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Exclusief interview met Keith De’Winter (creature performer)

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Bijna twee jaar geleden vond mijn eerste kennismaking met Keith De’Winter plaats, de creature performer die in The Force Awakens de rol van Goss Toowers speelde. Sindsdien is er (mede door onze gedeelde belangstelling voor voetbal) altijd contact gebleven en toen ik hoorde dat hij in The Last Jedi maar liefst drie (!) rollen speelde kon een tweede interview niet uitblijven. Naast Goss was Keith ook te zien als een Canto Bight alien en een mannelijke Caretaker op Ahch-To. Daar waar het interview in 2016 over The Force Awakens ging lag in onderstaande interview de focus volledig op The Last Jedi en schetst Keith een geweldig beeld hoe het er achter de schermen van ‘s werelds populairste franchise aan toegaat.

Interview met Keith De’Winter

Besides good ‘ol Goss Toowers which new roles did you play in The Last Jedi and how did you get them assigned?

Well, after my little adventure on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I never imagined I would be called upon again. I thought, “I’ve done my Star Wars!”, then I got the call to go to Pinewood, which was very exciting, for a fitting for a Creature I’d not played before on the unnamed next instalment. This creature turned out to be one of the Caretakers on Ahch-To, where Luke Skywalker went into exile seeking the first Jedi Temple. This Caretaker is one of the males of the species. The Caretakers you see in the film are all females. My Caretaker was described as a “Salty ‘Ol Seadog” character, basically he’s been there/seen it/done it, the wise old Caretaker that has endless stories to tell, and maybe stretch the truth a little. He didn’t speak, but that’s what I imagined he’d be doing. Quite a fun character to play.

Of course I thought this was the only creature I was playing in this second instalment of the ‘New Trilogy’. I never imagined playing more than one. It was during one of the rehearsals where Vanessa Bastyan – Supervising Animatronic Designer CFX – said to me that my other creature I was playing was awaiting for me to have a fitting. So you can imagine how gobsmacked I was.

So the other creature was going to be a character on Canto Bight in the casino. This Creature has a kind of  Toad look about him. He, like all the other Creatures in the casino are very well dressed, which was very apt as we filmed the scenes on the 007 sound stage. Which was an amazing set. It was wonderful to work in the same building where the James Bond movies were filmed. This is such an iconic sound stage and very fitting for such a huge set piece. The incredible detail in everything around, which made this the casino that Bond would loved to have played at. As of this time my Casino Creature doesn’t have a name, but he was described as a loser, a loser in everything. I remember when we were filming I had to walk over to a female alien creature, ‘Derla Pidys’, played by the lovely Latesha Wilson. So in keeping with this characters reputation I played him trying to ‘chat her up’. Of course Latesha couldn’t see a thing in her costume and was unaware of what I was doing, which proved even more embarrassing for this loser of a creature.

During my fitting on the Caretaker I was playing, Vanessa informed me that Goss was also hanging on the rail waiting for me to put him back on. I’m playing Goss Toowers again, how exciting. I thought I’d seen the last of him after The Force Awakens so knowing he was back on this film was a real thrill. Sure enough, putting that costume back on just took me right back to my first day of rehearsals on ‘The Force Awakens’.

During filming on one of the scenes I also got to play another creature for a pick-up shot, that was so cool, so, I suppose I actually played 4 Creatures in The Last Jedi.

What can you tell about the suits you had to wear?

Goss Toowers is really comfortable to wear. His costume consists of boiler suited overalls, wellies, three fingered hard wearing gloves, well, he is an alien, and a waterproof shirt-looking jacket underneath the overalls. The head, however, is very heavy. The reason for this is due to all the animatronics inside the top of the head/helmet and front behind his face to help bring him to life. I wore a balaclava and a special helmet fitted to my head that the head slotted onto, I looked like Batman. I also wore a bungee strap which would run up my back and clip onto the head to alleviate the weight. With this in place I was then able to move the head around as if it were my own, and with puppeteer Patrick Comerford operating the facial movements and also speaking into my ear via an earpiece which would help give me direction into what was going on in the scene, and stop me from waking into things, although that’s another story.

My (as of yet unnamed) Casino Creature was also a very comfortable costume to wear. This Toad looking creatures costume consisted of everyday black shoes, a pair of trousers made to measure. I don’t even get mine tailor-made, and a long tuxedo looking black formal coat. I seemed to remember him also having a white kind of cravat with a brooch to hold it together. The head was a lot heavier than Goss, as he had a working mouth, so more animatronics/servos to make it all work. Again having the same fixture as Goss Toowers to help balance the weight to be controlled by my own head. I did quite a lot of walking up and down the elegant staircase you see in the casino that Finn, Rose and BB-8 use. Visibility wasn’t as restricted as wearing Goss but the only time I could see was when the mouth was opened. Even then what you could see all depended on how wide the mouth was opened.

The (also as of yet unnamed) Caretaker was a fun character to play. This costume was the most difficult to wear, and also the biggest. The body was basically like putting in a turtle shell, as it slotted over your head and your legs stuck out the bottom of it and arms popped through the sides. The hands were separate from the body and you would put these on before the clothes went over the body. There were quite a few layers of clothes, this would make him look more weighty, finished off with a kind of fisherman’s coat and a matching hat. The legs are a different story and you don’t really see the legs/feet on the Caretakers that appear in the film. We had these bird looking stick legs/feet that were attached to the sides of our legs/feet. We had green tights on our legs and these would be erased in post, good job as I’ve got boney knees.

The head on this creature was even heavier than my Casino Creature. This was due to the size of the head which was quite big compared to some of the other Caretakers. Again it contained all the necessary animatronics/servos to operate the eyes/mouth. Visibility being the same as the Casino Creature, in that what vision you had, all depended on how wide the mouth opened.

Goss Toowers (midden) op de set van The Force Awakens, terwijl hij samen met JJ Abrams en Neal Scanlan (rechts) B-U4D (links) bekijkt.

You had scenes filmed on the big resistance ship, the Canto Bight casino and Ahch-To. I’d love to hear everything about the filming of your scenes on these 3 very different sets! And were your Ahch-To scenes filmed at Skellig Michael?

Let’s start with Goss and the Resistance scenes. Like I said earlier, playing Goss was such a pleasure. Back on the Resistance. Obviously when filming you’re limited to how much information is given. I was told what I had to do at that moment and be the technician that Goss is. So my ‘job’ this time around was to carry a fuel pipe across a very busy Resistance Base that had Resistance pilots/crew running around. I told you that I have no vision at all with Goss so my direction solely relied upon my puppeteer at that time which was Patrick Comerford via an earpiece. Luckily we got to rehearse what we were doing, so that does help as I count how many steps it takes for me to reach my destination. As director Rian called ‘action’, Patrick would then very quietly tell me if I had to turn left/right/stop/turn…and at the same time, I’m animating Goss to make him look ‘real’. So the fuel pipe I carry is what I then use to fuel the ship that Leia and gang are going on. I did see various characters going on this ship during rehearsal, but I had no idea why. Once all fueled, it was a big thumbs up to one of the crew and then I went and started to fix something else. I had a lot of fun in this scene.

The Canto Bight casino was such a magnificent looking set. Quite a big set too as it was filmed on the 007 Sound Stage. Honestly, this could’ve very well been the setting for James Bonds next adventure! The amount of casino tables laid out, all occupied by wealthy individuals, all playing to become even richer. My Toad looking Casino Creature is one of the ‘losers’ at the tables. That’s what I got told and that’s exactly as I played him. I made up my own version of gambling at the table and my idea was to win you had to lose all of the golden chips you had…but I kept winning back more chips which make him a real ‘loser!’ I did lots of filming, but the only time you see him in the film is as we first enter the casino. The camera pans forward along the gaming tables with humans and aliens on both sides gambling away. Then we see a croupier on the right of the screen and my Casino Creature appears then. In fact, if you listen you can hear him growl, then Finn appears on screen. Other bits of filming I did that didn’t make the cut; there was a large staircase that I had to walk up and down and performing this with little vision is quite a feat. I remember I had to walk up these stairs following Finn and Rose. Once at the top I had to make my way around past the piano we see near the bar and stop and chat with alien creature, ‘Derla Pidys’. My facial expressions were puppeteered by Olly Taylor, who’s amazing. We had such fun and of course having him animate my mouth would make him provide a voice that I could hear via the earpiece. It’s a shame no one other than me could hear him as he was so funny, so I would animate along with what he said. Due to the nature of the scene and the amount of filming I did, I also had other puppeteers take over when Olly had to take the reins of another creature. Brian Herring was on hand when he wasn’t busy with BB-8, and Phill Woodfine helped to guide me around a very busy bar to talk to the female aliens to make sure I hit my mark. Creature Co-coordinator on the film, Paul Kasey, was always there talk to me via the earpiece if there was something specific he wanted me to do throughout this and other scenes during filming.

This scene also involved lots of stunt work as Finn and Rose ride the Fathiers from the stables that come crashing through the windows destroying the casino. I was lucky enough to be a part of some of this stunt work. One shot in particular is when the first Fathier comes smashing through the window by the bar at the top of the stairs on the casino. I was standing with an alien creature, ‘Glowen Faquidde’, played by the wonderful Lynne Robertson Bruce. We were standing by the piano near the bar at the top of the casino and we were surrounded by stunt performers. On action we had to run as fast as we could as various gadgets would trigger the collapse of the piano as this was where the Fathier was to land as it crashed through the window. This was so exciting and both myself and Lynne would act as if this was our ‘stunt scene!’ Of course, it takes such a skill to do what these stunt performers do. I was involved with a couple of other stunt scenes just after the casino tables were flipped and stunt performers were flown through the air on safety wires. Amazing to watch and great to be a part of. Lots of running and in a creature costume with little vision are quite a task, but I’d love to do that again!

The wonderful island of Ahch-To, or in my case, the wonderful island built at Pinewood! Again, what an amazing set. When you watch the film it’s so difficult to know which is the actual island, compared to Pinewood. So none of my filming was at Skellig Michael, playing the part of one of the Caretakers was amazing, after all, I thought that was the only character I would be playing. The way these creatures were described was that they are the keepers of the island. The male species would be the ones that would go off hunting off the island leaving the females to tend with all the everyday tasks, just as we see in the film. This, after all, is the island where Luke Skywalker has come to seek exile. He’s possibly the only human we know that the Caretakers have seen, so does he party with them? I like to think that he has done, a Jedi surely has to relax somehow.

We had lots of preparation for this scene, lots of rehearsals that went into the way these creatures walk. As they have bird like legs and such a huge body, we had a particularly physical walk we had to learn. Paul Kasey choreographed a dance routine that we also had to learn for our ‘big’ scene. This dance had the added physicality to it based on how we moved our bodies. It was like doing a high intensity workout. Again I was fortunate to be puppeteered by Olly Taylor and another very busy puppeteer, Colin Purves.

Before this interview you told me your scenes as a male caretaker were cut from the final movie. Could you describe those scenes? I hope they’ll show up on the Blu-ray!

When you begin filming basically you only have certain information about that scene, even then it’s limited. I remember the scene quite well. It was an enclosed space that had the Caretakers huts placed around embedded onto the hillside/mountainside. There was also a bigger hut which more than one Caretaker could be inside; maybe this was an area to gather certain Caretakers for meetings. These huts were a bit different to the ones Luke lives in. To access these huts you would walk up, what I can only describe, as slated steps. I stood on a ledge, which felt pretty high as my vision was limited. In one hand I held a long staff and in the other, what appeared to be a rope made of twine that lit up when you twirled it around. So Paul Kasey would instruct me to wave my staff and swing my rope around, incidentally, when the Visual Dictionary came out I found out this was called a ‘Nightkelp Flail’ So with Olly or Colin working my face and eyes, I swung my ‘Nightkelp Flail’ around me and shook my staff as though I was conjuring up some almighty spell, which of course, I wasn’t! Some of the other Caretakers were dancing on the slated steps or in their huts, or by the blazing camp fire that was burning below where I was standing high on that ledge. Rian Johnson came over to me and directed some more for me to do; he said he wanted to finish this particular shot looking up at me. We also performed a dance routine around the camp fire and one of the shots I did incorporated Rey walking by the side of me. As I turned and saw her I looked her up and down as if she’d ruined my dance skills, this always made Daisy laugh.

So, you can imagine how disappointed I was that this scene got cut from the film. Of course, this can’t be helped and various scenes in films are always cut for the sake of running times, or the general flow of the story. What’s exciting is that Rian Johnson recently announced that various deleted scenes would be appearing on the Blu-Ray/Dvd once it’s released. He did speak about this Caretaker scene in particular as it now transpires to be the scene involved in the 3rd one of Luke’s lessons to Rey. I’m so excited to know that I, along with all the fans, will get to see this amazing scene we filmed.

How would you describe the way Rian Johnson directed this movie?

Rian’s direction is completely different to that of JJ Abrams, but then it should be. The one thing they have in common is the passion to tell the story of Luke Skywalker et al. Besides being directed by him, I had the opportunity to watch him in action on set. His attention to detail, his relationship with everyone involved was so naturally charming. He was always smiling, like a little kid in a sweet shop. A very hands on director, he would make sure he got the best out of a scene, and whoever was in that scene would make sure that what they did made him smile even more. My first introduction to Rian’s work was the film Looper. The depth of character development in that film just shows how much he was the right one to write and direct this episode of the saga. He’s very character driven and it shows in Jedi.

 

Keith in de film Raven Waiting (2012)

You’re in scenes with almost every main cast member. Did you get to interact with them how do they perform ‘live’?

I didn’t interact with Carrie as I did when I first played Goss in The Force Awakens, but at least we were in the same scene, that meant a lot. Filming on the casino I got to work alongside John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran. When we filmed the scene with me walking up the casino steps towards the bar I was directly behind Kelly. As we stopped shooting she was totally engrossed in how I looked. She felt my hands and said they felt very ‘real’, she asked me my name and told me hers, although I still had my creature’s head on, so I don’t think we’ll be shouting hi to one another across a room just yet! When I took my head off for a breath of air, I looked, and at the side of me, watching Rian direct, was Mark Hamill. He would often be seen around various sets watching what was going on, that’s what actors like to do, makes you really feel a part of it. It was the same with the Caretaker scene. Filming alongside Daisy Ridley was nice and again she would laugh and stare in amazement at the look of the creature; all of this down to Neal Scanlan’s amazing team in the Creature workshop.

The Last Jedi is without a doubt the most talked about Star Wars movie ever. While a lot of fans love it… there are also negative reactions to the story, more then there have ever been, especially online. What is your own opinion about the movie?

Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, just how boring would life be if we were all the same? It doesn’t matter if you don’t like something, it’s called an opinion, but that doesn’t mean you have to slam something for the sake of recreating your own childhood. I absolutely loved this film! Rian has got this story completely right. I was so enthralled with everything, and I wanted more. I love The Force Awakens and I didn’t think that could be bettered, but it takes the story exactly where we want it to go. For me it was taking me on that journey with Daisy, and Luke showing her the ways of the force. She’s such a strong character and that’s why she left the island, she knew it was the right thing to do, Luke knew it was the right thing for her to do. He had done the same in Return of the Jedi.

In the last scene on the Falcon I did not see Goss… does this mean he’s… gone?

Just because we didn’t see him, doesn’t mean he’s gone, this after all is Star Wars, and we all know that anything is possible. I would love to play Goss again if the opportunity ever rose. However, I was very fortunate to have played him in two films. He’ll always be my go-to alien!

Solo: A Star Wars story will be released in may… and Episode IX in December 2019. What are the odds we’ll be chatting again then?

I’m looking forward to seeing Solo: A Star Wars story, and I’m looking forward to seeing Episode IX in 2019…I told you, I’m just as much a fan as you are. It would be lovely to do another interview with you at later date, who knows?

May The Force Be With You.


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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