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Questions. That’s what’s left after the fall of an empire.
So questions are what we start with when trying to figure out what happened in the three decades between the events of Return of the Jedi and the world we’ll find this December in The Force Awakens.
Here’s what Star Wars fans want to know: Where are Han Solo and Chewbacca? What happened to Luke and Leia? What’s the state of the galaxy after the fall of Vader and Palpatine?
The new novel Star Wars: Aftermath answers some of those questions but holds back on others. Author Chuck Wendig presents a mosaic portrait of life after the destruction of the second Death Star.
Bounty hunters are trying to find their place, old soldiers are trying to go home – to whatever is left – and the Rebellion is trying to figure out what comes next after fighting back. It’s a time of questions.
Wendig is known for novels such as Blackbirds, a thriller about a woman named Miriam Black who can see how people will die just by touching them, and Zer0es, a cyberthriller about a team of hackers on the run, which just came out, too. But as he tells it, Star Wars is in his blood. The toys are how he started telling stories to himself as a kid.
He entered this novel with as many questions as the rest of us.
Part III is about getting his hands on those toys again, how he got Han Solo into Aftermath, why exactly would anyone choose to side with the Dark Side … and what does Ewok karate have to do with it all?
Entertainment Weekly: In addition to the overall story of Aftermath, you also have done these little interstitials, these interludes, and we get short-story glimpses of other characters and other happenings in the galaxy after Return of the Jedi. How did you come to that structure?
Chuck Wendig: One of the original ideas for Aftermath was to write it almost like World War Z — the novel, not the film — which was a scattering of interstitials. You’re watching the world from various places on the globe. So the core idea for Aftermath was to do something like that, to tell this sort of piecemeal: What is the state of the galaxy after Return of the Jedi?
Why did that appeal to you?
The interludes give us a look at what the galaxy is like, not only from different places and different characters — some new and some familiar from the Star Wars universe — but from different angles. Like, what’s a family like? What are they dealing with? What is business doing? What’s the New Republic side of things? What are bounty hunters doing? It’s a glimpse of what’s happening in the galaxy, in a show-don’t-tell kind of a way.
This is just the first in a trilogy that you’re writing. What’s the timeline for the other books?
I’m working on the second book now. I’m not exactly sure of the date of publication.
You looking to do roughly one a year?
That’s my guess.
You got involved with Lucasfilm after tweeting about your desire to write a Star Wars novel. Did you already have it in your head when you said “I’d like the job,” or did you have to come up with it later when they said yes?
I didn’t know necessarily which book I was going to be writing. Obviously they have a whole massive barrage of great books coming out on Sept. 4. This was the one they wanted, and that’s when we worked on the story together. We had it all very well outlined by the time I sat down to actually write it. It took me about a month to actually write the first draft of the book.
What’s the process like of breaking the story, because if you’re writing Under the Empyrean Sky or you’re writing Blackbirds, you’re the boss. You decide, and there’s nobody else you have to answer to for that. But in this case, you’re playing with somebody else’s toys, so what’s that process like? Do they give you the ideas?
No, they gave me the context for the story they wanted, which was, again, after Return of the Jedi, here’s the world. And I pitched them a story and they liked the general shape of it, and we sort of zeroed in on some specifics. Then I gave them a full outline with all the characters and everything that we had come up with, and there was the story.
Were there any restrictions on you, like, you can’t have Luke Skywalker, you can have Han Solo — which is one of the interstitial stories in Aftermath.
There is, yeah, there’s a Han [story.] There were definitely some restrictions. There were things that I had written that they were like, “we need to pull back on this for various reasons.” The [Lucasfilm] story group has got this massive, braided universe — there’s a mobile game called Uprising; obviously you have [the EA-DICE video game] Battlefront; you have the film, clearly; and then the novels and the comics. So it’s always trying to balance that stuff. So it’s like, “Well, you can talk about that character here because this character’s there, but then we want this character to be exclusive to this other thing, so you can’t mention them…” But for the most part, I had a few clear restrictions up front, and then I was allowed to run with it.
Were you able to push back at all? Like, “Come on, give me Han! Give me Han for one story!”
Yeah, there were some things that I was like, “Hey, can we do this?” The Han chapter actually did come later in the draft. They were like, “We can do this now, we have a green light.” So I was like, okay good.
Another thing you do in this book taps into the debate happening among the fans now about why would somebody believe in the Empire? They’re clearly so evil in the films. Aftermath provides the pro-Empire perspective from a number of characters. One of them is Yupe Tashu.
He’s almost a cultist for the Dark Side. He’s a fanboy for the Dark Side, let’s put it that way.
He was a close advisor of Palpatine’s, and says the Emperor was trying to take power away from those who were misusing it. What’s his defense for the Dark Side?
There’s the defense of the Empire, that the Empire is a government, a unifying force. They make sure that there is stability and law. They make sure that people are fed and that there is a continuity throughout the galaxy. That’s sort of the Empire. Yupe Tashu gives this kind of lofty look at the Dark Side.
NEXT PAGE: Let’s talk Ewok Karate …
And the Rebellion point of view comes just a few pages after we get that speech from Yupe Tashu, where they talk about why it was important to rise up.
There’s actually a scene with Yupe when he’s torturing Wedge, and he sort of asks Wedge that. In A New Hope, you don’t necessarily see the personal effect of it. But you have all these characters who have had things taken from them, family lost, worlds changed by this massive stomping boot of Imperial authority, and that changes you on fundamental level. That’s something that, as an individual, would cause you to go out and to find a way to fight back. People who feel hopeless under this boot, and then suddenly there’s this little glimmer of something, this little tiny mote, a spark about to ignite. So I’m just sort of playing with that, what they sort of built in [the animated series] Rebels, I think.
Let’s discuss your history with the franchise, with Star Wars. Obviously this is something you care a lot about, but why does it matter so much to you? Does it go back to your childhood, the action figures, seeing the movies…?
God, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, Star Wars is fundamental. My mom, for as non-pop-culture-y as she is, she loves Star Wars. I saw it when I was 4 years old. My sister took me to Empire Strikes Back in a drive-in theater, which is awesome. She was, of course, there with her boyfriend, probably not to watch a movie like Star Wars. I did not, thankfully, watch whatever she and her boyfriend were doing, and I instead focused very firmly on the film.
You grew up playing with the toys?
There’s been some talk recently about Star Wars merchandising being this massive machine. People expect that to be a little crass, like, “Oh, with the toys… of course, it’s a play for money.” But when I was a kid watching these movies, you couldn’t just go home and pop it in the DVD player. You either go back to the theater in a week and see it again, or you could get these toys and recreate these stories.
I think when you’re a kid, it’s very hard to make up original characters, because you barely know who you are, let alone who somebody else is. But when you’re given this repertory company of characters, it’s easy to make up your own stories with them. They’re like a template.
For me it was a way to sort of explore story, and explore character and action and fun, so Star Wars has always had a sort of special place in my mind. It has come full circle in that my son is now 4 years old. He is getting pretty hardcore into Star Wars. I was like, yes! Let’s high-five, tiny human!
And he’s making up his own stories?
Yeah, when I came out here to do this interview, my son was inside, playing with a new Death Star Throne Room Lego set. He had one of the Ewoks from the Ewok Village who had — according to his story — traveled onto the Death Star and now the Ewok was karate-kicking Palpatine into the pit. So he has revised that; it’s not Darth Vader saving the day, it’s this little Ewok creature.
Can you just give him some toys and sit there with your notebook open, like, okay, now what happens?
Exactly! I was like, okay, this is book two, Aftermath: Ewok Karate!
This is a big month for you. You have another new novel, Zer0es, which is a cyberthriller about a team of hackers who are recruited by a shadowy government organization to work on a program. Were you working on that the same time you were working on Aftermath?
I had written that just before Aftermath. I started Aftermath after Zer0es. Zer0es was sort of in process for about a year. Part of it was just a lot of research. I don’t want to say I wanted to get hacking right, but I wanted to get it authentically. Because hacking itself is just kind of boring. It’s just guys in front of keyboards. So I wanted to sort of capture the authenticity of it, so it took me a year to sort of do the research, and then we actually pitched it.
Tell me about some of the characters you have in Zer0es. Again, it’s a group of desperate souls who come together, much like the team you assembled in Aftermath.
Zer0es and Aftermath actually have a lot of sort of shared intellectual territory. The hackers are fascinating. There’s a great show out right now, Mr. Robot, which I love, but even that sort of falls into the idea these hackers are these disaffected loner weirdos — which is not entirely inaccurate in a certain sense. One of the great things about hackers is there’s so many different cultures inside hacking, subcultures, and there’s so many different approaches you can take to it, both technologically and morally, ethically, legally.
That’s a lot for the characters to wrestle with.
And for me, the great fun was getting these five really different characters who come from five really different ways of hacking, put them together against this self-aware, artificially intelligent surveillance system, and then actually take them away from the thing that is their strength: remove them from computers and force them to be off the grid for a while just to stay out of view of this artificial intelligence. Then what happens? Because that’s the greatest thing to do to characters: What is their strength? Then rip all that away and try to cut them down to the bone.
Exactly. Every good author is a very cruel god.
Oh, god, we’re such jerks.
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