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TFN Interview: Daniel Wallace

Posted By Mandy on September 28, 2010

We’re joined once again by the popular and in-demand author, Dan Wallace. Dan is bringing something very special to Star Wars table: an in-universe guide on how to become a Jedi Knight called The Jedi Path. I was lucky enough to get my greedy hands on an advanced copy and had the time chat with Dan about the book.

Mandy B: Let’s get the niceties out of the way first, Dan. It was so nice to finally meet you in the flesh at Star Wars: Celebration V. How are you?

Daniel Wallace: I'm well! It was great to see you in Orlando for Celebration V but I'm disappointed things were so crazy-busy. Not only did our plans to get tattoos fall through but I didn't even get a chance to party with you and other TFNers at some Orlando bar somewhere. What's up with that? I'm putting in a rain check for 2013.

MB: On the outside, The Jedi Path has the look of a well-used journal. I half expected the inside of the book to be written on vellum. Did you have any say over the packaging of the book?

DW: Vellum is a good one! You're right that the book itself feels like a well-worn journal. It's a bit like a Moleskine notebook. In fact if they printed blank ones I'd buy a few. Much of the credit for the book's look goes to becker&mayer! editor Delia Grieve and designer Rosanna Brockley, who wanted the book to feel well-worn and humble. By contrast the mechanical shell encasing the book feels high-tech and showy. Both aspects tell you a little something about the nature of the Jedi.

MB: Cracking the book open, we see a forward by Luke Skywalker. For the, and I say this kindly, timeline-centric nuts, what was happening when Luke “discovered” the guide?

DW: I'm absolutely a timeline-centric nut, so it was important for me to figure out how the "movie Jedi," beginning with Yoda and ending with Luke, could have possessed this book and when it would have changed hands. I worked up a timeline which was reproduced in the form of Luke's letter. But Luke couldn't have found this book too early, since a lot of the novels set after Return of the Jedi see him struggling to establish his own Jedi Order without a blueprint. So, for my fellow nuts, Luke found the book in 24 A.B.Y. or shortly before the events of the New Jedi Order series.

MB: Personally, I’m hugely into analyzing every little thing about Star Wars. Throughout the book I was distracted by the handwriting for each individual. (You will never get me to admit to looking up handwriting analysis websites at 1AM, so there.) Did you create each character’s distinctive handwriting or give some guidelines as to how it should look?

DW: The handwriting's great, isn't it? I wrote the comments and tried to capture each character's voice, but the typefaces were a design decision by Delia I believe. Some of my favorite bits are the blood-red spidery handwriting of Darth Sidious, and the green ink used by Qui-Gon, which was a nod to the fact that Qui-Gon is very close to the Living Force.

MB: One of things I loved throughout the book was watching each “Old Republic” Jedi grow-up with the book. Each annotation became a little more adult-like and responsible as the book continued. Did one particular Jedi’s, forgive me, “path” resonate with you while writing?

DW: Each annotator had a voice. Anakin is cocky and resentful. Sidious is sadistic and gloating. Dooku is cold and disdainful. Qui-Gon is empathetic and unsure about Dooku. Yoda is wise and wistful. Obi-Wan is cautious and humble. Thame Cerulian is easily excitable and a bit goofy. Ahsoka is spirited and sometimes exasperated with other people's annotations. It was fun to age all of these voices throughout the book and also to have them play against each other in graffiti chains. The annotations are also where you'll find most of the in-jokes.

MB: My ego can’t stand it anymore: Did you, perhaps, name a certain Jedi Seer after me? If so, can I pick the color of my lightsaber? (It’s yellow, isn’t it?)

DW: You have a good eye! One of the Jedi Masters who wrote the book is Jedi Seer Sabla-Mandibu. I named her after seeing @MandyBu scroll by in my Twitter feed. But no, you can't pick yellow! Sabla-Mandibu is most likely a Jedi Consular, and if you'd read the book you'd know that Consular lightsabers are green. So there.

MB: I thought the various (and sometimes opposing) viewpoints of the “authors” of the text were an interesting living history of the Force, as it were. What were the tenets that you most specifically wanted to illustrate about the Force and more importantly, how the Jedi viewed and used the Force?

DW: Here's the thing about the Jedi: they present a unified front but that can't really be the case. We know that Qui-Gon doesn't agree with the Council. Neither does Anakin. And the Jedi are always making pronouncements that aren't true. The librarian says that if something isn't in the Temple archives it doesn't exist. Yoda warns Luke that if he helps his friends he'll destroy everything they've fought for. Obi-Wan tells a whopper of a lie about Anakin, and later tells Luke that he has to kill his father or the Emperor will already have won. Maybe they honestly thought these were the right things to say (though the librarian has no excuse) but all of them are demonstrably false based on movie evidence alone. So my premise in writing the Jedi, even the Jedi from a thousand years ago, was that they were very powerful and very fallible. And that the first truth often blinded them to the second one.

Here's another thing about the Jedi. If the Force has a will -- and the Jedi certainly claim that it does, and that its will is good and correct -- then the Force is a sentinent being of some type. It's essentially God. Two Jedi discussing the Force is the same as two seminary students discussing theology. You can imagine how complicated that discussion might get, even if, say, the Vatican already had an official stance on the issue.

The concept of the Force as a higher power is what I think makes the Jedi different from random Force-users. It's a religion with rules, ceremonies, and traditions. This is why the Jedi don't use the Force to, say, levitate garbage cans out to the curb. It's disrespectful.

So yes, there are differing takes on the Force among all the Jedi and you will probably get a sense of that through the POVs of the individual authors in The Jedi Path. Jedi Seer Sabla-Mandibu is a true believer, while Morrit Ch'gally, who works as a Jedi Recruiter, has a more cynical and compromised view.



MB: There are some very important pages that are missing from The Jedi Path. I must admit I had a very visceral reaction when I got to them. The more time I spent attempting to string the words together and perhaps figure out the prophecy (don’t judge me… I am an excellent doer of crosswords), the angrier I became. Firstly, were you hoping for such a reaction? Secondly, feel free to email me what was ripped from the pages. And lastly, I noticed there was not commentary on who ripped out the pages. My money is on Anakin… thoughts?


DW: The idea that some pages would literally be missing from the book was something that we developed early, during discussions on how to make the book look aged. According to the Table of Contents the pages you're referring to were meant to explain the prophecy of the Chosen One. And yes, because fragments of words are still visible on the torn-out edges I wrote a real block of text for this section so that we didn't have Lorem Ipsum in the margins, even though I knew that my block of text would never actually see print.

We knew it would be a little frustrating for readers but maybe we weren't prepared for just how much! Lots of people have already asked me to email them the missing text but I'm just not allowed. From an in-universe standpoint, there's a little note tucked in next to the ripped pages from Luke, theorizing that the Emperor could have been the one to tear out the pages, but I agree that Anakin is an intriguing candidate.

MB: What would you say is Luke Skywalker’s biggest takeaway regarding The Jedi Path?

DW: Probably, "where were you when I needed you"?

But then again, by the time Luke finds this book he already owns a couple Holocrons and a stack of data tapes from a crashed Jedi starship. I think this would be less of a teaching aid to Luke and more of a fascinating look at people from his past. His father, old Ben, Yoda. These are people he knew only in passing, and here he has a chance to hear their remembrances and teenage angst from years gone by.

MB: I have to bring this up. Was Darth Sidious just on a drunken, dark side bender when he decided to annotate The Jedi Path? His comments remind me of someone destroying all of the popular kids’ photos in the high school yearbook. Don’t get me wrong, this endears me to the Sith lord. I just wanted your perspective. ; )

DW: I love that! I definitely thought of him as being in cackling mode when he wrote his comments. I mean, it's not like he's planning to pass the book down to someone else in the future. Why would he write in it other than to gloat? And Palpatine can gloat better than anybody. Can you read the words "Oh, I'm afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive" and not hear them in Palpatine's voice? And then want to punch him?

MD: All in all, I loved this book from beginning to end. It’s a joy to hold, and moreover, it’s a pleasure to explore. What’s next for you, Dan?

DW: Two things from another universe entirely. This fall keep an eye out for DC Comics Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle from DK, and 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking from Taschen. Both provide a real-world look at the publishing history of DC. For the first book I wrote the portion focusing on the 1930s and 1940s, while for the second I focused on the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.

For the Star Wars universe, I'm really hoping that The Jedi Path is a hit and that we have the opportunity to do more books in this vein. A lot of fans have been asking about The Sith Path, but I think it could also be fun to do a smuggler's guide or a military recruitment manual.

MB: Finally, I wanted to ask you the question on everyone’s mind: When are you writing the adult-reader sequel to the wildly popular Galaxy of Fear series? Your readers want to know, sir.

DW: For those who don't know, Galaxy of Fear was a series of young adult books by John Whitman that tied into the teen-horror genre popularized by such authors as R.L. Stine. And for something that seems like a product of its time I thought they were a lot of fun. But I'd be nervous if I were given the opportunity to write the sequel, since every single chapter of those books had to end with a cliffhanger. It was the law. A chapter would finish with "Tash stepped off the spaceship and heard a blood-curdling scream!" Then you'd read the next chapter and it would say "But apparently it was just a bird."

MB: You can't hear me Dan, but I'm giving you a round of applause. That's all folks! If you're looking to follow Dan's everyday life you can follow him on Twitter. You can also visit his blog. I cannot recommend picking up a copy of The Jedi Path enough. Seriously, go buy it. Many thanks also go to Elena Stokes for getting me a review copy of the book and being generally awesome!


Related Stories

May 14, 2011   Ashley Eckstein & Catherine Taber Interviews
April 15, 2011   TFN Interview: Christian Taylor
February 8, 2010   TFN Interview: Daniel Wallace





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