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Exclusief interview met Brian Herring (BB-8)

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Vraag een willekeurige fan wie zijn favoriete sequel trilogy personage is en de kans is groot dat het antwoord BB-8 zal luiden. Deze droid was zonder enige twijfel een van de opvallendste nieuwkomers in The Force Awakens en was direct een publiekslieveling. Het is dan ook niet verwonderlijk dat een interview met een van de personen die hem tot ‘leven’ brengt in de film hoog op mijn prioriteitenlijst stond! Twee weken geleden was het dan zover: na lang wachten kon ik niemand minder dan Brian Herring diverse vragen stellen. Brian is de puppeteer van BB-8 in zowel The Force Awakens als The Last Jedi en heeft daarnaast nog meer rollen op zich genomen, onder andere in Rogue One! In dit lange interview verteld hij alles over hoe hij als kind zijnde al geobsedeerd was door Star Wars, hoe de eerste ontmoeting met zijn idool Harrison Ford een aparte wending kreeg en nog veel meer…

Interview met Brian Herring

Hi Brian! What or who inspired you to work in the movie business?

I grew up in the theatre. My mother worked in wardrobe and I was always around shows as a kid. I wanted to be an actor and did a lot of community theatre then went into the business when I was about 18.

How did you get one of the best jobs in the galaxy: puppeteering BB-8.

I had been working as a puppeteer since joining a UK satire show called Spitting Image in 1993. Jobbing about for the BBC, The Jim Henson Company, ITV, commercials and a few movies. I’d worked on Ridley Scott’s Prometheus for Neal Scanlan, who won an Oscar for Babe and we’d got on well.

I had randomly called him about something else I was working on and after a couple of minutes chatting it came out that he was heading up the CFX department for the new Star Wars film. From there he hired me as the Puppeteer Consultant.

My job was to find performers, work with the designers and fabricators to find ways of getting people into strange yet performable positions within creature suits and make sure they could actually perform while they were in there.

I would also liaise between the CFX, Art and Construction departments to ensure the puppetry requirements were met for each scene and I also had to put an R&D team together to start developing some of the new creatures as quickly as possible. We started in August of 2013 working on early versions of the Happabore and the Luggabeast.

While that was going on designs for a little round droid called ‘Snow Globe’ started coming through from Christian Alzman at ILM. Jake Lunt Davies eventually realised the design that everyone now knows as BB-8.

At this point Josh Lee was working on ways to bring that design to life. JJ wanted a practical character on set and Josh came up with the idea of a puppet version. I did some early character studies with a 12 inch version and from there BB-8 became 7 different versions on screen. There’s a great panel online with Josh and Matt Denton at Celebration where they talk about the different droids.

During that process Josh was joined by Matt and Giles Hannagan and I roped in Dave Chapman to perform with me. It took months of R&D which culminated in a show and tell for JJ and Kathleen Kennedy in around March of 2014. Quite possibly the most stressful day of my life. It could have all gone digital in an instant. However, when JJ saw the character come to life in front of him he was over the moon. He then said something to me along the lines of “I love how you’re puppeteering it. Go read the script, you’re in the movie!”

When was your first encounter with the Star Wars phenomenon and what did you think of it?

I was 7 in ‘77. My Dad took me to see Star Wars, no episode number, no subtitle back then that I recall, and it blew my mind like everyone else. I was THAT kid. I had the curtains, the bed sheets, all the toys, which I still have, comics, the lot.

I even had a school report when I was about 9 that said something along the lines of;

“Brian’s obsession with Star Wars will lead him nowhere and he should concentrate on his academic work”.

It was a massive influence on me. The story, the myths and legends it was based on. I even knew the names of the effects guys. We only really had a few dedicated movie magazines, those fold-out poster magazines and the special collector’s editions back then. Little articles with behind the scenes pictures which were our only real access to that world unless they showed the Making of Star Wars at Christmas. This was all before video recorders too. If you missed it, you’d missed it!. I devoured that stuff. I recently cleared my loft and discovered so much of it. #HezzasLoft if you want to see some of what I found.

Are there things or mannerisms of BB-8 that were your idea? Did you have any input in creating the character?

BB-8’s character came from JJ and Lawrence Kasdan’s script. We had to find ways of making him play his part.

Dave and I spent a couple of weeks with the puppets, working out what we could do with it. I’d done a screen test with an early version of BB-8 that Josh was pulling along on wheels and it had dawned on me then just how small he was. You had to crouch down to be next to him. It was like a toddler or a dog. I liked the idea of his personality being a cross between a tenacious child and a faithful Jack Russell.

So, armed with the knowledge of the script, Dave and I set out to find his vocabulary of movement. What he looked good doing. What it couldn’t do so well. How to make him look happy, sad, scared etc. Could it do stairs (it turns out it could, but that’s another story entirely). You don’t tend to get a lot of rehearsal on set, so we had to know our jobs and be ready for whatever was thrown at us on the day. Dave and I have been working together for a while now and we share a sense of humour. Our timing is often the same and that makes it easier for us to sync our performance.

We also worked on his ‘breathing’. When puppets stop moving they die. Although we were dealing with a droid I knew we had to give it characteristics that the audience could relate to. Star Wars has some of the most human machines in cinema and we knew BB-8 would have to stack up against C-3PO!

Neal Scanlan wanted BB-8 to be constantly moving. He had suggested a ‘ball hover’, to try to make it look like he was always correcting himself so as not to fall over. I found that by pushing the rods with my hips and moving the axle rod slightly I could make the puppet cycle without actually going anywhere. The more excited or upset BB-8 gets the faster I do it.

Can you tell something about the BB-8 puppet? For instance, what possibilities does the puppet have?

The puppet version of BB-8 is operated on a system of rods. I have control over the body movement and the head pitch and roll. Dave takes control of the yaw movement. Moving the head left and right to hit eye lines on camera. Together we have to make BB-8 hit his marks otherwise it looks really odd. Usually I would use a monitor, but because I’m running along behind the droid in a green suit there is nowhere to put one, so I have to rely on playback after the take or, more usually Dave, Neal and of course JJ to tell me if it looks OK.

With the rodded version I can get a lot of subtle movements from the character. Just by tensing my arms I can vibrate the handles and make his head shake. This gives the impression BB-8 is nervous or scared. I also do the voice for BB-8 on set. This really helps the actors relate to his as a character rather than a prop.

The rodded version is also the quickest version we have. If they want BB-8 to run for his life, it’s me pushing him. I can go across sand, mud, down slopes and up hills. There’s a video on the internet of me in blue Lycra running up the middle of the set at Greenham Common. Blue Lycra is not a good look.

What was the best moment you’ve had so far playing BB-8?

We were in Abu Dhabi shooting the scene where Finn and Rey escape from the TIE Fighters. They needed a reference pass for BB-8 running through the sand for a CGI shot. Then JJ asked me how fast I could run? I’d spent a lot of time with a personal trainer for the film so I knew I would be in good shape for the job, so I replied I could keep up with John and Daisy. Then next thing I knew, they were setting up the shot of BB-8 running through the sand. Dave was strapped to the camera buggy and we were off. That shot turned out to be the very first footage anyone ever saw of BB-8 in the teaser. Most people assumed it was digital, but it was me running like mad in the hot desert sand.

We also did many different versions of BB-8 peeping around the corner in the Millennium Falcon. I actually had a monitor for that and Roger Guyette, the second unit Director, was sitting in the cockpit with his monitor and he just kept laughing and getting us to do more. Fast ones, slow ones, the head leads, the body leads, just the head came out, only the eye. We must have done 20 different takes. I was so happy when that also made the trailer and became one of the brand new droid’s signature moves.

I always enjoy hearing about strange or funny things that happened on the set. Could you share some great stories?

Harrison Ford arrived at work for his first day on the Falcon set. I was standing in the cockpit corridor in my wonderful green nylon suit holding the droid’s rods and Han Solo walks up the ramp IN FULL COSTUME with his big hairy friend at his side. He looked me up and down and said “Who picked that look?” And then walked off!

Not exactly how you would imagine or want the first meeting with your idol to go, but there it is. He turned out to be everything you hope he would be. Professional, funny, generous and gloriously grumpy (entirely for effect)!

Along with Lee Towersey (who, with Oliver Steeples built and performed R2-D2 for TFA and latterly Rogue One), I drove the First Order Mouse Droids. On the first big shooting day on the Star Destroyer there were some 40 or more Stormtroopers and lots of other supporting artists dressed as Officers and Technicians. The Stormtroopers can’t see very well in those helmets and we had to weave the little remote control droids in and out of them and not get kicked across the set.

I had already tripped the trooper escorting Oscar Isaac across the hangar, so I was on the back foot a little. In the afternoon, we shot the scene where Finn is marching Poe across the deck and they suddenly make a run for it. The Stormtroopers had changed their timing which meant my droid was late. I could see it was going to be a disaster and I was once again in Oscar’s way, but if I turned I would have hit something else. However, rather than stop he jumped over it and sprinted up the stairs to the fighter. That take is in the movie!

Though not particularly funny, one day that really sticks in my mind was the day we shot the scene between BB-8, C-3PO and R2-D2. It was quite technical. I was very conscious about keeping out of Anthony Daniels’ way. He has little vision in that head and can hardly hear. I was doing BB-8’s dialogue live with a classic character and he was playing the scene and talking to and about R2. It suddenly struck me that it was like being invited to join in with Laurel & Hardy! Many of those moments were not lost on me.

BB-8 is possibly the most popular character of the sequels and maybe even the most popular Star Wars droid overall, which is something you deserve credit for. What do you think the reason of his popularity is?

Firstly, it’s important to note that I’m part of a very big team. There were so many people that brought BB-8 to the screen. From design, through engineering, animatronics, paint finishing, CGI and sound, BB-8 is every tool in the box.

The design comes into play massively. The puppets themselves have been so well thought out and executed that they allow for a great deal of expression. Most of R2-D2’s acting is done in the sound edit, but BB-8 can be instantly expressive. As a puppeteer that’s a real gift and I get to sink my teeth into bringing him to life.

It’s honestly a dream come true. I love performing BB-8.

The secret of his success though? I think it’s lots of things. He’s very cute, small and feisty. He’s funny, he appeals to a wide audience and I think they’ve used him well within the story. Just enough to leave you wanting more.

There are hundreds of BB-8 collectibles and toys. Which ones do you have and which one is your favorite? Mine is the LEGO fig and the Sphero!

It seems like I’ve got all of them! It got a little out of hand for a while, but after massive counselling and help from my lady love I’ve reigned it in now. I really like the unique things. Whenever I go to a convention now I always go to Artist Alley and pick up the different artists impressions of him. I love the fact that really talented people take time to render him in so many different ways. It’s strange seeing so many products with BB-8 on. He was our secret for so long and now he belongs to the fans.

You started doing conventions. What are your experiences meeting the fans and what was the funniest thing that happened at a con?

I went along to Star Wars Celebration Europe in 2007. One of the crowd. Bought a ticket. Had a ball. I went back in 2016 on stage in front of 4,000 or so people. It was a very different experience.

Since then I’ve been going along to conventions all over the world and I love it. Star Wars fans are awesome. As we make these movies it sometimes becomes just a job. Long hours in uncomfortable circumstances and it’s very easy to forget how much what we’re doing means to people. I’ve been given a very unique opportunity to be on the inside AND I get to go and speak to the people it means so much to and believe me, they are not afraid to tell me what they think! Good or bad. I try to take that enthusiasm back to Pinewood with me.

The cosplayers are amazing too. Such talent and creativity. I had an entire family dressed as Rey show up to the table once. Mum, two daughters and Dad. Brilliant! There are also the BB-8 costumes. All shapes, sizes and styles. Each one with a slightly different twist.

I once saw a little girl, she couldn’t have been more than 4, dressed as Rey and she was attacking a 6 foot guy dressed as Kylo Ren with her lightsaber. He was just humouring her and letting her get her strikes in. I’m assuming he was her Dad, but you never know at these things!

There is even a guy who dresses as ME! Full green suit pushing a homemade BB-8!

There was a guy from South America who presented me with an action figure of me in the green suit. He’d adapted the BB-8 to have rods and made a whole backing card and blister pack for it. Unfortunately he wanted it signed and I didn’t get to keep it. I tried to buy it but he was having none of it.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know some of the members of the 501st Legion of which Dave and I were made honorary members in 2016, the Rebel Legion and the Droid Builders. They all do great work and they all have their own Star Wars stories. How Star Wars got them through a difficult time, or how it introduced them to their husband or wife or how it inspired them. I totally understand that because it inspired me. I do wonder if there’s a little 7 year old out there seeing the behind the scenes footage thinking “Maybe I can do that!”

I’ve been collecting signed movie posters and Star Wars memorabilia for years, so when someone brings me a Force Awakens poster that Mark, Harrison, Anthony or Carrie have already signed and they want my signature on it, I know that’s a big deal. I’m hugely flattered and I don’t take that for granted.

In Rogue One you puppeteered SE-2. Which other droids and creatures did you puppeteer? Can you tell something about your work on this movie?

I was a little less involved in Rogue One. Although there were creatures in the movie, they were mostly background players. Appearing briefly here and there with some notable exceptions like Raddus and Pao.

The first thing I worked on was Bor Gullet. There was at least a dozen of us on that. I originally worked with Dave on the main tentacles, then towards the end of the shoot I ran the eyes. I also worked on a new version of 2-1B the medical droid that originally appeared in The Empire Strikes Back. He was in Saw Gerrera’s hide out. I don’t think he made the cut, but it’s in the visual directory.

SE-2 was shot on location in Iceland. That was myself on the head and body, with Dave Chapman and Patrick Comerford on arms and Matt Denton on the animatronics. This was a bunraku (rod) puppet built by Pete Hawkins. We waited in the rain in that spectacular landscape for a couple of days for the weather, then shot the whole thing in two set ups and three takes! Then ILM removed us all from the shot as they do with me and BB-8. That was the second time I had performed the first droid in the film.

As well as SE-2 I did various creature heads during the principal photography. Mon Calamari officers, Oolin Musters, Leevan Tenza and a few others. A lot of the stuff I shot was later superseded by the reshoots. Making Rogue One was a completely different process from The Force Awakens. Very much a hand-held, guerrilla style shoot which resulted in a totally different type of Star Wars movie.

It was recently announced that Rian Johnson will develop a brand-new trilogy. How would you describe the way he handled The Last Jedi and what do you think of the decision to have him create a new trilogy?

Rian is great. I was a fan of Looper but I didn’t really know what to expect. JJ was a tough act to follow, but Rian came in to an established cast and crew and led the way forward. He’s great fun, he enjoys a laugh but gets his shots. He has an amazing eye and he LOVES Star Wars. You could pass the monitors in video village while they were setting up a shot and it would look like a Star Wars movie. Epic. Even with no action. His take on The Last Jedi is familiar yet totally new.

The fact that Lucasfilm and Disney have picked him to do three more movies speaks volumes for his work on The Last Jedi. I can’t wait to see what he’ll do with a blank canvas.

My final question: next month is the release of The Last Jedi. Will we see Brian Herring puppeteer droids or creatures in Solo, Episode IX and beyond?

Well Solo has wrapped. Ron Howard tweeted a picture from the set that I was in, so that cat is out of the bag. I’m really looking forward to seeing it. The script is brilliant and I say that as a very fussy Star Wars fan.

As far as the future is concerned, I’ll gladly stay ‘Up the Galaxy’ for as long as they’ll have me. There are more movies coming, new worlds with many new alien characters and droids to discover. I hope to have a hand in as many of them as I can.

I hope so too! Many thanks for your time!


Wil je Brian volgen op social media? Dat kan!

Twitter: @BrianHezza

Facebook: PuppeteerBrianHerring

Instagram: brian_hezza

www.professionalpuppeteer.com


Meer unieke interviews vind je op: Star Wars Interviews – ‘Mem-Wars’ from a galaxy far, far away…

Star Wars Interviews

Geboren toen de opnames van A New Hope van start gingen. George Lucas cultist en aanhanger van Legends (1976-2012). Voormalig assistent van Anthony Daniels. Auteur van de 'Star Wars Interviews' boekenreeks waarvoor hij 175+ cast en crewleden interviewde. Trots op zijn vermeldingen in de credits van de boeken The Making of Return of the Jedi, Stormtroopers: Beyond the Armor, The Star Wars Historical Sourcebook, The Star Wars Archives en Star Wars Icons: Han Solo.

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Interviews

Exclusief interview met Lesleh Donaldson (Kea Moll)

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Lesleh Donaldson

In september 1985 verscheen de eerste aflevering van Droids op de Amerikaanse TV; een 13-delige animatieserie over de droids van Star Wars: C-3PO (opnieuw met de stem van Anthony Daniels) en R2-D2. Op Boba Fett en een cameo van de Max Rebo band na waren alle overige personages nieuwe creaties.

Zo ook Kea Moll, die in de eerste vier episodes te zien was. Haar stem werd ingesproken door de Amerikaanse actrice Lesleh Donaldson die ook aan de andere animatieserie, Ewoks, haar stem verleende.

Interview met Lesleh Donaldson

How did you get started in the entertainment business and what got you started as a voice actor?

I started out as a child model and after doing my first commercial at 11 I just progressed from commercials to tv to movies then voice acting.

For the Droids and Ewoks series you voiced characters various characters including the heroine Kea Moll.
How did you get your parts for these series assigned?

I auditioned. To be honest I have no memory of Ewoks probably because I was one of many voices and it held no memory for me, as for Droids I replaced an actress whose voice they decided they didn’t like so they cast me and rerecorded my voice.

I played Kea Moll and like I said I have no memory of what I played in Ewoks probably various background voices; it was a paycheck sorry to be so off the cuff but I speak the truth.

What did an average day working on Droids/Ewoks look like?

I did what they asked, I guess my voice was well suited for Kea, again no memory of Ewoks. I came from a commercial voice background so not really an animated voice actor. You go into the Studio you record your voice and you leave it took no time at all. Also, I was starring in a hit play then so my mind was on that!

Kea Moll: inspiratiebron voor Rey?

When you joined the Droids/Ewoks cast the Star Wars movies were the most successful movies ever. Had you seen the movies and what did you think of them?

I LOVED the first three Star Wars movies and had a huge crush on Mark Hamill so I was excited to meet Anthony Daniels. I took roles that they cast me in so there was no thinking about whether I wanted to be a part of it or not, I wanted to work.

How do you look back at the fact that you are part of the ‘Star Wars Universe’?

I don’t think I’m part of that Universe partly because it was animation and not the movie!

Besides Star Wars you done several other things like the movie Running with Michael Douglas. What do you regard as the highlight of your career?

The highlight of my career was in the 80’s when I had a career.

What would you give as an advice to someone who is reading this interview and wants to become a (voice) actor as well?

Like I said I’m not really a voice actor I got lucky because I had the right tone in my voice that producers liked back then but I would say that if you like doing character voices keep practicing and then make a tape and send it out because you never know!

What are you doing right now? Can you tell something about your current projects?

I’m currently still acting and I’ve written two scripts which are out being considered about to embark on a biopic of George Hislop a Canadian gay icon of the 70’s and 80’s.


Meer unieke interviews vind je op: Star Wars Interviews

Star Wars Interviews

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Interviews

Exclusief interview met Bill Slavicsek

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Bill Slavicsek

In 1987 was Star Wars op sterven na dood. Geen nieuwe films, de Ewok en Droids TV series werden niet vervolgd en ook aan de Marvel reeks was een einde gekomen. De redding van de franchise was gelukkig nabij want West End Games bracht in datzelfde jaar de Star Wars Role Playing Game uit.

Ter ondersteuning van dit spel verschenen en tientallen boeken waarin dieper en gedetailleerder werd ingegaan op de Star Wars galaxy. Voor het eerst konden we meer lezen over Bib Fortuna, hoe hoog de schuld van Solo bij Jabba was en kwamen we te weten dat Greedo een Rodian is. Kortweg gezegd: dit spel is de grondlegger geweest van de Expanded Universe en heeft de franchise tot 1991 (toen eerste boeken van Timothy Zahn verschenen) in leven gehouden.

De editor van al deze boeken is Bill Slavicsek, die ook nog eens de auteur is van A Guide to the Star Wars Universe. Als (hele) grote fan van de West End Games uitgaves (vorig jaar schreef ik er al over) stond een interview met Slavicsek al lange tijd op mijn wishlist en afgelopen week was het zover.

Interview met Bill Slavicsek

When was your first encounter with the Star Wars franchise and what did you think of it?

I know I followed the build-up to the film through Starlog Magazine, and I know I purchased the first issue of the Marvel Comic and the novelization when they were released shortly before the debut of the movie. It’s the actual day of release that remains fresh in my mind. May 25, 1977. For all that I had read, I can honestly say I wasn’t prepared for the movie I was about to see. I remember we cut school that day and traveled into Manhattan, to the Loews Astor Plaza, to get in line and wait for the first showing to go on sale. We were the first ones there, of course, and the line grew to an acceptable half-dozen or so other groups by the time the ticket booth opened. From the moment the words “A long time ago …” appeared upon the screen, to the opening scroll, to the Star Destroyer that went on forever, I was hooked. There was no going back. Star Wars (it wasn’t Episode IV or A New Hope yet) had a profound and lasting effect on me. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was going to become one of the biggest influences on my life and career moving forward—and I was still just in high school at the time! We stayed and watched the movie three times that day. When we emerged from the theater hours later, the line had grown to stretch around the block, and it never seemed to get any shorter that entire summer. I saw Star Wars on thirty-eight separate occasions that summer. What did I think? I thought it was the greatest movie ever made! Hey, I was a kid. But it remains one of my favorite films of all time, and it changed the way movies were made.

You joined West End Games in 1986, a year before the Star Wars RPG was released. How did you become the editor of so many Star Wars RPG books?

I started as an editor at West End Games, but before my first year of employment had ended, I was also writing and designing and developing products. I started on board games (such as RAFCosmic Encounter, and Kings & Things), then got to work on West End Games’ two roleplaying game lines, Paranoia and Ghostbusters. When Star Wars was presented to the staff, I wasn’t even scheduled to work on it. Someone had to handle the other product lines, and I was still the new kid on the block. It wasn’t long before I was able to demonstrate my love and knowledge of the property, and because I was good and fast at what I do, my first assignment was to team up with lead editor Paul Murphy to help develop and edit the roleplaying game rulebook. Initially, I was handed the introductory adventure and told to develop a format and get it ready for publication. After that, I followed behind Paul to make sure the book was as perfect as we could make it. About this time, Curtis Smith, the creative head of the studio at the time, was behind schedule on writing The Star Wars Sourcebook. He tagged me to be his co-writer to get the product finished by deadline, and I wound up writing the bulk of the book. As we finished the RPG and Sourcebook, West End Games was also in the process of moving the company to Pennsylvania. About this time, everyone above me decided, for one reason or another, to depart and seek their fortunes elsewhere. I wound up initially as the lead for Star Wars and shortly after that they promoted me to the creative lead of the company. After that, I wrote or edited much of what we were producing for Star Wars, and I developed everything before we sent it to Lucasfilm Licensing (LFL) for approval.

The Star Wars RPG came out in a time when Star Wars was more dead than alive. No new movies, no TV series, no comics and no books. Why release a game based on a franchise that wasn’t alive?

Prior to Star Wars, West End Games launched and had great success with another game based on a movie, Ghostbusters. We demonstrated that there was interest in a beloved but underutilized property if the product created to support it was good and true to the source material. We did that for Ghostbusters, and we certainly did that for Star Wars. In fact, getting to work on the Star Wars franchise at a time when we were literally the only people playing in that particular sandbox gave us a level of freedom that wouldn’t have been possible at any other time. With that freedom, we were able to  lay the foundation for what would become the Expanded Universe—a foundation that’s still in place and being used in everything they’re creating today, from comics to novels, tv series to movies, even the new theme parks! Star Wars would have had a renaissance eventually, but I’m proud of the hand we had in helping it get there sooner rather than later.

Can you tell how the creative process of creating the Star Wars RPG went?

Greg Costikyan designed the RPG. For that product, I served as one of the editor/developers. All I remember about the RPG was getting involved in a ton of playtests, editing the pages as Greg handed them off, and playing the “Rebel Breakout” adventure over and over again to fine tune the flow. It wasn’t until I got pulled into The Star Wars Sourcebook that I actually saw the creative process from start to finish. Curtis Smith and I flew to Skywalker Ranch for a series of meetings with our contacts there. We presented our product plan, explained the nature of the products we wanted to create, and had to convince them to let us add details to what was in the movies and novelizations in order to develop the wealth of material needed for a roleplaying game. After that, the process was the same as it always was—create the best possible product you could for a property that you loved and respected. We had no idea at the time that what we were doing was going to have any effect at all on the greater Star Wars property. In fact, we were told repeatedly that George Lucas wasn’t beholden to anything we created. So, me and the West End Games creative staff would brainstorm product ideas, create outlines, and get them approved by LFL before assigning them to a staff designer or a freelancer. If I didn’t write a product personally, I either edited it or did a development pass to bring it up to standards before sending it to LFL for approval. That was the process, repeated over and over for the five years that I ran the line. At some point, our success had convinced LFL to expand their licensing opportunities, and a comic book and novel partner was brought onboard. That’s when LFL decided they wanted everything to match up, and our products became the reference materials for the other licensees.

In which ways was George Lucas involved?

We had very little interaction with George Lucas. We worked closely with the people in Lucasfilm Licensing, but Mr. Lucas was busy doing other things. We could occasionally ask him a question, but it had to be something he could answer with either a “Yes” or a “No,” and the question had to fit on an index card. Otherwise, our direction and guidelines came from LFL, and we were all kind of making it up as we went along. We were the first partner that was actually making new content for the Star Wars universe since the Han Solo and Lando novels and the Marvel Comics. And we were doing it in an unprecedented way by describing and expanding upon things seen in the actual movies. I know Mr. Lucas had our miniatures on his desk (we sent him a set of the metal miniatures that we had specially painted just for him), and he would purchase some of our art for display, but that’s really the extent of our interaction.

What was the hardest thing you’ve experienced while working on the Star Wars RPG and its books.

Probably the first conversations with LFL, when I had to convince them to allow us to create things beyond what we saw in the movies. I remember walking them through the aliens section of The Sourcebook. Presenting my arguments for why Hammerhead and Snaggletooth were great for helping a prop person find the right mask, but they were terrible names for intelligent species. That, and doing the research back in the days before the Internet. I had to comb through every novel (there were nine we were allowed to draw from and one we were asked to pretty much ignore), every “Art of” book and movie “Sketch Book,” the movie scripts, my collection of Starlog Magazines, the Marvel Comics (though we didn’t wind up using a lot from those), and the video tapes of the three original movies. I made reams of notes and jotted down loads of ideas as I poured through these resources over and over again.

You’re the author of the 2nd and 3rd editions of A Guide to the Star Wars Universe, a book that was seen on George Lucas’ desk when he was working on the Prequel Trilogy. Are there to your knowledge things in the prequels you created?

Your guess is as good as mine. I’ve seen information that says that the name “Rodian” made it into Mr. Lucas’s handwritten scripts and production notes, but it wasn’t used in the movies. It did eventually show up in the Clone Wars and Rebels animated shows, though. It also looks like some of our Force powers served as inspiration for what we see the Jedi do in the movies, the Jedi Code, and the use of Aurebesh script (we assigned meaning to the letters in one of our products). In the end, I’m just glad that the products we made inspired Mr. Lucas, in their own small way, to finally get back to the universe he created.

Which Star Wars West End Games book are you, most proud of?

I’m proud of all my products. Kind of like a parent with a lot of kids. But I always go back to the one that more or less made my name in the industry, The Star Wars Sourcebook. Even reading it today, thirty plus years later, there’s still a lot of great moments and information in that book. If that’s all I’m ever remembered for, that’s good enough for me.

30 years after the original release Fantasy Flight Games re-released the Star Wars RPG and Sourcebook. Do you know if there are plans to re-release more old Star Wars West End Games books?

I don’t have any specific insight into what FFG may or may not be planning. I know that they decided to pay homage to the original pair of books and I’m very grateful that they did. The reprints are beautiful and true to the original editions. I’m glad they’re available again for anyone who wants to see where all this started.

After three decades the West End Games books are sought after collectibles and still well loved by many fans. What do you think is the secret behind this?

All of the creators that worked with me on the original Star Wars RPG products loved Star Wars. We poured our hearts and souls into those books and tried our best to be true to the source material. And by having one vision that brought all those products together gave them all a focus and a voice that spoke to fans of the movies, whether they were gamers or not. In fact, we went out of our way to write the products as source material first and game books second. I’m just glad we were moderately successful in making the Star Wars universe come alive in those early West End Games products.

In the fall of 2018 your book Defining A Galaxy was released, a book about your time at West End Games and creating the Star Wars RPG. Why should every Star Wars fan buy it and read it?

I was feeling nostalgic as 2017 rolled around. It was not only the 40th anniversary of the original Star Wars film, it was also the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars RPG and Sourcebook. I attended Star Wars Celebration that year as a fan for the first time in forever, and when I got back I just felt that I had to collect my memories of how the West End Games products came together. To preserve the history, at least the way I remember it happening. Versions of what I was writing served as the basis for presentations I participated in that year at GenCon and the Lucca Comics and Game Fair. I tried to make it a fast and entertaining read while also telling the origin story, as it were, of what would become the Star Wars Expanded Universe. If you have an interest in Star Wars and where a lot of the background material comes from, or if you have an interest in the behind-the-scenes details that go into the creation of game products and worldbuilding, then I think you’ll get something out of my book. In the end, though, I wrote it so I would remember how all those products came together. It was written as much for me as for posterity. And it’s interesting to look back at a time when Star Wars wasn’t the focus of the public eye, when most of the world had decided it was no longer popular or relevant. Lucky for us, West End Games had a different idea and they let me take that idea and run with it. My book tells that story.

Thank you for the interview!

Geïnteresseerd in het boek van Bill Slavicsek? Defining A Galaxy is te koop op Amazon en DriveThruRPG.


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Exclusief interview met Michael Stackpole

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Michael Stackpole

Vraag een Star Wars fan wie de meest belangrijke auteurs van de afgelopen 30 jaar waren en de kans is groot dat de naam Michael Stackpole valt. In de gouden jaren ’90 was Stackpole schrijver van de uitermate populaire en geprezen X-Wing reeks én van I, Jedi, een boek dat wordt gezien als een van de beste Star Wars werken ooit. Tevens is hij de geestelijk vader van Corran Horn; de X-Wing piloot en Jedi die zou uitgroeien tot een favoriet van vele fans.

Reden genoeg dus voor mij om hem op te zoeken voor een gesprek over zijn bijdragen aan de Star Wars saga.

Interview met Michael Stackpole

You wrote your first official Star Wars book in the mid 90’s; X-Wing: Rogue Squadron. How did you get this dream job?

Bantam Books had great success with the Timothy Zahn novels, and wanted to expand the line, but Lucasfilm didn’t want to extend the original deal because it was early days yet. So Bantam hit on the idea of taking a license out on the X-wing computer game. When Bantam looked through their stable of authors for someone who could write military Science Fiction, who understood computer gaming, who worked fast, who had done tie-in work and who could actually do a good job, I was pretty much the only author that checked all of the boxes. Bantam suggested me to Lucasfilm, Lucasfilm called Kevin J. Anderson to ask him if I could do the job. He said yes, so Bantam got to offer me the series. So, in short, I was VERY lucky.

Your book I, Jedi was written in first person, which no other Star Wars book at the time had done before, so I wonder if that was something you had to push for or was it something Lucasfilm suggested?

I’d had a talk with Tom Dupree, my Star Wars editor about I, Jedi and wanting to tell it in first person. This was just a pipe dream we discussed while walking around in Baltimore at a convention. There was no contract or even the inkling of a contract. Then Bantam talked to Lucasfilm about a new set of a dozen books, and Tom offered I, Jedi as one of them. Lucasfilm liked the idea, and I got a phone call.

I, Jedi is about Corran Horn, who was created by you and became of the most popular Expanded Universe characters. Since he’s one of my favorites as well I’d like to know ‘everything’: how did you create him?

Wow, you want me to reveal all of my secrets for character creation.

Because I was writing about pilots, I did research. The best pilots are shorter than average, with light colored eyes. So Corran is about 5’7” and has green eyes. I knew having him be a Corellian would immediately give him a link to Wedge, so that made sense. But Wedge and Han both had smuggling backgrounds, so I made Corran someone from the Law enforcement side of things, to provide contrast and some tension between him and Wedge. That also let me use Wedge’s smuggling background to bring Booster and Mirax in. As for the name, well, at the time for Corellian last names we had Antilles and Solo, both nouns. So I picked Horn for no particular reason I can remember. Corran came because I wanted that hard K sound, which is good for characters. Makes them seem more heroic.

And, tangentially, I gave Whistler his name because it’s kinda obvious for an R2 unit.

Besides I, Jedi your best known Star Wars book is of course the X-Wing series. What was your inspiration while writing these books, and what directions did you get from Lucasfilm?

From Lucasfilm and Bantam what I got was this for direction: Write military Science Fiction set in the Star Wars universe. You should probably include Wedge. Everything else was me putting things together. Specifically I wanted to set the series during the conquest of Coruscant. In Tim’s books the New Republic already had it, so I asked if I could do the conquest of it. I figured, that way, that even if folks weren’t interested in the new characters, they’d at least want to read about this critical piece of history. A bit later I made references to Black Sun from Shadows of the Empire because tying things together is always fun, and given the timing of the books/events, it was just natural to do so.

As a writer of Star Wars books you have certain restrictions when it comes to the main characters. For instance, you can’t have Han Solo die. How do you deal with this and do you feel restricted a lot because of this?

I never felt restricted and I even asked for a clarification at the start because I was using a different license than the mainline books. So I asked, “I can’t use any of the major characters without permission, right?” And I was told I was correct. Which was fine with me because I really didn’t want to involve the major characters. These books were about the everyday people who made the Rebellion work. Having Luke, Leia and Han around for cameo appearances was fine, but I didn’t want them to dominate the books.

Which existing Star Wars character and which character created by you did you enjoy the most writing about?

Wedge was a pure joy to flesh out, so I really liked working with him. We all knew who he was, but I had to work out why he was like that, then present it in a fun way. Mara Jade was also a blast to work with. Tim was very generous in reading over the manuscript to make sure I’d gotten her right. Clearly creating and writing Corran was a lot of fun. In the eight books he really grew up a lot. In that aspect, I, Jedi was the most fun to write, but I enjoyed it all. And it was an added treat to be able to bring him into the X-wing comics without spoiling continuity.

Were you a Star Wars fan when the movies came out?

My first encounter would have been 24 December, 1976 when I saw the trailer for Star Wars at a showing of Clint Eastwood’s The Gauntlet. Within two days I bought the novelization of the movie, then was at the first screening in Vermont when it came out. So I’ve been a fan for a LONG time.

In 2014, Disney declared that the Expanded Universe was no longer canon. It became ‘Legends’. What do you think of this, seeing all of your work suddenly become non-canon?

No one gets past their outrage to read the second paragraph of the Disney statement. In it they said that the Expanded Universe would continue to be mined as a source for material. And they have been true to their word. Thrawn is back. When ABC needs a good series on Thursdays, or as part of the new Disney streaming service, we could easily have an X-wing series and the whole crew could go back. Nothing in those novels contradicts the things in the new movies—at least not in any way that can’t be easily tweaked.

As for the Legends label, when the largest entertainment conglomerate in the world wants to declare what I’ve done is Legendary, I’m good with that.

What is the greatest Star Wars related anecdote you can share?

There are so many. Aside from making folks happy with the stories, and having kids write me that Rogue Squadron was the first book they ever read through by themselves; or other folks telling me that I, Jedi is a book they return to when they just want to escape for a bit; what I’ve enjoyed the most out of the association with Star Wars is meeting folks from all over the world. Because of Star Wars I’ve gone to Australia twice, Belgium, England, Ireland, Germany and Russia. It’s very cool to see Star Wars and the love of Star Wars uniting people on levels that, if you read the headlines, would seem to be impossible. It has been an honor to be part of that family.

Looking back at all the things you have done for Star Wars: what are you most proud of?

Again, so much. But I guess the best thing I ever did wasn’t in writing. I introduced Aaron Allston to Tom Dupree, and we all know how wonderfully that turned out.


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Exclusief interview met Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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Het is alweer 22 jaar geleden dat The New Rebellion, een Star Wars boek van de Amerikaanse schrijfster Kristine Kathryn Rusch, verscheen. Gedurende haar lange carrière schreef ze ook voor franchises als Star Trek en Alien én won ze een HUGO Award.

Onlangs sprak ik haar over haar bijdrage aan de ‘Expanded Universe’ en had ze een boeiende onthulling over een geannuleerd Star Wars project…

Interview met Kristine Kathryn Rusch

When and where was your first encounter with Star Wars? And what did you think of it?

I saw Star Wars: A New Hope the night it premiered. I was in high school, and a group of us went to the movies, with no idea what we were going to see. I was hooked from that moment forward.

What was your inspiration while writing The New Rebellion, and what directions did you get from Lucasfilm? How did you come up with the story for The New Rebellion?

I wasn’t all that fond of the way that the previous books had gone. I hated what the male writers had done to Leia (making her a wife and mommy instead of the strong woman that she was), and so I just went back to the first three films, which I really, really loved. I worked as well as I could within the framework of the previous novels, ignoring as much of them as possible, and restoring as much of what I loved about Star Wars as possible. Lucasfilm was very supportive. They gave me pages of detailed notes when I was done, but those were mostly terminology nits, not actual changes.

Which existing Star Wars character you enjoyed the most writing about?

Han Solo. He is, by far, my favorite.

Could you explain why?

Han? The ultimate bad boy with a heart of gold? The true hero of the piece? The one who actually rescues people? Has a sense of humor? Fights despite his cynicism, even though he has no dog in the hunt? That Han? Yep. That’s why I like him.

Which Star Wars character created by you is your favorite?

I never have a favorite among characters I create.

 Although you did get to write a Star Wars trivia book, The New Rebellion was unfortunately your only Star Wars novel. What was the reason for this?

The Science Fiction Writers of America -which I did not belong to- went to war with Lucasfilm over royalties. I strongly disagreed with SFWA and told them so. I was working hand-in-glove with Lucasfilm on a bible for the books…when SFWA sent Lucasfilm a cease-and-desist letter over their royalties and- without my permission -signed my name to it. They signed a number of Star Wars writers’ names to the petition, without permission. Lucasfilm did not believe me when I told them I wasn’t involved (I don’t blame them). I really should have sued SFWA. They cost me over $100,000 with that action. And they cost me the chance to work in a series I loved.

You just referred to a ‘bible for the books’ you were working on. What kind of book was that? Something like 2012’s Essential Readers Companion; a book with descriptions of every Star Wars story?

In TV, in particular, and in film sometimes, the people who produce the show develop a “bible” which allows anyone who writes to know what’s going to happen next. Kevin J. Anderson and I were putting together a large bible for the series of books along with Lucasfilm to determine what direction the books would take over the next several years. It’s more complicated than what you’ve described, and would have taken us a great deal of work by the time we finished. We had just held the preliminary meetings when SFWA nuked everything.

In 2014, Disney declared the Expanded Universe was no longer canon. It became ‘Legends’. What do you think of this, seeing all of your work suddenly become non-canon?

It doesn’t bother me at all. I did work-for-hire, so the owners of the property can do whatever they want with it. I knew that when I signed on.

You have written books for other Sci-Fi franchises like Alien, Quantum Leap and Star Trek. In which ways was writing for these franchises different? And what is it –according to you- that makes Star Wars so unique?

The smaller franchises (Alien, Quantum Leap) really didn’t get involved in the books. We could have written anything, and no one would have cared. Star Trek and Paramount are very involved, and the same with Lucasfilm back in the day. I prefer that. I liked being part of the organization.

Final question: How do you look back at your Star Wars work?

I think I was lucky to have the chance to play in that universe. My 16-year-old self would be very proud.


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