The author of Star Wars: The Weapon of a Jedi on new hopes, Mark Hamill, and much more.
I was nine years old when I got my Kenner Luke Skywalker action figure -- the one with yellow hair that matched the lightsaber embedded in his arm. I sent that Luke on hundreds of adventures, playing cat-and-mouse with stormtroopers through landscapes made out of couch cushions, spaceports assembled from LEGO, and Imperial fortresses that all happened to look like the Death Star playset. So you can imagine my reaction last fall when Disney Lucasfilm Press told me about the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens program and asked if I’d like to write a Luke Skywalker adventure set in the “classic era” just after A New Hope. I said yes immediately -- and then desperately tried to play it cool while I worked with my editor to craft the tale that would become The Weapon of a Jedi.
The basics of the story were established before I arrived: Luke would explore a mysterious ruin in search of Jedi lore, and engage a deadly new enemy in a lightsaber duel. Sounded great to me. The lightsaber wouldn’t be sticking out of his forearm, but I’d been imagining such adventures since the Carter administration. That wasn’t the only aspect of the project that had my heart thumping. I’d also be weaving elements from Star Wars: The Force Awakens into the tale -- hints (not spoilers) about the characters and settings of the latest Star Wars movie. No, I’m not going to tell you what they are, though now that Force Friday’s in the rearview mirror you might be able to guess one or two. So far so good. But then I got a little worried. Because, you see, I’m really a Han Solo guy. Driving too fast? Check, at least in my younger days. Diving into something before thinking it through? Guilty. Shooting my mouth off when I should keep quiet? Um, yeah. I was fond of Luke, of course, but felt we were wired differently. To me, zooming around the galaxy with a Corellian and a Wookiee sounded more fun than joining a band of revolutionaries and trying to live up to a mysterious family legacy.
But the Han story, Smuggler’s Run, was taken. Greg Rucka’s doing the honors. Part of what worried me was that Luke is simultaneously a difficult character to get right and a character whom Star Wars fans are fiercely protective. Including me. Over the years, I sighed when I thought a portrayal of Luke veered off course. Now, doing Luke justice was my responsibility. I watched the original trilogy yet again, concentrating not on Luke’s actions but his character. How did he react when other characters questioned him? When they tried to teach him? When they pushed him to do something he disagreed with? That was not only helpful but also renewed my appreciation for the work of Mark Hamill, particularly in The Empire Strikes Back. Hamill spends that movie’s most important scenes acting opposite a puppet, a robot, or a stuntman he can barely hear above the roar of a wind machine. Yet he makes these characters work. You believe Yoda’s real not just because of Frank Oz’s skills, but because Hamill acts like he’s real. Hamill also does a beautiful job of showing us Luke’s doubts and struggles and determination. Next time you watch the “I am your father” scene, focus on Hamill. His expression conveys shock and horror, shifts to anger and disbelief, and finally reflects a despairing realization that Vader is telling the truth. It’s a terrific performance from an actor who deserves far more credit.
The key that unlocked Luke for me though, came from a commenter on TheForce.net named Jedi Princess.“Luke is gentle, in a way that so few action/adventure movie heroes are.” I read that and immediately flashed back to an anecdote from the making of A New Hope. When Luke and C-3PO track down R2-D2, Hamill initially played the scene angrily -- only to hear George Lucas say “cut” and tell him, “it’s not a big deal.” Hamill then delivered a deliberately understated take, expecting the director to concede more emotion was needed. Lucas thought it was perfect. It was the moment Hamill understood the character, and years later it helped me do the same thing. This isn’t to say Luke is passive in the classic trilogy. But he destroys the Death Star by taking Obi-Wan Kenobi’s advice to “let go,” and he defeats the Emperor not through his lightsaber skills, but by awakening his father’s love. It’s in Empire that Luke is most active, and his decisions prove disastrous for himself and his friends. It’s the opposite of what you’d expect in big action movies. Once I realized all that, I had the foundation for the story I wanted to tell.
There’s plenty of action in The Weapon of a Jedi, I promise. Luke flies an X-wing alongside Wedge Antilles against the Empire, and faces terrible peril behind the stick of a Y-wing. In the book’s climax, he must take up his lightsaber and defend himself against an enemy with whom there is no negotiating. But Luke is also learning the ways of the Force, and that leaves him feeling terribly alone -- an apprentice without a Master, tasked with trying to restore a tradition he just discovered. In The Weapon of a Jedi, Luke initially believes he’s learning to bend the Force to his will. But the real lesson is quite different, and in learning it, Luke will also discover something about himself. Writing The Weapon of a Jedi was a learning process for me, too -- and a chance to discover something new about a character I’ve known for most of my life. The story I’ve told is one I hope readers of all ages will enjoy, whether you’re eight or 80. If you’re a new Star Wars fan, I hope it’s a good introduction to Luke Skywalker. If you’re a veteran, I hope it’s a celebration of him. Either way, I hope you’ll enjoy the tale and that you’ll come back to it in December when we’ll have a lot of new and exciting things to talk about.
Jason Fry is the author of The Clone Wars Episode Guide and more than 20 other Star Wars books and short stories. He is also the author of The Jupiter Pirates young-adult series.