Star Wars Interview: Christie Golden Talks Dark Disciple

We talked to author Christie Golden about her new Star Wars novel, Dark Disciple!

The story of The Clone Wars continues in a new Star Wars novel hitting shelves on July 7.

Author Christie Golden (Fate of the Jedi) adapted the story from eight episodes of what would have been The Clone Wars season seven, retaining some of the original dialogue. In the novel, Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos make an unlikely team tasked with taking down Count Dooku.

I interviewed Golden at Celebration Anaheim about her favorite parts of the novel, Ventress’ twisted history, and characters making bad choices.

Ventress is a contradictory character, a killer seeking a family. What, would you say, is her driving motivator?

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I believe that when we first meet her, she’s still looking for her driving motivator. She’s trying to find out who she is without all of these other relationships and the dynamics of the relationships that she’s been in. She’s never really had anything like a family until the Nightsisters, and then that was taken from her so brutally. So I think she’s still searching, and she’s not sure what she’s searching for.

One of the things I noticed in the story is that on the surface it doesn’t look like these two characters have a lot in common, but they actually really do when they start dropping their guards.

Similarly, what is the driving motivator for Quinlan?

Because these are canon books, the most important thing is to go to the source. So for my research I watched all of the episodes of The Clone Wars and the ones with these characters in them multiple times. I also was given the animatics for the first four episodes and the scripts for all eight.

Quinlan also thinks he knows more than he does about himself. When we meet him in the first part of the book, he’s absolutely confident, he knows what he’s good at. He was raised in the temple, he knows these people [the Jedi] are his brothers and his sisters. It’s only later when he mets Ventress that he starts questioning. Is that all, and is that going to be enough?

Both characters have rich, slightly different histories in The Clone Wars and the Expanded Universe. What kind of research did you do in advance of writing the novel to get to know them?

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Fortunately, there’s so much. [Ventress] is such a powerful figure in The Clone Wars series that there’s a lot of material. So I would watch the episodes and I would research the things they gave me, the animatics and the scripts, and I did lots of pausing. Pausing to capture some of the elements of action, to try and get a better look at costuming, to get those voices in my head. My goal is for people to read this and have no idea which dialogue lines are mine and which of them are from the show. It should be indistinguishable, and if I’ve done that I’ve done my job right.

I’ve done a lot of media work, and I think one of the reasons I succeed at it is I have an ear. I can really hear the characters. I can see what kind of gestures they make while saying it. And the voice acting on The Clone Wars is so superlative that it makes my job very easy.

How is writing licensed fiction different from writing in an original universe?

It’s funny, because the popular conception is that writing tie-ins are easier. On the surface you’re like, “You don’t have to make up the characters, you don’t have to make up the world.”

But I will tell you, having done many tie-ins in many worlds and six original novels, they are harder. Because if you have pride in your craft, which I do, you want to make them every bit as good as your own books. So you want to make sure you have good characterization, and believable dialogue, and great pacing and a satisfying conclusion. Then you have to do that with characters you didn’t create, with a world you didn’t create, that has boundaries on it that you, had you created it, could cross. I liken it to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astair. Ginger does everything Fred does, except backwards in high heels.

You have to do everything you would do for your own work, except you don’t get to pick and choose the terms.

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What are some of the differences between writing Star Wars novels and writing tie-in novels for another franchise, such as World of Warcraft?

Someone asked me recently about Star Wars and Star Trek, and I think the difference between them is Star Trek has a little more gravity toward it, a little more seriousness. It has a military origin. It has a very, almost uniformly hopeful belief that reason can reconcile all beings. Star Trek is kind of a more serious, studious adult, and Star Wars is the teenager. It’s looser, it’s freer, it’s funny, it’s big. There are big fights and it has lightsabers, and it seems to be a little more casual and loose.

There was a quote from back in the day when it was just on television, and TV Guide wrote their little one-sentence summary of it, and it said a princess, a farm boy, and a rogue take on an evil empire. And I said, “That sounds like a fantasy book. That doesn’t even sound like science fiction.” It has that more easy going feel to it. That’s not to say there aren’t very powerful emotions or very serious storylines in it. In fact, Dark Disciple is darker than many others. But I think there’s a relaxed atmosphere to it that you don’t see in a lot of others.

What did you most enjoy about writing Dark Disciple?

The beautiful way these characters interacted. They gelled for me very quickly, and my favorite parts of the book were honestly where they were just hanging out and talking.It was a really good pairing. It was one of those pairings that you think isn’t going to work, and then you realize, oh my gosh, it’s perfect. That was really joyous, just to get to hang out with them in some of their more down moments.

What was most difficult?

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This is a more adult-themed book, and it focuses more on the gray. There’s a lot of darkness to it and a lot of pain, and there are a lot of paths that you wish people wouldn’t go down that they do. I think that was the saddest thing, because I really like them, and I wanted things to be hunky-dory for them the whole time, and of course that doesn’t make for a very interesting book.

Ventress’s story has always been dark. Were you inspired by any particular part of her story in The Clone Wars?

To me, her arc really shone, and I think came into it’s real fullness with the Nightsister arc, those three episodes where she returns and she has a shot. She’s giving up being a Sith, she’s giving up revenge, she’s just going to be a sister and have this connection. That hope, that fresh start, that openheartedness is so awfully, horribly taken away from her so quickly. Ventress is prickly. She’s not a particularly nice person. I think, though, that no matter what you thought of her, if your heart isn’t breaking a little bit for her at the end of those arcs, you’ve got a problem.

There has been a lot of discussion about the role and use of female characters in Star Wars. How do you feel about being tasked with writing a female character that a lot of fans look to as representative?

Certainly it’s quite a responsibility, and I took it very seriously. We [Del Rey editorial staff and the Lucasfilm Story Group] had a lot of discussions about that, and how loved the character was and how important she was to a lot of people.

That was definitely on our minds, and we wanted to do well by her. I think the arc is pretty amazing for her.

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Really, there’s so much there, and it’s a very powerful arc. This book takes people in ways that you don’t necessarily think they should be going at first. And for good or ill, they’re going. But people grow. In real life people grow and they change and they learn and they change who they are based on learning things. That’s how we evolve. This was a great chance to see her grow and evolve past the “I’m mean and I’m clever and I can really kick ass.” That’s still there, but we’re seeing other aspects to her that I think are more empowering, but not in a traditional way.

When asked if Golden wanted to add anything else about the novel, she referred to The Clone Wars scripts on which it was originally based.

This was a huge responsibility. The storyline was so strong, and the dialogue was excellent. So it was a very good jumping-off point for me. When I write, I want characters that I like writing. I want characters that I enjoy just being in their heads. These don’t necessarily have to be nice people, but they’re good traveling companions, and I’m with them for many hours every day for several months. I have to say, that these are two of the very best traveling companions that I’ve had. They were fantastic. Now that I’m not writing them every day, I miss them.