BEHOLD THE SACRED JEDI TEXTS!
“The novel is really Rey’s story. She is struggling to understand what has happened to Luke, who he has become, and what that means for her and the galaxy.”
With additional scenes and unique viewpoints on the story of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the adult and junior novelizations of the movie offer alternate takes on the latest episode in the Star Wars saga. Insider offered authors Jason Fry (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) and Michael Kogge (Star Wars: The Last Jedi: A Junior Novel) the chance to discuss their separate approaches to adapting the movie.
Star Wars Insider: What were your starting points for these two books?
Jason Fry: Early on, I was thinking about what we wouldn’t see on screen that would work in a book: What did I want as a lifelong fan and as a reader? That took me to some interesting places in terms of which characters’ heads I wanted to be inside to better understand their thoughts and motivations. Overall, the novel is really Rey’s story. She is struggling to understand what has happened to Luke, who he has become, and what that means for her and the galaxy. Getting to be in Luke’s head was tempting, but ultimately worked against that story. I had to stay on Rey’s shoulder, not on Luke’s. That didn’t mean I couldn’t be in Luke’s head, too, but I had to pick my spots and make them count. That was a lesson that took me a while to work through. Michael Kogge: I had a similar method.
When I wrote The Force Awakens junior novel I tried to focus my points of view on the younger characters—Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, and Kylo Ren—only branching out to Han or Leia when necessary. I continued that in The Last Jedi. Luke and Leia get their deserved moments, but I had to resist the temptation to go straight to them. The core of a junior novel should revolve around the younger heroes and villains, and the reader should spend most time with them.
How does writing a novelization differ from your other work?
JF: The biggest difference is a good lesson for any writer to learn: take your ego out of it. It was a great honor and privilege to tell the story, but it isn’t my story. It’s Rian Johnson’s. When it came to any expansions on the story, I looked at my job as: “Rian would’ve written this if he had the running time to include it.” I had to be true to the narrative, but also do things the film couldn’t do, such as getting into the characters’ heads to explore their motivations, their histories, and their doubts. The trick is making sure that my role does not pass from interpretation and maybe a little augmentation into something else. MK: I like to say that this isn’t my story, but these are my characters. Because, as a writer, if you don’t completely own the characters—if you don’t understand all their motivations and emotions—the book’s not going to be any good. And while I might not get to plot the beats of what happens, I do have to live in Rey and Finn and Poe and Kylo Ren’s shoes to figure them out and to make them real on the page. So, I’m very possessive about these characters. When I see Rey or Finn being cosplayed at a convention, I see a little bit of me in them, even if the person in the costume isn’t familiar with the books. JF: That’s a good way of putting it. These are fictional characters that matter enormously to people. There’s a responsibility there. And the writer’s job is to inhabit everyone’s head and be true to them as they see things.
So how do your books expand on the film?
JF: One of the scenes in my book, which works in a novelization but would stop the movie cold, expands on Rey seeing Luke’s X-wing in the water off the island. I have her staring at the X-wing and thinking about it like she would on Jakku: What’s salvageable in it? That leads her to thinking about the Falcon, and then Chewie, as she figures out that Luke might listen to an angry Wookiee even if he won’t listen to her. You look for opportunities like that, moments that allow a writer to go into a character’s history and get into her or his head a little bit, in a way that hopefully is true to the movie and deepens it. You want good connective tissue, not just extra stuff you could insert just because. I made sure that nothing I did felt like that. MK: I feel the same way. You look for ways to fl esh out the story in ways the film doesn’t have time to do. One of the great things of collaborating with Jason was that we discussed the areas where there was room for the novels to expand. Some scenes might work well for the junior novel, some better for the adult, so there could be new, exclusive material suited to each.
One such scene for the junior novel was planned to have Luke and Chewbacca saying goodbye. But I thought about it for a few days and decided that it would be better with R2-D2 instead of Chewbacca, since R2 is such a close and loyal friend of Luke’s. So before the Falcon leaves Ahch-To, Luke says farewell to the astromech in the rain. It’s a small moment that shows Luke’s character is changing and he is heading in the direction that he needs to go. JF: I love that scene! We have slightly different canvases for the same story. With a good story, there will be many more canvases to visit—which is awesome! Were there any scenes that didn’t make the fi nal edit? JF: In an earlier version of the script that I read, the sequence with the Master Codebreaker plays out differently, in what feels like a wonderful homage to To Catch a Thief. It ends as disastrously as before, but it just takes a little longer. In my book, I tried writing that, because we thought it would be a lot of fun. But in the end it was decided that it was too big a departure and we’d exceeded the proper role of a novelization. It was certainly an interesting experiment for me. Who knows? Maybe it will see the light of day somewhere down the line. MK: For me, it wasn’t so much the scenes that were cut, as bits of background and character psychology. That is typical of any good book—you have to tell the story without too much embellishment—but it doesn’t mean that the unused writing has been a waste. One can spend days writing a scene or a chapter only to realize you have to throw it out. It’s all part of a writer’s journey. You have to go down every rabbit hole in order to make things really work. Often you get a line or an idea or an emotional beat that you would never have gotten otherwise.
What was it like tackling Luke’s existential crisis?
JF: Luke is a character who’s been incredibly important to me since I was eight years old. To me, the most interesting thing about his crisis is how he got there. I tried a lot of things to answer that. I wrote eight or nine interludes from Luke’s journey—I called them inter- Lukes—starting with Darth Vader’s funeral pyre on Endor and then leading to the island. They didn’t tell the whole story, but just gave glimpses of what he’d been up to. But much as I hated to admit it, they just didn’t work. They were interesting on their own, sure, but they took the reader away from the story that was being told. One thing I did get to do was to open the novelization with Luke, so we get a look at him before Rey arrives. I wanted to get a sense of the emotions we see on his face when she offers him the saber. Start with the idea that the Force is literally awake—or, if you prefer, the cosmic Force is looking for a new vessel—and it is making its mark on the galaxy again, after this period of dormancy. But Luke has closed himself off to the Force and is literally refusing to hear its voice.
Since the Force has agency here, how does it get through the defenses he’s thrown up?
My answer was a dream: Luke can’t close himself off so thoroughly that he can shut that door, and the Force uses it to get at him and insist he hear its message. So the novel starts with a dream sequence, and when Luke wakes up, he knows that the Force is at work and he knows something’s coming. That sequence was one I really enjoyed doing. MK: Jason and I talked at Star Wars Celebration in Orlando. He pitched his opening to me and I thought it worked really well. I’d already started my book, and the opening prologue I’d written was from an elevated point of view, an omniscient narrator recounting the life of Luke Skywalker, almost like old-man Luke is looking back at his life from a distance. What is marvelous is that both the adult and junior novel approach it in a slightly different way, yet they’re both thematically the same and they both go straight to the conflict in Luke. When I finally read Jason’s manuscript, I thought: This is fantastic, they connect well.
We’re both saying the same thing in a different way. What other considerations did you have to take into account?
JF: Obviously, you have to think about the big, pivotal moments in the story. What are the moments that will make the book fl y or die? For me, Luke’s death was one of them. It was really useful, as the process was unfolding, to have my subconscious noodling away on that scene, saying: “Oh my God, this is Luke Skywalker passing into the Force, and I’m going to be the guy that gets to describe it on the page! How do I do that?” By the time I actually got to write that scene, I think I’d written it in my head 50 times! MK: Yeah, that scene became a goal for me, too. It was something I looked forward to reaching, not because I was eager to kill Luke, but because it was so momentous. I had to write a similar scene for Han Solo in The Force Awakens, and now I had to do it for Luke Skywalker. It felt like I was killing off my childhood heroes one by one. It’s really bizarre. It’s not therapeutic! JF: No, it’s not. MK: It’s very sad. I didn’t want to kill off Han, and I didn’t want to kill off Luke. But I believe, within the structure of these stories, these moments make sense. As a writer, as an artist, it was a great challenge. I felt a little emboldened. You gotta do this. You’ve got to make their endings really good. You have to let them go out in a blaze of glory. With your books not coming out until three months after the film’s release, were you able to make revisions after seeing the final cut? MK: I had a week after seeing the film to make any final changes. But things still occur to you later that you really wish you could have added! JF: I did the same thing. I was tweaking at the very last minute, thinking: “Oh, I need to underscore this scene and that scene,” but eventually you just need to let it go. What George Lucas said about movies is also true about books: They don’t get finished, but they eventually escape. And so be it!
Where do you see the story heading in Episode IX?
JF: I don’t have an answer, but I know the key questions I would ask: When are we starting and what has changed? To me, that will say a lot about what’s going to unfold. Are we going to be a day later or are we going to be three years later? I think that we’re going to get a very different Rey or Kylo or Poe or anyone else depending on the answer to that question. MK: That’s a brilliant way to look at the future: through a question.