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TFN Interview: The Last Jedi Co-Author Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

Posted By Eric on March 3, 2013

Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff is the author of many books, but she is probably best known to Star Wars fans for her collaborative work with fellow author Michael Reaves on EU novels like Coruscant Nights III: Patterns of Force and Shadow Games. Bohnhoff's latest collaboration with Reaves, The Last Jedi, was released last Tuesday. I spoke with Bohnhoff (and Reaves, whose interview we'll be posting soon) about the genesis of this book, the quirks of its characters, and the importance of its unique story elements.

Did you always intend to transition from Lorn Pavan's story to a series of books about his son? Or did that come about following the popularity of Lorn Pavan and I-5YQ?

I?m not really sure about that, but I suspect ?? because Michael started that series ?? I suspect it was a reaction to how popular I-Five was, because between the Lorn Pavan book, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, there was also the two Medstar books that he did, which was I-Five and Den Dhur, and there was a completely different cast of characters. I think that it was probably something that came up out of that original story.

Tell me about your collaborative work with Michael. Were there elements of the story or specific characters that each of you focused on, or did you go through it piece-by-piece and decide together?

The second way. We really had a handle on the outline of the book, how we wanted the story arc to work. What normally will happen, and it varies slightly from book to book ? Patterns of Force, when we did that one, Michael wrote the first three chapters or so, or at least pieces or blocks of the first three chapters, and then I did the draft from that. With this one, we worked together really hard on the outline, and came up with a very long, very detailed outline for the book through several iterations, until we had exactly what we wanted and what Del Rey wanted and what LucasBooks wanted.

Then I sat down and basically wrote the first draft of the book. Usually I?ll write four or five chapters in and then Michael and I will look at it and go, ?Okay, this is the tone we want,? and then we work ?? as things roll along, you?ll be writing along and go, ?Hmm, I need a character that fulfills this role in it that will be ?? I need another bad guy, or I need this or that,? and a character pops into your head. That sort of thing, I?ll take to Michael, and go, ?Gee, what if we bring this character in?? and he?ll look at it and go, ?Well, yes, but it should not be another human, it should be an alien,? or whatever.

We?ll work back and forth like that. As I?m writing the draft, Michael and I are comparing notes and talking about what turns we want it to take, what tone we want to strike, characters are coming in and out, how important a character that we create just for this book [should be] ?? for example, the Sacha character. We created her out of whole cloth for the book and we had to decide how important to the story was she going to be? As it turns out, she was pretty important. That?s kind of the way we work.

Do you think that you and Michael have different approaches to collaborative work based on your individual writing styles?

Michael and I really work very much ?? we?re very much alike as writers, which may be a good thing or a bad thing, I don?t know. I think it?s kind of cool. We rarely do disagree. We were working on a Del Rey original called Mr. Twilight, which was one of the first things that Michael and I did. [With] the components that I put in that he took out, he said, ?This is something that I don?t do. I won?t have a chapter written from the point of view of a supernatural character,? that kind of thing. Because I?m the Padawan and he?s the Jedi Master, as it were, I go, ?Oh, okay, that?s fine. This is where you want it to go.?

With the Star Wars books, we have really had no disagreements or places where we had to duke it out. Mostly when we work together, we both get really excited about it, and we start shooting ideas back and forth, going, ?Oooh oooh oooh, let?s do this, let?s do this!? and that?s what gets put down on paper. Our writing styles are similar enough that there are times when I look back on something and I can?t tell whether I?ve written it or Michael?s written it. Except if the word ?tenebrous? appears in it, I know it?s him, because he loves that word. There are certain words that he uses that I don?t. but other than that, it?s very smooth, and he tends to take ?? he has the same kind of sarcastic attitude about certain characters and types of characters that I do too, so I think we?re very simpatico in that area.

You didn?t co-write the first two books with Michael, did you?

No, [for] the first two books in the Coruscant Nights series, I had the privilege of being a beta reader for Michael he would send the manuscripts to me for some editorial feedback on them, and then I came in on Patterns of Force, which was the third book. Then, of course, we did Shadow Games together, and then this one. And I?ve worked with him on a couple of other things, too, non-Star Wars-related.

Was the story of Jax Pavan always intended to have four parts, or was this book added on to address things that you felt you hadn't tackled in the trilogy?

It?s interesting, because the way this book came about ?? Michael had been, as we were wrapping up Patterns of Force, he shot our editor, Shelly Shapiro, an email and said, ?Hey, I have an idea for another Jax Pavan story,? and his original idea was that it would take place some years in the future. He had two paragraphs saying, ?What if this kind of thing, this kind of setup happens?? Because what Michael and myself are really interested in is the concept of the Force and how it works and the metaphysics in it. I think he wanted to get at some of that background material.

So he sent the email off, and as we were wrapping up Shadow Games, Shelly said, ?Hey, you sent me this email a while back about this other book. Would you guys want to write that?? And we said, ?Oh, sure, that would be great!? We just threw the idea out there at one point and they came back to us and said, ?Hey, why don?t you write this book?? Nice confluence there. I don?t know how serious he was about pursuing it, but Del Rey really liked the idea, so we went with that.

This book was originally promoted as the fourth in the Coruscant Nights series, but it was later changed to be a standalone follow-up to the series. Why the change? What did this mean in terms of the story?

I just talked to Shelly about that today, because I was curious too. When the cover was first released at [San Diego] Comic-Con this past year, she looked at it and said, ?Oh my gosh, they didn?t put ?the Coruscant Nights series? on there.? And they said, ?Oh yeah yeah, we?ll do that, we?ll do that when we get closer.? Well as it turns out, they started discussing it, and said, ?Well, do we want readers to think they have to have read the first three books in order to understand what this one is about? Do we get more readers interested in this if we put it out as a fourth [book] in the series?? Patterns of Force came out several years ago now, so it?s been a while. They ultimately decided, after going back and forth about it for quite a while, to have it be a standalone novel. On the inside cover, there?s the other three books, and if you want to learn more about Jax Pavan and these characters, read these books. That?s the way they decided to handle it. I was surprised that [the series subtitle] wasn?t there.

It does stand alone. We really did try to set up the situation that Jax was in at the beginning. I think the reader won?t have the emotional attachments to the characters if they haven?t read the other books, and that can be really important to one of the very early plot developments, but it should really work either way. But of course, I would like them to go out and read the other books.

Jax has the somewhat unique experience of having been friends with Anakin Skywalker, and in the book he sometimes reflects on the darkness that he saw growing in Anakin. What was that like to develop? How did you go about analyzing Anakin's fall without going beyond what someone like Jax would know?

There?s a key scene in Patterns of Force where Jax is dreaming or meditating and having this kind of flashback to the point where Anakin gives him the pyronium crystal. We filled in a little bit of those blanks with that sequence. What fascinated me about it, and I know Michael too, was this idea that the Darth Vader that Jax Pavan is confronting is not the Darth Vader that Luke Skywalker confronts in A New Hope or in Return of the Jedi. It?s not the same creature; it?s not the same person. What?s really inside that suit at the point that Jax comes into the picture is another young man his own age, maybe a little bit older, who is in psychic pain and beyond angry. He is in both psychic pain and physical pain. When they meet in The Last Jedi, they meet as two young men who are both in tremendous amounts of pain.

What fascinated me about that relationship is, what does Jax Pavan represent to Anakin Skywalker? He represents what Anakin Skywalker might have been, had he not turned to the DS of the F. I have just found that that relationship is so fascinating and so at the core of this book. That?s something that we tried to get at in Patterns of Force but not as successfully. I got some really steamed feedback from one fan that just said, ?You got Vader all wrong! He?s this monolithic, cold, towering ice cube!? I just said, ?No, at this point in his life, he?s not that. He?s twenty-six years old and he?s miserable. He?s in a horrible amount of pain and he?s angry at the whole world. It?s not the same thing.? That?s really what I wanted to explore, that relationship and who is Darth Vader? This book is in some ways as much [about] who is Darth Vader as it is about who is Jax Pavan.

Tell me about pyronium. What was the thinking behind bringing this metal into the story?

Michael brought the pyronium in pretty early on. It became this duality. It was something that Anakin Skywalker had given to Jax. It was a link with Vader. At the beginning of the series, [Jax] doesn?t know that Darth Vader is Anakin Skywalker. It?s something that he tumbles to as they go and he?s only certain of it around the end of Patterns of Force. There?s that aspect of the pyronium and then there?s what it did. It?s this incredibly powerful thing. It was one of two artifacts ?? the other being the Sith holocron ?? that he?s got. Michael had a vague notion that, at some point, the pyronium crystal has to pay off, but he wasn?t really sure what it was, what it was going to do. It kept coming along [in the series], and I know when we started [The Last Jedi], I said, ?You know, Michael, we really have never done anything with that pyronium crystal. It seems to me that at least on two levels, it?s a link between Jax and Darth Vader, and it?s this incredibly potent thing. We really need to do something with that. What do you want to do with it?? And he said, ?Oh, um, I don?t know. What do you want to do with it??

So we looked at it, and as we did the outline for the story, we started thinking about what kind of role could this pyronium crystal play, aside from being a link b/w these two young men. It needs to be more than just a symbol. It needs to have some kind of real effect. I did a lot of thinking about that ?? how it would interact with the Sith holocron? Did it really have anything to do with the Sith holocron? Or did the Sith holocron just have information in it about how to use it? That?s ultimately what we went with. It was something that [Michael] planted early on, and we let its purpose and function evolve. We had to be really careful with it, because it was this thing that you could make too powerful or not powerful enough, or not special enough, and then the reader would feel let down, like, ?Oh, is that all it was??

Jax is constantly unsure of himself and rattled. There's a whole subplot about how ?indecision is all loss.? Jax vacillates and pays the price once, and he's constantly on the lookout to avoid making that mistake again. What was it like to get inside the mind of a Jedi who thinks that he's the last one and that he carries the weight of the entire Jedi Order on his shoulders?

It?s really the human experience. No matter who you are or what you?re doing, you have those moments where you feel like, ?This whole thing is my responsibility or my fault, or I have to take care of this whole thing.? There?s that aspect: Here?s this human being who has sustained tremendous losses in his lifetime, and he?s set up to be insecure, because he?s lost the Jedi Order, he?s lost his friends, he?s lost the head of Whiplash, and [there?s] all this stuff that?s happened to him. Yet underneath that is this core of an indomitable Jedi spirit. That?s part of Jax Pavan: he?s stubborn as all get-out. That?s something that, when it comes to writing yourself into a character, Michael and I both tend to invest Jax with a lot of stubbornness, because we?re both very stubborn people and have to be that. You have to have that in order to overcome the kinds of things that Jax has to deal with.

The struggle there is that he?s the recipient of this gift of Force sensitivity and it really becomes a tug-of-war. There are times that he may wish that he was just a normal human being that could just go off in the corner and lie down ??but he can?t. He has to keep going. That?s what happens to him throughout the book. He?s caught b/w wanting to take a moment and grieve ?? take a moment and meditate, go hide, go do whatever ?? and the knowledge that he has to keep picking himself up and going on. Getting inside his head is like looking at any traumatized life: what does it take to pick yourself up the fiftieth or sixtieth time that circumstances knock you down, [if] you suspect that you were at fault in causing them to knock you down?

That?s really what he?s dealing with, that guilt: ?Did I cause this? Did I make these things happen so that I now have to go out and save the universe one more time?? To me that?s the core of it. He?s a person who has this indomitable stubbornness. He knows he?s the last Jedi. Even though he?s putting himself in jeopardy, he also knows that because he?s the last one, he just has to keep going no matter what. That?s what the core of his personality is: that war b/w what he?d really like to be able to do and what he knows he has to do.

One of the ways that we see Jax connect to the Force is through the miisai tree that Laranth had given him. What kind of message did you want to send by having Jax reach out to this tree as a living extension of the Force?

It really starts with a moment on Toprawa when [Jax and his party] first get there. He?s looking at the big trees, the huge conifers that grow on Toprawa. He has an epiphany ?? that he doesn?t realize is an epiphany ?? about the nature of the Force and about how it?s not something that you can get cut off from. he has that experience in Jedi Twilight where he gets cut off from the Force a little bit, and Michael?s mindset there, I think, was that he was cutting himself off but didn?t realize it in part. What the tree is really about is the organic nature of the Force: Even if you cut the trunk off the tree, the Force continues to flow. No matter what happens to the Jedi, the Force continues to flow. It doesn?t matter what happens to the individuals, it doesn?t matter what happens to the whole forest. The Force continues to flow and it permeates everything. It?s an inexhaustible supply of these abilities.

The tree becomes a symbol for that. It becomes a symbol for Laranth as well, because it is the last thing [of hers that Jax has]. I?m waiting for somebody to pick up on what happens to the tree during the course of the book. [Jax is] very careful about feeding it; he?s very careful about watering it. Then he?s not so careful about watering it. Then he forgets to feed it. Then it falls and shatters, and I-Five takes it and takes care of it for him. And then Sacha does. The tree is really a symbol of Jax?s relationship to the Force and to Laranth and to being a Jedi. It becomes a symbol for a lot of things, actually.

We very deliberately went into ?? what happens to that tree as you go through the book is what?s happening inside of Jax; it?s what?s happening with his relationship with the Force and with the people around him. At the point that he tries to cut everybody off, he cuts the tree off too, he forgets about the tree. It was a pretty potent symbol. I chose it because I love trees, I love conifers. W. P. Kinsella, who wrote the book that [the 1989 movie] Field of Dreams is based on, says that pine trees have something in their sap that makes you dream. I?ve always thought that was a cool idea, so I had to put the tree in there.

After Laranth's death, Jax almost reaches out to the Force to see if she has become one with it like the Jedi Code suggests, but he stops himself because he's afraid of discovering that he can't sense her. This scene and Jax's subsequent crisis of faith had very religious undertones. How did you approach writing this Jedi who was close to disillusioned, even fed up, with the Force and the spirituality that he had been taught?

Part of it involves drawing on personal experience. It sounds really funky to say, ?I?m a spiritual person.? I?m trying to be a spiritual person, let me put it that way. I?m trying to look at ?? when I watch discussions on the Star Wars boards between fans, it very much is like watching a religious discussion. I know when we did Patterns of Force, some of the feedback I got from people said, ?Well, the Force is strictly a duality. There?s a Dark Side and a Light Side and the darkness is not within the person.? And then somebody else would say, ?No, no! It?s the other way! The Force is just this benign Force, it?s neutral, and the goodness or badness is in the individual person.? I thought that was a really fascinating discussion. It?s something that takes place in what we laughing call ?the real world? as well. People discuss the nature of good and evil.

In my research, I discovered that there really was a precedent for that. There?s a bit in [Jedi vs. Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force] about the Potentium, which is the idea that the Force isn?t neutral but is benign. It?s a force for good, and the darkness resides within the individual. That?s something that Michael and I have very intentionally looked at and played with in the books, more so in this one than any other. It?s that idea that the Force does not have a Dark Side and a Light Side. The Dark Side is within the individual.

While we?re not stating that as doctrine, that?s probably the position I would take. We were exploring that idea of the darkness not being essential to the Force itself. If you look at the Jedi mantra, it really is a spiritual mantra. It?s about the interconnectedness of all things, which is the heart of all the faiths on Earth ?? if you go back to the original writings, anyway. It was really hard to not approach it that way. I think it would have been too mechanical [otherwise]. I really wanted to get at what was going on inside [Jax?s] heart, inside his soul, as he?s working his way through this? There has to be a crisis of faith when you lose somebody that?s close to you. There?s that wanting to reach out and that fear of reaching out and finding out that maybe that spiritual dimension doesn?t exist, or at least not in the way that you think it does. It?s his journey, it?s his spiritual journey, of losing his faith in himself as having the capacity to use the Force wisely ?? and then finding it again and realizing that you can only do what you can do.

There's a lot of discussion of time, the implications of nonlinear time, and the human desire to change the past. The second book in this series introduced a time-transcendent species called Cephalons. Why did you want to make the idea of time a central aspect of this book?

It was something that has fascinated Michael for a long time. Hence, the Cephalons. Actually, there was more in the original idea for the story that went even further into that aspect of time. But the folks at Lucas[Books] said, ?No, no, back off on that whole time thing. We don?t want anybody literally time-traveling or thinking they can time-travel.? There?s certain things you can?t do in the galaxy far, far away, and that was one of them. But we still wanted to look at that whole idea of cause and effect. As Jax is dealing with looking back at his own decisions or lack of decisiveness and wondering, ?Did I cause this? Did I make this happen?? there?s that desire to go back in time and fix it.

In the original idea for the book, we were actually contemplating, ?Could he actually do something like that?? [LucasBooks] said that if we bent time, we had to bend it only very slightly, so we did that in the book. It was about wanting to take a metaphor that human beings use ?? ?If only I had it to do over again? ?? and make it more visceral, make it more real. It?s about the potential. One example is when Jax is on Dathomir, at the Infinity Plain, which is my favorite part of the book. I enjoyed writing that so much. He has an experience there of almost believing that maybe he could go back. Of course he can?t. But it was about making that real, making that a possibility, and then having him come to the realization, ?What would I do? If I went back, what could I do differently that wouldn?t make something else go wrong?? That?s really what he learns: you can?t even make a teeny, tiny little wiggle in a time current without it having cascade effects that you?re unaware of. It?s almost a cautionary tale to people: don?t say, ?If I only had it to do over again,? because nothing you could do would be free of repercussions down the timeline.

When Jax and his party arrived on Mandalore, the chapter began with a recap of the planet's turbulent past. This included mentions of Satine, Death Watch, and the Shadow Collective, all of which appeared in The Clone Wars Season Five. Did you collaborate with Dave Filoni in deciding how to describe and depict Mandalore? Why did you want to use this particular planet?

Not exactly. There was originally more description in there, more solid information, about what was going on. We gleaned it from scouring every resource we had about Mandalore at this point in history. Then, after we?d gone through several editing passes, they were just getting ready to send us the galleys for the book, and Shelly said, ?I just got an inside scoop about something that?s happening in the TV series this season. We need you to pull back on some of the descriptions of Mandalore.?

Initially, she said, ?Could you set it someplace else?? [laughs] And I said, ?No! It?s got to be on Mandalore. It?s important that it?s on Mandalore for a bunch of different reasons. If we try to change that now, it will have cascade effects throughout the whole book.? So she said, ?You need to pull back, because stuff is happening.? Basically, I went through and fluffed over and took out some of the more detailed references that we?d made to things that were going on on Mandalore. It wasn?t even that we knew what was going on. We just knew something was going on. [Shelly] thought that certain things were going to happen, but she wasn?t sure, so we just pulled back on that whole thing.

How early on did you decide to use Mandalore, and what were some of the things that made it an appealing setting for part of this book?

One of the things was that it was where we needed [the planet] to be. Michael created the concept of Kantaros Station and put it out in the Bothan system, so I thought, ?Okay, we need a place that fits a certain criteria. We need a place where they can go to get contraband arms, where they will be able to interface with Black Sun people, where there?s a good, healthy black market.? But it also needed to be out toward that area of space, because timing was essential to everything we were trying to do there. It couldn?t be clear off on the other side of the Rim. I looked at the map and I thought, ?Mandalore ?? that would be the perfect place.?

When we first started it, we were thinking of having them end up on Concordia, which is the outlaw moon, but I liked the idea of using Mandalore the planet and the capital city Keldabe especially. It was in the right place in the galaxy. From the beginning, we have Darth Vader splitting up his fleet, with half of them going to Coruscant and half of them going out god-knows-where by flying past Mandalore. It was just right there in the space lanes and it had the perfect setup with all the black market activity and Black Sun and all of that. There was also the fact that it was in political upheaval; that was also a really good reason to use it. It?s an outlaw place where Jax could go to be a pirate.

On page 53, Jax is agonizing over the death of his friends and he mentions losing Nick Rostu. I thought Nick survived the fight in the Factory District at the end of Jedi Twilight.

No, he died. It was in the second or third draft of the manuscript, not the first one. I was really unhappy, because Michael sent me the second draft of that manuscript and he was dying and I was like, ?Oh, no! I really liked that character!? and Michael said, ?Somebody?s got to die.? That happens in every book. Somebody?s got to die. In Patterns of Force, I got to pick who died.

The main characters of this book have appeared both throughout this series and in other connected works. What do you think the legacy of these characters will be? What is the impact of this story?

Boy, I don?t know. I really don?t. I know there?s an I-Five. That?s an impact which I thought was pretty cool. There?s this obscure bunch of books and Hasbro makes an I-Five toy.

In terms of legacy, it really is going to depend on what LucasBooks wants to do and what other writers want to do, or maybe what they ask us to do in the future. I don?t have a sense of how the books, even the extremely popular ones, impact the other things that are going on in the GFFA. For example, one of the things that happened was that The Clone Wars killed Jax?s Jedi Master [Even Piell] in that series, but they killed him at a point before he dies in the first book of the Coruscant Nights series. In some ways, the impact is unintentional, because there?s not a planned impact for the books to have on the TV show or the TV show to have on the books. It?s almost like there?s two separate streams happening.

I?d like to think that [the reception to this series] would mean that there?d be other books with I-Five or, potentially, I-Five turning up in a TV series or on one of the new movies or something. Because he?s really the star of the show.

Do you have any other projects on the horizon, either alone or with Michael?

Michael and I are working on something called the Solar Guard, which is a series of books where basically Michael said, ?You know what? I want to have my own galaxy far, far away. Let?s build our own universe.? It?s an alternate solar system [book] series. There are people living on Venus and Mars. It?s taking the Edgar Rice Burroughs or John Carter of Mars approach. It?s almost like stepping off from the 1950s science-fiction but set in the future. We?ve also got another fantasy project that we?re working on for some friends. Also, our co-collaborator Mark Zicree, who is a teleplay writer (I did the second book in his Magic Time series), has asked Michael and I to write books to bridge between his new series of movies. So we?re working on that too. I?m re-releasing a series of fantasy novels through Book View Caf?, which is my first trilogy.

Are there any other Star Wars eras you?d be interested in writing in if you got the chance?

We?ve actually shot a couple of ideas to our editors. Michael really wants to write a book about the droids, like I-Five and C-3PO, having a mission of some sort. The idea is that all the main characters are droids. That?s an idea that he would love to do. I?d love to write another Dash Rendar novel. I think it would be a lot of fun. I?ve got an idea for a follow-up to Shadow Games that I?d really like us to get the chance to write. I?ve pushed those ideas out there and hopefully at some point [LucasBooks] will say, ?Hey, would you guys like to write one or both of these books??

I really would like to do some more. I like stuff that takes place in this time period, but I realize we?re running out of room in the timeline. It?s like, yes, it?s a big galaxy, but there?s only so much story you can tell. Michael had originally intended [The Last Jedi] to take place six or seven years after the action in Patterns of Force, so we?d be dealing with an older Jax Pavan and an older Darth Vader. But LucasBooks looked at the timeline and said, ?There?s really no room for it [there]. It needs to happen in this three-month period b/w the end of Patterns of Force and the next set of books.? There was just a little sliver of the timeline that we could inhabit with Jax. It?s filling up! I guess I?ll have to start thinking about what happens after A New Hope.?

Big thanks to Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff for taking the time to discuss The Last Jedi with me. The book is on sale now. Check it out!

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The Dented Helmet / MIMOBOT giveaway!

Mimoco: New Mimobot Coming May 4th
Posted By Chris on May 2, 2013:
Who will it be?

WeLoveFine Loves May The 4th
Posted By Dustin on May 2, 2013:
Contest winners and t-shirt sales all weekend!

May The Fourth Grant You Savings On A Great Book!
Posted By Dustin on May 2, 2013:
Gus and Duncan's Comprehensive Guide to Star Wars Collectibles

Star Wars Island In Geoffrey's Jungle
Posted By Dustin on May 2, 2013:
Toys "R" Us Celebrates May the 4th

Catalog Details For New Essential Characters Guide
Posted By Eric on May 2, 2013:
Synopsis, quick facts, and rough release date

Synopsis Posted For Star Wars: Kenobi
Posted By Eric on May 2, 2013:
"The Republic has fallen. Sith Lords rule the galaxy."

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