Balancing the Force as a Star Wars Book Editor and Fangirl

jen

It’s no secret that I was a lifelong Star Wars fan before I ever took this job; after all, it’s why I took this job. And sometimes that can be a tough line to tread. I have to balance Professional Jen with Fangirl Jen. This struggle can manifest itself in silly ways, like the longing glances I aim at the product display room near my office, or the self-consciousness I sometimes feel when wearing one of my many Princess Leia t-shirts at work, or the fact that the rest of the publishing department knows I will automatically favor any proposed magazine cover with Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan on it. And to be fair, it’s easier when it comes to, say, packaging and marketing (the cover of a book, the ads for a comic), which have certain commercial criteria they need to fulfill. The most nebulous, yet arguably most critical part of my job in which I need to maintain the balance between Professional Jen and Fangirl Jen is the editing process.

For the most part it’s not even really an issue; story ideas are often generated by the publishers or authors, and as long as what they’re proposing feels consistent with the Star Wars brand and seems to be a story people will like, it generally gets a thumbs up. No soul-searching required on my part. Things get a bit trickier when it comes to the details.

If I think a pre-established character from the movies is doing or saying something “out of character” in a story, I have to pause and assess what’s making me think that. Is my response based on the character as seen in the movies, or is the character just not behaving the way I want them to? Am I responding to the character as portrayed previously, or the character that has lived in my head for 30 years? (Those two things are not always identical.) If I don’t like something a character is doing, is it just because it’s not what I want them to be doing, as opposed to what the author intends?

If I have any doubts as to whether I’m projecting or not, I’ll run the material by another person — usually Keeper of the Holocron Leland Chee, whose neutrality cannot be impeached. Happily, I don’t think he’s disagreed with me yet. Sometimes it’s also helpful to go back and re-watch certain scenes from the films, and not rely on how they play out in my mind’s eye.

I should stress that this doesn’t happen very often, and if it does, it’s usually something quite minor. The Star Wars brand has some of the best writers out there, writers who know the universe as well as, or better, than I do, and their enthusiasm is apparent in everything they do. We all just want to get it right.

The most important thing for me to remember is that these characters do not just belong to Fangirl Jen. Han, Luke, Leia, Darth Vader, Yoda — these characters were released to the public over 30 years ago, and we all lay some sort of claim to them. My responsibility is to make sure that readers recognize them as the characters they love, too.

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