In Rogue One werd ‘space monkey’ Bistan geïntroduceerd. Een nieuwe soort alien die op Scarif verantwoordelijk was voor het neerhalen van een AT-ACT! De rol van Bistan werd gespeeld door de Britse acteur Nick Kellington.
In de promotiecampagne van Rogue One speelde Bistan een aanzienlijke rol; hij was in de ‘behind the scenes reel’ te zien, op artwork, hij stond op het podium tijdens Star Wars Celebration én er is zelfs een LEGO figuur van hem! Daar dit personage vanaf het eerste moment een enorme indruk op me maakte werd het mijn doel om de acteur achter het masker te interviewen.
Onlangs was het dan zover, waardoor ik nu het allereerste Star Wars interview van Nick kan presenteren. In dit (lange!) interview vertelt hij uitvoerig over zijn ervaringen en wordt een erg goed beeld geschetst over hoe het er achter de schermen aan toe ging.
Interview met Nick Kellington
Hi Nick, let’s start at the very beginning: How did you get into the movie business?
At school I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life but I did know that the drama classes were fun so that’s the path I followed. I studied Drama and Psychology at university after which a couple of friends and I started a street theatre company. We weren’t great but once again, it was fun.
I started going to auditions and workshops in Circus skills, Commedia dell’arte (an Italian Mask art form), Mime and Puppetry. The auditions were hit and miss but as an actor you have to develop a thick skin because that never changes. More often I found that the companies running the workshops would then hire me as a performer because they saw something in me. I learned so much “on the job” in front of live audiences. This led to more success in auditions and I started working as a jobbing actor on the stage, touring around the UK for a few years with various companies. Most of the shows were devised and involved physical theatre, clowning, dance, puppetry and mask work.
I knew nothing about the movie industry but I started going up for Creature roles on Television. I found that working in creature suits for children’s television drew upon the same skills I’d learned in theatre but also gave me new experiences working with animatronics, monitors and cameras. Most notably I play “Igglepiggle” on “In the Night Garden” and “Dipsy” on the new Teletubbies. These kids TV jobs definitely helped me move on to Feature Films.
I now work in both the movies and television as a Creature Performer and I love it. The work is hot, claustrophobic and can be painful, but it’s still fun!
In Rogue One you play the part of Bistan. Could you tell how you got this role?
The creature industry is a relatively small community. Even if you’ve never met someone, you do start to hear the same names mentioned.
At the time Episode VII was being made, I was puppeteering on a kids TV show called Strange Hill High and was about to go straight into filming the new series of Teletubbies. I’d heard rumours of a top-secret project that no one would talk about. In fact, the less information you could get about it, the more you felt it had to be the new Star Wars film. I’d put feelers out but security was really tight around the project and I simply couldn’t get seen for what turned out to be the The Force Awakens.
The following year I had a break in my schedule between filming series of Teletubbies so I asked around if anyone needed a performer for anything.
Reports in online entertainment news sites suggested that filming on Rogue One was to start soon so I figured all the roles would have been allocated to performers and I’d missed out on getting into Star Wars once again.
But out of the blue I got a phone call asking me to come to Pinewood for a meeting about an un-named project.
Not many people are expected to go for job interviews with no idea of the job they’re going for. But in acting if you get an invitation to Pinewood you just go. Pinewood is a remarkable place, it’s been at the centre of the UK movie industry for decades and it’s always exciting to be there.
When I arrived, even right up to the front door of the workshop, no one mentioned what the project was. I couldn’t believe it when, inside, there were amazing clay maquettes, costumes on stands, animatronic heads being worked on and most tellingly, R2 Units everywhere! My brain just melted! I was so happy.
It turned out that a friend, Vanessa Bastyan, who had fabricated some of the costumes for me on the TV shows I’d worked on was now running the creature workshop at Pinewood. Vanessa knew my work and she’d got me in there to meet the boss, Special Creature Effects Supervisor, Neal Scanlan.
They wanted to try me out for a “Space Monkey gunner” character they’d been working on. There was a chance this creature may have a more developed role to play and so they wanted an experienced performer inside. Fortunately for me, Bistan’s face is quite flat and the guys who were already on the crew were mainly western performers and to put it bluntly their noses were too big to fit inside his face!
I tried a face piece on and surprisingly, for something not built for me it fit. Neal seemed interested and said that it might work. I was then taken to try on the muscle under-skeleton and Bistan’s flight suit costume. At first the costume guys said I was a quite a bit shorter than what they’d wanted but, once dressed, my short legs made the creature look a bit more ape-like, also I’m actually flat footed which can sometimes make me walk a bit like a monkey anyway! Photos were taken and Neal said they’d review everything and would be in touch but could make no promises.
A few weeks later I was called back to Pinewood for the Creature Effects (CFX) “Show and Tell” day. This is when the finished creatures are presented to the film’s Director who decides if they’ll appear in the movie. It’s an important event for the team and the CFX crew would have been working really hard towards this day for months, designing and building the creatures.
This was my first time in the full Bistan costume including the contact lenses.
We were on a big sound stage with tents scattered around for us to get dressed in. Creature after creature walked past me on their way to the performance space. They were all new designs and looked so cool. Eventually it was my turn and I was led on. My eyes were streaming from the contact lenses, which are hard and quite irritating. The stunt co-ordinator joked, “There’s no need to cry.”
“I’ve just been thinking about these kittens” I replied, “I can’t help it.”
I, or at least Space Monkey, was introduced to Gareth Edwards who starts examining Bistan and directing me. I remember Gareth asking me to walk a bit less like a monkey.
Then he put a camera on a group of us to see what the creatures looked like on screen. I was sat at a table with Admiral Raddus and the other two Mon Calamari officers from Rogue One. The performers inside them were Paul Kasey (Raddus), Aiden Cook and Tim Rose. We were asked to improvise a meeting in a war room, discussing tactics etc. I remember laughing inside my costume because Tim was playing his Calamari as a hippy pacifist saying stuff like, “Hey man, I think we should all just go home. I don’t wanna fight, let’s get a beer.” Tim’s very funny and naughty but he can get away with it because he is Admiral Ackbar.
Next I was given a laser rifle and they put fans and spotlights on me as if I was looking up at helicopters right overhead. Gareth filmed loads of close ups of Bistan’s face, exploring how my eye’s looked, how the paint job on the skin reacted under light, how the hair moved in the wind and how I performed.
All the time Gareth gave me directions as if I could see or hear enemies in different places. He’d tell me I was exhausted, totally demoralized or frustrated. The camera was really tight on my face and Gareth wanted me to work with tiny head movements or just my eyes. My facial animatronics weren’t operational at the time so it was all down to me.
Then I had to run around the set with the rifle, pretending to take cover behind walls and firing at imaginary foes. It was just like playing as a child except this was for Star Wars and I was in heaven.
The day went on and there were more lighting tests and photos. I didn’t know where I was going to be taken or what I was going to be asked to do next. At one point I did a stunt assessment in costume, pretending to fight loads of stunt guys with a stick/sword. On another sound stage I did a camera test in what turned out to be a U-Wing. They positioned me at the ship’s gun and we improvised an aerial dogfight, testing both the costume and myself and also experimenting with how they might film the sequence.
At the end of an intense day, whilst I was still fully in costume, Neal came up to me, shook me by the hand and said, “Congratulations Nick. Today you carved yourself a role on this movie.”
Nobody could see it but I had a beaming smile inside Bistan’s head.
What can you tell about your costume and especially the head (it must have been filled with all kinds of electronics?)
Bistan was made by some brilliantly talented people who I must to give credit to. He is an Ivan Manzella design. Sculpted by Colin Jackman. Gus Hoegan created the animatronics. Elisabet Berggren fabricated the muscle body suit. Heather McMullan was the hair artist. Henrik Svensson did the paint job. Gary Page made the space suit, which was designed by Dave Crossman and Glyn Dillon.
Bistan’s an awesome creation and when you wear the whole thing you just can’t help but move in a way that isn’t you, it’s so cool.
Well actually it’s really hot! Also if you wear it for too long you get masses of pain in your back, shoulders and neck but, for me, it’s worth it for Star Wars.
Once the animatronics are turned on all you can hear are the electric servos buzzing so you’re pretty much deaf. I have an earpiece through which I can hear my puppeteer who is operating Bistan’s face and Paul Kasey the movement director. I had two puppeteers for my scenes in Rogue One, Phill Woodfine who is a really experienced operator and Matt Denton who is also one of BB-8’s inventors.
You could argue that the puppeteers who operate the creatures’ faces from outside the costumes add just as much to the character as the person wearing the suit. Performing these designs of creature is a real team effort and when you work together lots you become a tight ensemble. That makes the performance feel organic and real.
As Bistan I wore extra large chimpanzee contact lenses that are hard and uncomfortable. When I’m wearing them under light they make everything look orange and fuzzy. On a dark set all you can see are silhouettes and no detail. The sets on Rogue One were very dark.
The muscle suit worn underneath Bistan’s spacesuit is a bit like a cross between a bulletproof vest and an American footballer’s shoulderpads. It gives him the correct body shape and moves as his muscles would under his skin.
Bistan’s head is extremely close fitting too because as well as using animatronics to move the forehead, muzzle and jaw, the creature’s face is blended directly into my face with prosthetic applications and paint around my eyes.
Mechanically it was a lot to fit into such a small space but it moves so beautifully and has a great range of expressions. It’s impossible to tell where the animatronics finish and I begin.
In Bistan’s case, having a human’s eyes with the animatronic face gives the character a real soul. We filmed a “Creature Shop” featurette for the Disney Channel in the workshop and I was being operated by Patrick Comerford, who also puppeteers the Admiral Raddus face. It was interesting seeing how even up close, without any filming lights or cinema magic, the presenters were still really freaked by how realistic Bistan looked, and our performance of course.
Could you share some stories regarding the filming of your scenes?
Filming the Battle of Scarif was awesome. For Bistan we filmed it in two parts.
Firstly, in the sequence where the U-Wing glides down and drops off the marines onto the beach, Matt Denton and I were actually in the U-Wing as they flew it over the battlefield from a crane. They’d built the beach with loads of sand and palm trees on an airfield just north of London.
We were filming with a 2nd Unit camera crew out of the gunner’s door. I don’t think you can see Bistan as the U-Wing glides down as he was on the far side of the ship but it was great fun flying over the action with explosions blowing up marines and storm troopers all over the place as they ran across the beach. It was quite a spectacle from above.
Funnily, I already knew one of the marines on the U-Wing, Andy Wareham, from years back. We’d worked on In the Night Garden together when we were just starting out. So you had both Igglepiggle and Tombliboo Unn flying into the Battle of Scarif on the same ship!
Andy’s a stunt man now for loads of big Hollywood films. Actually, I’m sure Andy said that another marine on the ship was the suit performer for one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back in the 90’s so there’s another mash-up for you.
The second part of the U-Wing sequence was shot on a sound stage at Pinewood. Phill Woodfine was operating me that day from just off camera.
I turned up early for rehearsals and there was a large container mounted high up on hydraulics with massive grey flats all around it. The whole construction was as tall as the sound stage and it looked quite impressive. Then they turned the flats on and wow, it looked incredible!
The flats were actually huge panels of LEDs projecting aerial landscapes of what would turn out to be Scarif and the container was a U-Wing flight simulator. It was like an amazing theme park ride and felt so real once you were on board and it was moving.
Phill and I climbed on with a small camera crew and filmed the gunning scene with Gareth Edwards directing and even operating the camera at some points. We were locked in there with explosions and sparks flying everywhere. It was pretty intense.
It’s awesome to have been involved in filming the Battle of Scarif. There aren’t that many characters in the Star Wars cinematic universe that have been shown taking down an AT-AT and now Bistan has joined those ranks. It’s kind of a badge of honour. Ok technically, I know these were AT-ACTs but you know what I mean.
There’s a Bistan action figure and even a LEGO minifigure (I have the LEGO one myself). When did you find out you were ‘immortalized’ as toys and what was your feeling then?
With the kid’s TV characters I’ve played I’ve had quite a few toys released of me already so maybe you’d think I’d be used to it by now?
Nope! I am totally stoked about there being Bistan Star Wars toys! It’s amazing!
I have a small collection of LEGO minifigures anyway so it feels brilliant to be able to add a LEGO Bistan to the display.
I got him the day he was released with the LEGO U-Wing Fighter set and built it pretty much as soon as I got home. It looks great. I’m also loving the Bistan Pop! Vinyl Bobble-Head, that’s very cool.
I’m extra excited this year though as I believe they’re releasing a 3.75” cardboard-backed Bistan action figure which, for me, is the holy grail of Star Wars toys! It’s especially exciting if you played with the originals as a child, which I did. I have to say, in the early press photos he does look a little like the lost member of the rock band KISS but I don’t care, it’s just awesome that it exists and I will definitely be buying one, probably more!
Bistan was prominently featured on some promotional artwork and made an appearance on Star Wars Celebration London (during a panel with Neal Scanlan). Was Bistan originally supposed to have a bigger role or more scenes in the movie?
As I said earlier, I was partly brought in because there was a chance Bistan might have a bigger role to play in the film but you never know how storylines are going to develop.
I was lucky that the team who put together the “Celebration Reel” picked up on the on behind the scenes shots of me filming as Bistan in the U-Wing. Even though Bistan laughing didn’t make the final cut it’s just a cool image and it helped promote the film.
I did film more scenes on Yavin 4 but unfortunately those scenes were dropped. This isn’t unusual on big feature films. You just have to give the production the shots it wants and then hope for the best.
Fortunately Bistan, or Space Monkey as we knew him then, was particularly popular with the production crew because he looks so cool and there was always a little bit of a buzz when we were filming with him. Maybe this is also why he was asked to make an appearance at Star Wars Celebration in London. He’s definitely a crowd pleaser.
I just mentioned the fact that Bistan made an appearance at Star Wars Celebration in London. Was that you in the costume?
Yes, I was Bistan at Star Wars Celebration and I had a great time at the convention, thanks.
It was my first convention and once we’d finished our panel and interview I had the rest of the day there to enjoy myself. It was fun because I could walk around the convention and nobody recognized me whilst all the time I had this amazing secret that I was in Star Wars.
What did you think of the whole ‘convention experience’?
It was fantastic seeing so many fans enjoying Star Wars together, especially families who had all dressed up. I really enjoyed seeing how many fans were dressed as Rey. She’s a great role model. I’d be happy if my daughter is a Rey fan when she’s older.
The Rogue One Celebration Reel was due to be released that weekend and Bistan’s appearance was an extra surprise for fans as the panel was titled, “The Creatures, Droids and Aliens of Star Wars: The Force Awakens | Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016”. It’s still available on YouTube and anyone who is interested in how creatures are made for the movies should watch it.
The audience was one of the largest I’d ever performed to and Bistan got a great reception. Matt Denton was operating me again and he suggested that I pick up Warwick’s Ewok to have a look. When I threw it back to Warwick I didn’t know it was going to hit him! I did apologise afterwards but Warwick was totally cool about it.
What was the first time you saw a Star Wars movie and were you a fan before you got cast?
I’ve been watching Star Wars and playing with the toys for as long as I can remember and I do love it.
As a child I had a Star Wars spin-off storybook about the Millennium Falcon with an audio cassette tape narrated by C-3P0 which I played to death. R2-D2 would bleep every time you had to turn the page.
I had a few action figures of which the Hoth Wampa and Gamorrean Guard were my favourites.
On a family holiday in Swanage, sometime around 1984, I was allowed to buy one book in a seafront bookshop to read whilst we were away. I chose, “STAN LEE presents THE MARVEL COMICS ILLUSTRATED VERSION OF STAR WARS: RETURN OF THE JEDI” (In Full Colour) for £1.25 in paperback which I still have on my shelf at home.
Even now in my forties I secretly covet my friend Nik’s original Rancor Monster whenever I see it. I’m not a fan that knows every last detail about Star Wars but it was always a big part of my childhood.
Growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s in the UK, it seemed that every public holiday they would show either Episode IV: A New Hope, Indiana Jones or one of the Superman movies on television, all three during the longer Christmas or Easter breaks.
I didn’t have Star Wars on VHS and there was no On Demand channels so it felt really special whenever the public holidays came round because I’d be home with my family and that’s when I’d get to see Star Wars.
Even though I accept that Empire is technically the best film of the original trilogy, A New Hope is still the most special to me perhaps because it’s been with me the longest. Actually, I love all three of them, you don’t have to choose!
My eldest brother took me to see Return of the Jedi at the cinema when it was first released. I must have been 7 or 8 by then. Apparently when we came out of the cinema I said, “When I’m big I want to be in Star Wars!” at least that’s what my brother tells me.
So thinking back to your first question, perhaps I did always know what I wanted to do with my life. It would just take 30 years or so to achieve it. Yes, I was definitely a fan before playing Bistan and I still am now.
I always enjoy the funny, remarkable and weird stories about the things that happened on the set. Do you have any?
My first day on a Star Wars set was at Yavin 4. Turning up, I wasn’t sure whether it would be mostly green screen or not. I was amazed to find that they’d built the entire Rebel Base on Yavin 4 in a giant aircraft hanger big enough to fly airships into. I think it’s one of the biggest buildings in the UK and at one point they’d built an entire block of Gotham City in there to film the Batman movies. Weirdly enough I also found out later that my dad had taken his RAF basic training there when he was doing his National Service as a young man.
Anyway the new Yavin 4 was amazing, like walking into a childhood dream. They had re-imagined everything perfectly. The set design, all the SAs in retro costumes, even the analogue displays on computer monitors and little flashing lights, all perfect.
Best of all, there was a huge X-Wing right in the middle of the hanger. It was beautiful. I probably shouldn’t have but I walked straight up to the X-Wing and placed both hands on it, enjoying the moment saying to myself, “It’s real! It’s real!” If I had been in my normal clothes someone might have stopped me but as I was dressed as Bistan it was more like, “Ok . . . erm. Just let the monkey do what he wants.”
On another day back at Pinewood we were filming the War Room scene where Jyn Erso is attempting to persuade the rebels to go to Scarif, I was there with Matt Denton operating me.
We were all waiting for something technical to be sorted with cameras and they allowed me to remove Bistan’s head so I could have a breather. I still had my contact lenses in and as I’ve mentioned, I can mostly only see silhouettes.
I heard a voice from the person stood right next to me, “Hey Nick.”
I turned and leaned in to see whom it was to find I was stood right next to Gareth Edwards. He was clothed in an army jacket. Everyone on the Yavin 4 set, cast and crew, seemed to be dressed in either a flight suit or an army jacket. This meant that to me everyone’s silhouettes looked fairly similar so I simply didn’t know he was there until he spoke.
“Oh! Hi Gareth.” I replied.
I asked him how it was all going. He asked me what it was like in the costume and told me he liked the character. Everything was cool.
In fact, for me, everything was amazing! You see, probably every time I’d spoken to Gareth previously I was usually in the Bistan head and/or there was lots of work to do. Generally Gareth would need to shout instructions or speak to me via my operator’s microphone because I can’t hear anyone. Equally I would need to shout back from inside Bistan’s head for my voice not to be muffled. It wasn’t a dynamic conducive to small talk.
So, unusually, there we were, just chatting. Like normal guys . . . except I’m literally a performing monkey and Gareth Edwards is the director of a Star Wars movie!
Then Gareth said, “You know, we should get you a cameo.”
“Wow. Thanks. That’d be awesome.” I replied.
Out of nowhere a behind-the-scenes camera crew sees us talking and starts interviewing Gareth about Space Monkey and the moment is lost. Suddenly we’re ready to film again and so I have to put the head back on and obviously Gareth becomes really busy and I don’t meet him again that day.
Shortly after, production would be moving on to film the Jedha sequences out on the back lot. This would have been the ideal chance for my cameo but Bistan wasn’t on Jedha so I wasn’t called in for those days and it never happened. Gutted!
I’m sure Gareth had a million things to think about and, understandably, I was not high on the list. For the rest of my time at Pinewood I was always up to my neck in Space Monkey either in a crowd or filming my single shots on the U-Wing. I guess my cameo just wasn’t meant to be. With playing Bistan already, maybe I was being a bit greedy.
How do you look back on the whole Star Wars experience?
Recalling events for this interview does make me think, “Wow, that really all happened. That’s part of my life now. That’s just crazy.”
I totally love being a part of Star Wars. The filming of Rogue One and having the opportunity to contribute even a small bit of myself to that universe was so rewarding personally and professionally. Also, being surrounded by so many lovely, talented people whose work you respect was just one of the best experiences. My time there will always be special to me.
My last question: will we see you again in The Last Jedi or another upcoming Star Wars movie?
Who knows? Since Rogue One I’ve been back at Pinewood but on what? I cannot say. Plus I’ve learned that until you see a film in the cinema you never know if you’re going to make the final cut.
Also, technically, you will never see me because I work in creature suits for a living. Perhaps I might get my cameo one day, you can dream.
Meer unieke interviews vind je op: Star Wars Interviews – ‘Mem-Wars’ from a galaxy far, far away…
Exclusief interview met Lesleh Donaldson (Kea Moll)
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!
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
Exclusief interview met 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 RAF, Cosmic 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!
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Exclusief interview met 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
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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