The bestselling author of the original novelization looks back.
The middle chapter of the prequel trilogy, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, arrived May 16, 2002. To celebrate the movie’s 20th anniversary, StarWars.com presents Clones at 20, a special series of interviews, editorials, and more.
R.A. Salvatore -- who prefers to be called Bob -- has been an established fantasy writer for over three decades, known for his popular character Drizzt Do’Urden in the Forgotten Realms series among dozens of other titles. Salvatore also wrote two Star Wars novels, including the adaptation of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, which arrived along with the movie 20 years ago in the spring of 2002. He joins StarWars.com to look back on the experience, and speaks in general about Star Wars, writing, and storytelling.
StarWars.com: To cover some of your background before working on the novelization, you’d written the Star Wars Legends novel, The New Jedi Order: Vector Prime, which kicked off that series in 1999. How did you come to write for Star Wars and what attracted you to that realm?
R.A. Salvatore: I was a big fan of the movies. I was 17 or 18 when the first one came out. We arrived late at the theater and had to sit in the first row, which was awesome for that movie, and the Star Destroyer went overhead. As I became a writer, I had no expectations to do a Star Wars book, but I’d signed with Del Rey to publish my Demon Wars novels, and I think they might have lost another writer early in the process of work on The New Jedi Order, and they asked me to kick it off.
I hadn’t really followed the books up to that point. Star Wars author Mike Stackpole was a good friend of mine and helped me find my way. We were on a short timeline, and it wasn’t until after I turned in the first outline that they told me that I would have to kill Chewbacca in the story.
StarWars.com: And that was a powerful moment for fans.
R.A. Salvatore: Yes it was. That’s how I got involved in Star Wars.
StarWars.com: And in the wake of Vector Prime’s release, you would’ve been asked to do the novelization for Episode II?
R.A. Salvatore: Yes, they asked me, and my first response was actually no. There’d been controversy with Vector Prime and Chewbacca. Shortly after that, my brother passed away. It was a very tough time. I do want to say that the Star Wars fans were great, and even the ones who weren’t happy about Chewbacca, I understood why. So, I took a pass on Episode II, but then my friend Terry Brooks called me, and he’d written the novelization of The Phantom Menace. He said, “Are you crazy? You get to work with George Lucas!” He helped me get out of my dark place and told me that this was something I wanted to do.
StarWars.com: As far as working with George Lucas, what did that process entail?
R.A. Salvatore: Most of my work was with Sue Rostoni, Lucy Autrey Wilson, and Howard Roffman on the Lucasfilm team. It was Election Day, 2000, when I went up to Skywalker Ranch for the first time. They gave me the script of the movie, and I went back to the hotel. That night I was reading, and every time I looked up at the TV screen, we had a different president as it went back and forth. It was a surreal night. The next day, I was scheduled for a 45-minute interview with George. We met in his office, and right at the 45-minute mark, his assistant came in and said someone was on the phone. But he waved them away, and three hours later we were still talking. He took me downstairs to look at a few scenes in-progress.
StarWars.com: By that point, principal photography had been completed, and they were beginning to edit the movie.
R.A. Salvatore: George was gracious, warm, and inviting. I wasn’t afraid to question things in the script. We went back and forth, and it was a superb creative session. George was very passionate about the story, as you would expect. I kept thinking that Terry was right. I’ll never forget the experience. I was able to go back a handful of times throughout the process. During the tour for the book, my wife Diane and I went back to the Ranch another time. We were eating lunch and George saw us, and he came over and talked to us.
StarWars.com: So he was a good collaborator in that sense and open to your ideas?
R.A. Salvatore: Absolutely. I had to be true to the script, of course, but George chases the creative impulse when he’s working in the moment.
StarWars.com: There’s a quote from you at the time where you describe yourself as “an action writer” with “a visual style.” Do you think that’s what helped lend your skills to something like Star Wars?
R.A. Salvatore: I think Star Wars had a huge effect on me in that way. One of the reasons I’m a visual writer is because I grew up watching TV and movies. When Herman Melville wrote about a whale or J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about a dragon, they had to describe it in great detail. That’s changed. If I say “dragon,” the reader sees it, and my job is to tell you what the characters think when they see it. That lets the reader know how bad this one happens to be. Or I find ways to delineate the dragon from their normal perception as opposed to describing every part of a whale. I started writing professionally in the 1980s, and in a way, we were the first generation of writers to grow up with TV. With that in mind, my style probably lent itself to Star Wars because Star Wars influenced my style.
StarWars.com: You mentioned that you reviewed cuts of the movie with George Lucas. Would you also have been shown concept art and other materials? I assume that was important in order to describe things visually?
R.A. Salvatore: Yes, especially in the case of Amidala’s wardrobe. There were some amazing pieces.
StarWars.com: To come to some specific moments in the book, the story opens with one of Anakin Skywalker’s nightmares. He sees his mother, who shatters to pieces like glass. Considering these moments when you expand on something in the movie, how much is coming from your conversations with Mr. Lucas, and how much came out of your own invention?
R.A. Salvatore: The parts of the book that were not in the script were mostly the parts about Shmi and the Tuskens. Initially, I interwove everything with the main story, but then I learned that the actual events of the movie take place over just a few days, rather than months. So it had to be condensed at the front. I had freedom with that material and could tell the story of how Cliegg Lars lost his leg, for example. And later in the Tusken village, I explored the moment when Anakin briefly goes to the dark side. I didn’t play with too much else and followed the script.
StarWars.com: You’d been a fan since 1977. Was it fun to explore familiar characters like Owen and Beru?
R.A. Salvatore: Absolutely. That was true with Jango Fett as well. The movies were my chief reference for everything. Going back to Vector Prime and my first experience with Star Wars, the first time I wrote dialogue for Princess Leia, my hands were shaking! So, doing characters like Beru, Owen, and Shmi was special. I was doing things in the lore that I wasn’t being directed to do. That was pretty cool.
StarWars.com: You mentioned Anakin’s slip into the dark side when he massacres the village. The book stays with that scene as it takes place. There’s a powerful moment where you describe a small voice within Anakin’s mind that’s telling him not to do it, but then this much more powerful sense in his mind feels invigorated. Is that you imagining what the dark side is?
R.A. Salvatore: That was me, and I’ve explored that with my dark elf character Drizzt in my other books. He leaves his home and goes off to the Underdark, this place where everything wants to kill you. He develops an alter-ego where he loses himself in this feral, instinctual fighting mode. That also comes from my own experience working as a bouncer at bars. You had to try to be reasonable with people, but there came a moment when you had to just react, unfortunately. You had to shut your emotions down and just go. I learned that there were people who were good fighters who couldn’t do the job. They’d freeze in that moment when you had to act. Others could perform as necessary. I’ve explored that theme several times and it fits with the light side/dark side concept. It was new to me in the context of the Force, but it’s a very human emotion. With Anakin, it went deeper. There was more to it than just practicality in that scene.
StarWars.com: It’s interesting to think that Anakin and Drizzt overlap in a way.
R.A. Salvatore: When you’re a writer, you’re going to have rhymes in the heroes and villains across your work. It’s about a common human experience. I don’t think you need the Force to explain what Anakin was going through in that moment. Was it any different from Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he beats up the bully?
StarWars.com: The language you employ isn’t laced with light side/dark side. You just describe his feelings. It doesn’t need the mystical context in that moment.
R.A. Salvatore: It’s human. Frodo putting on the ring in The Lord of the Rings is human.
StarWars.com: You also expand on the character of Padmé. There’s more development about her family background and her conflicting emotions about her personal desires versus her commitment to her career. Do you see Padmé as a tragic character in the sense that, ultimately, she is unable to achieve a balance in this way?
R.A. Salvatore: Absolutely. I think if you look at some of the early scenes in the movie when she’s with Anakin, she is almost childlike and free. We see this conflict all the time, even with royals in the world today. There’s this conflict when the office becomes more important than the life. Padmé is a good person who knows she can make a difference, but it’s at the expense of doing a lot of the things she wants to do. She has to put those things aside and be selfless. That includes being selfless with her own emotions and that’s hard.
StarWars.com: As strong as she is, and she may be one of the strongest characters in the whole story, the times are too strenuous even for her.
R.A. Salvatore: It’s fascinating to keep learning about the attainment of power. There are some who come to power for selfish reasons, like the Emperor in Star Wars. There are others who are born into power and have to struggle with it. You see it in all levels of life. In a story like Star Wars, the main characters are going to attain huge responsibilities by nature of the genre. That’s a struggle they all have to deal with and figure out. It’s like the struggle of being a parent too.
StarWars.com: Considering Anakin and Padmé together, I had a question about their impromptu kiss at the lakeside on Naboo. Again you bring in a new element where Padmé is discussing an old-man character who lives on the island on the lake and creates these beautiful glass fixtures. She talks about how the glass mesmerized her, adding an interesting dynamic to the scene. Where did this originate?
R.A. Salvatore: You know, it probably came from Judine Brooks, the wife of Terry Brooks. Right around that time, they were re-decorating their home and Judine showed us the work of this wonderful glass artist. Frankly, those little details make their way into scenes because that’s the way writers do it, you know what I mean? Copyeditors always hate me because I try to communicate the way people talk and think in my work, and that doesn’t always fit with style guides and rules about grammar. They’re tools, not rules, and I use them the way I see fit to convey the emotions I want to convey. I might place a comma because I want there to be a pause when someone is speaking.
This doesn’t just apply to the way I structure a sentence, but also in how people relate unrelated things to each other and find meaning for what they’re going through at that moment. That’s the way people are. The glass that Padmé talks about was beautiful and intricate, so complex in its beauty that she couldn’t really understand it. It kind of tells you how she felt about the kiss.
StarWars.com: Of course, you’ve been a fantasy writer for many years, and George Lucas has sometimes described Star Wars as “space fantasy” rather than science-fiction. I was curious to hear your take on that?
R.A. Salvatore: If I had to characterize it, I would also call it a fantasy. I don’t want things to be explained to me about the Force; that’s where the magic comes from. Focusing on the characters is another element it shares with fantasy, which primarily deals with the hero’s journey. But I don’t like to characterize or pigeon-hole things. It doesn’t matter what it is, the storytelling is either good or bad. Star Wars is not even my favorite George Lucas movie. My favorite is American Graffiti. We all bring intellectual reasons about why we like something, and that usually has to do with our own sense of self. But the bottom line is that I might not like a book or movie, but to someone else it might be the greatest thing they’ve ever experienced. It will have meaning to them because the reader or viewer brings a ton to the process.
StarWars.com: Art is subjective.
R.A. Salvatore: Yes, and you can’t really de-subjectify something. The Hobbit is my favorite book because it changed my life. It opened up my imagination and, for me, it will never be equaled. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy something else like James Joyce. I think The Dead is one of the greatest novellas ever written. I read the final pages aloud once to a high school class, and the students were bored with it. To me, it was some of the greatest writing in literature, but it didn’t work for them. They are their own individuals. So, I’m not a big fan of pigeon-holing, but Star Wars reads more like the fantasy novels I’ve read than any science-fiction ones.