Star Wars: Scourge, on-sale today, tackles a relatively unexplored aspect of the Star Wars universe (Hutt politics) and introduces an equally unexplored third party (the Corporate Sector Authority). It was also author Jeff Grubb’s first Star Wars novel. Scourge was based in part on a story from a Star Wars roleplaying game supplement, Tempest Feud. Now, there are no established hazing rituals for new Expanded Universe authors (the only rule is "no disintegrations"), but I decided to go easy on Grubb because I really enjoyed his EU debut. If you’re not sure what to expect from a first-time author writing about all-new characters, let me just say this: as much as I love the established stuff, this was a breath of fresh air. I really recommend picking it up. If you’re like me, finishing Scourge will whet your appetite for more standalone novels set in those corners of the EU that rarely receive the spotlight.
Tell me about the decision to base this novel on the Tempest Feud sourcebook for the Wizards of the Coast Star Wars roleplaying game system. How did you decide what to cut and what to add? Did any story or character elements have to be changed because they were originally developed for the RPG format?
Tempest Feud provided the spine for the story. It was originally written as if it was a movie itself – particularly in its pacing. (It was broken down into three major chapters, each focused on one of three different worlds – a trilogy.)
However, when you’re doing an RPG adventure, you are providing scenery, NPCs, plot, and game mechanics. The players bring the protagonists to the table, with their own backgrounds and histories. Turning this into a novel, however, suddenly I am looking at the motivations of the heroes, which in turn brought about changes on how they interact with each other. Plus I get to show what is happening behind the scenes, something not available in a RPG scenario.
As a result, I’ve added worlds and characters. I’ve gotten in deeper with characters that I have created previously. And in particular, I worked a lot with the main character – Mander Zuma. I tell people that this started as a “scum and villainy” story and became a Jedi story. Mander Zuma is the reason for that evolution.
What appeals to you about the Hutts and the Corporate Sector? They’re not featured heavily in the EU despite their vast influence in-universe.
I like both of them because they are about soft power – economic as opposed to military (though the Corporates are no slouch in the latter, they are content to stay within their borders). Both have managed to maintain their spheres of influence throughout both the Republic Era and the Rise of the Empire. Part of my attraction to the Corporates comes in part from the Han Solo at Star’s End series by Brian Daley, back at the dawn of time (yeah, I told you I was old school).
Mander Zuma is not the kind of Jedi we’re used to seeing in Star Wars. He’s not a combat veteran, he doesn’t feel an affinity for his handmade lightsaber, and he works in what is essentially the “back room” of the Jedi Order. Do you think his atypical brand of “Jedi-ness” makes him an especially compelling character?
I think that is one of his primary drives in the novel. He has “imposter syndrome” – he doesn’t believe in himself as a Jedi. He sees the posters and holos and hears the legends and recognizes that yes, he has the Force, but it manifests in a different way according to his character. In some cases, this makes him more effective than a traditional, heroic Jedi, but it has an effect on him. I think he drifted to the archives out of that unsureness in himself – if he is not a real Jedi, no one will look in the holostacks for him.
There are a lot of twists and turns involving the true identity of the shadowy main villain who runs the Tempest trade. Did you always have a particular individual in mind, or did his fate evolve as you were writing?
The Spice Lord’s identity was set from the start and informs the rest of the novel. The lord of Tempest Trade’s own development and interaction with the characters mirrors that of Mander Zuma himself, making them excellent arch-foes.
We rarely meet the family of a person selected for Jedi training, but several sources have noted that many beings harbor animosity toward the Jedi for taking away their children or siblings. What do you think about the Jedi’s “recruiting strategy,” and how did your feelings inform the way you wrote Reen Irana?
We don’t know a lot about Reen and Toro’s home life, but do know that Reen took off for the stars as well, so it is not as if the Jedi Order broke up a family. In addition, brother and sister kept in touch after they left home. But Reen does believe that the Jedi sold Toro on the dream of being a Jedi, and as a result they are responsible for what happened to him. And, like Mander, she also feels responsible for Toro’s death, and in part her seeking out who is responsible is an attempt for her to gain closure.
You leave the confluence of events that resulted in Toro Irana’s death a little bit murky. Readers are left wondering whether he was poorly trained to begin with or whether his Tempest addiction overwhelmed his discipline. Why the ambiguity? What do you think his fate tells us about the experience of being a Jedi?
One of the big questions in Toro’s death is: is it nature or nurture that brought him to his end? Was the flaw in his training, or in himself? Part of the story is how Mander deals with the question in addition to how he finds an answer. How does he come to terms with the fatal failure of one whose training he was entrusted with?
Just as Mander doesn’t feel like he’s lived up to being a Jedi, Toro has all the signs of being a good Jedi – impulsive, yes, but also capable, dynamic, and heroic. I think these traits covered a lot of warning signs to both the Jedi and Reen, until it is too late.
Let’s say you could magically write yourself a second Star Wars novel contract. What would you like to explore in your next EU novel?
I think there is more that can be done with both the Hutts and the Corporates. I love the type of books that deal with the shadowy parts of the Empire. Mander’s personal story is resolved to a great degree, but because of his life experience, he is now a perfect agent to deal with these communities.
Taking all of that into account, I still am a fan of Dexter Jettster. I wonder how he’d handle a lightsaber?
I'd like to thank Jeff Grubb for taking the time to answer my questions. His first EU novel, Star Wars: Scourge, is on sale now. If you started here with the second half of the interview, you can check out the first part on Suvudu.