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Exclusief interview met Jake Lunt Davies (creature concept designer)

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Sinds hij in 2013 werd aangenomen als Creature Concept Designer is de brit Jake Lunt Davies verantwoordelijk geweest voor diverse nieuwe ontwerpen die in The Force Awakens, Rogue One, The Last Jedi én Solo te zien zijn: zo zijn BB-8, Pao, Vober Dand, Rey’s speeder, de Porgs, PZ-4CO en Ello Asty allemaal van zijn hand.

Speciaal voor deze site en mijn eigen site (StarWarsInterviews.com) deed Jake een interview waarin hij zeer uitvoerig ingaat op de grote vraag waarom er zo weinig bestaande aliens lijken terug te keren én uitleg geeft hoe diverse van zijn creaties zijn ontstaan. Dit, en nog veel meer, lees je allemaal in onderstaand interview.

Interview met Jake Lunt Davies

A long time ago… something inspired you to become a designer. I’d like to hear how it al started.

Since I was a child I’ve been drawing – I’d draw cars, spaceships and creatures. I was torn between wanting to be a car designer or movie production designer when I grew up. With films I’d always been fascinated by how they were made, what went on behind the scenes. I loved the special effects, the models and matte paintings. I loved the concept of the perfect artifice that was contained within the frame and that there was all this other stuff going on just out of sight. And with sci-fi films you had this freedom to create whatever you wanted – as a kid I remember designing my own new versions of spaceships and creatures for imaginary future Star Wars movies beyond Return of the Jedi. If I’d only known how things would work out one day!

How did you get involved with Star Wars and start designing all these creatures and droids for the movies?

I’d worked with Neal Scanlan on and off from 2000 to maybe 2005 doing design work. Our careers diverged after that – I was focusing more on work in commercials, storyboarding, design and subsequently some directing and I think Neal was doing more prosthetics and SMUFX. By the summer of 2013 I don’t think I’d been in touch with Neal for five years when he phoned me out of the blue to tell me he’d got Star Wars and was looking get some concept designers on the team.

Concept art: Chewbacca & Porgs © Jake Lunt Davies

Your biggest hit is without a doubt the Porgs. Fans love them and they’re also a commercial success. Could you tell something about the whole creative process of the creation of these creatures?

Yes, they have been somewhat commercially popular haven’t they? But as much as their presence might be seen to be a cynical marketing ploy purely to sell toys, they were never originally created to be that. Skellig Michael, the location for Ahch-To, is a UNESCO protected site and wildlife preserve…and quite liberally covered in puffins, either dotted about in the background or flying around the cliffs. Physically removing them was impossible and digital removal would have been a lot of work, so I think Rian decided to look at how he could work with this by introducing our own indigenous species. The idea was that we’d have these ‘throwaway’ background creatures crop up in various shots that would validate the real puffins you see in the wide landscapes of the island. Rian also saw that they might then be able to provide small moments of levity to the scenes on Ahch-To such as the Porgs investigating the discarded lightsaber or annoying Chewie in the Falcon’s cockpit. The brief was that the size of the creatures would obviously have to be in the region of a puffin and might want to have some similarly striking markings as they have on their beaks. I drew a few a pages of sketches – lots of little ideas looking at different aquatic and avian sources, such as otters, beavers, seals and seabirds. I probably got the essential Porg shape somewhere within these first few attempts. There’s an ethos of simplicity in the design of Star Wars that we try to adhere to (and maybe sub-consciously do anyway) – a clean recognisable silhouette, a shape that any child can draw and you’d know what it is meant to be. I’d been looking at seals, puffins and pug dogs, sketching these little ovoid shapes with big eyes sat right at the top of their heads and funny down-turned mouths that gave them a sort of sad yet neutral face. And it was these that Rian was drawn to.

The best droid design in the new movies is in my opinion PZ-4CO. To me, it looks like an Egyptian Anubis head inspired design. Since 2015 I’ve been wondering if that is where you got the inspiration from?

I suppose there is some Anubis-like quality to her design – the long face and the suggestion of ears. But I’m afraid it wasn’t an influence. I’d been playing with the idea that there could be C-3P0 type protocol droids that wasn’t necessarily human and would be used to specifically interact with another alien species. So I was drawing a lot of aliens and extrapolating a droid design out of them. Somewhere deep in vast amounts of artwork that have never been seen are some alien designs that share a look with PZ-4CO. Also, we did tweak the costume design for The Last Jedi – on The Force Awakens the neck ended up being bit too long compared with the original design so on The Last Jedi we got the opportunity to reduce it.

Concept art: PZ-4CO © Jake Lunt Davies

My favorite alien you created is Pao! What can you tell about the creation of him?

Pao started off as a wild looking tribesman for an abandoned scene in The Force Awakens. With a huge mouth and tiny eyes lost deep in angry wrinkles framed by a long mass of wild hair, he was only semi-clad in something like a grass skirt with tattoos covering his blue skin and clutching two or three throwing spears. There was going to be a scene in Rogue One with a tribe too and I represented the design again. That scene was also abandoned but Gareth really liked the core look of this alien – basically the big mouth – and he asked if I could redevelop him into a rebel fighter. So I tried to keep the silhouette of the long hair that the original design had by replacing it with a hat and havelock (neck flap) and giving him a more rebel like outfit, topped off with a long rifle. On a practical level, how we worked the performer Derek Arnold into the head is pretty cool. Pao’s mouth interior extends back around Derek’s face and cheeks so that when Pao’s mouth is wide open you are actually looking right back into Derek’s open mouth. The only way Derek can see is through slits hidden in the ridges of the roof of Pao’s mouth – so when the mouth is shut, Derek is blind and totally reliant on radio communication from the puppeteer operating Pao’s face.

Concept art: PAO © Jake Lunt Davies

The new movies feature a lot of great aliens. Still, a lot of fans wonder why so many new creations are in the movies instead of a more balanced mix of new and old, existing aliens. Do you know the reason for this?

I hear this question a lot and it is something that actually does get considered on all the movies we’ve worked on. Firstly, thanks for the appreciation for what we have contributed to the new movies! I think people forget that with the Original Trilogy, there wasn’t actually that much continuity of alien species from one movie to the next – off the top of my head the only one I can think of was Greedo in A New Hope and a Rodian dancer cropping up in Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi. The Prequels were better in that respect and you did get to see more Twi’leks and Rodians; and Rebels has continued brilliantly by having loads of Rodians and Ithorians as background characters. The thing is with these though is that they have had a certain ‘luxury’ of being digital or animated so adding a bunch of alien extras doesn’t have the logistical implications shooting practical does. For every creature we create it requires a suit performer, a puppeteer if it needs an animatronic face, an animatronic designer to build the mech, a fabricated alien body suit, a costume tailored for that shape plus all the sculpting, moulding, paint and hair to make it a reality. So the director really needs to want that alien in his film from the outset. And you also have to put yourself in the place of the director. Imagine you were given the chance to direct a Star Wars film…wouldn’t you want to use the opportunity to make the film your own; to introduce some cool new aliens? Anyway, as I said before, having ‘legacy’ aliens is something that has actually been considered for each film but unfortunately many have fallen by the wayside (along with many, many of our new designs!) during the production process with scenes being cut before the shoot and after filming in the edit. A few that did make it were the Mon Calamari in The Force Awakens, Rogue One and The Last Jedi; the Hassk that appeared in a Ralph McQuarrie Cantina concept were made for Maz’s Castle in The Force Awakens; and Twi’leks and Ponda Baba were made for Rogue One. We’ve also tried to create some continuity with the new species in the new films and you do see some recurring faces. One species in particular is the Abednedo, most notably the pilots Ello Asty and C’ai Threnalli. When I was working on The Force Awakens, I really wanted there to be at least another species that could have the ubiquity of humans in the SW universe. JJ had responded quite well to an early Abednedo sketch and I decided to draw a multitude of different versions – as scavengers, townspeople, bar patrons, pilots, etc. and bombard him with them at every presentation. And it worked – you can see them on Jakku, as a senator on Coruscant, Slowen Lo on Canto Bight and the aforementioned pilots. Anyway, I hope that what you can take from all this is that the inclusion of aliens from the previous movies is not something that is being ignored and that hopefully the balance will be redressed in the future!

You were heavily involved in the creation of BB-8. Christian Alzman did some designs but it was you who eventually realized the final model. What kind of ‘typical Jake Lunt Davies touches’ did you add to this droid?

Yes, BB-8 was the sum of a lot of peoples input – from the initial sketch by JJ, through Christian’s development and my final design. And even that was born out of the development of the puppet under Neal Scanlan’s supervision. As our team worked out how the puppet would be made, move and be operated, we tried out various different pattern structures on the ball of the body. The combination of the core arrangement of the six panels, their size in relation to the overall sphere and their offset positioning to the axle on which the ball rotates all worked together to maintain a texture to the body as BB-8 rolled – i.e. the pattern was bold enough not to just blur into nothing – and create the impression of an omni directional movement. As far as the details go, I don’t think I was trying to add any of my personal touches to the design. I was very focused on trying to make BB-8 feel as Star Wars as possible, that he would feel like a believable progression of an astromech droid design. When I came on board he had a much more anthropomorphic face, with two eye lenses and the suggestion of a mouth. I pushed to lose the mouth and make the lens arrangement more asymmetric, with a focus to being mainly on the single eye. Christian had already set the tone for the use of orange colour accents on the head and I continued to carry this over into the body with the rings on each panel, designing individual arrangements of tech within each one. All in all I feel the final design of BB-8 succeeds in fitting completely with the Star Wars aesthetic.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while working on the new Star Wars movies?

Well I suppose the thing is that we are designing not just for a movie but for this bigger thing that is Star Wars. Knowing we are contributing to something that means so much to so many people on so many different levels, that our designs can live on beyond the moment of the movie and have to stand up to scrutiny and analysis can sometimes be an added factor to the process.

© Jake Lunt Davies

If you could redo an alien, character or vehicle from the original trilogy or the prequels… which specific one would you choose?

As I discussed earlier in regards to the inclusion of classic designs in the new movies, we did look at some and some did get made. For example we remade the 2-1B, the medical droid from ESB, for Rogue One and there were elements of the original that were a bit rough and ready or inconsistent that had to be worked on. So while he looks the same at a glance, he’s got a tighter design around the eyes and fresh detailing on the shoulder joints. You never saw his feet in the movie and researching them threw up various different versions – as far as I was concerned, my take on his feet was what I knew from the action figure I had as a kid. So that’s the look we went with in the end. Otherwise this is quite a tough question to answer. I’m not sure there’s anything in particular I feel the need to redesign – they are what they are. But I suppose if there’s one detail I’ve never been happy with its the back of Luke’s landspeeder – its great all round until you get to the point where the side jet pods sweep into the back and they are just a bit clunky, lacking in detail and out of keeping with the rest of the vehicle.

Of all the things you’ve created for Star Wars, what do you regard as your best work and biggest achievement?

I think I’m pretty pleased with the success of BB-8, Rey’s Speeder and the Porgs…if I can say three things.

Several new Star Wars projects have been announced: a trilogy created by Rian Johnson, a TV series, new movies written by Benioff and Weiss… I guess you won’t be without any Star Wars related work for the next few years?

Who can say – it would be great to continue contributing to the Galaxy.

And we appreciate your work… thanks for the interview!


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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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. E-J

    14 april 2018 at 08:06

    Fantastisch interview. Heb Jake december vorig jaar ontmoet in Utrecht.

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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.


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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.


Meer unieke interviews vind je op: Star Wars Interviews

Star Wars Interviews

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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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