Adapting the Awakening: Chuck Wendig on Turning The Force Awakens Into a Comic

The writer of Marvel's new miniseries discusses the challenges and opportunities of bringing the hit film to comic form.

It’s time to go back to Jakku. But we aren’t only returning to the desert-planet home of Rey, we’re revisiting every locale in The Force Awakens in the new Marvel comic Star Wars: The Force Awakens. On shelves today, the six-issue adaptation by writer Chuck Wendig (also author of the Aftermath trilogy) and artist Luke Ross will take the newest film from the screen to sequential art. Adapting the script wasn’t the easiest of tasks. StarWars.com talked with Wendig about capturing the big beats of the film while still adding something fresh to the familiar story.

StarWars.com: With a novelization, more thoughts and depth can be added because we can get inside characters’ heads. But with a comic, it seems challenging because you don’t have nearly as much space. What were the biggest challenges of adapting the story?

Chuck Wendig: It’s tricky because it’s not page for page. And things like dialogue in a film take up a lot more room in a comic. Certainly, you want to have these certain action beats, these certain really huge moments from the film, and you want to give them their due. You can’t just kind of hastily run past them and hope everyone’s seen it. I mean, I think it’s a safe assumption to say people have probably seen the film, but at the same time, I want the comic to stand on its own. You don’t have a lot of extra oxygen to do different things with it, to take the adaptation in a new direction exactly, so the goal is to refine down the purity of what you get on the screen and utilize the resource and the advantages that the comic format provides, and to really tell a kickin’ version of that.

StarWars.com: When you’re in the formulating stage, how do you cherry pick the important beats and sequences?

Chuck Wendig: You have to go through and, you know, for me the biggest tent-pole pieces of the comic were looking through the film and the script of the film and saying which moments of these are the ones where you get chills — or you have to have the ones that are captured in memes, or the ones that you talk about all the time, or the moments they see the Falcon, or Rey gets the lightsaber — and then how do you build bridges between those scenes. Because those moments are so critical and so key, you can’t lose them and you have to build up to them properly, so that means things that aren’t building up to those moments are not as important as the things that do.

StarWars.com: I imagine pacing would be tricky, too.

Chuck Wendig: Super tricky, because you’re breaking it up and it’s not meant to be broken up into multiple pieces. There’s things you just don’t get with a comic adaptation that you obviously get with film, or that you would get with a novel. It’s just trying to hit that stuff home, but it’s tricky! It was like a master class in figuring out how to ideally tell a compelling story in the comic format and preserving the whole thing while still losing a lot of it at the same time.

StarWars.com: And given that you haven’t written a ton of comics, did Marvel approach you about The Force Awakens adaptation? How long has it been in the works?

Chuck Wendig: I started working for them, I got Hyperion last year, and obviously I did that for a while. I guess, after around the second or third issue of Hyperion they contacted me. Obviously, I had the Star Wars novel under my belt by then, and already two more books in the works for the Aftermath trilogy. So, I feel like [it was] both working in Marvel and then also already having some Star Wars cred, as it were.

StarWars.com: It’s pretty cool cred to have.

Chuck Wendig: It’s not the worst cred to have, it’s pretty cool cred, it’s like my childhood version of me would be very excited right now. And the adult version also is. So, I think it was a good fit. At least, hopefully that’s what they seem to think.

StarWars.com: Plus, you get to work with Luke Ross who also has some great cred.

Chuck Wendig: Man he really is, he’s the guy… It’s Christmas for me every day because I get panels and pages — I’m bombarded with awesome art daily, and I never have like, good things to add to it. I’m like, “This is amazing! I’m so happy right now!” That’s the extent of critical input I give him, is just how happy I am.

There’s a lot of e-mails back and forth. In the grand scheme of things, we have the vertebrae of the film, we can always go back to that. It’s easy to point and capture frames, and we’ll do that in the script sometimes — we’ll capture a frame or something related from Star Wars that says, “We want it to look like this.” The Force Awakens is the perfect spring board, I don’t need to describe things that don’t really exist.

StarWars.com: How do you think this adaptation will add to the experience of fans who have already seen the film?

Chuck Wendig: It’s a weird question because that’s one of things you discuss up front. Like, “What, why do we need this? What is the purpose?” … So then the question is why, if everybody has already seen the film, what are we bringing to the table? I think that’s where Luke and I work well in thinking, “What haven’t we seen in the film?” Every shot in this film, the film editors and the director, they make decisions about where to cut and what to show. So for us, is there something we can show before and after each scene? Before and after each shot? Are there different angles we can look at in Maz Kanata’s castle that show you different aliens or different things you haven’t maybe seen?

It’s sort of like — look at VR [virtual reality]. VR lets you inhabit a space in a different way, and it lets you look around more. So for me, the comic book is letting us look around a little more, and saying, “What can we see here that maybe the film didn’t show us, while still maintaining the same story and the same relative dialogue beats and the same relative plot beats? How can we move the camera a little bit?”

StarWars.com: The Force Awakens has a considerable amount of dialogue, and like you said, that takes up space on the page. What was it like to trim that down?

Chuck Wendig: Huge credit goes to the screenwriters of the film because so much of what is said is essential. A lot of it pulls double duty, right? It’s essential for the character, but at the same time it’s conveying information. It’s really tricky because if you lose dialogue you feel like you lose a whole piece of what’s going on, you lose an understanding of what’s happening.

I think that’s really where my job came down, because obviously I’m not really writing this in the strictest sense, I’m not penning new stuff — I mean, outside of a few pieces or a slight revision of some of the dialogue just to make it make sense in a comic context. Mostly my job here is I’m an editor, I’m editing this story into a different shape, into a different story. While still maintaining the same story.

Amy Ratcliffe is a writer obsessed with Star Wars, Disney, and coffee. Follow her on Twitter at @amy_geek.

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