Tomorrow night, our journey to The Last Jedi is complete! Before we see the next chapter of the war between the Resistance and the First Order, we decided to reach out to Dan Wallace for an interview on his recently released book, The Rebel Files Deluxe Edition. Our readers should be very familiar with Dan, who continues to be one of the best storytellers and developers of Star Wars lore.
In The Rebel Files, we are introduced to an almost sacred tome of Rebel knowledge, secrets, and insights. Arranged in a scrapbook style, the history of the Alliance to Restore the Republic is charted from its earliest years up to the day before the Battle of Endor. Old Rebels like Leia and Ackbar relive key moments, while younger members of the Resistance like Poe Dameron get a first hand look at the trials and tribulations of the Alliance. So, grab your flight helmet, strap in, and let’s fly into the interview.
Dan, thank you again for taking the time to answer our questions. Let’s talk a bit about the premise for The Rebel Files. Tell us a little about the development of this book and how you ultimately settled on using Hendri Underholt as the character who helps “tell” the story?
As most people probably know, Star Wars: The Rebel Files is a continuation of a series that began with The Jedi Path in 2010. The basic premise is that the book is an in-universe document written by various Star Wars personalities about a particular aspect of the universe. The Rebel Files is the first to be published under the new Disney canon, and it focuses on the formation and early years of the Rebel Alliance. With Rogue One and Star Wars Rebels out there, this seemed like the perfect time to tackle the Rebellion.
My editor Delia Greve, who has worked on all these books since the beginning, had the idea to make this one much more like a scrapbook, something in the vein of Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger. So the overall conceit we arrived at was that the book was a repository of important Alliance documents, and that meant we needed a character to be the archivist. Hendri Underholt is that POV character, who doesn’t ever really take center stage due to the nature of her job, but who has her own story going on in the background and through her interactions with the more familiar characters.
One of the first things we see in the book is the BFE (Before Formation of Empire) and AFE (After Formation of Empire) dating system. There have been several dating systems used in-universe before, what made you settle on using this one for the book?
I was one of the people who ultimately created the old “BBY/ABY” dating system when I worked on The Essential Chronology, but I’m the first to admit it was never a terribly convincing in-universe system–e.g. why wouldn’t the Rebels have started a new calendar with the creation of the New Republic? But more to the point, when you’re writing an in-universe document set before those events, you obviously can’t use the Battles of Yavin or Endor as your reference points.
So a calendar pegged to the creation of the Empire made sense. In general I tried to avoid using overly specific dates, since stories are still being told in this time period and I’d rather give timeliners a little breathing room to do what they need to do.
The breaking down of the relationship between Saw Gerrera’s Partisans and Mon Mothma’s Alliance plays out in the first chapter, ending with the formal censure and disavowal of Saw’s movement by the mainline Alliance. What do you think their relationship tells us about Mon Mothma and her views on how she wants to fight this war?
The relationship between Mon Mothma and Saw Gerrera is an interesting one because it really gets into where people draw the line and how they find justifications to excuse their own behavior. Since Mon Mothma is the closest thing The Rebel Files has to a main character, there’s a lot of her thoughts on Gerrera, the Empire, and what it’s going to take to win. I don’t see Mon Mothma as morally compromised at all. She’s the inspiration and the moral example the Rebellion needs, even if it makes a mess of her personal life.
Mon Mothma’s character is (belatedly) getting a level of attention and depth that she wasn’t afforded in the old Legends material. What is it about this character that is so compelling, and what are the most rewarding and challenging things about writing her?
I like Mon Mothma because, as fans, we mostly know her as this icon on a pedestal who gives inspirational speeches–and that’s exactly how most people in the Alliance would know her too. She’s the public face of the Rebellion and she knows that she needs to keep up that persona at all times even when she’s not feeling it.
And I think there’s a certain truth behind her “inspirational figure” image, in that she’s essentially playing an exaggerated version of herself. She’s not having crazy parties with her besties in her downtime. I don’t think she has many close friends at all. It’s lonely at the top. A small part of The Rebel Files is about Mon Mothma opening up to other people.
That was a thread we saw in the old Expanded Universe as well, where Mon Mothma only trusted and opened up to a few close associates (Leia, Ackbar). We do see Mon Mothma open up to Hendri, and it is a wonderfully subtle and interesting evolution you show during the book. One scene in particular stands out, when Mon Mothma admits to Hendri that she wishes she could send the whole fleet to Tatooine to help Leia. What does it say about their relationship that Mon Mothma is willing to be so open and raw with Hendri? Do you think Mon Mothma viewed her as a sort of surrogate daughter?
I think there are multiple ways to interpret their relationship, but it definitely starts out as mentor/mentee. Mon Mothma helps Hendri gain professional confidence, and as she absorbs those lessons Hendri becomes increasingly likely to kick her boss in the rear when she needs it. Because nobody else is in a position to see how mentally taxing and emotionally isolating being “leader of the Rebel Alliance” is behind the scenes, and maybe nobody else has stopped to think that a person like Mon Mothma could use help in matters other than military strategy.
Full disclosure, there’s not that much Hendri and Mon Mothma stuff in The Rebel Files, not when compared to other topics. But it’s definitely the part of the book I fretted and worried over the most. I wrote several other bits for them that didn’t make it into the book due to the manuscript running long.
The Rebel Files is full of “deep cuts” that longtime fans, especially those that read the old Legends stories, will enjoy finding. The Mantooine Liberators, Omega Frost, and Kessellian ships being some that I spotted. How fun is it to get to make these references and are there any obscure ones that fans haven’t spotted yet?
I like to make these deep-cut references, not only as Easter eggs for fans, but because I think the picture looks better when you use all the crayons in the crayon box. This includes things from the old Legends continuity as long as they don’t contradict the modern continuity, things like the Mantooine Liberators as you mention. Those are the “brick and mortar” parts of worldbuilding, and as long as they continue to work I’ll keep using them.
Events, characters, and ships from Rogue One appear prominently in The Rebel Files. This book and your fantastic On The Front Lines earlier this year gave you a chance to delve into this setting and flesh out details. What has been the most fun for you as a fan and author in getting to expand on Rogue One?
The timing couldn’t have worked out better, because there’s no piece of Star Wars cinematic lore that’s more essential to the story of the early Rebel Alliance than Rogue One. The Rebel Files leans very heavily into Rogue One—General Draven has a big role—but it focuses more on Mon Mothma and the Alliance Council than Jyn Erso and company. That’s a common theme throughout the book, that what’s important to one character might only be peripheral to another, which means that things like Han Solo’s rescue from Jabba’s palace come up in interesting ways.
One of the most enjoyable parts of this book is the various notes written in the margins by prominent members of the Resistance, including Leia Organa, Admiral Ackbar, Poe Dameron, and several others. How do you establish the “voice” of each character, and which ones were particularly fun to write?
The marginal annotations have been part of the series from the beginning. They’re a fun way to bridge the eras by having characters from one era comment on the actions of their predecessors. In this book, Resistance-era personnel like Poe Dameron and Admiral Statura are commenting on a Rebel Alliance that they never experienced firsthand. But for others like Leia and Ackbar, this book is like seeing a ghost. It was interesting figuring out how those characters would change over time. Ackbar’s voice, for example, gets significantly more irritable.
The Mid Rim campaign and Operation: Ringbreaker from Battlefront: Twilight Company get fleshed out to a greater degree in The Rebel Files. How do you go about expanding/connecting those dots and how important are they to where we find the Rebels in Return of the Jedi?
One interesting thing about books like this is that they often chronicle what’s happening just offscreen. What happened on Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back is important to us as movie watchers, but to the Alliance it’s basically irrelevant. The Rebels have a whole galaxy that needs liberating. I wanted to show some of the other things that would have been occupying Mon Mothma’s attention during the classic trilogy and the Mid Rim Campaign from Alexander Freed’s Twilight Company was the perfect setup.
The campaign goes badly for the Alliance, which is what was needed narratively to continue that brink-of-extinction feel from the Battle of Hoth and extend it to a galactic scale. It really puts the Rebels on the ropes, and frames the Battle of Endor as a gutsy, insanely risky Hail Mary.
Mon Mothma’s push for disarmament and its repercussions decades later is something that is much discussed in recent works and among fans online. One of the notes scrawled in the margins of The Rebel Files by Leia states “And now we lack the strength to fight back against the First Order.” What are your thoughts on Mon Mothma’s intentions here and do you think she made the right decision?
Mon Mothma isn’t like Ackbar or Madine. She isn’t a warrior. She’s more like Bail Organa, believing that government can be a force for good, and that communicating with someone is always better than shooting at them. But she’s a realist and knows that a militarized, totalitarian Empire sometimes has to be fought at its own level.
But she hates, hates, hates that it’s necessary at all. Mon Mothma isn’t going to geek out over a new X-wing like Poe would, because she’d be thinking of all the humanitarian aid and infrastructure she could have spent the money on instead. So when an opportunity arises to do that on a galactic scale, I think it’s totally in character that she jumps at it. With the benefit of hindsight it’s obvious she jumped too soon, but I can understand why she did it.
One last question before we wrap up – do you have any other upcoming Star Wars projects on the horizon? I may have asked you this before, but if you were granted one wish from the Lucasfilm genie, what is the Star Wars book you’d most love to write?
I’m working on a Star Wars project right now that will come out later in 2018. Beyond that, I kind of hold the suspicion that dwelling too much on a hypothetical dream project is kind of a karma jinx. I’m pretty happy with the work I’ve been able to do and pretty lucky too.
Thanks again for your time, Dan! Count us among the fans eagerly awaiting your next project.