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Exclusief interview met Nick Kellington (Snook Uccorfay)

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Twee maanden geleden sprak ik acteur Nick Kellington, die in Rogue One de rol van Bistan speelde (dit interview kun je hier lezen). Op het einde vroeg ik hem of ik hem in The Last Jedi weer zou zien waarop hij veelzeggend “who knows” antwoordde. Enkele weken geleden, een paar dagen na de release van The Last Jedi trilde mijn telefoon: ik had een bericht van Nick! Hij had me een foto gestuurd van een van de aliens die we in het casino op Canto Bight zagen met daarbij de mededeling dat dit Snook Uccorfay was, zijn personage in The Last Jedi! Uiteraard kon een tweede interview niet uitblijven… helemaal gericht op zijn The Last Jedi ervaringen!

Interview met Nick Kellington

Hi Nick, two months ago I asked you if you were in The Last Jedi. You couldn’t answer then but you can now! How did you get the specific part of your character Snook Uccorfay?

The year before we filmed The Last Jedi I had played the character of Bistan in Rogue One, so Neal Scanlan, the Special Creature Effects Supervisor, already knew me as a performer and fortunately he asked me back.

Originally I was being considered for another character on Canto Bight, the alien Dowager that is holding Space Gary (the tribute to Carrie Fisher’s dog). The idea was that there would be two performers working inside the Dowager, myself and Paul Warren who also plays Varmik in The Force Awakens. Between us we would puppeteer the Dowager’s left arm, her head and Space Gary.

Plans developed, as they often do, and somewhere along the line I was given the character of Snook Uccorfay instead. The Dowager would be puppeteered by Paul on his own which was a lucky escape for him as sometimes, when I’m working in these suits, I can radiate heat like a furnace.

At my first fitting for Snook, Neal described the character as a mixture of the British actors Terry Thomas and Brian Blessed to give me a starting point to work from. I took that to mean that Snook was a cad, a bounder and a bombastic randy bugger too! From that moment I knew that Snook Uccorfay was going to be a really fun character to play.

What can you tell about the suit?

The original concept for Snook Uccorfay was designed by Jake Lunt Davies. Some people have described Snook as mole-like. When I first saw him I thought he looked like a Space-Hippo.

I believe his hands were taken from the same mold as Unkar Plutt’s hands (Simon Pegg’s character in The Force Awakens) but they were then re-worked and given a different paint job. Upon seeing how short and stubby the fingers are, I made the decision that Snook probably couldn’t keep hold of his money and as we were in a casino he must be a terrible gambler. When performing a creature, I like to study the physical form of the creature suit for clues to imagine that character’s history or life.

Underneath Snook’s beautifully tailored tuxedo I’m wearing a body suit that gives Snook his portly shape. It is fabricated so that it strikes a balance between being light enough to wear and perform in for extended periods of time yet still strong enough to maintain the desired shape through a useful range of movement.

There is a lot of room inside Snook’s head and it’s not that tight fitting to my face, which is good. However this does come with its own drawbacks. Snook’s snout is long with animatronic servos at the end controlling the mouth and each individual nodule surrounding it. This means the headpiece very front heavy and strenuous on your neck. The forward/downward force is counter balanced by a bungee cord that runs from the top of my skullcap to the small of my back so at rest, Snook’s gaze is horizontal.

I see out of Snook’s nostrils that are quite far away from my face. Imagine having a long tube attached to your face and everything is black inside except for two very small holes at the far end of the tube. This limited vision and the audio instructions you receive on an earpiece from your facial puppeteer are pretty much all the information I have to perform and navigate my way around the set.

At this point I must give credit to the team that designed and made Snook Uccorfay. These artists, fabricators and engineers are the unsung heroes that make these creatures look as amazing as they do.

Snook’s designer was Jake Lunt Davies and his sculptor was Louis Wiltshire. The body suit fabricators were Alan Murphy, Caz Gladwin and Fiona Pollard. Hair was by Maria Cork’s Hair Department and his skin was painted by Goran Lundstrom. Giles Hannagan was the animatronics designer/engineer and Snook’s costume was by Michael Kaplan, Samantha Keeble and Gary Page.

So much care and consideration goes in to making these creatures and I am very fortunate to be given the opportunity to bring them to life.

What are the big differences (if there are any) between filming a Star Wars saga film and a Star Wars spin-off movie?

There was very little difference between the experience of filming a saga film and a spin-off movie. It’s all Star Wars, whether the film has an episode number or the words, “A Star Wars Story” in the title. For me, it’s just as exciting, just as fun. You’re still surrounded by cool alien creatures, on amazing sets, creating stories about a galaxy you love. Also, no matter what the title of the film, working in these creature suits is just as claustrophobic and uncomfortable. Ha ha! That never changes.

Maybe it also felt similar because I was working with the same core Creature Effects (CFX) team. It was lovely to see so many familiar faces from Rogue One and I also got to know some of the CFX team from The Force Awakens that I had not met previously, which was cool for me as I am very much a fan of that film.

Actually, when I think about it, there was one big difference on The Last Jedi and that was getting to see Mark Hamill on set. That never happened for me on Rogue One.

We were stood around in a group, waiting for the order to get into costume when Mark Hamill just came up and started chatting to a couple of the puppeteers with us. They had already been working together in Ireland filming some of the Ahch-To sequences. Of course, everyone was very relaxed and professional but there was a small voice inside my head screaming, “HELLO LUKE SKYWALKER! YOU’RE MY HERO!” but that’s normal, right? It would be weirder if my inner-child wasn’t thinking that.

As Luke did not appear in the Canto Bight scenes I think Mark had just come down to see what was going on (although I’ve since read that he did voice one of the casino characters). Later that day I remember him walking around the set on his own whilst we were filming, no entourage or anything, just taking in the creatures, picking up and examining tiny props and seeming genuinely interested in everything. I thought that was very cool of him.

All of your scenes are in the casino on Canto Bight, with a lot of aliens… how did the filming of these scenes go?

There were indeed a lot of aliens on Canto Bight. The CFX team had been asked to create even more characters than what had appeared in Maz Kanata’s castle in The Force Awakens, which they did with incredible results.

In theory, shooting the Canto Bight sequences was the most glamorous filming experience I’d ever had. The decadent casino set could have come straight out of a Bond movie (in fact it was built on the 007 Stage at Pinewood) and we were surrounded by hundreds of immaculately dressed SA’s many of which, both male and female, looked like absolutely stunning fashion models.

However, the reality of performing inside a creature suit on Canto Bight was more like going to a high-class party and accidentally getting locked in a cupboard. You’d get flashes of colour through the keyhole and it sounded like everyone outside was having fun. Meanwhile, you were trapped in the dark and it was slowly getting hotter and hotter.

I did enjoy the experience though. This was, in part, because of working with Snook’s main facial puppeteer Patrick Comerford. He would be operating Snooks facial expressions from a vantage point off camera next to a monitor. I could hear Patrick’s voice through my earpiece and although I couldn’t speak back because there was no microphone in my creature suit, through a combination of hand signals from me and yes/no questions from him we were able to have a very basic dialogue across a busy set.

In some of the shots where I’d be traveling in between gambling tables and up and down steps, Patrick would be telling me when to turn left, turn right or stop to avoid other creature performers who were also on the move and equally as visually impaired as I was. He’d tell me when we were on camera and would perform a character voice for Snook as he remotely puppeteered my face to whisper amorous advances to a beautiful female alien named Derla Pidys whom I was accompanying (played by Latesha Wilson). All the time I would respond to his words with my physical performance.

In between takes we’d find ways of amusing ourselves. Patrick would put on different voices and make up conversations Snook would be having with an SA who just happened to be stood next to me. Sometimes he’d even sing daft songs to make me dance. I would react to him and play along physically, not only because it made us laugh and took my mind off the physical restrictions of the costume, but also I think we were subconsciously developing a shortcut to performance between us. It felt like we were getting to know each other’s rhythms and how the other performed. Patrick could experiment with different facial expressions to try on the next take and I could practice improvising movement instinctively, reacting to whatever Patrick fed me until it felt instant and natural.

On a production where you get very little rehearsal and you never know what you’re going to be asked to do next, whatever exploration time you can get is invaluable. Maybe all the other creature performers and puppeteers also do this in between takes, I don’t know, I’ve never asked, but we found it worked for us.

Filming on Canto Bight was tough at times too. Often we’d get shots quickly but due to some complex camera moves and the sheer number of performers on set, at other times you’d have to do quite a few takes. I remember being in the middle of a crowd scene for about two hours one time with a broken bungee cord. This meant that Snook’s head constantly wanted to drop forward. After two hours my neck was in agony but until we got the all clear from the First AD, my dresser couldn’t come on set to fix it or give me water or blow fresh air in to my costume with a fan. You just had to keep going. That was a long day, but even then, with Patrick, I remember we laughed a lot.

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

Unfortunately I was not directed by Rian Johnson personally so I cannot answer this from first-hand experience. Although, I did get to watch him work from a far and he seemed not only incredibly thoughtful and engrossed but also really happy on set.

If you’re asking me from a more general perspective about the movie, I think Rian should not only be commended for the story he told but also how he told that story.

May we edge into spoiler-ish territory here? Surely no one will have found their way to this interview without having seen The Last Jedi already. I will try to keep my points vague just in case but if you’ve watched the movie, you’ll know what I’m referring to.

I loved the Rashomon film reference, the re-telling of a specific event depending on a characters perspective in time. It’s quite meta in how it refers to the influence of Akira Kurosawa’s films on the Original Trilogy. It’s brilliant because it works effectively as a plot device within the film and also draws upon the history of cinema and signposts where, in part, this wonderful space opera we enjoy came from. It shows us that Rian’s direction is rich and multi-layered.

Also, at another point towards the end of the film, and I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong, Rian chooses to play with the audience in a way I can’t remember being done before in a Star Wars movie. We are used to being “in on the joke” whenever a Jedi uses their powers but this was the first time I’d ever felt that I, an audience member, had been mind tricked and I loved it! For the more observant there are clues as to what is really going on but I’ll admit, on my first viewing of the film I was totally duped.

These are just a couple of examples of how Rian took what we already know about the Star Wars universe and re-focused our view of how these stories can be told. The Last Jedi is jam packed with surprises, which is no mean feat considering we’ve been following these stories for around 40 years. It gives me hope for the stories yet to be told. In short, I would describe the way Rian Johnson directed this movie as bold and beautiful.

There were two main characters on the casino set; Finn and Rose, and there was also a cameo of well-known actor Justin Theroux as the Master Codebreaker. Did you get to interact with one of them or did you see them perform ‘live’?

When John Boyega first came onto set, I (or Snook) did almost walk into him. I turned to find a brown jacket right in front of Snook’s nostrils. I looked up and there was Finn. He’s taller than I imagined (or maybe I’m just shorter than I think). I was quite surprised because I wasn’t expecting to see him so all I did was give him a little wave. Yeah, ice cool, I know.

In the film, when Finn and Rose enter the casino Snook is gambling on the table directly behind them. I couldn’t see what they were doing as I was trying to wrangle my props and interact with the characters next to me but later on I did get to watch John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran perform live. They looked like they were having a whale of a time. They had such great chemistry on set.

I didn’t see Justin Theroux but I did have one other encounter I’d like to share. I was told this later by CFX stalwarts Tim Rose and Phill Woodfine. I was in Snook at the time and so couldn’t see what was going on around me.

Phill was puppeteering my/Snook’s face and we were working with another creature Pemmin Brunce, the casino’s bouncer. Pemmin was being played by the actor Cavin Cornwall and being puppeteered by Mark Jefferis. Although we were deep in the crowd, between the four of us we had quickly devised a sequence where a slightly drunken Snook had offended Pemmin who then proceeded to man handle Snook towards the exit.

Cavin was totally blind in his suit but with audio guidance from our puppeteers, we made it look as if Pemmin was carrying Snook by the scruff of his neck across the casino with Snook’s little legs thrashing around underneath him. Apparently it looked very funny. Now Anthony Daniels was also on set that day, not in costume but working instead as a movement consultant for the many Protocol Droid performers in the casino. Tim Rose, who was puppeteering next to Phill called Anthony Daniels over to watch what we were all doing for a while.

“That’s fantastic!” said Anthony Daniels, “Does the director know you’re doing this? I must let him know.” And off he went.

I don’t know if word did get to Rian Johnson and obviously our improvised scene didn’t make it into the film but that doesn’t matter to me. For that brief period, I was in a creature suit, on a Star Wars film set, entertaining C-3PO who, through the Original Trilogy, had partly inspired me into becoming a creature performer and eventually working in Star Wars myself. There’s something cyclical about that and it makes me smile.

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

I loved The Last Jedi. It sounds corny but I was thrilled, I was moved and I was entertained. It makes me happy to watch it and I am proud to have been part of making it.

The risks Rian Johnson took worked for me but I can understand that they might not have worked for everyone and that’s ok too.

It has been pointed out that The Empire Strikes Back also received a lot of criticism when it was first released and look at how beloved that movie is now. I think it will be really interesting to see how The Last Jedi is regarded in, say, five years time perhaps, once the dust has settled.

One comment that has stuck with me as a result of all the heated debates about The Last Jedi is from stand-up comedian and Star Wars podcaster Steele Saunders. He tweeted,

“Love a Star Wars film like a child. Hate a Star Wars film like an adult.”

I like that because I think the sentiment goes way beyond Star Wars.

You did an interview for the website last year… now you’re doing it again because you were in The Last Jedi… will you do it again later this year when Solo: A Star Wars Story is released AND in 2020 after Episode IX? I think you know what I mean with this…

If I’m lucky enough to appear in another Star Wars film, I’d love to do another interview. My wife’s eyes start to glaze over if I talk about Star Wars for more than five hours at a time so I have to get my geekiness out somehow!


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

Star Wars Interviews

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

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Interviews

Exclusief interview met Lesleh Donaldson (Kea Moll)

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Lesleh Donaldson

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

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

Interview met Lesleh Donaldson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kea Moll: inspiratiebron voor Rey?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Meer unieke interviews vind je op: Star Wars Interviews

Star Wars Interviews

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Interviews

Exclusief interview met Bill Slavicsek

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Bill Slavicsek

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

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

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

Interview met Bill Slavicsek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In which ways was George Lucas involved?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for the interview!

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


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Exclusief interview met Michael Stackpole

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Michael Stackpole

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

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

Interview met Michael Stackpole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Exclusief interview met Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

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

Interview met Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could you explain why?

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

Which Star Wars character created by you is your favorite?

I never have a favorite among characters I create.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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