Interview with Jason Fry

Jason Fry is a name well known among the fans of the galaxy far, far away. He’s the author or co-author of a countless Star Wars books, articles and short stories including one of his most recent works, novelization of the Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

We caught up with Mr. Fry over email and talked about how did he become a fan of Star Wars, how was it to work on the novel adaptation of The Last Jedi, his inspirations and his thoughts on the state of Star Wars fandom.

HoloNet Serbia: When did you become a fan of the galaxy far, far away and how did you end up becoming a Star Wars author?

Jason Fry: I had just turned eight years old when A New Hope — then just called Star Wars — hit theaters. It was amazing: suddenly everybody I knew, kids and adults alike, were talking about this movie. I went to see it with my folks and by the time I saw the engines of Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer I was hooked.

I’d always been interested in writing and telling stories, but I hadn’t imagined there were stories like that: ones full of action and cool stuff, of course, but also that had depths to them. Star Wars was fun, but it was also about good and evil and family legacies and a whole lot more. Did I understand that immediately as an eight-year-old? Of course not — but I knew it was in there somewhere. By the time you’re eight you’ve heard a lot of stories and have a more sophisticated understanding of them than most people might assume.

Anyway, it changed my life. I kept on writing and telling stories, and eventually became a newspaper writer, because that let me write for a living and rewarded my curiosity about how things worked. On the side I kept up my interest in Star Wars, which led to a gig as the book columnist for the Star Wars Insider. After that I took any Star Wars job they’d let me have: roleplaying games, web pieces, and so forth. DK hired me to write The Clone Wars Visual Guide and Del Rey agreed to a crazy idea cooked up by Dan Wallace and me to map the entire Star Wars galaxy and explain how it worked. Since then I’ve written kids’ novels, short stories, “lore” books, a novelization, etc. With more adventures to come, I hope.

HoloNet Serbia: Ever since early 2000s, you’ve written dozens and dozens of Star Wars publications. Among all of them, do you have any favorites? Was there any book that was particularly enjoyable to work on?

Jason Fry: The Essential Atlas will always be a favorite because it was literally a dream come true. I’m not kidding: when I was 12 or 13 I dreamed I was at our local bookstore and bought a book called The Atlas of the Star Wars Galaxy. I woke up and had one of those funny moments in which you get confused about what’s real and what isn’t, and was crushed to realize there was no such book. Well, eventually there was — it was just a matter of me growing up, meeting Dan, getting hired by Del Rey and writing the damn thing.

I also really enjoyed writing the Servants of the Empire quartet. That series was marketed to kids and most adult Star Wars fans missed it, but I think they’re missing out. It’s a fun story, first of all, and it also deals with a lot of really complex subjects. Which is appropriate: I never write down to kids, because they deal with complicated situations every day, and deserve recognition of that.

I’m also proud of The Weapon of a Jedi, my Luke Skywalker young-adult novel. I really dug into Luke’s character and the nature of the Force for that book, and that preparation was enormously helpful for writing the novelization of The Last Jedi. There’s a direct line between the treatment of the Force in Weapon and how I presented it in the novelization.

HoloNet Serbia: Also, how did Star Wars publishing change over those years (if at all)?

Jason Fry: I really don’t think it has that much. It’s the same folks helping authors out, and their advice has always been much more about effective storytelling than about continuity. There’s a reason Lucasfilm calls it „Story Group“ and not „Continuity Group“, you know.

HoloNet Serbia: Obviously, we have to talk about The Last Jedi novelization. How and when and by whom were you approached to write it and how did you react?

Jason Fry: Del Rey asked me to write the novelization in the summer of 2016 and had to hush for a year until the announcement was made at 2017’s San Diego Comic-Con. That was a hard secret to keep! Obviously I was thrilled. I mean, I read Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of the original film so many times that my copy — the classic gold one with the blue lettering — fell apart. To be part of the small group of Star Wars novelizers is an enormous honor.

HoloNet Serbia: What were you given to help you write the novelization? Did they give you entire script or just some outline of the story?

Jason Fry: I not only read the script but was given access to the previous versions of it, with Rian Johnson telling me to take anything from those earlier drafts that I thought I might be able to use. That was incredibly generous of him and a great way to start. I was particularly grateful because of course Rian wrote The Last Jedi as well as directing it. It was his story, but instead of being possessive of it he trusted me with it. That meant a lot.

HoloNet Serbia: As, you’ve said, you worked with Episode VIII’s director, Rian Johnson, on this project. How was that? Also, did he – or anyone else from Lucasfilm – have any particular requests?

Jason Fry: Rian was great. We sat down in July 2017 at Skywalker Ranch and talked a lot about the characters, deleted scenes and why they’d been removed, and a whole lot else. The most helpful advice he gave me, though, was about tone. He said that even though The Last Jedi has fateful events and goes into dark places, he made sure to keep the tone light, never getting too far from that Flash Gordon movie-serial feeling that Star Wars has had from the beginning.

Rian described that as “lift, not drag,” which I found really helpful and took as a commandment when I wrote the novelization. And I’ve kept it in mind for my own projects, such as The Jupiter Pirates. It’s great advice for any fantasy story, frankly.

HoloNet Serbia: For the The Last Jedi novelization, you wrote a couple of exclusive – and really cool – scenes that did not appear even in the movie’s deleted scenes. Could you tell us a bit more how those scenes came to be?

Jason Fry: The opening dream sequence came from an idea I’d been kicking around for years, but never found a home for. I wanted a quietly apocalyptic story in which Luke grew old on Tatooine, and had what was apparently a rewarding though simple life. Only when you looked deeper you realized everything had gone horribly wrong for the galaxy, leaving Luke with a nagging sense that he’d missed his destiny.

I couldn’t ever make that story work, but it wound up dovetailing with some things I wanted to do for the novelization. I wanted to open with Luke, for a couple of reasons. I knew readers would want a sense of what Luke had been up to during his exile, but I also knew that the novelization, like the movie, was really Rey’s story — Luke is a mystery she’s trying to solve. If I was in Luke’s head too often, I’d be undermining that story. So starting with Luke before Rey’s arrival was a chance to scratch that itch.

I also wanted to develop the Force as a real presence in the novelization, almost a character in its own right. Different characters — Luke, Rey, Leia, Ben/Kylo, Snoke — perceive the Force differently and have different ideas about it, but it’s all part of the same conversation. And the Force clearly has a will of its own, rather than being a passive entity in the story.

Thinking about that, I realized there was no way the Force would simply accept Luke cutting himself off from hearing its voice. It would work to get through his defenses. And the way it would do that was obvious: in a dream. When we’re asleep our minds are open, and vulnerable, and suggestible.

That made it come together: the Force sends Luke a dream of the galaxy falling into ruin and tragedy because he never left Tatooine. Which is exactly what he’s done on Ahch-To as the First Order has risen. Some readers took the dream sequence as a suggestion that Luke should never have left Tatooine, but that’s not it at all. It’s the Force warning him he’s made a mistake.

And, OK, I knew that first line would get people talking. It’s rarely a bad idea to open with a bang.

Another scene that readers talked about a lot came from my editors at Lucasfilm. We were at the very end of the editing process when Michael Siglain and Jennifer Heddle at Lucasfilm asked me and my Del Rey editor, Elizabeth Schaefer, for one more scene near the end of the story.

We were still scrambling to hit our deadline, so I’ll admit my first reaction was something along the lines of “you’ve got to be kidding me.” But then Mike and Jen told us what they wanted: a quiet scene with Leia and Chewie in the cockpit of the Falcon, one that would be a chance for them to reflect on their losses. I immediately was like, “yes, absolutely — that is a fantastic scene.” And then I thought, “I better not screw this up.”

Taken together, I think those two give you a sense of how projects like this work. The dream sequence was my idea, but the Leia/Chewie scene was suggested by my editors. It really is a team effort. The author gets his or her name on the cover, but that doesn’t happen without a lot of help and support from other folks.

HoloNet Serbia: Internet is still full of raging debates on whether Episode VIII was good or bad. Fandom seems divided. What’s your opinion on that? Are those numerous complaints warranted?

Jason Fry: People can think whatever they want and like or dislike whatever they want. Personally, I love The Last Jedi, while admitting that it’s a challenging, sometimes confounding story. That’s not exactly what we’re expecting when we sit down for a big popcorn movie, and I think it threw some people. Luke tells Rey, “this is not going to go the way you think,” and that’s a perfect description of the movie.

The only thing that bugs me is the charge that The Last Jedi attempts to deconstruct or subvert the essential messages of heroism, goodness and sacrifice that are such big parts of Star Wars. Because I don’t see that at all. Yes, Rian’s story challenges the viewer, but ultimately it’s a reaffirmation of those values. Luke sarcastically asks Rey if she thinks he’s going to take a laser sword and go out and face down the entire First Order, but at the end of the movie that’s exactly what he does.

HoloNet Serbia: You are known to be not just an author, but an active member of the Star Wars fan community as well. What do you think about the atmosphere in fandom? Some say it’s a bit toxic, others it has never been better. What’s your take?

Jason Fry: Toxicity is a peril in all walks of life these days. That’s just part of how digital life has made the world small. Today you get to talk with fans of a given thing who are anywhere in the world, instead of being limited to fans in your own town. That’s 99% wonderful — it’s how I’m getting to do this interview, after all — but it also makes it much more likely that you’re going to bump into that other 1% of fandom, particularly the loudest, nastiest sub-segment of them. I just work around them and engage with the many, many more people who are awesome.

And as for the sub-segment of that 1% who are unhappy because Star Wars — or any other fandom — is getting more diverse in terms of characters, fans and creators, well… I feel like movement in that direction has created better stories, which I appreciate as a reader and a fan myself. And I definitely want Star Wars fandom to be as big a tent as possible.

I grew up devouring fantasy and science fiction, and most of the books I read featured a protagonist with a background that was the same as mine. So it wasn’t exactly a big mental shift for me to identify with those heroes. But there are so many people for whom that wasn’t true — the first step for them in picking up a heroic story was to have to project themselves into a different experience. It’s been very moving seeing and hearing people’s joy at engaging with stories where they haven’t have to do that — at seeing themselves in Rey or Rose or Cassian or Finn or Iden Versio, to name just a few characters in Star Wars.

I’ve seen that reaction myself. For Servants of the Empire, I invented a character named Merei Spanjaf who’s a slicer, and who took on a larger role in the series as it went along, essentially standing alongside Zare Leonis as a protagonist. I got a message one day from a woman who said that growing up she’d wanted to be a computer programmer and was told again and again that she couldn’t. She thanked me for Merei, “more than I know.”

It was that last part that was key. Because I didn’t know. I’d never had that experience, or frankly even imagined having it. But I’ve thought about that exchange so many times since then. I didn’t make Merei a slicer for reasons of representation, but because it worked for the story. But that decision really mattered to that reader. And what might it mean for some girl going through what she went through right now? if I can tell the same story and think about the roles within it in a way that acknowledges more people’s backgrounds and experiences and makes the tent bigger, why wouldn’t I do that? I can’t see how it hurts anything, and I can find story after story after story showing how it helps.

The fans who see representation as intrusive or say it shouldn’t matter — and again, they’re a very small segment — say that because they’ve rarely if ever had to make the mental shift I talked about above. They say “just tell good stories” because they’ve been not only the default target audience but also the default protagonists for those stories their whole lives. They don’t know what it’s like to have someone from their background show up only as a sidekick, comic relief, cannon fodder or a prize to be won — or to be left out, treated like they’re invisible or don’t exist.

I understand that that’s an adjustment for some folks. Heck, it’s been one for me too — that Merei story I talked about was written in 2015, so I’ve got my own catching up to do. I’m still figuring this stuff out as a writer and a storyteller. But I’m trying, and I’m determined to keep trying.

HoloNet Serbia: Are there any Star Wars projects that you are currently working on? Also, is there a character or event that you’d love to write about?

Jason Fry: My next Star Wars book is Solo: Tales From Vandor, which comes out in September. It’s a replica journal along the lines of Rey’s Survival Guide or Bomber Command, told from the perspective of Midnight, the bartender at the Lodge in Solo. You’ll get stories about Han, Lando, Beckett and other movie characters — some that are definitely true and some that might not be.

As for a project wish list, there are so many. I’ve thrown my hat in the ring to tell Luke Skywalker tales from his years as a Jedi searcher — in fact, I wrote several interludes about those years for the novelization, but cut them before sending them to Lucasfilm because they didn’t work in that context. I’d love to write a Han story set in any era. I’d love to catch up with Zare and Merei from Servants of the Empire, and continue their stories. I’ve pitched a tale about Tallie Lintra, a pilot we see briefly in The Last Jedi. I’d love doing a Patricia Highsmith-style story about Jabba the Hutt.

And I could think of many more. It’s Star Wars — give me a galaxy far, far away and let me hear the John Williams score in my head and I’m ready to get to work.

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