EUC Interview: James Luceno

James Luceno has seen it all: From the first moments of Vader's life to the defeat of the Vong, Luceno was there to show it to many, many readers. James is author of Star Wars novels including Dark Lord: Rise of Darth Vader, The New Jedi Order: Unifying Force, the recent Millennium Falcon and many more. Now, Mr. Luceno joins EUCAntina in a special interview discussing everything from his old works to his new. EUCantina (EUC): So, your newest book, Millennium Falcon, was released on October 21 and you went to a few cities to promote it-- how was that? James Luceno (JL): A great time – even though, what with passing through 10 airports in 5 days, the trip sometimes felt more like The Amazing Race than a promotional tour. The presence of members of the 501st, Fan Force, Bloodfin and other groups transformed the signings into events, for me and attendees alike. Since I rarely attend conventions, I appreciated the opportunity to speak personally with so many STAR WARS fans.
Exploring the roots of the Falcon

Exploring the roots of the Falcon

EUC: Before we actually discuss Millennium Falcon, I actually wanted to hit more generalized author subjects first and then move onto more specific works. With that said, let’s start with the absolute basic: how did you become a writer? Why? JL: I didn’t grow up nursing thoughts of becoming a writer. My first novel emerged from journals I kept in my twenties, during 10 years of world travel. Even after that novel was published I worked as a carpenter for another decade, before turning to full-time writing. Some thirty years later it seems to have been a good choice, if only to have spared my shoulders and knees further abuse. EUC: Why do you choose to write Sci-Fi novels instead of, say, mysteries? JL: The first four of my published novels were mainstream adventure fare, set in exotic locations and heavy on mystery and intrigue. I didn’t attempt science-fiction until I was hired to write scripts for a short-lived animated TV series called, The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers. My involvement with the show led directly to adapting the animated series, Robotech – with Brian Daley – and, thanks in part to Brian’s encouragement, I’ve remained largely in science-fiction ever since. EUC: Let’s go into really Star Wars generalized questions: I know you must love all of your books, but what book have you had the most fun working on in SW universe? JL: Millennium Falcon may have been the most fun, because it afforded an opportunity to write in several voices and in many eras. Cloak of Deception would be a close second, because it was structured more like a thriller than a fantasy adventure. Each of the other novels posed challenges of a unique sort, especially The Unifying Force, which took almost a year to research and write. Labyrinth of Evil and Dark Lord required that I work closely with LucasFilm in order to assure continuity and create backgrounds for some of the prequel’s secondary characters, like Sifo-Dyas and General Greivous. EUC: Who is your favorite character to write about and explore? Why? JL: I enjoy writing about Han, simply because he is the most human of the principal characters -- although at times Han is like an actor who has fallen victim to type casting, in that he has not been allowed to grow and evolve in the same way Luke and Leia have. After Han, I’d have to say that Palpatine is my favorite. Dangerous, devious, always one step ahead of the game, heis a consummate villain. EUC: There's recently been some debate online about whether the women of Star Wars should get more attention in the EU. Is there a particular female character (or characters) that you'd like to see more of? JL: I haven’t had a chance to write many of the female characters, except for Leia and Mara Jade. I think that Allana has the potential to develop into a very interesting character, considering her parentage. Many of the other primary female characters are Jedi, and I frequently feel at a disadvantage when writing about Luke’s generation of knights and masters. EUC: From a writer's point of view, is working with a setting that was invented by someone else more difficult than writing something completely original? Is it less rewarding or more? JL: Working in a franchise allows a writer to use a lot of shortcuts which aren’t usually available. Descriptions of characters, vehicles, and locations needn’t be as detailed, since those of us who enjoy STAR WARS have been visiting George Lucas’s universe for the past thirty years. On the other hand, franchise writing can, in a sense, tie a writer’s hands, by narrowing what he or she might wish to create. As a result, experimentation and invention frequently have to take a back seat to consistency and convention. EUC: What is the single most challenging aspect, when writing Star Wars? Is it intimidating to write for such a large franchise or is it actually a relief to write and know that there will be a lot of people liking it simply because it is Star Wars? JL: For me, the challenge is to make a novel feel like it inhabits the same universe as the films, especially in terms of characterization and sensibility. STAR WARS isn’t classic science-fiction, nor is it classic romantic fantasy. It owes as much to pirate movies and westerns as it does Flash Gordon and other Saturday afternoon serials. Writing for a popular franchise is at once intimidating and rewarding, for the very reasons explicit in the question: A writer knows going in that his or her work will be widely read, but also that peril awaits those of us who fail to serve up a decent book. EUC: You co-wrote several books with the late Brian Daley, who was among the first to write Star Wars novels. Is there any Star Wars related anecdote from this time? Was Star Wars an issue for you at all during that time? JL: Brian and I were close friends long before we became collaborators. We attended a premier of STAR WARS: A New Hope together, and for years after I was a sort of sounding board for many of the ideas Brian wrote into his Han Solo novels and the radio dramatizations of the original trilogy of films. I’ll never forget our return to Kathmandu, Nepal, in 1982, after spending five weeks hiking in the Himilaya, and finding in a marketplace a bootleg video cassette of Return of the Jedi, which we bought and screened for the porters and Sherpas who had supported the trek. EUC: Which are your favorites of the Star Wars novels which you *didn't* write? Do you ever read them for pleasure, or are they too much tied to your work? JL: I read the Bantam-issued STAR WARS novels long before I was commissioned by Del Rey to help out with The New Jedi Order series. Back then I especially liked Tim Zahn’s and Mike Stackpole’s novels. Now I read every novel and have enjoyed almost all of them, or different reasons. Troy Denning, Matt Stover, Aaron Allston, and Karen Traviss have made wonderful contributions to the franchise. But then so have Michael Reaves, Greg Keyes, Ryder Wyndam, and Jude Watson. If cornered, I’d have to say that Troy’s Star by Star and Matt’s Traitor were highlights of the Expanded Galaxy.
Star by Star is very near to James heart, along with many other fans.

Star by Star is very near to James' heart, along with many other fans.

EUC: Millennium Falcon seems to be very different in scope from the books preceding it (NJO, Dark Nest and LOTF)... less characters, less galaxy-shattering wars. How different was it to write than your New JedI Order novels, and did you enjoy the chance to write a one-off novel rather than be part of a long multi-authored series? JL: I’ve said elsewhere that writing Millennium Falcon was like a breath of fresh air, in that I wasn’t constrained to deal with galaxy-shattering events or advance the plot points of an on-going series. But I think that series like The New Jedi Order, Dark Nest, Legacy of the Force, and the upcoming Fate of the Jedi have pushed chronology and continuity to the forefront, and that standalone novels run the risk of being seen as filler or, worse, irrelevant to the overarching saga. EUC: If you could name the first Darth, what name would you choose? JL: Darth Tenebrous. EUC: If you could write one Star Wars book, regardless of what the editors approved, what would it be and why? JL: I’ve been fortunate in being allowed to write precisely those novels I’ve wanted to write. The folks at Del Rey and LucasFilm propose ideas for novels, but they are also open to ideas proposed by writers. I would like to read a novel that touches on the Whills; also, one that delves into Yoda’s background. But even I know better than to propose those. EUC: Where do you see the Star Wars novels in ten years (ie. how would you like to see the types of characters, races, and technology evolve)? JL: In ten years the novels are going to have to begin to build toward events set up in the Legacy comics by Dark Horse. So, in a way, the future of the novels is somewhat fixed. At the same time, we’re beginning to see bubble universes form within the franchise, thanks to Karen’s exploration of the Mandalorians and Drew Karpyshyn’s use of Darth Bane to cast light on Jedi knights and Sith masters of old. Previously unknown species, characters, and examples of technology are likely to emerge from these new forays. EUC: A little based off that, do you have any ideas of your own for future Star Wars works? JL: An idea I had wanted to explore is going to figure heavily in the Fate of the Jedi series, but I’m not at liberty to discuss that. Lately I’ve been looking for places in the film saga that might benefit from standalone novels, similar to what Matt Stover is doing with Shadows of Mindor. EUC: How different would you say the Star Wars Galaxy is since you last saw it? JL: Film critics and others have stated that Lucas’s original trilogy of films were both a reflection of and perhaps an antidote to the United States’ long involvement in the Vietnam War. A case probably can be made for the prequel trilogy mirroring some elements of the post-9/ll world. And I think further reflections of reality have begun to percolate into the novels. This has resulted in a darker tone, absent much of the humor, derring-do, and romance that made the original films escapist gems. EUC: A little while back, you were apparently going to be writing a novel about Darth Sidious’ master, Darth Plagueis the Wise. Can you tell us a little about that? Why it was canceled, how far along you were, perhaps? JL: Based on talks with the higher-ups at LucasFilm, I delivered a detailed outline for the novel, and had made a significant start on the actual writing when it was decided that the plot was not going to fly. I was in part to blame for over-reaching. I think I was attempting to button things up too tightly. More important, it was thought that by providing Palpatine with a background, we were somehow stripping him of mystery, and undermining his effect as a character of evil incarnate. EUC: What planet is Tobb Jadak from? JL: Balmorra. EUC: What is Jadak's age during the events of RotS? JL: Mid-twenties. We'd like to thank Mr. Luceno for the time and dedication in answering these questions.

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, 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.