I sometimes hear writers whine about questions they hate to answer.
For example: “If one more person asks me where I get my ideas, I’ll scream! (I’m gonna say they’re delivered by stork.)”
Or: “I’ll strangle the next fan who asks ‘Why did you have your character do X? (Blame it on my unhappy childhood.)”
Or: “How am I supposed to describe my writing process? It’s ART, for criminy sake! I sacrifice a fatted reader to the gods of creativity and Snoopy dance under a full moon.)”
I am puzzled by this whining because these are all questions I’m perfectly happy to answer. Repeatedly.
So, for the record: I get ideas in dreams a lot. I get them from the news, billboards, mishearing what someone said, eavesdropping on conversations at Starbucks (if you see me sitting near you at a Starbucks, beware!). I got an idea for a whole series of stories about a Scottish/Welsh xeno-archaeologist named Rhys Llewellyn from a human resources journal on corporate culture. They were published in Analog. I wrote enough of them to publish an eBook collection entitled Shaman (from Book View Café).
I guess the real question is, “Where don’t you get ideas from?”
The Last Jedi has only just been released and I’ve already been asked several versions of, “Why did you have Jax do X?” That’s a tougher sort of question because, ideally, what a character does depends on a combination of things: who they are deep down inside, how they think, what they believe to be true, what they love, what they fear, what happens to them, who’s around them when it happens…you get the picture. So, Jax does what he does in The Last Jedi because of complex interactions between who he is as a man and a Jedi, and what happens to him and his companions.
There is one reason, however, that Jax does not do what he does. And that is, just ‘cos. Just ‘cos the story needed him to do X. Or just ‘cos it would be neat if he did X. Or just ‘cos readers would like it if he did X. Or just ‘cos he always does X.
Which brings me to Darth Vader. One of the core elements in The Last Jedi is the tortuous relationship between Jax Pavan and Anakin Skywalker who — lest we forget — is inside that black enviro-suit. I’ve fielded a lot of questions about why Michael and I have depicted Darth Vader as we have. He is not the Darth Vader we meet in the first series of Star Wars movies, and some readers want to know why.
Well, it’s because he’s not that Darth Vader. He’s not the experienced, longtime dark side avatar, whose goal (he thinks) is to turn his adult son to the dark side. The Darth Vader Jax faces off against in The Last Jedi is, like Jax, a young man in his mid-twenties. He is in a tremendous amount of physical and psychic pain. He has lost everyone who meant anything to him. And he’s angry. Very, very angry. At life, the universe, and everything, but especially at the Jedi.
Jax is a Jedi. For all either he or Darth Vader knows, he may be the last Jedi. This effectively paints a big target on his forehead. Jax Pavan is a constant reminder to Darth Vader of everything he might have been if he had not been turned.
Michael and I were fascinated by that dynamic. And thereby hangs a tale, as they say.
I mentioned writing process, you say? What writing process? I Snoopy dance under a full moon and wait for the Archangel of Aha! to reveal himself, holding forth a chalice of pure—
Never doubt the power of the Force.
Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff is co-author of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, available now.