StarWars.com talks to the award-winning author about expanding on the galaxy that changed her world 41 years ago.
The Mimban mud is murder on a Wookiee undercoat, so of course Chewbacca would need to borrow fastidious Lando’s finest and most expensive bath products.
The scene that unfolds -- and the carnage that is wet tangles of muddy Wookiee hair left behind in Lando’s utterly destroyed shower aboard the Millennium Falcon -- is just one of the many ways the adaptation of Solo: A Star Wars Story shares the adventure on screen and adds so much more to the telling. “That was one of those things I was so happy that they let me keep,” says Hugo Award-winning author Mur Lafferty. “Anybody who has ever had long hair knows what hell Chewie was going through. And if anybody in the entire Star Wars universe that we know could help him, it would be Lando.”
Spoiler warning: This story contains details and plot points from the Solo: A Star Wars Story novelization.
Lafferty’s adaptation sticks close to the script, but in the spirit of other novelizations that have come before it, adds incredible depth to the storytelling, exploring the emotions that on screen may only play across a character’s face. The novel offers expanded scenes, beginning with a vivid portrayal of the scuffle on the streets of Corellia just before Han boosts a speeder and takes us inside the droid mind of L3-37 at the point of melding with the Millennium Falcon.
Some of the additions, like Chewie’s misadventures in grooming, are laugh-out-loud funny. Other expanded scenes, like an epilogue that introduces a visit from a young Jyn Erso and her guardian Saw Gerrera, are a surprising but satisfying way to firmly tie the story into the large conflict. Lafferty’s description of the menacing old Zabrak who leads Crimson Dawn is downright chilling. We recently caught up with Lafferty, speaking to StarWars.com by phone from her home in North Carolina, to talk about the challenges of adapting the film, penning most of the story months before she saw it on screen.
‘My world was changed’
Lafferty has long been a Star Wars fan. “I’m guessing anybody in their 40s that you talk to is going to say the same thing: In 1977 I got to go see it and my world was changed.” And long before she landed the job to adapt the standalone film, she was a fan of the scoundrel from Corellia. “I loved [Han] as the outsider,” she says. Even after he joined the fight against the Empire, “if he didn’t have one foot out the door, he always had the door kind of cracked…just in case.”
In writing the younger version of Han, Lafferty felt it was important to get behind the lop-sided grin to explain where his mix of reticence and loyalty originated. “That dedication to freedom and a little bit of, honestly, cowardice…he looks out for himself, he really does. And that’s something I try to bring to it. But he also has loyalties that I think we’re shown in the movie. I think the whole incident with Qi’ra on Corellia was, you know…if he didn’t make an honest decision never to leave anybody behind, it was a subconscious impact on his psyche that he can’t have that happen again.”
The story also provides a closer look at the beginning of Han and Chewie’s partnership. Expanding on a moment from the movie, Lafferty delves into the conversation that, unless you happen to speak Shyriiwook, you probably didn’t catch on film. After helping to free the enslaved Wookiees on Kessel, Sagwa tells Chewbacca that they’re ready to take a shuttle to go home. But looking at Han, Chewie realizes “the young human didn’t have anyone,” as the book says.
“Motivations don’t always come through” on film, Lafferty says. “He chooses to stay with Han, so I thought it was important to explore that a little bit more why he did. Han had no family at all. And he didn’t even understand the concept of it, really, and I think that’s why Chewie wanted to be there for him.” Plus, Chewie has more work to do, freeing other oppressed Wookiees in the galaxy. “He’s quite noble,” Lafferty says.
Tobias Beckett, a cautionary tale
The novel expands on other characters like Val and Beckett, including a rollicking backstory about Val swooping in to save her beau after he’s kidnapped by an alien queen in search of a mate. The story flips the script on the standard damsel in distress narrative, and feels entirely like something Val would do. “Val deserved more time to explore her character a little bit,” Lafferty says. Other more mundane moments, like a scene where Val and Beckett are talking as they turn in for the night before a big job, make the characters feel so much more vibrant and real.
As for Beckett -- “He was pretty much what Han would have turned out to be if he hadn’t met Beckett,” Lafferty says. “He would have become Beckett, I think. And then he saw how being so obviously for sale was not really the way he wanted to spend his life, even though he pretended to be that way for so long.”
New beginning, new ending
Lafferty bookends her telling with two scenes not on film or in the script -- an opening to explain Han’s scheme and his facial injuries before he boosted the speeder and stole the vial of coaxium and an epilogue showing Enfys Nest meeting with her contacts in the rebellion.
For the beginning, “I took it back a couple of steps. It was actually inspired by The Last Jedi novelization,” Lafferty says. “Jason Fry had done a little bit at the beginning that was different, with Luke’s dream, and I really liked that. And I was trying to think, ‘Well, we know Han’s running away and we know it’s a bad deal with coaxium, but how did it go bad?’”
Initially, Lafferty envisioned the ending to introduce Bail Organa and a young Leia, but the timeframe made Saw and his charge, Jyn, a better choice. “I just felt that it was important to know where all that coaxium went. I mean, yeah, okay, the rebellion. Great,” Lafferty says. But… “Who got it? And what did they do with it?”
The meeting has the added bonus of introducing Jyn to another young woman embroiled in the uprising, with Enfys imparting wisdom that may just help Jyn to survive later on. “I knew if [Enfys] saw any other girl who was already heavily involved with the stuff brewing with the Rebellion, she would want to give her something that she hadn’t had.”
Lafferty’s favorite character to flesh out was Lando’s droid copilot L3-37. “Hands down. I love her so much,” Lafferty says. “I thought that she was an amazing, self-made character.” Lafferty’s writing takes us deep into L3’s circuits, examining her motivations and goals as a crusader for droid rights, her connection with Qi’ra, and the tragedy on Kessel that ended with her merging with the Falcon. “Those scenes were hard to write, but I really wanted her death or transformation -- whatever you want to call it -- to be meaningful because I think she meant a lot to a lot of people.” (An excerpt of that sequence is available on StarWars.com.)
In a quiet moment before the fateful job, the droid and Qi’ra have a talk in the cockpit that leads the self-made droid to ask one probing question: “Where’s your restraining bolt?” The comment brings the two characters and their parallel paths into sharp focus. “They have a lot in common and that was one of the things I liked best, exploring that,” Lafferty says. “Qi’ra was, of course, enslaved because she just moved from master to master. Even though she got power, she was still completely tied to Crimson Dawn. I think L3 made her get a little bit of a sense of her own agency.”
Lafferty wrote most of the adaptation weeks before she had seen the film, relying on the script to capture the cinematic side of the story and her editors for guidance on the rest. A few days before turning in her manuscript, Lafferty settled into a cushy movie theater seat to watch the story unfold. “I saw the movie twice and then basically tweaked [the text] for the rest of the weekend to try to make sure that I got everything right,” she says.
Watching the film helped her to better understand the subtle details of fast-paced scenes like the train heist. “I had some trouble picturing the sequence of events from the script, especially Val’s death, why Val does what she does, and how she gets in trouble,” Lafferty says. “The little details -- like the sentry droid shooting her blaster away so she’s disarmed -- little things like that were details that I was really gratified to have from the movie.”
And when she first read the script, Maul’s appearance was so top secret, even the pages kept under lock and key at Lucasfilm headquarters didn’t disclose his identity. “The script said, ‘Who this person is is so secret, we can’t even tell you.’”
In the final version, Lafferty’s novelization does describe the Force-wielding Zabrak -- “another thing that I added almost entirely after I saw it,” she says. “It wasn’t until I saw it the second time that I realized he Force-pulled his lightsaber to him. It wasn’t on him, he pulls it in. Which is even scarier!”
But she made the conscious decision not to include his name because, she reasoned, Qi’ra wouldn’t have known him on sight. “I don’t think she would have known who he was,” Lafferty says. “They sort of implied that Dryden was beholden to someone a lot more powerful than he was. And so she knew that whoever it was scared him, but she didn’t know that the guy used to be a Sith Lord. She didn’t know who he was. She just knew that that button would call Dryden Vos’ boss.”
For fans, Maul is unmistakable, but in-universe he operates in the shadows. “It’s hard to think that Vader and Maul and all these great villains we’ve known for so many years, a lot of them were behind the scenes and not known to the general public. Han Solo didn’t even believe in the Jedi, so the grand battles and stuff that are so forefront to the audience are not, necessarily, known to the random person growing up on Corellia,” Lafferty says.
Perhaps Lafferty’s biggest challenge was adding her own voice to the story. “The expanded stuff was really -- it was challenging because it was all new and it still had to fit within everything else, and yet it was a lot more fun because I had that freedom. I’ve never done anything like a novelization before.”
She can’t wait for fans to read the adaptation when it hits stores next week. “This was so awesome to work on and I am so proud of it because it was an amazing movie. Just being able to get the inside scoop and write the novelization was just the biggest thrill,” Lafferty says. “It was awesome!”
The Solo: A Star Wars Story novelization arrives September 4 and is available for pre-order now.
Associate Editor Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Do you know a fan who’s most impressive? Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver all about them!