Author Jason Fry has established himself as a key part of the new Star Wars Expanded Universe. As well as building on the television show Star Wars Rebels with his young reader novel series Servants of the Empire, Fry recently worked on two of the new young reader books set within the Original Trilogy that arrived on Force Friday.
Along with the Han Solo book Smuggler’s Run by Greg Rucka, Weapon of a Jedi and Moving Target might offer some hints as to what the galaxy far, far away will be like during the Sequel Trilogy. Fry co-wrote the Princess Leia story Moving Target with Cecil Castelucci, while Luke’s tale Weapon of a Jedi was a solo effort.
As one of Den of Geek’s resident Star Wars fans, I rushed to pick up Weapon of a Jedi, hoping for a look at where Luke might be headed after Return of the Jedi. It tells a solid, classic-style story of the young Rebel’s journey to the planet Devaron, where he finds an overgrown Jedi enclave and a dangerous new enemy.
Fry spoke to Den of Geek about this contribution to the Journey to the Force Awakens line:
How did you feel when you were approached to write Luke?
Jason Fry: Overjoyed – this is the Star Wars era I grew up with, and the one I recreated innumerable times with my old Kenner figures as a kid in the late 70s.
Lucasfilm gave me the basic plot of The Weapon of a Jedi—Luke explores mysterious ruins on a jungle world in search of Jedi lore and winds up dueling a determined enemy—and I immediately smiled, because I’d had my yellow-haired Kenner Luke with the lightsaber sticking out of his arm go on similar quests, except the ruins were made of LEGOs and couch cushions.
After that, though, I definitely felt some pressure. Luke is such a beloved character—there are many Star Wars fans who have spent their whole lives watching and reading his adventures, and they have superb radar for how Luke thinks, speaks, and acts. If you get that wrong, they’re thrown out of the story.
I should know, because I’m one of those fans, and Luke is a tricky character to get right. He’s not at all your typical action hero, in part because he possesses a gentle quality that a lot of them lack. Recall that in A New Hope Luke wins by “letting go” and allowing the Force to guide his proton torpedo, and in Return of the Jedi he wins by throwing his saber away and awakening his father’s love for him. Empire is where he acts most like your typical action-movie protagonist, ignoring his teachers’ counsel and racing off to save his friends. And how does that turn out? It’s a disaster – he gets his hand cut off, is saddled with this awful secret he’s not ready for, and the friends he went to rescue wind up having to rescue him.
I also have to admit that by temperament, I’m more of a Han guy. Even as a kid, I thought zooming off in the Millennium Falcon sounded cooler than being a rebel soldier or figuring out the Force. So I not only felt pressure to get Luke “right,” but I was a bit uncertain at the beginning about being a Han guy writing Luke.
The good thing was that set me off on an exploration of the character, starting with Mark Hamill’s performance and how that shaped the character George Lucas had created.
On that subject, can we stop for a moment and give Mark Hamill some long overdue credit for his work in Empire? For the key scenes of that movie, Hamill’s basically alone—it’s him with a puppet and a tin can and a bunch of snakes, or standing above a bunch of mattresses with a stuntman who doesn’t know the story and a wind machine roaring in his face. That’s incredibly tough for an actor, but Hamill makes it work. You believe in Yoda and R2-D2 not just because Frank Oz and the other people on the set were incredibly talented, but because Mark Hamill makes you believe in those characters.
Or watch Hamill’s eyes and face in the “I am your father” scene. You see his emotions shift from shock and horror to denial and anger and then, finally, to the shattering realization that he’s hearing the truth. He deserves so much more credit than he gets. Yeah yeah, “I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters” is a funny line. Watch him in Empire. It’s amazing work.
Anyway, watching Hamill again was the starting point for figuring Luke out, and that turned out to be really rewarding. It unlocked Luke for me in a way that hadn’t happened before, and that was simultaneously helpful as a writer and a lot of fun as a fan. So now I like to say that I’m still a Han guy, but I’m also a proud member of Team Luke.
Early in the book Luke expresses his uncertainty about how to use the Force, but regains some confidence when he flies alongside Wedge. What were some things you kept in mind while writing his character as he appears immediately after A New Hope?
Besides what I mentioned above, you have to remember that this isn’t the Luke you meet in Return of the Jedi. This Luke is trying to choose between two paths – being a rebel hero and an ace starpilot, which is what he dreamt of doing all those years on Tatooine, and living up to the legacy of Ben Kenobi and his father by following the Jedi path, which is something that came out of nowhere. It’s a wrenching choice, and he has no one to help him make it. We had to see both those Lukes, and feel those choices tugging at him from either side.
Is writing in the Original Trilogy different in tone from when you’re writing the Servants of the Empire series?
In terms of the galaxy, Servants is the Rebels era, in which there isn’t organized opposition to the Empire quite yet. So the characters in Servants, from Zare Leonis to Merei Spanjaf and Beck Ollet, are casting around trying to find a cause they believe in and convince themselves there’s a chance they can win. The Empire’s still enormously powerful in the Classic era, but by then there is a Rebellion that’s won some victories. So at least there’s a banner to wave.
Beyond that, it’s really about the characters. Zare was created by the Rebels creative team, but he’s a relatively minor character on the show, so I had a fair amount of freedom in writing him—and other characters such as Merei and Yahenna Laxo and Chiron are my own creations. With Luke or C-3PO or R2-D2, the audience has definite ideas about how those characters sound and act. That doesn’t mean you can’t push the characters or take them to unexpected places, but you have to honor that bond the audience already has with them.
But that turned out to be pretty fun. I mean, I’d write a line for C-3PO and close my eyes and try to hear it in Anthony Daniels’ voice. And then I’d think, “Man, I have the best job in the world.”
Was there any temptation to create connections between Servants of the Empire and the Journey to The Force Awakens?
In a weird way there is one. For reasons alert fans will probably be able to figure out, I had to replace a beast used as a mount in The Weapon of a Jedi with something different. I was kind of sad because I really liked the critter I’d come up with. But then I had a chance to use that beastie in the fourth Servants of the Empire book, The Secret Academy. Never waste a good creature.
Something also happens in The Secret Academy that will be pretty interesting to revisit come late December. And with that my lips are zipped.
How much did you confer with the Lucasfilm Story Group during the writing of this book? Or with fellow Journey to The Force Awakens authors Cecil Castelluci (with whom you also worked on Moving Target) and Greg Rucka?
As authors, we each had our own piece of puzzle, but Lucasfilm was always there to help me figure something out, whether it was the intriguing little bits that linked up with The Force Awakens or some aspect of the Classic-era story itself. That’s one thing I liked about this project—the “puzzle pieces” for The Force Awakens were fun to figure out and it’s been great watching readers speculate about them, but that aspect of the project was secondary to telling a really good story. Which is something Lucasfilm really values, and that I’ve learned from. I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a writer and storyteller while working in the Star Wars universe, and believe me, I know plenty of writers working in licensed fiction who have not had that same experience.
Villain Sarco Plank in The Weapon of a Jedi appears to be a new, strange alien species. What was the inspiration for his attitude and appearance?
Well, he’s one of the action figures from the new movie, so that answers part of your question. I still don’t have a Sarco, though. What an injustice!
From that starting point, though, I wanted to figure out what made him tick. I worked to give him little mannerisms that felt alien but could be understood—things that made him a character instead of a stock villain. I also added some hints about his past, which Luke figures out.
Sarco’s evil. When he has Luke and Farnay in his power, you see just how evil he is, but he’s also damaged. He’s a swindler and a sadist and a murderer and he deserves what he gets, but there’s a reason he’s become what he is, and it didn’t have to be that way. That’s something Luke senses and feels sorry about. Which says something about Sarco but something more important about Luke.
The wilds of the Eedit Jedi temple call back both to the Yavin IV Jedi Academy and the jungle world in Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. Was this an intentional comparison, or are ancient ruins and alien creatures just part of that essential Star Wars flavor?
There was no intentional comparison with the ruins per se, but there are definite callbacks to Splinter of the Mind’s Eye in The Weapon of a Jedi, as well as to another Luke duel in the early Legends material. Which was deliberate. Those were the tales I grew up with as a kid and read over and over again, so I wanted to pay homage to them while crafting a different story that stood on its own.
It was also fun to link up The Weapon of the Jedi with bits of prequel and Clone Wars lore. Some of the lessons Luke recalls Ben telling him are things Qui-Gon told Obi-Wan, for instance. And Clone Wars viewers saw how the Temple of Eedit became a ruin. I had a blast thinking about how those connections might work, both in terms of my storytelling and characters’ memories.
What was your favorite scene to write?
Rather than pick out an individual scene, I’ll say that I thought really hard about what Luke knew of the Force after A New Hope based on his handful of lessons from Ben Kenobi, and what we see him learn in Empire and Jedi. So with those things in mind, what were the waypoints in between in his evolution as a Jedi? What accomplishments could he have? And more importantly, what mistakes would he make? Asking myself those questions let me craft the arc of Luke’s Force training, which is really the spine of the story.
If The Weapon of a Jedi had a theme song, what would it be?
Oh goodness, I don’t know what to do with that one. I will say that a good test of writing Star Wars is to ask yourself whether you can hear the John Williams score in your head. If you can’t, lean on the backspace key for a bit and try again.
Thank you, Jason Fry!
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.