Interview with Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff & Shelly Shapiro
As The Last Jedi hits bookshelves this week, NJOE is proud to bring readers an interview with Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, co-author of The Last Jedi. At the conclusion of the interview, we’ve also posted a few editorial-related questions that were answered by Shelly Shapiro, Editor at Large at Del Rey. We hope you enjoy!
NJOE: In the books that you and Michael Reaves have worked on, specifically with the Coruscant Nights series and Shadow Games, take place between Episodes III and IV. Is it a conscious choice to tell stories in this era, or does it just so happen that this time period serves as the best backdrop for the stories you want to tell?
Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff: When I came on board as a writer for PATTERNS OF FORCE, Michael had already been working in the part of the timeline beginning about 30 years before A New Hope, and ending up with THE LAST JEDI about 18 years before. SHADOW GAMES was actually a bit of a departure for us since it took place in the weeks leading up to A New Hope, and was Jedi-free. For both of these books, LucasBooks basically said, here are some areas in the timeline where you can tell a story—where would you like to put it? For LAST JEDI, we originally considered setting it a number of years after PATTERNS OF FORCE, but the Powers said, “There’s no room for a Jax story there, because…” They gave us a couple of options on where such a story could go, and we decided to set it right after PATTERNS because that time period was the best fit for the story we wanted to tell. SHADOW GAMES’ story definitely fit best in the time period right before everything goes pear-shaped for the Empire. That’s an exciting time to write about and, it was a bonus when they asked if we couldn’t have one of the canonical characters in it. I was thinking “cameo”, but Michael said, “Heck, no. Why not put Han Solo right in the middle of it all? Writing Han Solo was very cool.
There’s much more interview after the jump!
NJOE: Although characters from the films (like Darth Vader and Han Solo) have appeared in your books, they aren’t the stars of the books, instead taking a backseat to original characters like Jax Pavan, I-Five, and Den Dhur. Do you find it challenging to capture iconic characters from the films, or is it more challenging to establish your own characters in the Galaxy Far, Far Away?
MKB: I find it more intimidating to write about iconic characters, but in some ways easier. I’ve watched the Star Wars original trilogy so many times I’ve lost count. And most of my fan favorite moments are Han Solo’s. So his voice comes easily to my ear. Building a new character from scratch, or—as in the case of Dash Rendar—fleshing out a character that hadn’t appeared in a novel before, is more challenging because you have to try to build a character that can stand up to the iconic ones they may appear with. You also have to battle fan perceptions. I discovered when I went out looking for artist’s conceptions of Dash that they were about as diverse as you could get. He had longish, dark hair and looked like Joe Flanigan (fine by me), or he was a red-haired Mark Hamill, or he had red hair but looked nothing like Mark Hamill, or he was blondish and very buff and looked sort of like the artist who first conceived of him (but not really) or…. Well, you get the picture. I chose one of those renditions (guess which one) and went with it. And we went with a voice that sounded Dash-like to us. Most readers seemed to like that, although a few didn’t. And that’s always disappointing, because common wisdom notwithstanding (as in ‘you can’t please all of the people…’), writers do hope that everyone will like their work. So, because of the inherent scariness of writing about iconic characters and writing original characters into an iconic universe, it was gratifying to read reviews of SHADOW GAMES in which readers said they really liked the female protagonist, Javul Charn and were surprised at how three-dimensional she was. Warms the cockles of a writer’s heart, I tell ya’.
The Last Jedi makes direct mention of the major events that took place on Mandalore during the current season of The Clone Wars. How has The Clone Wars influenced your plot points? Were you able to gain information regarding the Mandalore episodes while writing, and are you, perhaps, keen to events that will be explored in later episodes?
MKB: The Clone Wars didn’t influence our plot points, per se, but it did cause us to have to be cautious in our mention of the political situation on Mandalore. We’d actually put in some of that as we’d gleaned from available “historical” information, but Shelly gave us an inside scoop on some developments in TCW that caused us to pull out anything too detailed.
NJOE: What can Star Wars fans expect from you in the future? Can you share any recent story ideas you have pitched or are developing now?
MKB: We don’t have anything in the pipeline, though we have pitched a couple of ideas to the Powers. I’d like to do another Dash Rendar story, personally—one in which he joins with the two surviving members of Eaden Vrill’s teräs käsi order to find out who orchestrated the Nautolan’s death and the destruction of his order, and Michael has suggested a novel that would actually “star” the droids—I-Five being the leading (tin) man, as it were. That would be more fun than a barrel of pit droids. I’ve also had a suggestion from a fan that they’d like to see a story about Darth Ramage, who (though deceased) plays a pivotal role in The Last Jedi. Naturally, my mind immediately began to wander in that direction… But there’s no predicting what the Powers will do.
We also ran a couple editorial questions by Shelly Shapiro…
NJOE: The Last Jedi, although definitely a part of the Coruscant Nights series, isn’t subtitled with Coruscant Nights 4. What was the reasoning behind excluding the Coruscant Nights subtitle from this book?
Shelly Shapiro: We went back and forth on that a million times, trying to figure out how best to attract new readers and old readers alike. In the end we decided that the back cover copy–which makes clear that it’s an adventure with Jax, I-Five, and Den Dur–would carry the message to existing fans of the Coruscant Nights books, while the front cover wouldn’t be off-putting to those who haven’t yet dipped their toes in any of Jax’s story. However, the back cover does show the covers of the first three books with the following line: “LOOK FOR THESE THRILLING NOVELS IN THE CORUSCANT NIGHTS SERIES.”
NJOE: The Coruscant Nights series is no stranger to Expanded Universe changes that have occurred because of The Clone Wars television show. Perhaps the biggest example of that is the depiction of the death of Even Piell. As an author writing in an ever-changing landscape like the Expanded Universe, how did you react to Piell’s death being changed? Is this addressed in The Last Jedi, and if not, could you share your thoughts on how you might resolve this discrepancy?
Shapiro: Yes, that certainly took us all by surprise! But when Evan Piell was offered as a usable Jedi Master for JEDI TWILIGHT, no one knew that the TV show would end up using him in their stories and killing him off there. When we found out, the authors and I discussed the idea of changing Piell to a different Jedi Master in the Science Fiction Book Club version, and maybe even in future Del Rey reprints of the book, but that wouldn’t fix the fact that continuity had already been broken, and it would leave two versions of the book existing on bookshelves. So we just opted for not mentioning him by name in THE LAST JEDI. I’d like to say it’s a miracle that, considering how huge the Star Wars universe has become, more of these kinds of slips haven’t happened. But in truth, I think it is a testament to the diligence and hard work of everyone involved, especially the continuity keepers at Lucasfilm.
NJOE would like to thank Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff and Shelly Shapiro for graciously taking time to answer some of our questions. The Last Jedi is on bookshelves now, so be sure to check it out!