: What are your upcoming projects?

JF: I just wrapped up a Clone Wars project I can’t talk about yet, but that I think is going to be mind-blowing for fans, and was a ton of fun to do. Ryder Windham and I are getting ready to write the third book in the Transformers Classified series from Little Brown. And I’ve been working on The Jupiter Pirates, which is my own story in a setting of my own creation. With a little luck, you’ll see that in bookstores a bit down the road. Beyond that, well, you know what the little green sage said: “Always in motion is the future….”

The Essential Guide to Warfare is on sale April 3rd, 2012.

About the Author

Austin Blankenship is the webmaster of EUCantina. He is a host of our official podcast, EUCast, and also founded our sister website, SoloSound.net. Austin helped turn EUCantina from a forum into a website in 2007, and continues to operate the site and the EUC social media accounts. Austin works as a librarian in a small town above Atlanta, Georgia.