Helen Keier was fortunate to catch up with Mike Stackpole, probably one of the busiest Star Wars writers out there. His X-Wing series of books and comics from the classic trilogy has been a huge success, and he has recently worked on Union, the marriage between Luke and Mara Jade. Stackpole is also writing for the latest Star Wars novels from Del Rey, the New Jedi Order. We appreciate him taking time out of his busy schedule to chat with us. You can visit Mike's website at http://www.stormwolf.com/. On with the interview!
TF.N: What did you think of Episode I?
M.A.S.: I rather enjoyed Episode I, especially the Jedi parts and the fight scene at the end, well, it just gets better each time I see the film. I can understand some of the criticism of the film, but none of that stuff bothered me, nor detracted from the film for me. This is the first in a set of three, so it set up what will follow. That's cool with me.
TF.N: What Episode I character would you most like to write about?
M.A.S.: Tough call. I'd like to do a Darth Maul comic. Qui-gon would be cool to write a novel around.
TF.N: Is there any chance you'll write either of these?
M.A.S.: Gotta be invited to the dance before you can dance. My editors know I'm interested, so if a project pops up, I hope I'll be considered.
TF.N: What do you hope to see in Episode II?
M.A.S.: Whatever Mr. Lucas wants to put into it. *g*
TF.N: UNION #1 is a big hit. What can you tell us about the rest of the series?
M.A.S.: Um, more of the same: romance, action, humor, all the things that make up Star Wars.
TF.N: Some details in UNION #1 that have led to speculation, as they aren't referenced in any other stories (yet?). For example, who is married to who?
M.A.S.: The folks who are coupled up are fairly straight forward, save for Gavin. More on his marriage situation in ONSLAUGHT.
TF.N: How did Threepio find out he was "born" on Tatooine?
M.A.S.: You have to remember, Artoo knew where Threepio came from. It would be my estimation that he didn't mention it for any number of reasons when they first appeared on Tattooine -- the least of which being operational security, or not wanting to have Threepio lose his focus. Later the information was transmitted. Not really a big deal.
TF.N: Can you tell us about your short story in the upcoming TALES FROM THE NEW REPUBLIC?
M.A.S.: It's another collaboration with Timothy Zahn. It's set before ANH and involves the initial transfer of Death Star plans to the Rebellion. It was a lot of fun to play with Garm Bel-Iblis, Hal Horn and Ysanne Isard.
TF.N: Any comments on the move from Bantam to Del-Rey, as publishers of the Star Wars novels?
M.A.S.: New publisher, new structure for the property's presentation, it takes a bit of getting used to. Because I was involved from the start on planning the New Jedi Order it's probably been easier for me than most folks. It's a lot of fun to approach a project of this magnitude, though, and it's been great working on it.
TF.N: What can you tell us about your upcoming New Jedi Order books?
M.A.S.: I pick up where Bob Salvatore left off and get to ratchet things up a notch. If you didn't like the Yuuzhan Vong before, my take on them will leave you cold. I also get to play with more of the politics, as usual, which I greatly enjoy, and bring in some of the favorite characters from my other books.
TF.N: What guidance did Lucasfilm give you in writing your upcoming New Jedi Order novels?
M.A.S.: Well, I was present at the planning meetings, so it was really a joint effort to put together a great story line that advanced the universe and characters. Lucasfilm, as always, had concerns as to how the universe would be presented, but I was fairly well versed in those from my Bantam and Dark Horse experience.
TF.N: What role did you play in the planning? What were your contributions?
M.A.S.: These were brainstorming sessions, so tagging any specific idea as "mine" is difficult and unfair. I was just part of the team that looked at a direction, picked out some milestone and epic events, and we rolled things out from there.
TF.N: Was there anything you weren't allowed to do?
M.A.S.: Not that I recall.
TF.N: Fan reaction to the changes in the Star Wars Universe initiated in the first New Jedi Order Novel, VECTOR PRIME (by R.A. Salvatore) was well, mixed. What do you think of the decision to take the Classic Star Wars characters in new directions?
M.A.S.: Clearly, since I helped plan the New Jedi Order, I think taking them in new directions was wonderful. I also think it avoids stagnation, which is the death of a universe. While I'm sorry some readers didn't like this -- and am apalled that folks would issue death threats to a writer -- I think they would have liked Star Trekish formula pablum even less. This is Star Wars, for goodness sake. Our readers are made of sterner stuff.
TF.N: Perhaps if fans understood the Lucasfilm process a little more, they might not be so "anti-change" or blame storyline events on the authors. We receive a lot of mail at TheForce.Net which assumes events in the Star Wars Universe are determined by the authors, asking "How could Lucasfilm let so-and-so get away with that?" It would appear that readers do not know that it is Lucasfilm that decides which major events appear in a story and which don't, not the individual writers. Bearing the fall-out from Vector Prime and the NJO novels to come in mind, what can you tell us about the process of writing a Star Wars novel? What can you tell us about Lucasfilm's involvement?
M.A.S.: Lucasfilm approves the writers, approves the outline, approves the various drafts. Unless they want it in there, it isn't in there. That's it.
TF.N: How was [taking the characters in new directions] done in your upcoming New Jedi Order novels?
M.A.S.: Lots of different ways. The Vong aren't the usual enemy and demand growth and difficult choices to deal with them. Each character in the story has to struggle with this him/herself. As per usual, I put characters on the horns of a dilemma and hope they learn from their experiences.
TF.N: Have you found greater freedom in working with the main Star Wars characters since Lucasfilm is allowing more to be done with them (such as, say, killing them)?
M.A.S.: I've never been told NO in response to something I wanted to do. I mean, heck, they let Corran tell Luke off in I, JEDI. There was no greater or lesser freedom in these novels than in any others.
TF.N: The X-Wing novels and comics were extremely popular. Are there any more on the way?
M.A.S.: The X-wing line doesn't fit into the NJO plan, but I do bring old favorites back in my novels. What happens with the future, through Del Rey or Dark Horse, though, remains to be seen.
TF.N: You've written Star Wars novels and comics, and the only Star Wars novel told in the first person, I, Jedi. In addition, it was the only Star Wars novel to focus on one person, rather than the usual cast of characters. How was this different to write from other Star Wars novels?
M.A.S.: I, JEDI was very easy for me to write. While I am NOT Corran, crawling into his skin was a lot of fun. The book wrote itself very quickly. Thre are parts of it that are just magic. Being focused on one character helped things go so quickly and that speed lends the story an urgent energy it wouldn't have had otherwise.
TF.N: Is one easier than the other, or harder?
M.A.S.: Neither is easier or harder, though comics are quicker because they are shorter.
TF.N: In what ways?
M.A.S.: In comics you have to think graphically first, then do dialog. That's a shift from novels. In comics you have to be more concise, too, because you don't get a lot of words. In novels you can sprawl, which I often do.
TF.N: Do you have a preference, and why?
M.A.S.: No real preference. Comics let me do somethings novels don't and vice versa. I really enjoy doing both and would love to continue if allowed to.
TF.N: How has your overall experience with Star Wars fans been? Positive? Negative?
M.A.S.: It's been overwhelmingly positive, which is why the reaction to and attacks on Bob Salvatore have stunned me. Had I known the sort of ill-mannered responses his work would get, I'd have told him to run away. Instead, basing things on my experience, I told him to come on in. I guess I kind of feel betrayed here, and I have to wonder what sort of nonsense will go on with my NJO books.
TF.N: What would you say to fans that reacted (and may react) negatively?
M.A.S.: Well, first, Star Wars belongs to Lucasfilm. They're hosting the party, if you will, they pay the band, so we dance to the music they choose. Second, if you want safe stories, pablum puked out that doesn't make you think, go read Star Trek or some other series. Star Wars has the depth and strength to allow for really dynamic stories. If those are not to your taste, stop reading those stories. All the writers are doing their best to turn out great stories, and I think this series will be full of them. It's funny, on one hand writers will be criticized for having a cadre of "safe" characters who can't die. Readers say that makes the stories boring. Then we turn around and make everyone fair game, and they don't like that. The key is writing the best story we can, and doing what we have to do to make it the best. I'm not going to compromise my standards of storytelling because I'll make someone nervous. If I'm NOT making them nervous, I'm not doing my job.
TF.N: How has working with the Star Wars Universe affected your career?
M.A.S.:My career, well, it's gotten me into comics, which is cool, and has allowed me to put away money which means financial worries are covered for about a year. It's gotten me a huge number of readers who have been very nice and supportive and have crossed over to get my original novels, for which I am eternally grateful. I would not be exaggerating if I said that without Star Wars I'd likely be "the former novelist Mike Stackpole." I've also gotten the chance to travel to conventions in Australia and all over the US and Europe, which never would have happened without SW. I couldn't be happier, nor could I be more grateful.
TF.N: Your writing?
M.A.S.:It's allowed me to refine my skills, and has challenged me to get better and better. All books do that, but doing it in front of millions of readers, well, it pushes you so you can't afford to fail.