Getting to Know Unkar, Bobbajo, and More: A Conversation with Tales from a Galaxy Far, Far Away: ALIENS Volume I Author Landry Q. Walker

StarWars.com talks with the author of a new book exploring the aliens of Star Wars: The Force Awakens!

Going on sale today is a new hardcover collection of Star Wars stories, titled Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Tales from a Galaxy Far, Far Away: ALIENS Volume I. Written by Landry Q. Walker,  this anthology of six stories puts the spotlight on some of the minor and background characters from the recent film. Walker has been writing stories in different media for over 20 years, including many for the all-ages audience, including the comic Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, the novella Frozen: The Phantoms of Arendelle, and several storylines for The Incredibles comics. While four of the stories in Tales from a Galaxy Far, Far Away were previously published in eBook format in December 2015, this is their first time in print, and two stories have not been published until now, exclusive to this collection. With this new book coming out from Disney-Lucasfilm Press, StarWars.com had the opportunity to ask Walker a few questions about his work.

StarWars.com: How did this novelette collection come about?

Landry Q. Walker: Long story short, I was asked. It was a funny confluence of events for me, as I had been doing a lot of freelance writing for Sideshow Collectibles. Sideshow is a major Star Wars licensee and so I just happened to find myself constantly surrounded by Star Wars stuff. More and more Star Wars was on my brain, and as I am a bit of a toy collector I was finding myself starting to want to collect new Star Wars figures for the first time since around 1996. But my wife made the valid point that I have a lot of toys, and finally said, “Look, you can get Star Wars toys if you get a job working on something Star Wars.”

Few weeks later, I got an e-mail asking if I wanted to work on Star Wars. I texted my wife and her only response: “You will do anything to get those toys, won’t you?” So now I have about a hundred Star Wars figures, plus courtesy of Sideshow, a couple Sixth Scale Figures. Pretty happy about that.

StarWars.com: How were the protagonists selected and how did they influence the plots of their tales? How much background information were you given about these characters from The Force Awakens, and how much did you create about them?

Landry Q. Walker: Well, that’s a deeply layered question. I went into the office for a day and the Story [Group] set out a series of images of these various aliens. I was kind of directed to three different characters, but the other three I selected because they interested me: Sidon Ithano (a.k.a. The Crimson Corsair), Constable Zuvio, and the cryptosurgeons. Those all jumped right out at me. There were very basic backgrounds in place — the kind of stuff you might read off a toy package. I knew that Quiggold was basically the mouthpiece for the relatively famous pirate, and I knew that Zuvio struggled to impose some kind of order on the chaos of his surroundings. In cases like Quiggold or Unkar Plutt, I knew what their races were called but I was left to decide what that might mean. Same with Thromba and Laparo. I knew they were cryptosurgeons with removable arm attachments, but I came up with a lot of other aspects of their physiology and their background — including their home planet. Going back to Unkar, I got to make a fairly major determination about his biology, so that was fun.

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StarWars.com: With the different story types you used, you show a lot of versatility in writing. How is constructing a mystery in “High Noon on Jakku” different than the spine-tingling tale “The Face of Evil?”

Landry Q. Walker: I’m glad that aspect came through. In the meeting, there was a short exchange between me and Michael Siglain in editorial [creative director of publishing at Lucasfilm] about exploring different genres. It was a real light-bulb-goes-off moment for me, and really made me understand how to approach this. And I had to work fast — very fast. The deadline on these books was super-tight. So to try and create or find a different mood for each book without much time to consider them, I listened to music. I found YouTube videos of an acoustic guitar player playing “Duel of the Fates,” for example. I put that on loop. It felt like Star Wars music playing through a Spaghetti Western filter. So I listened while working on my Western story and tried to let that influence the tone, while attempting to include all the classic story beats of a Western. Different choice of music with the rest of the stories, but same principle. On that note — I love exploring different genres. Each brings its own set of story conventions and tropes that are amazing to twist and bend. And when you’ve only got a few days for each book, reliance on these aspects is an absolute must.

StarWars.com: In “All Creatures Great and Small,” Bobbajo recounts his role in an event familiar to Star Wars fans. How did it feel to add to a pivotal part of the Star Wars saga?

Landry Q. Walker: This is a fun one, and dangerous if you take it too seriously. Was Bobbajo telling a true tale? Was there more behind the scenes in A New Hope than anyone guessed? Does it matter? Within the Star Wars universe, the destruction of the Death Star is a pretty significant historical event. And so fanciful stories, true or not, will spin out of such. Now, getting to play with the background moments of A New Hope in such a way? Super exciting.

StarWars.com: While some of your alien protagonists were just background characters in The Force Awakens, Unkar Plutt had a pretty important role as a greedy, nasty scrap trader. What was it like to focus on his character and get into his head in “True Love?”

Landry Q. Walker: To be honest, not as significant as you’d think. I hadn’t seen the movie yet when writing the story, and so didn’t know yet how important the role of Plutt would be. His character was fun, though, as you can tell so much of him just from his demeanor. And I had a few photos to work with of him, including a shot of him sitting in his little shop looking out the window. I wanted to play with the contrast of his exterior appearance and suggest less prejudicial aspects. He looks like a nasty piece of work, but this is Star Wars, and appearances can be amazingly deceiving. Or in his case maybe they’re not? You would have to read the story to know for sure.

StarWars.com: “The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku” is a bit of a crazy pirate treasure hunt. Of all the pirate gangs you developed, which one would you want to tell more stories about?

Landry Q. Walker: Oh man…all of them. I love all the pirates. That was my favorite story to write. It was also the first one I wrote. I had just begun binge watching The Clone Wars before I got the job offer, and that story is my love letter to Dave Filoni and everyone else that worked on that show. It’s just a masterfully done TV show, and to bring a part of that world into the realm of The Force Awakens was super exciting.

In terms of the pirates themselves…whoo…outside of the Corsair and his crew, who I already have a dozen stories in my head that are dying to get out, I’d have to say I’m most inclined to explore more with the one-eyed Ortolan. He’s an insane Ortolan (like Max Rebo, the elephant-looking keyboard player in Return of the Jedi), who is half-deaf, half-blind, and he drives a modified Sandcrawler through an ocean of caustic sand, with a flaming Ortolan skull painted on the side, all while blasting insane music through massive speakers. He’s nuts and super fun.

StarWars.com: One-Eye was definitely my favorite among the different pirate gangs besides the Corsair’s. In Cookie’s tale, “A Recipe for Death,” you develop a cunning mystery that is solved in a most unusual way: a grueling cooking competition. What was it like crafting that story?

Landry Q. Walker: Difficult for so many reasons. That was my first stab at a mystery. Well, they were all first stabs. That’s the nature of this sort of thing. You get thrown into the fire face-first. Hopefully it all lands. I enjoyed doing a story that was half-mystery and half…just kind of bonkers, really. I mean, I was thinking of Jabba’s palace when I was writing this. These pirate dens and gangster hide-outs. What do people do all day? How do they stay entertained? It can’t just be every afternoon sitting around watching Twi’leks dance and get eaten by rancors. So I started spinning on that. Entertainment might just get a bit…weird in this world and in this somewhat isolated castle. Throw a murder mystery on top of that and just go nuts with it, that was my angle.

StarWars.com: Ottegans appear in most of your tales in this anthology. Why the love for Ottegans?

Landry Q. Walker: Because the Hammerhead toy was my favorite when I was seven years old. I mean, Ithorians, what’s not to love, and Ottegans…so similar.

StarWars.com: Now that you’ve explored the lives of some of the denizens of Jakku and Takodana, what else within the galaxy far, far away would you like to tell stories about?

Landry Q. Walker: Again, more Crimson Corsair and his crew please! Outside of that, it’s difficult to say. I’m less interested in telling stories of Rebellion/Republic or Empire/First Order characters because there are always going to be more restrictions in place for those kind of stories. These weird one-off bits about various races or groups…these are beings that often have no direct connection to the Star Wars world as we usually think of it. They might have heard about the Death Star at some point, in the same way we might know about a major historical moment during a war from a few generations ago. They might not even care. These are people working on surviving between the cracks of a great and seemingly endless conflict. That’s a hard universe to grow up in — one that creates more criminals and bounty hunters than it does farmers or artists. It’s the people who are just trying to live, either by good means or bad, that interest me most in Star Wars universe.

James Floyd is a writer, photographer, and organizer of puzzle adventures. He’s a bit tall for a Jawa. His current project is Wear Star Wars Every Day, a fundraising effort for a refugee aid organization. You can follow him on Twitter at @jamesjawa or check out his articles on Club Jade and Big Shiny Robot.

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