TFN Interview: The Last Jedi Co-Author Michael Reaves
Posted By Eric on March 7, 2013
Michael Reaves has written nine Star Wars novels, several of them in collaboration with either Steve Perry or Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff. His latest EU book, The Last Jedi, was released a few weeks ago. I spoke to Michael about the characters and situations in The Last Jedi, from star Jax Pavan to smarmy sidekick droid I-Five to the unique issues that Reaves and Bohnhoff grappled with in the book.
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?
We'd felt that we'd left Jax and his crew in a good place, but he was such a great character, he just begged for more story. Del Rey asked if I had ideas for Jax's future, because another author was looking for an existing Jedi to use and Jax seemed like a good candidate, and that got us thinking even more...and The Last Jedi was the result.
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?
Jax is unique in his knowledge. He was friends with Anakin as Padawans in the Jedi Temple, and there's a bond there. We gave the two some believable but unique-to-Jax history, and then tried very hard to see Anakin only through Jax's eyes and experience, without giving him information he could know only from seeing the movies! The main concern was that Jax wasn't going to be able to share what he knows about Vader with everyone in the galaxy.
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?
What was it like? This implies that we had a choice. As far as I'm concerned, those flaws are the only thing that make Jax interesting. This is Basic Writing 101, folks: Make your character human. Give him problems to overcome, and make 'em psychological, not just who's got the bigger lightsaber. It's the three basic conflicts that you need in any good story; Man against Nature, Man against Man, and Man against Himself. The first two are important, but if you want it to be memorable, you must have the last one.
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?
The great thing about science fiction is that you can take concerns that we've all had -- in this case, being able to go back and take the road not taken -- and let your character deal with them -- not just psychologically, but in an active, physical manner as well.
As far as the Cephalons were concerned, they grew out of a fascination with the illusion of free will. We think we're masters of our fate, but everything we know about the cosmos says otherwise. We're predestined, but because we can't see the particulars, we fool ourselves into thinking that we can make a difference. I wanted someone -- or more than one; the STAR WARS equivalent of a Delphic oracle -- to keep Jax on track, but not make things too easy. The best detective stories -- writers like Hammett, Chandler, MacDonald -- usually have a heavy taint of existentialism running through their characters. We tried to give Jax the same sensibility.
You briefly mentioned The Silent in this book. They appeared in the Medstar Duology and they were also mentioned in Coruscant Nights III and Shadow Games. Can you tell me what appealed to you about that group?
The Silent, if memory serves, were Steve Perry's creation. They're based on statistics he came across about people who went to hospitals, rest homes and the like to meditate. They didn't pray, or chant, or do anything overtly woo-woo; they just hung out and were mindful. According to the stuff Steve read, the overall health, longevity, and general well-being of the patients improved markedly whenever The Silent (that wasn't what they called themselves) were there. I dunno; I'd like to see the data. But they were intriguing characters and helped give a better 3d aspect to the planet Drongar -- which was all we wanted, really. That's also why we put 'em in the other books. Think of it as "background continuity."
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?
In a way it's a clich?; the priest who's lost his faith. Remember that Jax had been a Knight for an extremely short time before Order 66 destroyed his entire life. He had to flee into the slums, and he couldn't use the Force for fear of detection. (Right. In a population of umpty-ump squintillion. The false positives alone would -- Ah, well. Ours is not to reason why.) Anyway, you can see why the lad's a bit bitter.
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?
No, actually. I'd just been contracted to do the Maul book, and had no idea if I'd ever get to do another. I came up with the character of I-Five for purely structural reasons: Lorn needed someone to talk to. Also, I conceived of the book as a buddy story. Initially I was going to have Lorn have an alien partner. Then I woke up one day with that scene at the cantina where Luke has to send Threepio and Aroto outside playing in my head. I thought about how it would play if it was a cheeky, smart-ass droid who refused to cooperate. And I knew I had Lorn's partner.
As for subsequent books, that was pure serendipity. I knew that Lorn, Darsha and I-Five had to die, because Maul had to triumph. I thought it was just too much of a downer if everyone died, so I arranged to have Five's memory wiped. That way there was at least a chance of bringing him back. When Steve and I were tapped for the MedStar books, I knew I wanted to bring him back. From there I pitched Coruscant Nights as "Jedi Detective" with Lorn's son.
I-5 is a fantastic character. How did you go about creating him? What sources did you look to for inspiration? What was the thinking behind giving him a minor Force aura?
Like I said above; he was a smartass droid. I knew I had comedy gold in having people being unable to understand that he wouldn't take any crap about being a "toaster". And it was the best kind of comedy: the kind that could turn serious in a heartbeat. As for him having a connection to the Force -- that was just a plot point that made him different. It is very gratifying, I must say, to have him be so popular.
Big thanks to Michael Reaves for taking the time to discuss The Last Jedi with me. The book is on sale now. Check it out!
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