Young Apprentice (Thoughts from a First-Time Star Wars Author)

When the Special Edition of Star Wars was released in 1997, my wife and I went to the cinema to see it. I hadn’t seen the film for a few years, and it seemed like a great opportunity to view it again on the big screen.

The opening music brought a tingle of delight.

And when the Star Destroyer appeared above us on the screen, got bigger and bigger, and just kept…on…coming, I realized I was sporting a huge, goofy grin of delight. I hadn’t expected this reaction. It took me back 20 years to when my brother first took me to see Star Wars on its original release, and for the following couple of hours I was that eight-year-old boy again, marveling in wonder as I watched something that became a part of history.

Neither that eight-year-old boy, nor the 28-year-old man who felt like a boy again, could have imagined that one day he would be playing in the Star Wars universe himself.

Roll forward 15 years after that Special Edition viewing, and I was a professional writer. (Another thing I’d never have even dreamed of back then. Actually, 1997 was when my first novel was published by a small press, so it was an eventful year in more ways than one.) A brief communication from my splendid agent Howard Morhaim (he was e-mailing by phone, hence the brevity) ended with “Meanwhile, do you fancy writing a Star Wars novel?”

Think about that for a moment, and the lack of information in that sentence. Who had asked? What era would I be writing in? Did I have free rein, or would I have to follow strict guidelines? When did they want me to start? Did I have time? Would it interrupt the other tight deadline I was currently working to? Could I even do it? Would the research swamp me?

With all those concerns circling in my head, it took me at least 1.3 seconds to type and send a reply: Hell yes!

I spent a little longer afterwards trying to convince myself it was real.

I was thrilled. And a little daunted. A big part of my childhood, some of my favorite films, I knew that Star Wars had also become one of the most complex and voluminous fictional universes in history. I imagined being sent boxes of books and comics to read before I could even think about pitching an idea. It would be fun, but…so much work, too!

Subsequent discussions with my editor shed light on what Lucas Books and Del Rey wanted of me. And how exciting! Mine was to be the earliest novel in the Star Wars timeline, ever! Set 25,000 years before the events of Star Wars (I know it’s called A New Hope now, but to me — aged 8, 28, and now 43, that movie will always be Star Wars), it delved into a whole new era — the Dawn of the Jedi — already being explored by renowned comic writer and artist John Ostrander and Jan Duursema.

Phew, I thought, at least that means the research will be easier.

Well…a little.

I soon came to realize that in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, even the deep past has a history.

First, there were many long discussions with my editor, John, Jan, and their editor over at Dark Horse, via e-mail, Skype, and conference calls. I was lucky enough to read the Dawn of the Jedi comics before general release, as well as glimpsing some insight into where John and Jan saw them heading in future arcs. I came up with a few areas that interested me and which I thought I could explore a little more…some of which I soon realized John and Jan already had specific plans for.

So I changed tack a little, and wrote the proposal for Into the Void. A self-contained story taking place in the Tythan system at the same time as the Force Storm comic arc, it meant that I could create my own characters, story, and some original settings, whilst still telling a tale very much set in, and influenced by, the comic arcs. I got to visit planets and develop their flora and fauna, politics, settings, and landscapes. I got to explore and write about the Je’daii Temples on Tython, and how young Je’daii journeyers make pilgrimages across the hostile terrain of that planet to each Temple as a part of their training (and what an honor — and a pressure — I felt, writing about the earliest Je’daii training, how students were taught about and experienced the Force, and how back then the approach of the Je’daii to the Force itself was quite different).

And I created Lanoree Brock, one of my favorite characters I’ve ever created.

The story was always going to feature a brother and sister in conflict. And from the beginning I knew I wanted my protagonist to be the sister. I like strong female characters — love reading about them, and I’ve always loved writing them, too. And I think Lanoree is strong — she’s determined, independent, intelligent, hard as nails, and has a confidence in her abilities that perhaps is sometimes verging on arrogance. At the same time she’s conflicted, and through the course of the novel she starts to experience some doubts. She slips, makes mistakes. I don’t like pure good and pure evil characters…the fascinating aspects for me always lie in the shades of grey.

Same with the antagonist, her brother Dalien. He’s the bad guy, for sure — brutal, driven, ruthless. He does nasty things. But I also wanted readers to empathize with him a little, and even to partly understand why he’s doing what he’s doing.

And what fun I had. Into the Void was one of the most enjoyable writing experiences of my career, and only a part of that was because it’s a Star Wars novel. I enjoyed it mostly because I think it’s a rich, multi-layered story, a big scale fantasy tale set in space (that’s how I see all Star Wars stories actually, but I’m sure that’s another whole debate). I loved the freedom I was given to create new characters and places, and the fact that I was able to establish that early Je’daii training.

And to sign off, a few words about one of the aspects I enjoyed the most — naming characters. Characters from the movies have become household names, and that’s largely down to the skill and breadth of imagination taken to create them. I’d imagine that there are more people on Earth who know the names of Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia than who don’t.

Naming my own characters troubled me until I came up with a way that would please two very important people in my life. Lanoree is an anagram of Eleanor (my daughter), and Dalien is an anagram of Daniel (my son). Ellie was thrilled being the good guy. And when I told Dan that he was the baddie, he was so excited. Even though I had to tell him, No, you don’t have a lightsaber!

That’s how I went from a wide-eyed-with-wonder eight-year-old to a 43-year-old Star Wars writer. I’m honored and excited to have been given the opportunity to create a little corner of the ever-expanding Star Wars universe, even if I do still feel like little more than an apprentice.

Tim Lebbon is a New York Times-bestselling writer from the UK. He’s had dozens of novels, novellas, and short stories published, and has won several major awards. Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void is his first Star Wars novel.

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