This interview contains spoilers for Star Wars: Aftermath.
Wendig is the man of the hour, as Star Wars: The Force Awakens quickly approaches. He’s the man stepping into undiscovered territory, tasked with exploring new corners of the Star Wars Expanded Universe.
His new book, Star Wars: Aftermath, which arrived in September, is the first story to take place after Return of the Jedi, bridging the gap between the Original and Sequel Trilogies. What does the galaxy far, far away look like after the fall of the Emperor and the Death Star II? Wendig’s novel gives us our first clear picture. The book is a must-read for any huge Star Wars fans (you’ve probably already picked it up!) or those who are watching the films for the first time.
Along with writing Star Wars: Aftermath, Wendig is a prolific author of science fiction and fantasy novels, writing advice, and the smart, profane blog Terrible Minds. We sat down with him at NYCC 2015 to talk about Aftermath, the sequel for which will come out in summer 2016.
One of the main characters, Sinjir Rath Velus, is introduced as a sort of cowardly Imperial who joins the Rebellion by default. How did you develop his character?
Part of what I want to do—what we all want to do—is figure out how people join the Empire. The Empire is obviously such a massive machine that it’s not entirely a bunch of mustache twirling-bad people.There is a massive cross section of the galaxy’s population inside the Empire.
Obviously, the Empire is based a little bit on some of the world’s most upsetting governments. Those governments always have loyalty-type officers, people who check their own people for loyalty. I don’t feel we’ve seen that laid out well enough. What is that character like, in both the old world and now that things have changed? Because ultimately the Empire is his enemy, abstractly. He’s forced to constantly rat out his own people and investigate them, so he almost hates the Empire just by dint of what he sees in it. So I thought that was a really interesting character. That doesn’t make make him by default a good guy, or someone who is automatically a New Republic zealot, but he’s definitely an interesting perspective. Is he chaotic neutral? I don’t know, in terms of his alignment.
Another main character, Norra, is driven to keep her family together. Did you set out to make her emblematic of the theme of family in Star Wars?
Obviously, mothers have not necessarily gotten the best rap in Star Wars, or at least the best history. They often don’t end up very well, so I wanted to put one of those characters front and center. In wartime, families sometimes have a really hard choice. Do you go to war and support the side that will change the galaxy or the world the best for you family, or do you stay with your family and support the family? That’s a fascinating dichotomy.
You chose specifically to include Imperial Admiral Rae Sloane, who has appeared in some other novels and stories. What hooked you about her?
She’s an awesome, strong kickass character. She’s a complicated character. I don’t feel like she’s your standard stock Imperial, which is valuable to me. First of all, we haven’t seen any woman Imperials, and we haven’t seen any Imperials of color, but also just from a character perspective, she’s a pragmatist. I don’t think she’s in the Empire for the evil thing of it. She’s in it for the law and order, government side of it. And I wanted to view how that law and order perspective corrupts someone.
And is she corrupt? Is there a part of her that isn’t necessarily a terrible person? I like Sloane, even as an Imperial. What she represents I don’t like, but I like who she is and I like her character a lot.
One of my favorite parts of Aftermath is when the Imperial General Jylia Shale talks about “Some scrappy, ragtag underdog tale, some pugilistic match…They get to have that narrative.” Do you see the Imperials as people who think they’re good guys, or embrace evil, or both?
I think there’s a mix of that. You have an Empire founded initially on law and order. You go all the way back to the Clone Wars and prequel stuff, you’re looking at a galaxy where the Jedi were painted as terrorists running around, and the rebels are painted as terrorists and insurgents. There is this part of the Empire that’s viewed and treated as bringing law and order.
But then there’s the part like what Shale talks about, where there’s this evil goblin running a battle station called the Death Star. So the people who joined in the beginning for law and order things are still in an Empire that believes in destroying entire planets just because. So what do you do as that person? You can’t just leave unless you join the rebellion, which is something we see in Lost Stars, which is another great book. So I think that’s a fascinating thing to look at, who these people are. The Empire is a broad-reaching, massive organization, so you’re going to see different types of people in it.
What were your favorite characters or favorite moments to write? At the panel earlier, you talked about enjoying scenes with Mister Bones.
Sinjir is such a great character. There’s actually a scene as they escape Suran Nuat’s cantina, where Jas sort of surfs a body. That was fun.
One of the most talked-about interludes features Han and Chewie. Was it Disney-Lucasfilm’s idea to include those two classic characters?
They said they wanted a Han and Chewie scene. They said we can do this now. Because initially, when I first started doing the book, they said in terms of the Big Three we weren’t going to touch them yet. [They said] we don’t know what we’re going to say about them. The Force Awakens is going to handle most of that, is going to handle the spoilers. So the question of whether we could use them at all was a big question. And then suddenly we [me and my editor] had permission to use them, and we decided together, here’s the most impactful thing we can do with these two characters up front.
When writing Chewbacca, did you want to make an effort to flesh out the Wookiees or to give them an agency they don’t always have?
Of course. Given his history as a slave, you don’t want to make him continue to be a slave to Han. Not that he is, but you don’t want to evoke that. Of course you want him to be a fully realized character.
Were there any other interludes you particularly enjoyed writing?
The interludes were actually one of my favorite parts of the book, because they’re little short stories, little temporary toe-dips into the state of affairs across the galaxy. I liked the two bounty hunters fighting. That was a lot of fun. That was a reference to a film. I won’t say what film. Some people will get it or they won’t.
I like the family fight over the table, where the father moderates a fight between two brothers and how that ends. I obviously like the Acolytes of the Beyond. There were a lot. The interludes were really fun.
You brought ideas like Taris and the echani from the Expanded Universe. Why did you want to be sure to do that, and were any of them particularly hotly debated?
The only reason I bring that stuff in is because I’m a fan of things I’m bringing in. It’s things that I like. Taris is from Knights of the Old Republic. Getting these pieces in there that I remember and I like and that felt organic to the story and were not being shoehorned in. They weren’t just fan wank thrown in. They were things that were appropriate, but also things that I liked.
I think, at the end of the day, I’m a very selfish storyteller. It’s hard for me to tell a story and appease every fan ever. That’s just a non-possibility. So I know at my heart I’m a fan. Like I say, I’ve been pickling and brining in the Star Wars universe for decades now, so at the end of the day, I’m trying to appease me first and appease the people in my life, the friends and family who are fans. And hopefully that translates to a wider fan appreciation.
Thank you, Chuck Wendig!
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.