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Reflections

A Life With Star Wars

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Star Wars has returned full-Force. Even if you’re not a fan of the saga, you’d be hard-pressed to miss the hubbub: swag and toys, posters, t-shirts, action figures, and just about anything you can think of just in time for Christmas… which says more about the evil genius of Disney marketing than it does about the season itself. It is both exciting and overwhelming. I’ve waded into the mire with the utmost caution, and have avoided most spoilers and outbursts and effusive speculations.

Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert. Or a writer. But my relationship with Star Wars is personal. Not a secret, per se. But something in recent years that I’m more willing to guard than expand upon… because it means too darned much, and I’m pulled in emotionally. One fan theory that Luke Skywalker might have turned to the dark side threw me into a vortex of despair this Fall, and I vowed not to fall into that trap again.

I knew that I was a writer early on. As a child, I was an avid reader, had a very healthy imagination and imitated authors by creating my own stories. This might have dipped into the realm of plagiarism, but when you’re a kid testing your wings this isn’t such a big deal. I tried to write my own version of Peter Pan and Hook because, while I loved Hook, I didn’t agree with Steven Spielberg’s interpretation. At age ten, I was an authority.

Of course, you can imagine what a ten-year-old’s idea of a Peter Pan sequel would be: a nice, but odd-tasting porridge of the original story with a lot of the Baby-sitter’s Club, young adult novels about World War Two and other random things.

Star Wars marked the next phase in my writing life. In the early years I gobbled it up as a very intricate very new (to me) story about destinies and new worlds, a cause for freedom, a clear fight against evil. It piqued my adrenaline and gave me an intense hunger for world-building. I was on fire.

And I thought Luke Skywalker was cute. I carried around a 1997 Hallmark ornament as a sort of talisman of courage: Luke in The Empire Strikes Back. I think he looks rather more like Odo of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but still, he was Luke and that’s all that mattered.

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It was not enough for me to simply watch Star Wars and memorize it frame by frame. I had to find out what happened to Luke, Han and Leia after Return of the Jedi. And as a result, I owned a large portion of what would be called the Expanded Universe – now apparently no longer “canon” but “legend” – an entire library devoted to a continuing saga and the evolution of those characters. But even that wasn’t enough.

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I have a few favorites as far the EU is concerned. Surprisingly, the one that has stuck with me the most is Children of the Jedi, generally regarded as one of the “worst.” Admittedly, the story is a bit on the bizarre side: Luke and a few of his students are swept aboard an old automated Imperial ship that has been going to different planets for decades, picking up its pre-assigned crew… only the crew are mostly non-stormtroopers like Gamorreans and Jawas, brain-washed to think they are. Luke must work to disable the ship and is on his own until he meets the spirit of a Jedi, Callista, who tried to stop the ship decades before. I was drawn to it because it is beautifully written, if weird. The idea seemed fresh – not a part of a skirmish or a new threat, but a test of Luke’s mettle.

I was a writer. Even then, I felt it in my bones. So it should be no surprise that at a very early age I started writing my own Star Wars stories, and began to create my own alternate timeline. For years, the worlds I’d built were canon to me, just as it gave me a certain temporary carapace from the pain and awkwardness of the teenage years. I am beyond grateful that I grew up with Star Wars and not with Twilight.

In the fullness of time, I’ve looked back and realized that my devotion to Luke Skywalker wasn’t so much that he was “cute” but that he was me. The original trilogy shows his evolution from a naïve farmboy to a warrior with a heavy burden. It was always a pastime with my friends to imitate his whininess.

“I was going into Tosche station to pick up some power converters!” he whines to Uncle Owen, trying to get out of his chores. He makes mistakes. He gets slapped by Han in the Falcon. He’s teased about his height. He’s impulsive and hot-headed. He’s anxious to prove himself. That was me, trying to survive my teenage years with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder.

We even look roughly similar: shortish, blond and blue-eyed, a little on the scrawny side. Luke wasn’t my dream date; he was my brother.

My desire to write Star Wars stayed with me through college as I envisioned a new, more nuanced work of fiction. I was not (and never will be) interested in the fan fiction sphere. This had always been a private endeavor – and I wanted no commentary. I had a specific vision of how post-Return of the Jedi novel would look. I asked increasingly complicated questions about Luke’s journey and what it meant to be a Jedi.

I imagined the first few years after Endor, as powerful Imperial officers fought each other for control of the Empire. I thought, there might also be Sith minions of the Emperor’s kicking around. Luke might be facing real and frightening challenges to his mission as the last Jedi. He’d need an ally.

I wrote Circles in the Force as a thousand-page honors thesis in 2008 and graduated with High Distinction. It’s mildly embarrassing: I wrote a Star Wars novel that should have been edited down, could have been polished. It was nonetheless a great personal tribute to the trilogy, and the perfect training ground for my future endeavors in fiction writing. Without this project, I would not be where I am today.

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Some highlights, if which I am proud:

  • Luke wrestling with how close he came to falling to the dark side, particularly in his duel against Vader in Return of the Jedi.
  • New characters who grew up during the war and had Jedi for parents. Highlighting cultural differences between Jedi from different planets. “These” Jedi compared to the “Coruscant” Jedi.
  • Luke helps a kid (much like himself in the first film) who aspires to be a Jedi and who stows away in Luke and Han’s ship (not the Falcon, this time) to rescue his girlfriend.
  • The kid’s girlfriend turns out to be the sister of the newest and most powerful Imperial leader.
  • Leia takes the Millennium Falcon and has her own mission with Threepio, Chewbacca and General Madine.
  • I wanted everyone to have a part: Lando Calrissian, Wedge Antilles, General Madine, Mon Mothma, and some sneaky Bothans.
  • New worlds: a watery planet in which people live below the ocean surface; a white planet where everything is, well, white – and not because it’s snowy; a section of space called Demon Space where systems go haywire for no reason and marauders lurk.
  • I loved creating place names: Vac’tuor, Veriis, the Rift, Xraleth, the Middle Ground, Ceilte, Cumannai, Noss’eibnii.
  • New aliens called Euronians and later E’oeronians: big pale-blue warriors with horn-ears and their own gobbledygook language.

I am grateful for my Star Wars years. I learned a lot about narrative and story-telling. I learned that too many characters “allowed” a share in the narrative makes for a really long novel. The most important discovery during this season of my life was the joy of creating my own characters, watching them grow from mere concepts into fully-realized human beings.

You see, that’s the one drawback to it all: I didn’t create Luke. His path was laid out long before I came along. It was never up to me. And knowing that, I’d let go of writing Star Wars long before I realized it.

That said, coming back to Star Wars from time to time is a homecoming. It is that place where I learned to tell a story with all my heart and soul.

And, yes, I have seen The Force Awakens and am satisfied that the story is in capable hands. I am brimming with questions and the need to know about Rey and her relationship to Luke, the journey of Kylo Ren and the fate of the galaxy. I don’t know what’s coming. But I’m not worried, either.


Writing Star Wars

From an early age, it wasn't enough to watch Star Wars or read the novels. I had to create my own little niche in the Star Wars universe. If this isn't a sign or symptom of a writer, I don't know what is.

A Pile of Paraphernalia

A pile of paraphernalia. Not pictured: several other Hallmark ornaments, an R2-D2 gigapet & a library of other books. I was also obsessed with making collages. I shudder to think of how much printer ink I wasted in my youth.

A Tribute

A page from my tribute work, Circles in the Force. A scene I loved from the novelization of Star Wars was Luke witnessing the skirmish of Leia's ship and the Imperial cruiser. I reimagined it as the starting point for my graduate thesis in 2008. You might say I have a degree in Star Wars as literature.

Talisman

My first Hallmark ornament and talisman of courage. I kept Luke in my pocket and naturally his lightsaber had to be glued back on several times.

Children of the Jedi

Children of the Jedi by Barbara Hambly is not a general favorite among fans of the Expanded Universe. The story is weird, but I loved it for its imagery. It is different than anything written by Timothy Zahn or Kevin J. Anderson. To be honest, I found Zahn's Heir to the Empire trilogy boring. I'm in the minority, but I’m also a reader of Neil Gaiman, Connie Willis, Terry Pratchett and Charlotte Bronte.

Amidala

My Amidala doll, given to me by a friend in middle school. I was in the 7th grade when The Phantom Menace came out, too young at the time to recognize how horrible the film really was. Still, Amidala marks a whimsical part of my childhood. Pretty, isn't she?

Carving a Niche

A map of the Star Wars galaxy can be found in a number of Expanded Universe books. I used this as a reference and gleefully made my own additions. I still do this to some extent - carving a physical niche into fantastical land- or star-scapes.

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