Checking in with Jason Fry, Part One: A Certain Point of View

When Eleven-ThirtyEight was starting out last summer, Jason Fry quickly became one of the first Star Wars VIPs to agree to talk to us. We were already familiar with Jason from his frequent visits to TheForce.net’s Literature forum, and I’m happy to say that his frank, easy-going and accessible manner carried over into our new relationship with him as—and picture air quotes as I say this—journalists.

So when the reboot hit the fan on Friday, I knew immediately that if there was one person whose reaction I wanted to hear, and who would actually be kind enough to offer it, it would be Jason. Also, he’s got a little thing called the Expanded LEGO Star Wars Visual Dictionary coming out today (and a new Jupiter Pirates book on the horizon), which I’m sure didn’t hurt. He had so much to say, in fact, that I’ll be saving the second half of our talk for next week. Enjoy!

So, Jason, first things first—how are you holding up? Not only as an EU fan, but as someone whose Star Wars work has primarily been reference material, you have to be at least a little bummed that it came to this, right?

To be honest, I’m still trying to come to grips with all this. So I reserve the right to change my mind as I think about it more. But for now, yeah, I’m a little bummed … to my surprise. I say “to my surprise” because I assumed this was coming (I wasn’t privy to the plan, but I’d been thinking about Lucasfilm’s dilemma from both a creative and a business perspective) and because I’d always favored a looser canon anyway. More on that point in a sec. But yeah, a little bummed would describe it. I mean, I did my share of heavy continuity lifting trying to make, say, the Thrawn books and Dark Empire fit together (which never really worked anyway), and I’m going to assume that work is now toast. Is that annoying? Of course it is.

But for the most part, I understand why this happened and I accept it. (And if your reaction is different, totally respect that.) I think I’m accepting in part because I’ve been a Star Wars fan so long that I grew up with a looser canon than what we’ve had for the last couple of decades. Way back in 1978 I bought and devoured Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, billed as “From the Further Adventures of Luke Skywalker. Two years later, it was pretty clear that Splinter hadn’t happened. That didn’t bother me — I still liked the story, I could re-read it any time, and I’d always figured the Star Wars adventures were a collection of legends told long after the fact anyway. This was “The Adventures of Luke Skywalker,” not “The Comprehensive Chronicle of Luke Skywalker’s Adventures, Errands and Daily Commuting.”

And to double-down on the point, each tale started with a variant of “long ago and far away” from fairy tales, which told me we were in the realm of legend, not history. Legends never align perfectly, but that doesn’t usually bother us: Think about the kajillion contradictory adventures of Robin Hood, or everything a real-life figure such as Billy the Kid supposedly did. And hey, how many inns could George Washington possibly have slept in?

I mean, wouldn’t you expect there to be a dozen or so tales about the first saber duel between Luke and Darth Vader? They’d tell one story on Bespin, and another on Mimban, and a third on Monastery, and there’d be 20 or 30 other one-spaceport planets claiming, “No, no, it happened THIS way. See that burn mark on that support pillar over there? Darth Vader made that with his lightsaber trying to kill Luke – my great-grandfather’s friend’s brother was hiding behind a crate and saw it with his own eyes.”

It’s funny — I’ve been praised for having some skill at making continuity work, and I’m grateful for every time somebody’s said that. But it’s pretty rare that a continuity mistake or change bothers me. Give me a good story that feels like Star Wars and I’m usually happy, even if WHOA BUT WHAT ABOUT XYZ. Because they’re all oft-told tales of long ago and far away. I felt that way in 1980 and in 2000 and in 2010, and I’m pretty sure I’ll feel that way in 2015.

Another reason I’m accepting: I’d caught myself thinking that Star Wars canon and continuity was getting pretty sclerotic and self-referential – sometimes it was like you needed a Master’s in Star Wars to find your way through something. And I felt like I’d been part of the problem at times – look at the “Memoirs of Firmus Kett” piece in March’s Essential Guide to Warfare Author’s Cut, which I included as a sort of public mea cupla that I hoped might spark some interesting debate. That piece is solid continuity but basically incomprehensible as a narrative, and if the narrative’s incomprehensible, solid continuity doesn’t matter – the piece has either failed 99.9% of its audience or the audience is so small that you should rethink the value of writing it in the first place.

Finally, this isn’t the first Star Wars continuity rodeo. The Empire Strikes Back zapped Splinter, Marvel tales and even did some violence to A New Hope – what’s “a certain point of view” but the granddaddy of Star Wars retcons? The prequels zapped Boba Fett’s backstory, parts of the Thrawn trilogy, Obi-Wan and Owen being brothers, and WEG material about sectors and the Senate. That’s just off the top of my head, and remember George Lucas had to be cajoled into using Coruscant as a planet name. Lucas was heavily involved with The Clone Wars TV show, and so we got overwrites/changes to the micro-series, Mandalorian history, the Hutts, Asajj Ventress, Barriss Offee, Even Piell and other tales. (With poor Dave Filoni as a convenient scapegoat.) This really isn’t different – it’s bigger, sure, but the pattern’s familiar.

I get why some fans are sad and/or angry that stories they love won’t be considered by the new movies. But you’re not going to kick off pre-production on Episode VII by telling J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, “So a moon fell on Chewie and there was a resurrected Emperor and Luke got married but she’s dead and the Solos had three kids and two of them are dead and a lot of planets got turned into weird forests, and …” You’re just not. That wouldn’t work for Abrams and Kasdan and Arndt as storytellers. It wouldn’t work for Disney as a business. And it wouldn’t work for audiences. How would you prepare moviegoers, most of whom have no idea that the Expanded Universe exists? “Before you come see Episode VII, please read these 20 books?” A Lord of the Rings-style prologue that leaves 95% of the audience going, “Wait, Yuuzhan-what?”

And flow-walking or some kind of multiverse retcon wouldn’t have made things better, at least not for me. I think a lot of fans would have resented that as a hand-wave, the Star Wars equivalent of Bobby Ewing turning up in the shower. I find it cleaner and more satisfying to be upfront about things and switch to a looser continuity where there are the movies and the TV shows and the rest are oft-told, beloved tales that may or not be “true.” And maybe in hindsight that approach would have been cleaner from the beginning.

It’s the hindsight part that I fear some fans are missing in their understandable dismay. I wasn’t in the loop on the canon change, but I can guarantee it wasn’t some plot against EU fans, or something Lucasfilm did casually or dismissively. I know firsthand how hard the folks at Lucasfilm worked on post-Jedi continuity over the years, and many of those folks are themselves creators with efforts that will be superseded (though not erased – nothing’s getting “erased”) in one way or another by Episode VII. To think they did this lightly or took any joy in it just isn’t fair.

I mean, for nearly a decade the folks at Lucasfilm have had to react to continuity snarls no one saw coming. Why establish a careful multimedia chronology for the Clone Wars if a TV show was going to change it? Because no one ever thought there’d be a TV show with Lucas playing so large a role. Why establish a post-Jedi timeline if new movies were going to go in a different direction? Because no one ever dreamed there’d be an Episode VII.

This is probably too kumbaya, but it’s just the latest thing that makes me wish we’d take it easier on each other, particularly online. It’s like we’ve been primed to assume that faceless person we disagree with is malevolent or incompetent. I don’t know why we do this (I’m certainly not innocent), but it doesn’t win arguments, it doesn’t elevate our discourse, and it sure doesn’t make us happier. I wish we would all try assuming the other person’s acting in good faith, attempting to understand their perspective, and if we’re still at odds, accepting that we just see things differently.

You’re about to go on tour for, of all things, the expanded LEGO Star Wars Visual Dictionary (which comes out today). You weren’t involved in the original—how did you happen to come on board this time? And what’s it like working with Dorling Kindersley as opposed to Del Rey?

Simon Beecroft wrote the original, but he’s really busy these days, so DK asked me last summer if I’d take on the update. I was happy to do so, but I had no idea they’d be sending me on this awesome, mildly crazy tour. It’s like a Johnny Cash song – I’ll have been to Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Seattle, Carlsbad, San Francisco, Phoenix, Houston and Nashville, with signings to follow at Star Wars Weekends and some New York-area stops in late May and June. My wife may kill me when I get home, but I love to travel and to see kids (of whatever age) get fired up about Star Wars, so I’m excited. Writing books can be a lonely business, and that kind of reaction makes up for the hours sitting by yourself at your desk.

The expanded LEGO book is really cool – I just showed it off at Philly Brick Fest. First of all, it’s no small update – the new one is 144 pages instead of 96, and there are all sorts of cool new sections, from spreads on the seasonal calendars and the LEGO videogames and shows to a minifigure gallery. Nearly every page has been redone, most of them substantially, to reflect the new sets, new versions of sets and the design advances at LEGO. The minifigures from 2009 are awesome, but some of the ones since then look like they could jump off a screen. So for fans of the original book, this is almost like getting a brand-new volume.

And DK is the perfect publisher for it. One thing I admire about DK – and this was true before I ever wrote a book for them – is the clean, elegant design sense they bring to everything. You can tell a DK book at a glance, whether it’s about Star Wars, dolphins or the Middle Ages. That clean design lets them pack a huge amount of information into a book while still making it inviting to the eye. It’s pretty neat to get to be a part of that.

I’ve worked with DK more than any other Star Wars publisher – my next project for them is Star Wars in 100 Scenes, which takes the basic design of the Clone Wars Episode Guide and uses it to tell the tale of Episodes I through VI. It comes out in August and I’m hoping we get to preview it at Comic-Con. And of course I hope there will be more DK projects to come.

I’ve had a few of the LEGO Star Wars Ultimate Collector’s Series sets in my time; do you own any yourself, and/or what are your favorites? I understand you have a young son; is he into them at all? For that matter, is he into your work generally, or is it weird because you’re his dad?

My kid only has a few LEGO sets – he was disappointed when I told him that updating the LEGO Star Wars Visual Dictionary didn’t mean we now had a loot-delivery pipeline into LEGO headquarters. I think LEGO’s great, particularly the minifigures, but we live in a Brooklyn apartment where space is at a premium, so it’s a bit hard to sign on for anything that has 5,000 pieces.

As for Joshua, he likes Star Wars – he was basically born into it, along with being a Mets fan. (Sorry about that part, kid.) He’ll read my books when one of them catches his eye, but his interests range far beyond Star Wars, which is great. He’s a very good editor and test reader – he really helped me strengthen the story and some of the characterizations in the first Jupiter Pirates book. But to his annoyance, I wouldn’t let him read my Rebels manuscript. Nondisclosure agreements begin at home, kid.

And speaking of which, This one comes courtesy of our mutual friend Jay Shah:

As you know, I really enjoyed the first Jupiter Pirates novel, The Hunt for the Hydra. One of my favorite things about it was that it was basically a family-run pirate ship, where the Hashoones were both command crew and family. It hearkens back to a lot of old family space adventures like Lost in Space, etc.

You’ve another novel on the way, The Curse of the Iris. The first novel was basically entirely Tycho’s point of view: will we get to see the action from the perspective of other characters, particularly his sister Yana or his brother Carlo? Particularly as they might have different takes on their mutual competition for the captaincy of the Shadow Comet?

Aw. Thank you, Jay. My original idea was for each of the first three Jupiter Pirates novels to be told from the point of view of a different sibling, but I abandoned that – somewhat reluctantly — once I started thinking about how it would work with the mechanics of the story I had in mind. So for Curse of the Iris we’re on Tycho’s shoulder again. But I’m at work on the third Jupiter Pirates book – tentatively entitled Rescue Ships – and for that one the point of view switches back and forth. Which was storytelling mechanics again – thinking ahead to later books in the series, I knew the siblings would wind up in different places doing very different things, so I decided to go ahead and break away from the sole point of view now.

These are the interesting decisions of storytelling: Telling Hunt for the Hydra from Tycho’s point of view felt like the right decision, giving each sibling a book of their own came to feel contrived, and then I realized I had to break out of the sole point of view at some point, so the question became when. Sometimes I wish I’d had a better master plan for the whole series, but a lot of story planning is seat of the pants to some degree. I’m always really dubious when an author says he or she had an entire saga planned out at the scene level, because changing your mind is part of the process. When I finished Hunt for the Hydra, I had an answer to which Hashoone would wind up as the Shadow Comet’s new captain, but that answer has changed now that I’m nearing the halfway point of the series.

I’m really excited for people to read Curse of the Iris. I’m proud of Hunt for the Hydra, but I think Curse is a deeper, more complex and more satisfying book. With Hunt for the Hydra I had to figure out what I was doing – who the characters were, what motivated them, what the solar system around them was like, and so on. For Curse of the Iris that work was done, so I was able to relax and enjoy the storytelling much more, and I think the finished book reflects that.

*     *     *     *     *

More on Jupiter Pirates can be found on the official website here, and Jason’s tour schedule can be found here. Be sure to check back on Tuesday for much more from Jason on the reboot, his upcoming Star Wars Rebels tie-in story, and the recent controversies over on Wookieepedia.

2 comments

  1. themetresgained says:

    I think this comforts me about the reboot in a way I haven’t been comforted since the reboot was announced. But I still think that perhaps he gives the Powers that Be a little too much credit when it comes to pre-ROTJ content that doesn’t contradict the existing canon (films and TCW) or hamstring what’s to come (Rebels and the new novels).

    Still. Reading this was like a warm hug.

  2. Max says:

    The Rebellion era (0 BBY-4 ABY) was so convoluted and overstuffed with media, that I’m not sorry its gone.

%d bloggers like this: