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Exclusief interview met John Mogridge (Snowspeeder pilot)

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Vechten tegen de Imperials op Hoth, Han Solo naar de Carbon freeze leiden én The Emperor onthalen op de Death Star. Brits acteur John Mogridge deed het allemaal. In The Empire Strikes Back is hij namelijk te zien als Snowspeeder piloot en Stormtrooper terwijl hij in Return of the Jedi een Death Star Gunner speelde.

Speciaal voor mijn eigen site StarWarsInterviews.com deed John Mogridge het volgende interview waarin hij terugblikt op zijn Star Wars tijd. Zoals gebruikelijk is het interview ook hier te lezen: op StarWarsAwakens.nl!

Interview met John Mogridge

How did you started your career in the movie business?

I joined the F.A.A. (Film Artistes Association) and the Central casting agency in November 1978. The Empire Strikes Back was my second film. You got work by phoning the agents and asking if there were any work “Calls”. They’d say Empire Strikes Back, Elstree studios, 8AM. That’s how I got my first day on The Empire Strikes Back. That was March 1979.

Can you tell how you got cast as a Snowspeeder pilot and snowtrooper for The Empire Strikes Back?

I arrived on my first day and the 2nd assistant director, Steve Lanning, gave me my daily salary voucher (we call it a Chit) with the title “Rebel” on it. I was a rebel for a while. Then they wanted snowspeeder pilots and he gave me that job. I did that until the end of May or the beginning of June. Then I was given the Snowtrooper role. That was only for a short time and finished my on and off run on The Empire Strikes Back as a stormtrooper in the carbon freezing chamber and Bespin cloud city scenes.

John Mogridge en Alan Austen als de twee Stormtroopers die Han naar de Carbon freeze begeleiden.

Three years later I got the call for Revenge of the Jedi as it was called at the time. I only played an Imperial gunner on that film in the Emperor’s arrival scene.

Did you see the first Star Wars movie before you got cast? What did you think of it?

I took my brother to see the original Star Wars film and really enjoyed it. I was lucky enough to get the autographs of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Dave Prowse for him when I worked on The Empire Strikes Back.

You’re one of the Snowspeeder pilots in the scene where Carrie Fisher gives the pilots instructions. What are the other scenes in which we can see you?

Some memorable scenes. The carbon freezing chamber seemed very high and a bit sinister compared to the bright and shiny cloud city set. I did a lot of filming with the second unit being directed by John Barry. Sadly, he was taken ill one day and died the next. A lot of people were upset by that. He was a nice man.

What do you recall of the shooting of your scenes?

A funny scene… there’s a picture on the internet where a snowtrooper is seen falling over as they enter Hoth. I was on that scene. I tripped but didn’t fall and it seems so did many others. It didn’t get in the film. Irvin Kershner took a long time to build a scene and the photo of me in the briefing scene standing around looking bored took ages to set up. He did do a great job.

John Modgride (recht van regisseur Irvin Kershner) op de Echo Base set.

Your Rebel pilot character got a name many years ago: Habeer Zignian. When and how did you find out and what was your reaction?

My character having been given a name was a complete and pleasant surprise. Although I only found out in 2018.

What is the best memory you have regarding Star Wars in general?

I am really proud to have been a very minor part in a great series of films. It changed my life. I met and I’m still in contact with so many friends like Alan Austen, Peter Ross, Chris Parsons (editor’s note: all three men played various parts in the original trilogy) and so many more who I wouldn’t have known without Facebook and the world wide family of Star Wars fans.


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Geboren toen de opnames van A New Hope van start gingen. Voormalig assistent van Anthony Daniels. Auteur van de 'Star Wars Interviews' boekenreeks waarvoor hij 180+ 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 Henning Ludvigsen

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Iedereen die Fantasy Flight Games bord- en kaartspellen als Imperial Assault, Legion of Star Wars: The Card Game ooit heeft gespeeld is bekend met het werk van Henning Ludvigsen. Voor deze (en nog tientallen andere spellen) heeft hij illustraties verzorgd. Zo zijn bijvoorbeeld de bordstukken van Imperial Assault door hem ontworpen. Speciaal voor deze site was hij bereid enkele vragen te beantwoorden!


How and when did you become a Star Wars fan?

I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. I was born in 1975, and even though I was too young to see A New Hope at the movies, I did watch The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi at the movie theatres. I remember other kids crying when Han Solo got frozen in Carbonite. I can’t remember not being a fan or having Star Wars being a huge part of my life. I had a bunch of toys, and I’ve played tons of SW games, read the comics, and collected memorabilia throughout the decades. I’ve never outgrown it, and probably never will.

What inspired you to become an artist/illustrator?

It was never any doubt. As a kid I was always the artsy one, and it was probably the one thing I was decent at, so I decided early on to work in the artistic field. I took the leap after middle school and took a two year traditional art education before starting working as a graphic designer and illustrator in the advertisement industry at the age of 18. About 10 years later I moved on to the computer games and board games industry.

You did the artwork for various Star Wars games from Fantasy Flight Games. How did you get this job? Did FFG ask you?

I’ve had the pleasure of working on a variety of Star Wars games for FFG; Star Wars – Imperial Assault, Star Wars – The Card game, Star Wars – Legion, Star Wars – Age of Rebellion, and probably some that I’ve forgotten about at the moment.
It all started out with creating basic character illustrations for Call of Chtulhu – the card game and Game of Thrones – the card game, and moved quickly over to boardgames. Since then I’ve made many games for FFG and other clients, and they kept throwing amazing projects at me, and I did my best to keep up with the workload and deliver as well as I could. I’ve never had to do anything special to get my board game gigs, they all seem to land in my lap, which is what happened to all the Star Wars projects as well.

What information do you get from FFG before you start creating the artwork for a new Star Wars expansion?

Luckily, I’m very familiar with the Star Wars universe, but I always got plenty of information enough to cover my understanding and get me going. It’s usually enough with a simple description on the setting of the game, or expansion, and then a set of very basic doodles or schematics of the tiles simply showing what’s important for gameplay purposes. They usually come with a short sentence on the tile if the designers have something specific in mind that they need to have included.

What are the boundaries of the creative freedom you have?

The only boundaries are the already established lay-outs and mechanics of the tiles that I need to make my art work with. However, I see this more of a challenge than boundaries. If I need to create a known location from the movies, for instance the Cantina from Mos Eisley, but the lay-out of the tile doesn’t match up 100% realistically, it’s fun to find solutions on how to still make the location familiar to the true fans of the movies.

Mos Eisley Cantina tile van Imperial Assault

Are there specific Star Wars reference guides or books you use creating your art and scenery tiles?

I’m mostly using the internet to search for references, simply due to time and that it’s easier to get references to very specific things or elements that I’m looking for. I have also found myself pausing the movies and screenshotting frames when I’m having a hard time finding something specific for reference.

Can we see new Imperial Assault tiles you designed in the near future?

I honestly don’t know. It’s been a while since I did the last set, and it’s also been a while since I’ve worked with Fantasy Flight Games in general. I truly hope they do contact me again as I really love working with them.

Of all the Star Wars creations you made: which one is your favorite?

It’s hard to say, and I’m rarely happy with my final work. However, I’m proud of the work I’ve done on Imperial Assault due to the amount of tiles done, but I also very much enjoyed working on the card game illustrations.

Carbon freeze tile van Imperial Assault

Do you actually play the Star Wars games yourself?

I have never played any of the Star Wars games I’ve worked on, unfortunately. This all comes down to time, or lack thereof. I’ve made over 250 board games, and I’ve probably only played 5 or 6 of them, ever.

What are your current (Star Wars) projects?

I don’t have any current Star Wars projects, unfortunately. But I do get to work on tons and tons of other IP’s that I’ve been a huge fan of from when I was a kid. I keep finding myself grinning and pinching my arm in excitement from being lucky enough to get the chance to work on these things.


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Interviews

Exclusief interview met Jude S. Walko (Bounty hunter)

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Regisseur, acteur, producer, schrijver… en bounty hunter. De in Amerika geboren Jude S. Walko is het allemaal. In zijn inmiddels lange carrière was hij te zien in de Power Rangers, produceerde hij de horror/fantasy film SiREN en regisseerde hij The Incantation. In 2019 was hij te zien in aflevering 3 van The Mandalorian als bounty hunter die het op Din Djarin heeft gemunt. Eerder deze maand had ik contact met Jude en deed hij voor mijn website StarWarsInterviews.com het volgende interview, dat zoals altijd ook hier te lezen is!


How did you get started in the movie business?

I started out primarily as an actor, in the early 90s, but it’s hard to maintain a career as a working actor, so then I started working on film sets, additionally, as a Production Assistant. I eventually worked my way up to Coordinator, Supervisor and finally Producer. Now I am a member of The Producer’s Council of the Producer’s Guild of America and still remain a SAG actor.

How did you get cast for The Mandalorian?

I was in the right place at the right time. I got a call to check my availability when I happened to be in Los Angeles, which eventually led to a fitting and a role. They contacted me again when I was in Boston, but unfortunately the timing didn’t work out. Maybe I can get a spot somewhere in season 2.

In The Mandalorian you play a bounty hunter. How did you get this specific part assigned?

They liked my long beard and unique look, so decided to keep me as one of the Human Bounty Hunters. That was great because unlike people that spent hours in prosthetics, my make-up was relatively easy. I had the added bonus of people being able to recognize my face on screen, unlike many of the actors who were buried in a ton of Make-Up FX.

Were you a big Star Wars fan before you got cast?

I have a very unique relationship with Star Wars. I was 6 years old when I watched the first one in a theatre in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia with my big brother. I thought everything was really happening in space, as I was too young to know any different. Back then, some of the actors would tour with movie props and Mark Hamill visited our town. Somewhere I have a polaroid of me sitting in a mini X-wing fighter they used for some cockpit scenes. It was towed on a trailer by a pick-up truck. They also shot parts of The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia in our town, which starred Mark Hamill and Kristy McNichol not long after. I credit that experience, and the resultant fanfare, for giving me the bug to pursue a career in the film industry. Once I got older and realized they were movies, I fell in love with the process. I don’t consider myself a fan in the classic sense, as much as I do it actually being a part of my personal story. Luckily this story continues with The Mandalorian.

How did the shooting of your scenes go? 

Fantastic. I have been on nearly 100 film sets in all sorts of capacities for over nearly three decades, and I have to say it was one of the most professional sets I have been on. The average age of the crew on the sets was probably closer to my generation. Nothing against the younger professionals, but it just demonstrated to me that they had chosen a lot of seasoned veterans of the industry, because they wanted everything perfect.

You were directed by Deborah Chow, who will be directing all episodes of the upcoming Obi-Wan series. Do you think she’s a good choice?

Deborah was amazing. I would love to see more directors like her, especially being female and a minority. On a production that big, there are a lot of people and many things going on at once. Deborah had a very cool head and commanded a great deal of respect from the executives, actors and technicians. Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni were also there, in a creative capacity, and you could see how she managed to consider their notes in stride, all why commanding the set. She had the added pressure of having George Lucas on set one of the days I was there, and it was nice to see her shine in her element. I also would like to add that she had a predominantly female AD team, which were an extreme joy to work with.

Did any weird or funny things happen on or off the set?

Yes! As I mentioned I had less make-up time than others. So, one day, October 19, 2018 to be exact, I was out of the chair earlier than expected. The ADs told me to go wait on the set and relax. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was Jon Favreau’s birthday. So, I go on to the set, which was essentially the bar set you see in the series. Lo and behold, none other than George Lucas was there with a bottle of wine for Jon. It was just the three of us. I politely asked if I should leave, and they invited me to remain on set. It was a nice serendipitous moment. The crew eventually sang Happy Birthday, with a cake, to Jon after call, and George stuck around most of the morning.

What is the best memory you have regarding The Mandalorian?

I guess seeing all the amazing production value that was there. We had playing cards, money and drinks in the bar all with excruciating, Star Wars-specific detail. I had a gun that looked very much like Han Solo’s in the original series, and had the full weight of a real weapon. I kept it low slung like an old western gunslinger. There were droids and Jawas running around and a landspeeder. It was amazing to be surrounded by this universe that I had grown up in as a kid and had become the cultural juggernaut it has. In addition, it was great to see all the stars come out. Taika Waititi, Carl Weathers, Gina Carano and Bryce Dallas Howard were all there when I was as well as Pedro Pascal. Also Gina Rodriguez said hello to me one morning, as she was shooting next door.

I read that you’re currently working on an animated feature based on your life and experiences in Thailand. Could you tell something about this project?

Animation has always been a passion of mine. I’m a huge stop-motion fan from the Ray Harryhausen days, right up to contemporaries like Tim Burton, Henry Selick and the Chiodo Brothers. I’m also a lover of all things Disney, Pixar and Laika and have been a professional member of ASIFA-Hollywood for as long as I can remember. So cut to Thailand. I have lived there for over 20 years and have a wife and two children there. This project, Jaoshu Mai?! was a chance to combine two of my loves. At one point I had trademarked the term Thailanime and we did an animatic for the project with the help of Anthony Conley of Neopets fame. It’s still in development, like a lot of my projects, but ideally, I will definitely direct some animation projects someday.

Jude S. Walko op de set van The Incantation

You have worked on various movies in all kinds of ways: as an actor, director, producer. Which movie is your favorite and are you most proud of?

Well I wrote, acted in, and directed The Incantation. We shot it in France in a castle and under the catacombs, and I called in a favor from the very generous Dean Cain. It was hard and mostly privately financed, so there were are a lot of challenges. However, my producing partner Dan Campbell, of Blue Falcon Productions, and myself, pulled ourselves up from out bootstraps, as the saying goes, and pulled it off. I will never probably never be as grateful to a cast and crew as I was on that one, as it was my directorial debut. Please be sure to check it out on Amazon Prime or iTunes and always support Indie Film. Do it for the little guy. I also directed a film called Shark Island that is currently in post-production, so be on the lookout for that.

Any chance we’ll be seeing you doing conventions soon?

I would definitely be down for it, but don’t really feel I am a big enough part of the universe to warrant that. Maybe someday I will have a greater role in that community and would love to participate more. Never say never. Thanks so much for the opportunity to share my story!


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Exclusief interview met Lorne Peterson (Industrial Light & Magic)

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Hij werkte aan de eerste zes Star Wars films, was één van de originele leden toen Industrial Light & Magic werd opgericht én won een Oscar voor Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Ik heb het natuurlijk over special effects legende Lorne Peterson, die decennia lang aan de grootste films werkte: zo staan onder andere E.T., Ghostbusters en Jurassic Park op zijn c.v. Afgelopen december had ik tijdens de EchoBaseCon het volgende interview met hem.


You’re one of the first crewmembers of ILM in the 70’s. What was it like working there back then in Van Nuys?

I was only hired for two months and I knew a lot from industrial design. It was a wonderful experience; we all became friends. I was only twenty-nine years old the day I started, and a lot of us had gone to the same colleges. Some of us knew each other from one college or another and friends were brought together. So, it was it was very much like to be almost in college art department but with more money. Way more money.

You are also featured as Rebel in the Yavin 4 scene. What are your memories from the filming of these scenes?

Well, you know, that it wasn’t supposed to be me originally. There were just natives in Guatemala and one of them was going to be the tower. But he was too stiff. You know, he wasn’t a good actor. Not that I’m a great actor. (Laughs) I was of the three of us who went down to Guatemala the only one that didn’t have children. I wasn’t married, no children. So, I volunteered to work on the tower. You know, we only had three wires down now, and you have to stay really still for a while. Let it go so it wouldn’t go like this. (makes a waving gesture) I’d spend for hours and hours up there waiting for the sun to be just right, in the costume and with the helmet. It was a fun adventure. It was a little bit like Indiana Jones. We flew into Guatemala and then they put us on a military airplane, the DC-3. No pain at all. It had the seats and instead of sitting like this you sat against the side of the window. The seats were just made out of scraps of fabric, so there were bags of stuff on the inside. They were transported into the jungle. It was not a commercial flight, but it was a fun.

George Lucas had spent a lot of his budget on effects, but it took quite some time before ILM had produced an effect that was usable. I read that at one moment the pressure became really high. How did you experience this?

Yeah, it was very high. You know, when he came back from England, we’d hope that there were more of those special effects done than there were. The reason that a lot of it wasn’t done yet was we were still building the equipment, the cameras and the rudimentary computers that were used at the time. So they were actually built on the premises and so there were two shots that we did right at the beginning to show George that they were possible to do without going through a lot of optical processes and that was the detail of the gun firings, the large gun like this firing on the Death Star. And then the other one was the drop of the escape pod with R2-D2 and C-3PO. They showed me a sketch of it and they said I needed to make the model quick. So I made it in a week.

After the huge success of Star Wars, the expectations for the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, must have been big. Was this the case and can you tell something about your experiences when ILM was suddenly becoming THE effects company?

Well, it was pretty unusual because we didn’t expect it to happen. There was no expectation that it would become a blockbuster. My partner and I and the people at ILM, we rented the equipment back from George Lucas and did Battlestar Galactica. George wasn’t really happy about that, doing a film that was a little bit similar to Star Wars. But we had to make money, but then Star Wars did make a lot of money. So then George Lucas asked six of us to move up north to start over again in an empty warehouse and so that’s what we did. We went up, there weren’t even walls inside the building. We laid out two by fours like where we wanted the rooms instead of doing a drawing. We just basically took a bunch of two by fours and made different rooms in the hallway and then had the carpenter start to build after that.

Ok, what is your favorite moment or memory regarding working on the Star Wars movies?

Yeah, well, that’s a little bit hard. There are so many memories over 40 some years. Like I said, I was only hired for two months and the reason I was stayed on longer was that because I work in industrial design, I knew of a material called Superglue. Now everybody can buy superglue but you could only get it industrially at the time. When I arrived, the first few days they were using a five-minute epoxy, which you had to keep mixing over and over again. So I took a pencil and I cantilevered it over the edge of the table, then put a little drop of superglue and then I moved my hand and it stayed there. Everyone asked how do you do that? I said, we have to get this stuff. It makes it much faster and stronger and better. So that’s the reason that they never said “well we only hired you for two months and you have to go”.

From the beginning you’ve worked closely with George Lucas. How would you describe him?

He’s maybe the contrast of Steven Spielberg. George is a really quiet, relatively quiet person and he certainly knows what he wants. But usually the set is set up that there isn’t as much activity. He’s concentrating on what exactly he wants. Spielberg is somebody who… activity can happen all around him and people with clipboards, telephones, telling you’re your mother or wife is calling. Do this, do that. And then he’s happy to do that. George Lucas is different. He would like more contemplating to himself what it should be.

How was it to work with Lucas?

Well, I use an example that when we were doing Empire, I had saved a bunch of questions for him about the models and he was coming to the model shop that day, so I wanted to ask him what he wanted on this model, what he wanted with that. I started asking the first question, and he stopped me. He said, well, that sounds like your job to me. It was like, that isn’t what he wants. You didn’t think of that as his job. He already hired me because he liked what I did and you do whatever you want. “I like whatever you want to show” is a real joy to work with. You didn’t feel he was micromanaging anything.

You have created a lot of models for the Star Wars movies. Which one stands out for you personally?

The Millennium Falcon was a real favorite because that was one of the first models I worked on. But then also Slave I because what had happened at that time, the model shop was getting bigger and bigger and I was having less time than I could actually put my hands on a model. When Slave I came along, I really liked the design of it. So I said, well, I’m going to split off and devote more of my personal time to working on it with two other people; Ease Owyoung and Samuel Zolltheis to do that particular model. I was really satisfied with the look of it.

Lorne Peterson en Ease Owyeung met het Slave I model.

Is there any model that when you look back, you’re thinking, well, I should have made different.

I never quite thought of it that way. Granted there are some ships that were in the distance, the fleet ships that were less important. It’s just like if it was going to be close to camera, I would have done more work on them. But they were far away from camera and it wasn’t as important.

You have been in the effects business for more than three decades. You have witnessed the evolution of effects, from models and stop-motion to CGI. What is your own opinion regarding this evolution and where will it go the next 10, 20 years?

I was very worried right at first and other people were worried that everybody kept hanging around and there were books like What color is your parachute or How to change your career? when CG first came along. But it didn’t work out that way. I mean, Dennis Muren said one time “I think the model shop has maybe two or three years left and that’s it”. That was 25 years ago so it actually worked really well. There was a real hand-in-glove relationship because they did opticals a lot better. They could combine images here and there seamlessly. Whereas in optical, it took a lot of work to get an almost perfect shot and the many times that bluescreen would show up around the edge and the mattes would show up, that kind of thing. So that worked really well. But it is true that CGI kept getting better and better. But it did kind of push the envelope even for the model shop, because the model shop, if you’re in the presentation they started doing bigger environmental models and with a lot of action involved in it. We were still doing really satisfying things. I’d say right now some films like Transformers are almost more just a cartoon. They don’t rely much on reality. But there are other films where they tried to be seamless, that it just doesn’t show at all. It’s pretty good. I still like the look of a model and a model shot, the atmosphere, the feeling that it’s actually there. Sometimes CG seems like a different world, that it just isn’t the same world that we live in. But it depends on how much time and money they spend on a shot.

What do you think of the effects of the new modern Star Wars movies?

I still would have preferred real shots with the Millennium Falcon. The one thing that stands out in my mind as the biggest problem for me was the red sand. Was that in The Last Jedi? Yeah. I just thought how could how could sand be white on the top and then red below? Normally things oxidize with air on the top. So it’s more likely that something underground when exposed to air would be rust red, but not red red. It looks like a cake. When the ships would fly over, I didn’t like that at all.

I think it was done for the dramatic effect.

Yeah, and also, I think it was a pity that they darkened the X-Wing because the way that we had made the X-Wings, we’d made them light so the oil drips, the aging and everything showed up on the light grey. When you make the model darker grey, it disappears. You don’t get to see all that kind of thing.

They look brand new.

Yes, they don’t need to look that way.

I prefer the old ones as well. So, there’s an incredible list of movies you have worked on. Star Wars, Indiana Jones. Which one is your favorite?

Oh, my God, I don’t know if I could pick one. One of the last ones I did was the series of Pirates of the Caribbean films and that was really satisfying to work on those ships were a lot of fun. But not every project was a lot of fun. Some of them had to be faster, late nights and all the tough and hard work to do, like the Executor. We did the Executor it had to be done in seven weeks and we just worked around the clock. We slept for five hours and then got back to work.

That was one of the biggest models.

I think, of that kind of models. Yeah, it was about three and a half meters long. Something like this. It had a lot of technical problems to solve like how do you cantilever something so narrow and thin out long and not have a droop and that kind of thing. It was made out of a honeycomb aluminum that they use in airplanes to the bulkheads and things like that. They’re very, very light, but strong and that’s how we made it.

It looks like a masterpiece.

I think we calculated that it had something like tens of thousands little lights that were etched into brows. We didn’t we didn’t have to make each hole. It was like a miniature neon behind these brass panels that have all these little holes etched through the brass.

Well, 200.000 might be too many, but I know it was like tens of thousands.

Regarding your work on Star Wars: how do you back at the movies and your time at ILM?

I sometimes describe to somebody it’s as if you walk around in the world and it’s a bubble that you walk with. I think I’ll probably be rotting in my grave and the people are still watching Star Wars, that kind of thing. Very few human beings ever get to experience something like that. It’s a body of work, of accomplishment that like travels with me all the time. So, it’s really an unusual experience.

Met dank aan de organisatoren van EchoBaseCon!


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Interviews

Exclusief interview met L. Neil Smith

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Tegenwoordig komen en jaarlijks diverse Star Wars boeken uit. Hoe anders was dit begin jaren 80 toen met uitzondering van de Marvel/Juniorpress comics nauwelijks sprake was van een Expanded Universe. Fans moesten het doen met Alan Dean Fosters Splinter of the Mind’s Eye uit 1978 en Brian Daley’s Han Solo trilogie (1979-1980). In 1983 verschenen er drie boeken waarin Lando Calrissian centraal stond, geschreven door de inmiddels gerenommeerde Sci-Fi auteur L. Neil Smith. De wat oudere Star Wars fans kennen deze ongetwijfeld!

Eerder deze maand had ik voor mijn eigen site StarWarsInterviews.comeen interview met deze schrijver die op een open manier terugblikte op zijn werk van 37 jaar geleden (en zoals altijd is het ook hier te lezen).


When and where was your first encounter with Star Wars?

I saw Star Wars the same way that everybody else did, after standing in line for a long time at a local theater that isn’t there anymore. I still think about it every time I pass by the location.
I’m afraid George Lucas had me the very moment I watched that big, endless triangular warship crawling past the screen. Everything else that came afterward was frosting on the cake.

Every Star Wars fan who grew up when the original trilogy was released knows your fantastic Lando Calrissian book trilogy. How did you get the dream job of writing these books?

It’s very kind of you to say that. My publisher at the time asked me to do it because LucasFilm wanted an additional writer to the great Brian Daley, whose premature death I still mourn, who wrote the Han Solo trilogy.

What was your inspiration while writing these books?

I’m not sure I can answer that. We had the very attractive character, Lando as we saw him in the movie. I was given only a request for three books about him. I decided to write about him before the adventure we’d seen onscreen, before he had the Falcon; even before he had a mustache.
It’s possible that James Garner’s wonderful character Bret Maverick was on my mind.

What directions did you get from Lucasfilm regarding which characters you could use?

I was allowed to use no characters or settings from the movie. I insisted on the Falcon or I wouldn’t do the job. I originally planned for my villain Rokur Gepta to be a dark Lord of Sith but that wasn’t allowed. Any animal species I mentioned, like Banthas, were to be
capitalized; any I invented were to be lower case. Very petty, I thought.

You introduced several new characters, like Vuffi Raa. Which character created by you is your favorite?

To ask that question is to answer it. I needed Vuffi Raa as a foil to Lando’s wit, sort of a Watson to his Holmes. I miss him very much, even today, but can’t write about him because he is the intellectual property of LucasFilm. I deeply respect intellectual property rights and have abided by them.

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?

Vuffi and I didn’t know that and we don’t give a rat’s ass. Considerations like that are decided by literary history, not by faceless, unscrupulous, dull-witted corporate managers. I was the world’s greatest fan of Walter Elias Disney himself, growing up and have nothing but uttermost contempt for his profoundly unworthy successors.

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

I know lots of stories I can’t share. Writing the books itself was an “adventure” in the Tolkeinian sense. After two different sets of editors, one in New York and one in Hollywood, piddled away five of the sixteen precious weeks I was allotted to do the work, messing up my outlines, I had nine weeks left to write three novels. I got up every morning, went straight to the keyboard until my wife came home for lunch. Then back to work until she came home again, we ate, and back to work until midnight or so. No re-writing. Nine weeks of that left me a physical wreck but I got it done and I’m pretty proud of it.

You have written many other books. Which one stands out as your personal
favorite?

Thank you for asking that. I’ve written about thirty-five other science fiction novels, two books of collected political essays, and a couple of political thrillers.

In some ways, my pet is still my first book, the one I’m best known for, The Probability Broach, an alternate-worlds murder mystery and now, after 40 years, the signature novel of the libertarian movement.

Of all of my work, perhaps it’s Pallas, the opening volume of the Ngu Family Saga, a huge series mostly about humans homesteading the Solar System. In another sense, it’s Rosalie’s World, my current work-in-progress which carries the Ngu family out to its first extra-solar settlement.
And then there is Forge of the Elders, originally a trilogy, a series in its own right, and its prequel, Blade of p’Na.
See what happens when you ask a guy which of his children is his favorite?

What are you currently doing? Are there besides Rosalie’s World other novels you’re working on?

Always. I mentioned Rosalie’s World. In that series, Ares is already “in the can”, waiting to be edited at Phoenix Pick, my current publisher, as is Only the Young Die Good, my second J. Gifford/Surica Fieraru vampire novel which is more science fiction than horror. I’m also in the middle of a new Win Bear, The Probability Broach, adventure. The Frozen Stars, a science fiction novel about Theodore Roosevelt, and I’m looking forward to writing Beautiful Dreamer, the final installment of the Ngu Family saga. If I have time, I’m 73 years old, I’ll also finish the MacBear-Lysandra Heptalogy.

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

That’s very difficult to answer both truthfully and politely. Mixed feelings. I wrote those three little books under terrible conditions, wasn’t paid very well for them, wound up firing an agent over them, and had to threaten to sue before I got paid royalties.

On the other hand, thousands of individuals apparently love those three little books, I hear from them all the time, and I’m more grateful and appreciative about that than I can adequately express.


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