Face To Face With The Masters
Any citizen of the galaxy may be summoned to answer to the Jedi Council. Here you may read the transcripts of such sessions.
Cellblock 1138 - 1997-1999 - 2000 - 2002 - 2003+
Today, TF.N is delighted to be bringing you an interview with Randy Stradley, Vice-President of Publishing at Dark Horse comics, and editor of their awesome Star Wars line. He’s also a veteran writer of Star Wars comics, from 1984’s The Alderaan Factor
to Routine Valor
for this year’s Free Comic Book Day. In short, he’s probably the person who knows the most about this aspect of storytelling in the ‘Galaxy far, far away’, and we’re delighted he’s agreed to answer a few questions with us.
1.) First of all: for those of us who don’t know, can you perhaps explain what the role of the editor is in creating a comic or series? Is what you do with the Star Wars line analogous to Shelly Shapiro’s role at DelRey with the novels, or is it something different?
Beats me. See, I have absolutely no idea how Shelly goes about wrangling her authors or developing stories. I can tell you how we went about revamping our Star Wars line and a bit about the steps Legacy went through on its way to being what you see in the comics.
First came the decision by Jeremy Barlow and myself to make changes in our line. We felt it was time to change things up and kind of wake up the readership. Factored into that was also the knowledge that Dark Horse’s twentieth anniversary was coming up, and we knew we could get some extra promotional push from tying our revamp to that. Finally, we were aware that, after the release of Episode III, the EU would naturally receive renewed attention by the fans. So, we hammered out the eras in which we wanted to tell stories, were completely surprised when the time period for Legacy was approved, and explained the options to our creative teams.
John Ostrander and Jan Duursema called dibs on the Legacy era, and set to work on their plans. They presented their initial ideas to me, we batted them around, and eventually sent stuff to LF. From there several changes were made, characters (or character paths) were altered, and John and Jan went back to the drawing board. Their second proposal pretty much nailed it, and with only some minor alterations, it is what you see today.
Legacy, of course, was something you almost never get to work on in Star Wars -- a mostly blank slate. That’s probably why it appealed to John and Jan. I can’t say they’ve told the story -- or even started the story -- the way I would have, but I try not to project too many of my own ideas onto my creators (unless I think they’re really missing a point). There’s no real “right” or “wrong” way to approach a story as large or as expansive as Legacy, and I want them to remain invested in the project. Anyway, whether it's clear yet to the readership, John and Jan are definitely on the right track.
2.) DH are in the course of rebooting their entire Star Wars lineup. Two of the new series (Rebellion and the upcoming Dark Times) are continuations of old ongoing ones – though both now take place under the Empire, albeit twenty years apart. How much do these changes signal a shift in tone and storytelling? And can you tell us anything about your plans and hopes for these new titles?
Well, Rebellion seemed like a no-brainer. The Classic Era remains the most popular time period, despite its crowded conditions. Our plan is to find ways to use the Classic characters so that their presence is significant to the stories we’re telling, but at the same time introduce new characters who can become lesser stars on their own. The only way to avoid continuity pile-ups is to spread the story to other characters.
The Dark Times is quickly becoming a event-packed time period, as well. We’re currently limited to events occurring in the first year after Episode III, so we’re again trying to find ways to tell significant stories with the minimum use of core characters. DelRey already has Vader appearing in a number of stories that bookend the open time period, so we need to be conservative in our use of him. Fortunately, during this time of galactic upheaval, there are (we think) plenty of “important” stories that can be told about some relatively “unimportant” characters -- which in turn will make them “important.” Our guiding philosophy is something that Mr. Lucas himself said (and I paraphrase), “It’s a big galaxy. Every story doesn’t have to involve the same characters going to the same places.”
3.) With regard to Dark Times, you’ve recently contributed an argument to National Retcon Month on the TF.N message-boards, arguing that the Jedi Purge was largely a non-event hyped up by Imperial propaganda: is this a hint of the way you’re taking Dark Times, or is it misdirection?
Or do you just enjoy making fanboys jump...?
Jump, fanboys! Jump! Ah, I never get tired of that.
But, as I explained in that thread, Lucasfilm’s own facts (the numbers of Jedi, pre- and post-Order 66) support the claim that the “purge” was seen in Episode III. Plus, word from on high is that after Order 66, Palpatine wasn’t really concerned with the Jedi, and none of them was in a position to really disrupt the transition from Republic to Empire. I think Vader may still have an “on” for Jedi -- especially if he thinks the trail will lead to Obi-Wan -- but there are lots of other things to occupy Vader’s time, and Palpatine doesn’t want him spending all his time chasing rumors around the galaxy.
Again, using the films as reference, the Rebellion doesn’t really become active for another eighteen or nineteen years, and Palpatine doesn’t even bother to disband the Senate until just prior to Episode IV. He’s clearly not very worried about -- or bothered by -- Jedi, or Rebels, or Rebel Jedi during the interim. I thought my retcon was a nice way of letting the old stories (written before anybody knew what would happen in the Prequel Trilogy) remain part of continuity by viewing them through a new lens.
4.) Following on from the last question, I’ve got the impression from remarks you’ve made over the years that maybe you think of Star Wars stories primarily as tales told in the Galaxy far, far away, rather than part of a single cohesive and ‘true’ history. Am I understanding you right on this?
Not necessarily. I just think that stories which don’t fit the “facts”-- either because the facts have changed with the release of the Prequel Trilogy, or because they just never made much sense in relation to the reality portrayed in the films -- should be jettisoned. However, before the fanboys start jumping, let me quickly point out that what I want has nothing whatsoever with how LF deals with its continuity.
I’m a firm believer of not mentioning inconvenient events or “facts” from the EU. Not contradicting them, but just not letting them interfere with the telling of a good story. For instance, I have no problem with fans wanting to believe that a species of big green bunny rabbits exists in the same galaxy as Luke, Leia, and the others, but I don’t have to allow them in our comics.
5.) Now, a specific question on Rebellion: I was a bit surprised that the story of Janek Sunber was being continued in by the creative team from Nomad (excellent though that story was), rather than Welles Hartley and Davide Fabbri, who’d developed these characters through two multi-part stories in Empire. Is this something that just happens in comics?
People get busy. Hartley was working on a personal project, and Davidè is working on another (non-Star Wars) book for Dark Horse. If either of them had really raised a fuss about another creative team working with “their character,” we’d have found a way to include them. But both of them are professional enough to know that, no matter how much they “developed” the character, the character is owned by Lucasfilm and thus is fair game for use in related stories. As it was, both of them were cool with Rob Willaims and Brandon Badeaux using the character.
6.) The other new series (Legacy and Knights of the Old Republic) are set in very different timeframes. Legacy in particular is a completely new phase of the Star Wars galaxy, more than a century after the movies. Can you tell us anything about what it’s like to be doing this, both as a storyteller regardless of genre, and in terms of the specific Star Wars legacy?
Specifically, can you say what makes Knights distinctive to its timeframe, almost 4,000 years before the movies? Any hints about what we can expect as this storyline gets into its stride?
You should ask Jeremy Barlow -- or better yet, John Jackson Miller. I’m not really involved in the day-to-day decisions on KotOR. Anyway, if you thought I’d spill my guts about what’s planned for the future … Ha!
7.) Legacy is the furthest forward we’ve ever gone into the future of Star Wars, to a time when the stories we already know might be becoming legends – almost 200 years since the invasion of Naboo, further back in the past than the American Civil War. We know that John Ostrander is bringing back his Wookiee Chak from the final issues of Republic (not to be confused with the Imperial officer of the same name) but can you tell if there are any plans to show what’s happened to any other familiar characters here – or even any major planets and species?
Yes. Yes, I can. But that’s all you’re getting out of me!
8.) If I can ask a question about themes in your work: a lot of your scripts deal with warriors and men in armour – which may be inevitable for Star Wars. But I’ve noticed that a few of your stories over the years (The Alderaan Factor, Princess... Warrior! and Forever Young) involve the encounter between the military machine and female characters from civilian or more especially èlite backgrounds. On the other hand, you also gave us a TV cookery-show parody (Jedi Chef). Are there any particular ideas or topics you’ve noticed yourself developing in your work?
I hadn’t really thought about an over-arcing theme to my work, but now that you mention it (especially in the context of the stories you’ve cited) I would say that the theme would have to be: “No good deed goes unpunished.” Which is not to say one shouldn’t do what one thinks is the right thing to do. But one should be prepared to have the whole thing blow up in one’s face. How’s that for a hopeful outlook?
9.) Now I’m not sure how many people know this, but you’re credited with the idea of ‘killing the family dog’, Chewbacca, in the early stages of the planning for what became the NJO.
Those who do know about this tend to be fascinated by the rumours and snippets of information about the early Dark Horse ideas for the invasion storyline: can you give us any sort of rundown of what the original ideas were here?
I’ve also heard that you pitched a proposal for an extended story arc to Marvel after Return of the Jedi pitting Luke against the Imperial Royal Guard – if you want to say something about this, we’d love to hear about it.
Ah, fans always want to hear about “the one that got away.” I don’t have anything to say about the “invasion” idea. I was never all that gung ho on that idea in the first place -- though I did think something needed to be done to shake up the post-RotJ doldrums. Killing Chewie was just a matter of logic. We were asked to join a series of meetings with the editors and authors from DelRey -- who were also wanting to shake up the status quo. They were pretty certain that the one thing that would clearly shake fans out of their stupors and tell them in no uncertain terms that this was a “new day” would be the death of a major character.
The request to kill Luke had been turned down (not surprisingly), and they were at a loss as to what to do. Nobody could really see much point in killing Han, Leia, or Lando -- the characters were either important, but too replaceable or not important enough. They were looking for a death that would have an emotional impact on fans, and I immediately thought of Old Yeller, and of the outcry over the death of a dog in the Aliens vs Predator comic I wrote. Americans are great. You can kill a human character and they’ll feel momentary sadness. But if you kill the family dog, you’ve got a fight on your hands.
The other story you mentioned -- Luke versus the Imperial Guard -- was just proposed as a one-shot. It was what Crimson Empire was originally meant to lead up to.
10.) While we’re on the subject of the Royal Guards, an old friend – IanR on the DH.com boards – has asked me to ask: will Kir Kanos return?
I have no plans for him. But, as I’ve said many times, I like the fact that there are loose ends left in the Star Wars mythos. They provide room for future stories to be written by authors who haven’t yet taken their first steps in the GFFA -- or may not even be born yet. Plus, there’s a certain wistful, romantic feeling to knowing that a character is out there, probably having a great adventure that we haven’t yet heard about. It keeps the character “alive” in readers imaginations. When every story is told, and every loose end tied off, those stories cease to breathe. IMHO.
11.) Now a slightly playful question: over the years, various fictional universes have produced crossovers of one sort or another, and you’re famous for writing the original Aliens vs. Predator comics. If you could bring the Star Wars Galaxy into contact with another one... what would it be?
I can’t think of any where I’d want a crossover. I’ll tell you what I would like, though: for every author to treat the SW galaxy as if it were actually as big as a galaxy.
12.) You’ve been involved with Star Wars for a long time – do you consider yourself a fan? And how about sci-fi as a wider genre? As well as Aliens vs. Predator, I see Godzilla among your other comic-book writing credits.
I loved -- LOVED -- the original trilogy when it first came out. So, yeah, I’m a fan, of sorts. But now I work in the galaxy, so my appreciation of Star Wars is different than it once was. I don’t believe you can really be a “fan” and still write effectively. And that’s not just for Star Wars -- that’s for any character or universe with which somebody might be enthralled. I read the comments from fans on the message boards, and it’s obvious that they don’t see the forest for the trees. I see fans express desires for stories that explain some continuity flub, or to (see above) tie up loose ends. But most of the time, those kinds of ideas aren’t “stories.” They’re just a bunch of things that happen. A story isn’t about what happens to a character, its about how what happens to the character affects that character. It’s a huge distinction that is lost even on some professional writers.
Now days, I almost never read science fiction or Space Opera. I most certainly can’t read Star Wars material for enjoyment. It’s too close to work. I end up editing it (or figuring out ways to make it better -- or rewriting it the way I would write it) in my head.
Right now, on my nightstand, I have an assortment of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books, a couple of Continental Op books by Dashiell Hammett, a book on the art of Japanese swords, and a book on Bigfoot.
13.) Second-last question: from your perspective (do you sit behind a big desk?), does anything in particular strike you about how Star Wars has evolved over the years, either in terms of the comics specifically, or the wider saga?
I think I’m mostly struck by the number of short-sighted decisions that have been made over the years. Of course, I have the advantage of seeing where the SW saga is thirty years along. Hindsight’s a huge advantage. I’m sure that most of the authors, editors, and license overseers along the way never dreamed the franchise would last this long. But seeing how long it HAS lasted, I wish more than anything that the authors and editors working today would keep the future health of the franchise in mind -- resist the desire to tie up every loose end, to explain every mystery, to write wonder and joy out of the galaxy.
Oh, yeah, and I’d make the Mandalorians extinct. One Boba Fett is very cool. Several thousand of them is not. Just saying.
14.) And finally: judging by the reaction when TF.N briefly considered launching a series of webstrips a few months back, quite a lot of Star Wars fans seem to have ambitions to become comic-book writers and artists. So, for the final question of the interview: do you have any advice to people who might be interested in getting involved in the industry?
Run fast, run far.
Naw, I’m kidding. Sorta. Seriously, my advice to Star Wars fans who
only want to write or draw Star Wars comics: Plan to do it just as a hobby. Believe me, over the years I’ve seen lots of writers and artists who have gotten into comics for no reason other than to indulge their fantasies about one character or another. What they quickly discover is that their first job probably is NOT writing/drawing Star Wars, Spider-man, Batman, or whatever their dream book might be, and that writing/drawing comics is a lot of work. If you’re in it for the love of particular characters rather than a love of the process, you’re not going to be happy. For every panel of Vader slashing someone with his lightsaber, there are literally dozens of panels required showing characters standing around talking, going from one place to another, landscapes and other establishing shots, and all of the other “boring” panels that are necessary to put the action in context, making the action part of an interesting, successful story.
The only way to become good at anything is to practice. If you want to write, write. If you want to draw, draw. Talking about writing or drawing will land you a job in comics just as quick as talking about being a great guitar player will make you a rock star.
Writers and artists should seek each other out. These days the Internet makes finding an aspiring artist or writer with whom to team a million times easier than when I was coming up. My advice is to seek each other out, work together, and learn from each other. Figuring out how to create good stories using the language of comics (i.e., sequential panels, the necessarily sparse dialogue, etc.) is not as easy as you might think. It will take working with an artist or working with a writer to really grasp how much -- or how little -- story can be fit into one panel, or one page, or even a twenty-two-page comic. Practice, practice, practice.
Thank you very much indeed. It’s been great that you’ve been able to take the time to talk with us. It's been great.