- "I didn’t grow up nursing thoughts of becoming a writer. My first novel emerged from journals I kept in my twenties, during 10 years of world travel. Even after that novel was published I worked as a carpenter for another decade, before turning to full-time writing. Some thirty years later it seems to have been a good choice, if only to have spared my shoulders and knees further abuse."
- ―James Luceno
James Luceno is the author of several Star Wars novels and reference books under DK Publishing and LucasBooks. In addition to his Star Wars writings, Luceno and Brian Daley (under the pen name "Jack McKinney") wrote the novelizations of the Robotech series and the Black Hole Travel Agency series. They also worked together on Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers.
Adventures with Brian DaleyEdit
Trekking the EarthEdit
- "Brian and I were close friends long before we became collaborators. We attended a premier of STAR WARS: A New Hope together, and for years after I was a sort of sounding board for many of the ideas Brian wrote into his Han Solo novels and the radio dramatizations of the original trilogy of films. I'll never forget our return to Kathmandu, Nepal, in 1982, after spending five weeks hiking in the Himilaya, and finding in a marketplace a bootleg video cassette of Return of the Jedi, which we bought and screened for the porters and Sherpas who had supported the trek."
- ―James Luceno
James Luceno was born in 1947 in Bermuda to parents he called Syl and Skeeter. His father was a carpenter and a career Marine drill sergeant, who moved the family about during Luceno's youth; he was raised on various naval and marine bases in the United States until his family settled into a working-class town outside of New York City. His father was also a movie buff, and Luceno was raised watching non-stop reruns of films from the 1930s and 1940s on WOR-TV's Million Dollar Movie like Casablanca, Hammer Horror films, and war movies and TV shows such as Victory at Sea, Wings, and Air Force. Those films turned Luceno into a story-teller, and thoughts of becoming a writer first blossomed at the age of twelve when he saw his father beat up a local who had slapped one of his young cousins. Although he once failed a High school English course, Luceno was an avid reader as a teenager, reading DC Comics, Mad Magazine, and Classics Illustrated, as well as science fiction and authors such as Elmore Leonard, Thomas Pynchon, Ian Fleming, Carlos Castaneda, and Erich von Däniken. Fleming and Pynchon were strong influences on his life at the time, and he credits Fleming, Castaneda, and von Däniken as having helped set him on the path of adventure travel.
Luceno made ends meet by working such jobs as general contractor, astrologer, and rock musician. His musical career began in 1965 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when a jazz guitarist friend convinced him to buy an electric bass that they saw hanging in the window of a pawn shop. Convinced that Luceno could easily get gigs on account of most musicians wanting to play guitar, the friend prompted him to get on stage, and a green Luceno found himself playing root notes in cover bands around Bridgeport, as well as New York City and Bergen County, New Jersey. Later in the sixties, he began playing professionally as a session musician in New York City studios and in commercials, and in 1970 he joined the backup band for The Manhattan Transfer. They were four vocalists doing jazz standards, and Luceno was playing alongside a country guitarist—he had to learn to play both jazz and country, and although he sometimes felt that he was in over his head, being on the road with the band got him out into the world and turned him into a traveler. In 1971, he saw a photo of an Ethiopian church in a magazine and was intrigued by its other-worldly nature, and he left The Manhattan Transfer to head to Europe, beginning a globe-trotting trip that would consume much of his life from 1971 to 1980.
During his journeying, Luceno read several of Thomas Pynchon's books, which would often take him weeks or months to finish. He met a community of like-minded people on the road who were all reading Carlos Castaneda and Erich von Däniken, and he has cited Fleming's works as being responsible for several tight spots in which he found himself during those travel years. After Europe, he arrived in Egypt via Greece and continued onto the Horn of Africa, drawn to the Ethiopian churches in the city of Lalibela. He then went south through Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi, continuing nearly to South Africa. At one point, Luceno photographed a pride of lions that were basking in the sun. When he returned home to save money for his next trip, he considered playing bass again but instead did carpentry in Westchester County, New York, mentored in the trade by a friend. Carpentry was his profession for a full decade, and he also worked at one point as a wilderness guide for the California Company High Country Passage. Luceno next ventured to Latin America, and while in La Paz, Bolivia, he by chance ran into a traveler that he had previously met in Kenya. In his own words, "some of us were attracted to the idea of surviving tricky situations in foreign cultures," and he experienced close encounters in South America with bandits, drug dealers, rogue scientists, and nascent insurgents.
Luceno kept a detailed journal of his own overwhelming travel experiences and of conversations he had with other travelers, including tales he heard while working as a travel guide in Central America, South America, and Asia. He felt that the people he met had great stories to tell, and keeping a journal also occupied his time during lulls in his adventures, like when he was stranded on a sandbar in the Nile river for days with a single paperback to read. Although he did not harness dreams of becoming a writer at the time, his journals birthed a novel, which he primarily wrote while living in Cusco, Peru, for a period of eight months with his first wife, a woman from New Jersey. It was an action-adventure about three Americans on a cocaine-smuggling adventure in South America, and it was an outgrowth of his own globe-trotting experiences. His experiences in Peru, a country with a bizarre cocaine trade filled with colorful people, particularly helped to shape the story. Luceno also lived in Mexico for a time. In 1974 or 1975, while residing in Englewood, New Jersey, he met Brian Daley, a young man who had just returned to the United States after serving in the Vietnam War. Daley was attending Jersey City State College in Jersey City, and he was dating a woman who worked at the same restaurant as Luceno's wife. The two men were also both working on their first novels, and when the women realized that their partners were both writers, Luceno and Daley were introduced and became close friends. Luceno's first child, a daughter named Carmen, also came into his life around that time.
In 1977, Luceno and Daley attended the premiere of a film called Star Wars, which had had little buildup in the media—neither man knew what to expect. After getting drunk at a strip mall on New Jersey's Route 4, the two made their way to the parking lot of a cineplex in Luceno's Chevy. According to Luceno, both of them "had their minds blown" within the film's first five minutes, and they left the premiere thrilled at having seen a rousing science fiction adventure. Daley felt that science fiction would never be the same, and Luceno would later state that his friend's entire life changed the minute he saw the film. Not long afterward, Daley was contracted to write The Han Solo Adventures, three novels based on the early life of the Star Wars character Han Solo. While plotting the stories, he tossed ideas back and forth with Luceno, who acted as his sounding board. In 1979, Daley was also hired to write the script for a radio drama of Star Wars, and Luceno played the role of sounding board once more, helping Daley refine ideas as they were scripted. When Daley received insider information about a plot point from 1980's The Empire Strikes Back regarding Luke Skywalker's parentage, he spilled the beans to Luceno before they had a chance to see the movie. 1980 also saw Luceno's first novel, Head Hunters, finally see publication, and he credits Daley for encouraging him in the process and for introducing him to people who worked at Ballantine Books.
Head Hunters was shortly followed by Luceno's second child, a son named Carlos, of whom Daley was the godfather. Luceno and Daley traveled together extensively, journeying to such places as Nepal, Thailand, Peru, Tibet, and the jungles of Central and South America. In 1980, they were in Chiapas, Mexico, and they became stranded without food while following a river to some Mayan ruins. In 1983, they spent five weeks hiking in the Himalayas, and upon their return to Kathmandu, Nepal, Daley received a telegram informing him that he had been hired to write a radio drama of the latest Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi. It had only been in theaters for a short time, and the two found a grainy bootleg copy of the movie at a Nepalese market and screened it for the Sherpas and porters that they had hired for their trek. One year later, Luceno met his future wife, Karen Ann Lichtenstein, after Daley's partner Lucia St. Clair Robson played matchmaker. She encouraged Lichtenstein to meet Luceno in New York, and although Luceno devised—and executed—a bail-out plan in case the date went sour, he reconsidered and quickly returned.
- "I was immediately drawn into it, and I was thrilled at the chance—Brian was too—thrilled at the chance of adapting it."
- ―Luceno, describing when he became familiar with the storyline of the Robotech cartoon series
When Daley persuaded Luceno to try his hand at script writing, the two were hired by producer Robert Mandell to write for an animated series called The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers. The show was an episodic series about human pioneers preserving law and order across the galactic frontier, and it was one of the earliest television series done in the style of a Space Western. Working together, Luceno and Daley wrote about fourteen scripts for the show, which was being produced in New York and which began airing its sixty-five half-hour episodes in September 1986, five days a week. St. Clair Robinson was also on the writing team, as was Shelly Shapiro, with whom Luceno would later work in the Star Wars franchise. Galaxy Rangers was not renewed for a second season due to the lack of an arrangement with any toy companies, which were the primary advertisers for 1980s cartoons. Although the ratings were high, the viewers were mostly teenagers and young adults, and the show failed to succeed in the toy market or produce sufficient ad revenue to support any additional seasons. Luceno and the rest of the writers were disappointed, as they felt that the show's premise was innovative and new. Galaxy Rangers developed a cult following after its cancellation and was eventually released on DVD in 2008.
Following his work on Galaxy Rangers, when Luceno was living in New York, he and Daley were contacted by Risa Kessler, who was in charge of all licensed properties associated with Ballantine Books. The television production company Harmony Gold had approached her about adapting their cartoon series Robotech into novel form, and she was familiar with Luceno and Daley's work on Galaxy Rangers and knew that they were good friends. Robotech had begun its life as three separate anime programs in Japan—The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA—but the three were merged into one series, given a new overarching plotline, and developed for American TV by producer Carl Macek. Luceno had seen several episodes out of order on a local New York television station and had been unable to follow the plot. When Macek sent him a reference book complete with synopses of all of the episodes, Luceno found himself quickly drawn into the story. He and Daley were both excited at the chance to adapt it, and were very impressed with how Macek had created a new series from three separate programs.
Luceno and Daley were flown to Los Angeles, California to discuss plans for their Robotech adaptation, where they were shown episodes of the show and given background information on the series. They spoke extensively with Macek over a period of about ten days, and were contracted to adapt the TV series into four novels. The two authors were given VHS tapes and scripts of every Robotech episode, as well as art books, comics, and toys, and they remained in frequent contact with Macek by telephone. Luceno also attended several toy conventions with Macek to discuss the series and the approach that he and Daley should take. When Harmony Gold asked Ballantine to expand the series from four novels to twelve, the authors found themselves under a very tight schedule, faced with the challenge of writing twelve books in about eight months.
Both men had moved to Maryland by this time and were meeting with each other daily. After watching the entire Robotech series numerous times, and nearly wearing out their VCRs, they broke its storyline down into twelve parts and split up writing duties so that Daley would write the odd-numbered books and Luceno the even. Both authors would send their work to the other for proofreading, editing, and some rewriting—the two had very different writing styles and hoped to find a singular voice. One would often contribute an entire chapter or two to the other's book. Unlike Daley, Luceno had no background in science fiction save for his work on Galaxy Rangers, and he was always eager to receive Daley's manuscripts in order to get tips on writing battle scenes and using science fiction buzzwords. Luceno was often traveling while working on the novels, and he wrote parts of the Robotech saga in places such as Dos Lagunas, Guatemala; Ubud, Bali; and Kathmandu.
One of their goals with the series was to expand upon what had been presented in the cartoon and go into added detail. Macek had requested that they go deeper during their initial meetings, and they hoped to add depth and verisimilitude to Robotech that had been somewhat absent from the television show. The three agreed that they wanted the book series to be even more epic than its source material—one of Robotech's key elements was the use of Human-operated Mecha machines, and a significant expansion that Luceno and Daley made was introducing virtual-interface "thinking caps" that were required to reconfigure a Mecha. Without that sort of expansion, Luceno believes that a straight-up adaptation of the cartoon would have been pointless—in order to tell a big story, they gave it bigger concepts. They also drew inspiration from various works that they saw as epic, such as Frank Herbert's Dune.
Daley had an original science fiction book trilogy set to be released around the same time as the Robotech novels, and as he had already written The Han Solo Adventures, he worried fans would get the impression that he was predominantly an author of tie-in fiction. He and Luceno were also unsure how much editing the books would suffer from Ballantine or Harmony Gold, and as such, they chose to write their Robotech novels under the pseudonym of Jack McKinney. The name came from a close friend of Luceno's father whose toolbox Luceno had used during his carpentry days, and a character with that name had featured in Head Hunters. Daley had also referenced a character named Jack McKinney in his novel The Doomfarers of Coramonde as a nod to his friend. Luceno had no science fiction reputation to protect and was fine with the idea of using a pen name. He once signed Jack McKinney's name in a travelers' guestbook while in Dos Lagunas.
The twelve Robotech novels were published in paperback from February to November, 1987. When they began selling tens of thousands of copies each, Luceno was flabbergasted, as he had not been aware that the franchise's fan base was so strong and widespread. Both he and Daley had a good deal of fun writing the books, and Luceno sees the experience as one of the most important times of his life. In 2007, he reflected that without Robotech he might still be working as a carpenter. Collaborating with Daley was particularly enjoyable for him, and he learned much about science fiction and writing in general from his friend and mentor.
The epic continuesEdit
- "When Carl handed me the book, he prefaced it by saying 'You can pretty much throw this out.' I mean, I thought it was—I thought it was… there was a lot of genius in it. (…) Brian and I ended up running with a lot of it. (…) because it, we just thought it was just so wild."
- ―Luceno, reflecting on the initial story treatments of The Sentinels that he and Brian Daley received from Carl Macek
The strong sales of the Robotech novels and the success of the television show convinced Harmony Gold to greenlight a sequel TV series called The Sentinels. Macek hastily wrote sixty-five story treatments for the benefit of potential advertisers, but he grew frustrated when he was unable to secure the financial backing of toy companies. Legal problems also arose concerning the use of characters who were licensed in Japan, but Luceno and Daley were contacted in early 1987 about adapting Macek's story treatments into additional Robotech novels. Macek told the two that they should discard most of what he had written, but they liked much of what they saw and ended up including many of Macek's ideas in their books. They expanded the treatments and broke their story down into the five novels they had been contacted to write, making some substantive changes from Macek's outline—the process took longer than their previous endeavor due to the limited source material from which they could draw. Although they consulted with and received support from Macek, Luceno has stated "we were pretty much on our own" and that the process left them feeling rushed. Luceno wrote three of the novels and Daley two. The first twelve novels had been intended for young adult readers, but when Luceno and Daley realized that college-aged people were reading them, they began to take more liberties regarding writing adult content.
The five novels of The Sentinels series were published throughout 1988. It eventually became clear that The Sentinels cartoon was not going to be produced, but the continually strong sales of the novels led Macek, Harmony Gold, and Ballantine to desire an ending for the series. Macek had originally envisioned Robotech as a 365-episode epic that would come full circle, with the end of the saga returning to the beginning, but the task of concluding the series instead fell to Luceno, Daley, and one final book. With no source material to draw from, Luceno asked how Macek wanted the story to conclude, but he found that Macek was disenfranchised with Robotech and had moved on to other projects. Beyond a few phone conversations with Luceno, he had very little input in the novel beyond the idea of all of Robotech being circular. Luceno wrote an outline of the novel which was then tweaked by both him and Daley, and he then went on to write the first half of the book before Daley wrote the ending. With a multitude of plot points to close off, they found themselves disagreeing with each other on some minor aspects of the ending after Daley diverged from the original story they had conceived. Luceno has described writing the book as tricky but also the best kind of challenge, as he learned a lot about dealing with big stories with extensive casts of characters. The End of the Circle was released in 1989.
Luceno and Daley produced a number of bestsellers with their Robotech novels, but reception to them was considerably mixed within the series' very passionate and vocal fanbase. The authors took a good deal of criticism for giving villainous traits to the character of Supreme Commander Leonard and received hate mail that included copies of the books cut up into dozens of pieces after they killed the character of Breetai. Some fans disagreed with the manner in which The End of the Circle concluded, feeling that Luceno and Daley had tied everything together too neatly, and others still criticized some of the expansions on the TV series, such as the "thinking caps." A large group of fans refused to accept the novels as part of Robotech canon, but another group were very taken with the books and dubbed their interlocutors "McKinney haters." Luceno was shocked at some of the wrath that was directed toward him, and in the early days of the internet he communicated with fans on an electronic mailing list in an effort to shed some light on why he and Daley made the decisions that they did. Many found him to be very articulate and polite and had enjoyable interactions with him. The vocalness of the "McKinney haters" had quieted somewhat by 2007, when in a poll on Robotech.com less than four percent of the 5,000 voters indicated that they disliked the novels.
When Ballantine Books' Del Rey imprint was set to relaunch the Star Wars universe in novel form, they planned on employing both Daley and Luceno to author the new adventures. Risa Kessler and the others at Ballantine contacted them, and the two discussed the franchise with each other considerably. Daley conceived of a series about the search for and training of a new generation of Jedi by Luke Skywalker, and the efforts of a clandestine group of Emperor Palpatine's disciples to thwart him. Meanwhile, Luceno began to write a book called The Tao of the Force, a reference work that included excerpts and lessons from old Jedi texts. Although he spent months on it, it ended up being nixed by Star Wars creator George Lucas, who didn't want the Force to be treated as a religion. Ultimately, an internal political battle at Ballantine saw them lose the license to publish Star Wars literature, and new publisher Bantam Spectra instead contacted author Timothy Zahn in 1989 to write Heir to the Empire, which kicked off a coordinated and cohesive Star Wars Expanded Universe. Luceno later reflected that Daley would have likely given the saga a mythological tone as opposed to Zahn's military science fiction, and that Daley would have preferred a serialized approach from novel to novel, rather than Bantam's method of jumping around the timeline and filling in bits and pieces of the story.
Not yet writing tie-in fiction for Star Wars, Luceno nevertheless saw five original novels of his own published between 1988 and 1990 by Ballantine. Río Pasión, Rainchaser, and Rock Bottom formed the Matt Terry series and have been described by Luceno as "mainstream adventure fare, set in exotic locations and heavy on mystery and intrigue." The science fiction novels A Fearful Symmetry and Illegal Alien were respectively released in 1989 and 1990, and the former was nominated for the 1989 Philip K. Dick Award, a prize given annually by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society to original sci-fi paperbacks.
During the run of the first twelve Robotech novels, a magazine by Barnes & Noble had revealed Jack McKinney's secret identity, but most fans had missed it and were wondering just who the man was. McKinney had developed a following in the Science Fiction community, and as such, Luceno and Daley decided to keep the pseudonym going. They wrote a novel called Kaduna Memories that was published in 1990, as well as a series called The Black Hole Travel Agency that spawned four books released over 1991, 1992, and 1993. The Black Hole series was comic science fiction fare set in the near-future involving aliens coming to Earth, and Luceno and Daley intended for it to be light-hearted material that would make readers laugh. None of the four books sold very well, however—Luceno blames a combination of poor marketing, terrible book covers, and a small print run, all stemming from Del Rey being less than enthusiastic about the series. Although the two enjoyed writing Black Hole, Luceno later reflected that their attempt to carry Jack McKinney forward fell flat. Daley publicly revealed McKinney's identity in a 1993 interview, and the two both returned to writing their own fiction full-time. Luceno later mused that the premise and tone of Black Hole were very similar to those of the 1997 film Men In Black.
In 1992, Luceno also had a piece of tie-in fiction released: The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: The Mata Hari Affair. At the time, Lucasfilm Ltd. was producing The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, a television show based around famous figures and events that maintained a meticulous attention to historical detail, and Luceno was required to submit a manuscript with footnotes and with all of his sources cited. His story was set during World War I, and he perused around fifty books on the subject while doing his research. 1993 brought the release of The Big Empty, an original science fiction novel by Luceno, and in 1994 he penned the novelization of the film The Shadow. He was living in Annapolis, Maryland at the time, and a son named Jake came into his life in the early nineties, but he was also frequently traveling to Central and South America, including a 1994 trip to Guatemala with Daley and their friend Chris Barbieri.
Loss of a friendEdit
- "Brian and I were both very realistic about how the world works, and during the final months of his life, we had several conversations about what it means to live and to die. Because we had logged so many miles together—in the real and imagined worlds—I told him I wasn't comfortable with his going on an adventure without me—especially to a realm where all the available guide books contradict themselves about just what a traveler can expect to find. And Brian joked that he understood my concerns and would certainly try to contact me, assuming he could find a working phone or the appropriate postage for the kind of communication we had in mind. Just one of those conversations lifelong friends have to ease the pain."
- ―Luceno, reflecting on his final months with Brian Daley
Although the Robotech saga had concluded, the strong sales of McKinney's novels and of the Robotech comic series prompted Ballantine to ask Luceno and Daley if there was any material they could use to write further stories. Luceno felt that the Malcontent Uprisings, as told in the comics of Bill Spangler, were a perfect setting, and he wrote a book that was based on and expanded Spangler's work. Del Rey wanted two more novels, however, and Luceno had to hunt for places in the timeline where some untold story might still remain. As Daley had fallen ill, Luceno wrote all three books by himself but credited them to Jack McKinney. The Zentraedi Rebellion, The Master's Gambit, and Before the Invid Storm, which are set during the events of the original twelve novels, were respectively published in 1994, 1995, and 1996. An epigraph in the final volume was attributed to Peter Walker, a Robotech fan with whom Luceno had interacted positively on the electronic mailing list. He has referred to the latter two novels as essentially footnotes, but Luceno yet believes that they have their own place within the overarching saga. He was interested in writing one more Robotech book, a prequel based on the graphic novel Robotech Genesis: The Legend of Zor, but with sales of the series declining with each successive book Del Rey decided that the series was done at twenty-one. The McKinney novels were later deemed non-canonical so that further Robotech stories could be free to ignore them.
Marking his second venture into screenwriting, Luceno penned two scripts for the animated series Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders in the mid-nineties. Created by Galaxy Rangers producer Robert Mandell, the show was loosely based on Guinevere from Arthurian myth, and it featured the title character riding Unicorns and shooting rainbows. The episodes Wizard's Peak and The Wizard of Gardenia aired in 1995 and 1996, respectively. 1996 also brought more tie-in work for Luceno with The Aztec Imperative, a companion novel to the movie Mission: Impossible. Lead actor and producer Tom Cruise commissioned a novelization and several tie-in works to help support the film, and Luceno was required to pay close attention to the original Mission: Impossible television series while writing his work, but Cruise ultimately decided to take the movie in a different direction and did not use any of the tie-ins.
Daley's illness was pancreatic cancer, and it proved to be terminal. During the final months of his life, he and Luceno had several conversations regarding the nature of life and death. Daley passed away on February 11, 1996, after months of treatment for his sickness. Luceno was deeply affected by his friend's death, feeling like a parent who had survived a child. Fans also keenly felt the loss, as when Luceno and Lucia St. Clair Robson posted a notice of death online, messages of consolation immediately began to pour in from across the world. Luceno took a solo trip to the remote Mayan archaeological site of Calakmul, Guatemala, a place that he and Daley had hoped to one day visit, and scattered some of his friend's ashes on the site. He later wrote a memoir that detailed both the trip to Calakmul and his long friendship with Daley, including their many travels together. The memoir has never been published, but in 2012 Luceno stated that he was considering releasing it as an e-book. In 2015, however, he reflected that maybe the opportunity had passed.
Luceno had made a promise to Daley before his death: to complete his friend's unfinished Gamma L.A.W. book series, which Daley had first conceived while trekking through the Himalayas with Luceno and which he had been working on for over a decade. Luceno set to work editing a 1,600-page manuscript, which required him to search through hundreds of files, notes and newspaper clippings in order to grasp the technical knowledge that his friend possessed on the books' theme: military science fiction. Daley's home had been filled with stacks of loose papers and floppy disks that contained notes on his fiction—in the words of St. Clair Robson, "he had footnotes on the footnotes." In completing and editing the manuscripts, Luceno put his own writing style aside in order to defer to Daley's. Despite admitting that it a large challenge which was "extremely tough" to do, he downplayed his own role and attributed the majority of the project's credit to his late friend. The four books of Gamma L.A.W were published from November 1997 to March 1999. 1998 also saw Luceno write the novelization of The Mask of Zorro, which the film's producers wanted to add to their story instead of merely adapting it. They brought Luceno onto the set and took him to some of the filming locations in an effort to help him better grasp the period of the movie's historical setting. In 1999, Luceno and his wife purchased and moved into a log cabin in Annapolis, setting to work renovating it and calling upon Luceno's carpentry skills.
Entering the Star Wars galaxyEdit
Crafting the futureEdit
- "I was brought into the SW franchise as a kind of consultant when the New Jedi Order was in the planning stages. What I thought would be a year's work has since turned into a career."
- ―Luceno on his original role in The New Jedi Order
When Del Rey books acquired the license to publish Star Wars fiction from Bantam in 1999, they conceived of a long, ongoing series of novels that would proceed chronologically. They felt that Bantam's model of releasing standalone trilogies and one-shots in non-chronological order had been confusing to readers and detrimental to character development, and they began working with Lucasfilm Ltd. to plan a series called The New Jedi Order, which would feature new threats to the galaxy and a new generation of heroes. Luceno was contacted by editors at Del Rey and asked to join the project as a consultant, as they were familiar with his work in Robotech—specifically, his work maintaining the continuity demands of an extended story whose fan base was very passionate, and his work wrapping up a long story with The End of the Circle. In 1999, Luceno attended several planning sessions for the series at Skywalker Ranch, the San Francisco headquarters of Lucasfilm.
Other participants in the early planning of The New Jedi Order were Lucas Licensing Executive Editor Sue Rostoni, Del Rey Editor at Large Shelly Shapiro, Lucasfilm Director of Publishing Lucy Autrey Wilson, Dark Horse Comics Vice President of Publishing Randy Stradley, and several editors and authors from both Del Rey and Dark Horse. A basic storyline was developed, as were the series' primary villains: an extra-galactic species of bloodthirsty religious zealots known as the Yuuzhan Vong. Shapiro believed that Bantam's novels had developed a feeling of stagnation due to nothing significant ever happening to the primary characters, and she felt that Star Wars had lost the edge of realism and tension that had been present in the Original trilogy. Her goal was to shake things up and show that the heroes would not be able to count on surviving everything, and the idea of the Yuuzhan Vong killing a major character in the opening volume of the series was floated. When George Lucas vetoed the killing of Luke Skywalker, Stradley suggested the death of the Wookiee Chewbacca. Lucas also nixed the idea of the Yuuzhan Vong being Force-users, but he approved the majority of the series' outline, which was drafted and refined by Luceno. Also written by Luceno was a "series bible," and he worked with author Daniel Wallace to expand the map of the Star Wars galaxy.
Luceno devoured as many existing Star Wars novels, comics, and sourcebooks as he could, although he had previously read many of the Bantam-issued novels as they were published. In his consultant role, he read and commented on every manuscript submitted by The New Jedi Order's many authors, but he was initially unsure whether he would be contributing any books himself. He was eventually contracted to write the fifth novel in the series, a planned paperback called Agents of Chaos. R. A. Salvatore wrote 1999's Vector Prime, the series opener, and found himself tasked with writing Chewbacca's death; when negative fan reaction to the character's demise manifested in scores of hate mail, Luceno commiserated with Salvatore by sharing stories of his similar experience with Robotech fandom. Michael A. Stackpole was set to write the next three novels, a trilogy called Dark Tide, but when a change in plans compressed Dark Tide into a duology, Agents of Chaos was expanded into two paperbacks.
Writing a tributeEdit
- "I really felt like Brian was sitting on my shoulder and helping me along there. Brian was in many ways a mentor for me… I was really glad for the opportunity to pay him a tribute like that."
- ―Luceno, on writing Hero's Trial
The New Jedi Order was designed to be a combination of hardcover and paperback novels, with major events happening only in the hardcovers and the paperbacks filling in side adventures. Stackpole's manuscript for Dark Tide I: Onslaught made it apparent that the series' paperbacks would also contain major plot points, however, and Luceno was tasked in his two paperbacks with writing about Han Solo—specifically, Solo's quest to find himself while overcoming the grief he felt at the death of his friend Chewbacca. Shapiro believed that many of Bantam's authors had not known what to do with Solo in their novels, which had resulted in character stagnation, and Luceno was eager for the chance to develop the character throughout something more than a simple rousing adventure. He hoped to take Solo through a heroic journey reminiscent of the original Star Wars trilogy, and he saw the Agents of Chaos Duology's first volume as a "Han Solo, this is your life" novel. It had a working title of Solo Crusade, which was eventually changed to Hero's Trial.
Having been with The New Jedi Order since its inception, Luceno did not find it difficult to drop into a writing role, but he did spend a good deal of time learning the rules and regulations of the Star Wars franchise. Challenged to write about an older and grief-stricken Han Solo, his aim was to approach Solo's grief in a very adult way and to push the character away from his wife, Leia Organa Solo. Luceno has identified Solo as one of his favorite characters to write, calling him the most human of the Star Wars saga's principal characters, and in focusing on him Luceno was pleased at the chance to write an homage to Brian Daley. A number of characters from Daley's Han Solo Adventures re-appear in Hero's Trial, and Luceno often felt his late friend's presence on his shoulder while he wrote the book. He found a sweet-and-sour irony in the experience, as he saw his friendship with Daley as akin to the one between Solo and Chewbacca.
Daley's works were not the only source material from which Luceno drew inspiration while writing the Agents of Chaos Duology, as both novels feature returning characters from Bantam's various scattered Star Wars books. Boba Fett was even originally going to appear in Hero's Trial, but he was written out due to concerns that the book was adding too many characters. Many elements of the duology were Luceno's own creation, including the Ryn species, who were modeled after the real-world Romany people. The books see Solo get a new partner in the form of the Ryn Droma, whom Luceno hoped would complement Solo and help guide him through his grief. Hero's Trial was released on August 1, 2000, and its sequel, Jedi Eclipse, came out two months later. Jedi Eclipse's working title had been The Crooked Sky. Both volumes sold very well, as every installment of the New Jedi Order performed strongly on the market, exceeding the expectations of the planning team.
Delving into darknessEdit
- "I've been commissioned to write a prequel to The Phantom Menace (due out Summer 2001)—a novel of political intrigue that will delve into the fall of Supreme Chancellor Valorum—as engineered by Senator Palpatine. It's like being entrusted to write about what was going on in the Garden before the serpent decided to chat up Eve."
- ―James Luceno
Luceno had intended for Droma to stay on as Solo's partner after the events of Agents of Chaos, but when letters began to pour in from fans indicating that they wanted to see Solo team up with his wife, Leia, Droma began to fade into the background. Luceno's consultant role continued; he at some point sat down with Shapiro, Rostoni, and authors Troy Denning and Matthew Stover at Skywalker Ranch to discuss the the future of the series. When the planning team decided to kill another major character—the Solos' son Anakin—some of The New Jedi Order's subplots were jettisoned in an effort to spotlight Anakin prior to his demise, including one that Luceno had begun in Agents of Chaos regarding the rights and awareness of droids. The largest casualty of the series' focus shift was Michael Jan Friedman's Knightfall Trilogy, which was canceled completely. Greg Keyes's 2001 Edge of Victory Duology replaced Knightfall and focused heavily on Anakin, and fewer New Jedi Order books released that year allowed Del Rey and Lucasfilm to publish several novels set in the era of the ongoing Star Wars Prequel trilogy. Luceno was hired to write a lead-up novel to Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace titled Cloak of Deception, as well as an eBook novella called Darth Maul: Saboteur. The working title of the former was Vergence.
While writing Saboteur, Luceno found it difficult to get inside the head of Darth Maul, a character with a mysterious background, and to write scenes from Maul's perspective. He tried to imagine what it would be like to serve Darth Sidious, Maul's Sith Master, and chose to portray Maul introspectively after drawing inspiration from the relationship between Darth Vader and the Emperor in Return of the Jedi. In February 2001, Saboteur was released exclusively in electronic format on the websites of online booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble for $1.99. It was later included in the paperback reprint of Michael Reaves's 2000 novel Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter.
When Luceno first saw The Phantom Menace, he was intrigued by the opening crawl and its references to events that occurred before the film, and with Cloak of Deception he ultimately got to write that backstory. George Lucas himself instructed Luceno to write a political thriller that focused on Senator Palpatine and Chancellor Valorum, but he forbade Luceno from revealing that Palpatine and Darth Sidious were the same person, as he considered it to be a spoiler. He did, however, allow Luceno to depict Palpatine as a master politician and consummate manipulator, and Luceno ended up enjoying portraying the two as separate characters. To get inside Palpatine's head, he closely studied all of the character's scenes in The Phantom Menace, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, hoping that he could mimic Palpatine's gestures and speech patterns. He also looked to several of William Shakespeare's works in depicting Palpatine's manipulative relationship with Valorum, whom he saw as a tragic figure. Luceno likened the writing process as being entrusted to write about the state of the Garden of Eden before the meeting between Eve and the serpent.
While writing Cloak of Deception, Luceno drew inspiration from famous authors of political thrillers such as Frederick Forsyth and Robert Ludlum, but his first few outlines were heavy on action and focused largely on the Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and other secondary characters. Shapiro and Rostoni helped him trim down the action until he had struck a balance between politics and lightsabers. After his first draft was completed, he was given the script of the upcoming film Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones, which provided him insight into the inner workings of the Galactic Senate and allowed him to introduce organizations that would go on to appear in the film. At Lucas's request, he included a character from the film in his novel. At the time of its publishing, Cloak was the earliest adult novel in the Star Wars timeline, and Luceno accordingly chose to treat it as an introduction to the entire saga, giving short descriptions of elements of the Star Wars universe that some readers already took for granted, such as Jedi Knights, the Force, and the dark side. He compared it to J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit serving as an introduction to The Lord of the Rings, and it was a unique challenge that he enjoyed, as was the challenge of constructing an entire backstory for Valorum based on a single line from The Phantom Menace. He felt like the entire novel hinged on that one line, and he found the process of thinking backwards to be a great exercise.
Luceno attempted to mirror the three-part structure of the Star Wars films and to honor as many of the saga's conventions as he could; once he had the full story figured out, he treated Cloak of Deception as the novelization of a Star Wars film that was running in his head. One other source of inspiration from which he drew was the Ethiopian city of Lalibela, which made its way into the book. Cloak of Deception was released in hardcover on May 29, 2001, and in 2002, two original works of Luceno's were published by Del Rey: Memories End and Danger in the Fifth Dimension, both part of the Web Warriors series. The books feature a pair of orphan brothers working as detectives in futuristic cyberspace, and an unreleased third book appears in several online databases, albeit with no available information.
Concluding an eraEdit
- "I enjoyed it immensely because I was there from the beginning. There was a lot of satisfaction in being chosen to do that."
- ―Luceno, on being chosen to write the finale of The New Jedi Order
Luceno and Shapiro conferred throughout the production of The New Jedi Order, and when it reached the halfway point, they reassessed what had already been done, and discussed what still needed doing and how the series would wrap up. As Luceno had been with the series from the beginning and had been privy to nearly every idea that had been proposed, he emerged as a natural choice to write the final volume; he was familiar with the characters and story arcs and had a vast amount of information at his fingertips. Many of the series' secondary plot lines were yet to be resolved, and Luceno assembled a three-page-long list of dangling threads that needed to be closed. In all, the book took him nearly a year to research and write, and he found a good deal of satisfaction in being chosen to conclude the series. Someone he was finally able to write into The New Jedi Order was Boba Fett, who had earlier been cut from Hero's Trial.
Luceno devised the book's title—The Unifying Force—from the concept of the Unifying Force, a future-oriented view of the Force concerned with the consequences of actions. The Jedi struggling to find their way through the war had been a major theme of the entire series, and Luceno saw The Unifying Force as being largely about the Force and its redefinition by Luke Skywalker's New Jedi Order. The title also extended to the Galactic Alliance amassing a unified force of fleets against the Yuuzhan Vong, and to the Yuuzhan Vong Shamed Ones, outcasts who would play a major role in ending the war. The author's favorite characters to write in the novel were those who were forced to rethink truths that they had long accepted, including Jacen Solo, Luke Skywalker, the droid C-3PO, and the Yuuzhan Vong characters Nom Anor and Harrar. With Harrar, Luceno hoped to give the Yuuzhan Vong more depth than traditional black-and-white villainy, as he had always seen them as tragic wanderers rather than hateful invaders. He drew inspiration from the Indigenous peoples of the Americas like the Maya and the Aztec, cultures with inherent tragedy, and he hoped to give the book a good deal of gray morality.
Although the planning team discussed the idea of wiping out the Yuuzhan Vong at the series' end, they felt that a merciful option would be more interesting and had the invaders sent into exile. The idea of the primary villain being a puppet was Luceno's and came about in The New Jedi Order's earliest story conferences; he also considered killing Han Solo in The Unifying Force, but he ultimately decided against it. In writing the book's final scenes, he drew inspiration from the ending of the The Lord of the Rings, which felt like an age was coming to a close. He tried to leave the characters in places where fans could imagine them moving on and living their lives, and he later admitted that with the book he was attempting to wrap up the entire Star Wars saga. The saga continued with more books, however, to the point where Luceno believed there were no places left for the characters to go.
The New Jedi Order had not been an easy project, owing to the sheer number of contributing authors pulling the storyline in several different directions, as well as deadlines that conflicted with the authors' non-Star Wars novels, illnesses, canceled books, eleventh-hour changes to the story arc, and the fan reaction to Chewbacca's death. Regardless, Luceno felt that it was an interesting series and a good experiment for Star Wars fiction, and he has stated that The New Jedi Order became more fun and exciting when its plot was completely transformed midway through, thus allowing its authors to do more than just fill in the material between major plot points. He expressed relief when it was finally over, and he joked that he was a Star Wars EMT, with fellow author Aaron Allston calling The Unifying Force "a giant NJO band-aid."
The Unifying Force was released in hardcover on November 4, 2003, and Luceno toured the United States throughout November to promote it. Included in its release was a CD-ROM that included an e-book of Vector Prime and a round-robin interview with Luceno and other members of The New Jedi Order's development team. His next project was a more personal one, as he decided to follow a life-long dream of acquiring land somewhere in the Yucatán Peninsula. Having learned to thatch in Guatemala, he hoped to build a thatched-roof house on the property. He intended to take a long break from Star Wars, but after being shown art of the Battle of Hoth and of Ben Kenobi's hut, he agreed to write the reference book Inside the Worlds of Star Wars Trilogy. Published by Dorling Kindersley, it was illustrated by Hans Jenssen and Richard Chasemore, with renowned Star Wars scholar Curtis Saxton acting as a consultant—Saxton had previously written the fan project Star Wars Technical Commentaries. The book came out on August 5, 2004, in order to coincide with the release of the Star Wars Trilogy on DVD.
A prequel and a sequelEdit
- "Personally, I like the fact that Star Wars films always begin in the midst of the action and leave the backstory for audiences to fill in. But I jumped at the chance to provide the back-fill."
- ―Luceno, on writing Labyrinth of Evil
As the galaxy's Clone Wars unfolded throughout Star Wars media, Luceno read the original manuscripts and outlines of the novels and comics that helped form the Clone Wars multimedia project, and discussed them with Shapiro and Rostoni. He himself was commissioned to write a lead-in to Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith set during the Clone Wars that starred Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the novel, Labyrinth of Evil, was billed as a "must-read prequel" to the film. Although he enjoyed the fact that Star Wars films generally opened in the middle of an action sequence and left the back story for audiences to fill in themselves, he still jumped at the chance to write the background for Revenge of the Sith's opening battle. Luceno was given the first draft of the movie's script and was continually updated on its revisions, and in January 2004 he spent two days at Skywalker Ranch discussing the script with Shapiro, Rostoni, Howard Roffman, and Matthew Stover, who was writing the film's novelization.
One of Luceno's important tasks with the book was to provide a backstory for General Grievous, and he was also able to address certain plot points from Attack of the Clones that remained unresolved. He prepared a list of questions that Stover asked for him while meeting with George Lucas, and Lucas gave input on the back stories of both Grievous and Sifo-Dyas, as well as on Grievous's attack on Coruscant. Believing that the fighting would mostly take place on the ground, Luceno intended for Chancellor Palpatine to be whisked about like George W. Bush in Air Force One during the September 11 attacks, but Lucas revealed that it would mostly be a space battle and suggested that he think in terms of the Secret Service sequestering Dick Cheney in a hardened bunker on that day. Lucas also provided information on Count Dooku's allegiance to Darth Sidious and on the prophecy of the Chosen One, and his answers gave Luceno a good foundation and made him feel confident that there was indeed a book to be written from the story. The author went to Mexico to think through his book's plot, and when he saw a fellow traveler reading Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October and got the idea to write about a hunt for Darth Sidious, Labyrinth of Evil's story began to take shape.
Stover and Luceno stayed in touch, with Luceno reading Stover's novelization as it was being written and Stover reading Labyrinth of Evil's outline and working references to it into his own manuscript. He kept Luceno updated on his progress, but many of those references were ultimately cut. Scenes were also cut from the film as its script evolved, including an exchange between Obi-Wan Kenobi and a Clone Commander that had inspired Labyrinth of Evil's opening scene; General Grievous also emerged as a different character in later versions of the script. One scene from the script that did make the final cut included a reference to the planet Cato Neimoidia, which Luceno used as a jumping off point for his story—he hoped to make Labyrinth of Evil more directly tied to Revenge of the Sith than previous prequels had been. He spoke frequently with Rostoni, Episode III Set Diarist Pablo Hidalgo, and The Making of Star Wars Revenge of the Sith author Jonathan W. Rinzler, all of whom were attending dailies or viewing rough cuts of the movie. He was also writing the reference book Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith The Visual Dictionary, which gave him access to film stills and props.
A highlight of writing Labyrinth of Evil for Luceno was portraying Skywalker and Kenobi as friends instead of their usual master and apprentice role. He gave them a smooth-functioning and light-hearted repartee partly as a counterpoint to the grimness and heaviness of The New Jedi Order, and partly because Labyrinth was the saga's last chance for lightness and humor before the very dark Revenge of the Sith. With Skywalker set to turn to the dark side in the movie, Luceno wrote him as no longer fearing drawing on dark power and in fact becoming infatuated with it, building on character development that had occurred throughout the Clone Wars multimedia project. After his outline received approval from Lucasfilm, he was dismayed to learn about two other projects that were in development: the third season of the Star Wars: Clone Wars cartoon and a comic series from Dark Horse tentatively titled Star Wars: Countdown, both of which were telling the same lead-in story as Labyrinth of Evil but in different ways. Attempts were made to divvy up characters and plotlines, but the animated series was not set to be storyboarded until well after Labyrinth of Evil's manuscript was due. Luceno later stated in an interview with Star Wars Insider magazine that fans may find "slightly different accounting of the same events." The Star Wars: Clone Wars team in fact built their story around Luceno's book, but they departed from its details in order for it to better befit the the climax of an animated series. Brief and fleeting mentions of characters and a planet from the series were inserted into Labyrinth of Evil at the last minute. Countdown, however, eventually became Star Wars: Obsession and told a different story, including the fate of Asajj Ventress, who was originally slated to appear and die in Labyrinth of Evil.
The Star Wars prequel trilogy's political subtext about the rise of dictatorships was carried over into Luceno's work, but he did not try to compare George W. Bush to Palpatine, despite accusations from some readers—the novel's "Homeworld Security" was borrowed from a Dark Horse comic, and the term Triad of Evil was merely a light-hearted homage to what he considered a very interesting phrase. Labyrinth of Evil was released in hardcover on January 25, 2005, and the Visual Dictionary on April 2.
When Labyrinth of Evil was released, Luceno was already working on another book: Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, which was set in the immediate aftermath of Revenge of the Sith and formed a loose trilogy with Labyrinth and the movie novelization. It focused on Darth Vader, Darth Sidious, and a group of Jedi who escaped the Great Jedi Purge, but it was titled and promoted as a Vader-centric novel despite the character's relatively modest role in the book. Originally scheduled for an early 2006 release, its publication date was swapped with Timothy Zahn's novel Outbound Flight and pushed forward to late 2005 in order to capitalize on the hype that still surrounded Revenge of the Sith. Similar marketing to Labyrinth of Evil promoted Dark Lord as a "must-read sequel" to the film.
With Dark Lord, one of Luceno's primary goals was to paint the Jedi and the Sith in stark contrast with one another. He aimed to show how the relationship between a Jedi Master and a Jedi Padawan differed from the relationship between a Sith Master and a Sith apprentice, and he also sought to parallel the story arcs of Darth Vader and the Jedi Roan Shryne—he wrote Vader as walking further and further away from the Force while Shryne moved closer to it. In the book, Shryne was one of several Jedi who initially felt disillusioned with the Force in the aftermath of the purge. Luceno found inspiration for writing Vader after speaking with a LucasArts employee who had worn Vader's suit for a photo session and had described what it felt like to be inside of the costume. He described Vader's role in the novel as "a kind of hero-myth in reverse," and he enjoyed writing Vader due to the rich potential that Revenge of the Sith created for the character.
Dark Lord was published in hardcover on November 22, 2005, and when some fans complained about Vader's small role in the book, Luceno later apologized in an interview for the misleading title. He granted himself a sabbatical from writing following its release, but he was hired to consult with authors Aaron Allston, Troy Denning, and Karen Traviss on a nine-book series they were writing that was set after The New Jedi Order. A scene from Dark Lord was re-created in the fifth issue of the comic series Star Wars: Dark Times, which was written by Mick Harrison (in fact a pseudonym of Randy Stradley's) and released in 2007. The issue featured Vader and was set during the same time period; Luceno was credited in the comic for writing the scene's dialogue. He was also approached by Tommy Yune, director of the Robotech film The Shadow Chronicles, about writing a novelization of the movie, but he did not feel right contradicting what he and Brian Daley had already written and declined the offer. The content of Luceno's Inside the Worlds of Star Wars Trilogy was reprinted in the October 2005 compendium Star Wars: Complete Locations, and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith The Visual Dictionary was similarly reprinted one year later inside Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary.
Poised to pen PlagueisEdit
- "Based on talks with the higher-ups at LucasFilm, I delivered a detailed outline for the novel, and had made a significant start on the actual writing when it was decided that the plot was not going to fly. I was in part to blame for over-reaching. I think I was attempting to button things up too tightly . More important, it was thought that by providing Palpatine with a background, we were somehow stripping him of mystery, and undermining his effect as a character of evil incarnate."
- ―Luceno, on the cancellation of his Darth Plagueis novel
After a multi-week trek in the Guatemalan jungle, Luceno went to an internet cafe and discovered an e-mail from Lucasfilm that asked if he was interested in writing a novel about Darth Plagueis, a character who was mentioned in Revenge of the Sith and who was name-dropped by Luceno in Labyrinth of Evil. He has stated that he "nearly keeled over" when he read the e-mail, as he had hoped for the chance to write about Plagueis but had figured that the character would be be off-limits. He was thrilled at the opportunity, and his involvement with the project was first announced on StarWars.com in June 2006 in an article that projected a 2008 release for the book. Luceno was invited to Skywalker Ranch to discuss the novel, and his time there coincided with story conferences for the nine-book series Legacy of the Force on which he had previously been hired to consult. He attended the conferences, where a story was laid out that would see Jacen Solo fall to the dark side of the Force, a character direction that Luceno had not envisioned while writing The Unifying Force. He had felt that Jacen was the natural successor to lead Luke Skywalker's New Jedi Order, and in a 2007 interview, he remarked on the character's fall by saying "I didn't see that coming, to tell you the truth."
Luceno had a number of discussions with Lucasfilm representatives about how the novel should be approached before he wrote and submitted a detailed outline, working mostly with Howard Roffman in discussing what he could and could not do. George Lucas was also involved with early stages of the project's planning, and Luceno wrote to him to ask if Plagueis could be non-Human. Lucas decided that he could be a Muun and sent Luceno some artist renderings and production sketches of Muun characters; he also gave Luceno other tidbits about Plagueis's character and decided that Plagueis should wear a transpirator mask after having an accident at some point in his life. Luceno initially pitched the novel as a first-person narrative, telling Plagueis's life story via a holocron discovered by his apprentice, Palpatine, immediately after Plagueis's death. Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles novels were a key source of inspiration for that format. Another early idea for the story saw it structured as a race for immortality between Plagueis and Qui-Gon Jinn, unaware that they were pursuing the same goal and inadvertently sabotaging each other's efforts. The story ended with Jinn contacting the Whills, mysterious beings first mentioned in an epigraph in the original Star Wars novelization.
Luceno made a significant start on writing the book after thinking and planning for months in advance, but feedback soon arrived stating that Lucasfilm wanted the book to more prominently feature Palpatine. They felt that Plagueis's story was less interesting than Palpatine's, and Luceno was happy with the directive, as he had believed that there would be restrictions against focusing too heavily on Palpatine. However, one staff member at Lucasfilm was very opposed to some of the areas that Luceno wanted to explore with the novel, and in a 2008 interview, Luceno posited that he had been over-reaching by making Palpatine's background and history too concrete, thus diminishing the mystery behind his character and undermining his effect as a representation of evil incarnate. He also later called his original Qui-Gon Jinn-centric outline "all over the place, way too long, and trying too hard to resolve every loose end." The project was put on hold in 2007, as decisions about the nature of the Sith and their Rule of Two still had to be made. Staff at Lucasfilm also wanted to take a step back and wait to see what Lucas would do with projects such as the Star Wars: The Clone Wars cartoon. Luceno held onto hope that the novel would one day be unshelved, and Sue Rostoni reassured fans that he was an author Lucasfilm was not willing to lose. Leland Chee, the Keeper of the Star Wars Holocron continuity database, revealed that Plagueis remained canonically a Muun despite the cancellation, and in 2009 Wizards of the Coast released a miniature figurine of Plagueis as a Muun wearing a transpirator mask.
Chronicling a legendEdit
- "Some of the interesting things to come out of the film about the Millennium Falcon is that, you know, Han's—Han is surprised that Obi-Wan and Luke haven't heard of the Millennium Falcon. Right away, it suggests, well, what's the story on this ship?"
- ―Luceno, on writing Millennium Falcon
In 2007, Luceno was approached to write a book about the Millennium Falcon, a starship that had become nothing short of a cultural icon. Del Rey had recently renegotiated their contract to publish Star Wars fiction, and during a story conference on novels to be written under the new contract, Pablo Hidalgo and Leland Chee had each independently taken inspiration from the Death Star novel and suggested a book about the Falcon. Shelly Shapiro gave Luceno considerable freedom with the book, telling him that it could be an anthology of short stories if he wanted, as long as it were set in the aftermath of Legacy of the Force and featured Allana Solo, the granddaughter of Han and Leia. The official pitch to him mentioned that it should feature an aging Han Solo being prompted to investigate the Falcon's history, and it described the book as a "love letter to Falcon fans" with "no galaxy-shattering events." The anthology idea appealed to him, but he wanted it to function as a novel; he ended up viewing the final product as a kind of hybrid, though, as the story features a large cast of characters telling the ship's history through the voices of its many former owners. The book sees Han Solo investigating his ship's past in the midst of a grand treasure hunt; writing so many characters, settings, and points of view made Luceno feel like he was penning ten different novels. It was unlike anything he had ever done before, but he enjoyed the challenge.
The novel was simply given the title Millennium Falcon, which Luceno hoped would draw in casual readers. Although it was set late in the Expanded Universe timeline, he tried to make it function as a standalone novel that was accessible to new readers, and he used the stories of the ship's former owners to introduce and touch on various eras in the Star Wars timeline and summarize events that had occurred since the end of Return of the Jedi. He did not want to write the Falcon as a ship with a droid's level of consciousness, but he did want to give it its own origin myth and to give it a history as varied and textured as Solo's own. He had believed there was an interesting history to the ship right from its first mention in the original Star Wars film, and further hints at its past life in The Empire Strikes Back and its cameo in Revenge of the Sith had only added fuel to the fire. Its presence in the latter movie set the stage in Luceno's mind for a full-fledged story, one in which he wanted the Falcon to have been the property of more than just smugglers and soldiers—to keep things interesting, he gave it more unconventional owners, such as a circus. His goal was to have the ship impact the lives of everyone who had piloted it.
While at Skywalker Ranch to discuss the project, Luceno was able to sit in on story conferences for the upcoming nine-book Fate of the Jedi series. Since his novel was going to form a sort of bridge between Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi, he felt that his presence at the meetings was important. As the new series began to take shape, he worked more setup for it into Millennium Falcon, staying in touch with series authors Troy Denning and Aaron Allston to make sure he was doing what they needed him to do. The character of Seff Hellin was created in order to set some important things in motion. The book was initially going to be set in the immediate aftermath of Legacy of the Force, but Luceno argued for pushing it to two years later—although he wanted it to be a much lighter novel than Legacy of the Force had been, he knew he would have to address the death of Jacen Solo, which had happened at the series' end. With those extra two years, he wanted Han and Leia Solo to be able to put the issue to rest and look toward a brighter future. He also worried that the book would be too similar to Hero's Trial if their grief was so fresh, and he additionally believed that a seven-year-old Allana would make a better character than a five-year-old Allana.
At this point in his career, Luceno found it more difficult to write about the Jedi, as different authors always seemed to have different ideas about what the Jedi and the Force were capable of. With Millennium Falcon, he was glad to be writing about more mundane and less ethereal aspects of the Star Wars universe, and he also called the project "a breath of fresh air" in that he was writing a small-scale narrative instead of huge galactic events that needed to advance the plot points of an ongoing series. He was happy to be focusing on characterization instead of having "each line of dialogue read like an oracular pronouncement." Despite this, he was worried that standalone novels like Millennium Falcon ran the risk of being seen as filler novels that were irrelevant to the overarching saga. Luceno inserted several easter eggs into the book, including a description of Han Solo that referenced the song That's Life, made famous by Frank Sinatra. The phrase "The Wook, the Crook, and me," uttered by Leia in the book, originally came from Lucia St. Clair Robson and Brian Daley, and Luceno also credits Daley for giving him his first thoughts about the Falcon, as they used to discuss the ship and compare it to their own junky cars while Daley was writing The Han Solo Adventures. An oversight by Del Rey prevented St. Clair Robson and Daley from being acknowledged, however, as the dedication page was missing from its original hardcover release. Its December 2008 publication date was swapped with Matthew Stover's Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, pushing the release ahead and turning its publication into a rush job. As such, he was never sent the book's galley proofs, and one day he was surprised to find a final copy of the book on his front porch, missing its dedication page and including some edits of which he had not been made aware.
The Millennium Falcon hardcover hit bookstores on October 21, 2008, and StarWars.com celebrated its release with a week's worth of content on the famous starship. Luceno also had two other books published that year: the junior novelization of the film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and the reference book Indiana Jones: The Ultimate Guide, which comprehensively covered Jones's adventures in films, novels, and comic books, but after Millennium Falcon's release he turned his attention to writing some travel literature. In 2011 he tried his hand at e-publishing with an original novel called Hunt for the Mayan Looking-Glass, an action-adventure set during the classic Maya period that was made available as en e-book for devices such as the Amazon Kindle. The ancient Maya had been close to his heart for forty years, and he had visited neary one hundred Mayan archaeological sites, sometimes walking for two weeks with a pack mule in order to reach them. To Luceno, the Maya were very different than other cultures due to their absolute fascination with the heavens and their minute study of the motion of heavenly bodies, and he had spoken to a number of archaeologists and anthropologists over the years to get a sense of what their culture may have been like. In a 2012 interview he named Hunt for the Mayan Looking-Glass when asked if he could wish for every Star Wars reader check out one of his non-Star Wars books. Around the same time as its release, Luceno also made some of his earliest novels available in e-book format via self-publishing.
Plagueis plays outEdit
- "Well, I think I had thought so hard about the character of Plagueis that I wasn't really willing to let him go so easily. Also, I mean, I felt it was a real honor to be able to work with a character that was so important to the film franchise. And, I thought, you know, I figured if there was any way that I could talk them into letting me go forward, even if I had to make some compromises along the way, then I'd be willing to do that."
- ―Luceno explains why he pushed for a revival of his shelved Darth Plagueis novel
When 3-D releases of the three Star Wars prequel films were planned, Dorling Kindersley greenlit expanded editions of their visual dictionaries. The Phantom Menace in 3D and its visual companion saw release in 2012, but the planned expansion of Luceno's original Revenge of the Sith dictionary progressed no further than the outline stage before the 3D versions of Episodes II and III were indefinitely postponed. A project of his on which he did not give up, however, was his Darth Plagueis novel. After Millennium Falcon, he asked Howard Roffman if there was a chance of revisiting the project, and he was flown to Skywalker Ranch to meet with Roffman personally. Luceno pushed for the revival because he had thought so much about the character of Plagueis and was not willing to let him go; he also felt it was an honor to write about such an important character and was willing to make compromises in order for the novel to happen. Roffman had advice on where he felt Luceno had gone wrong with his original outline and how the story could be improved: namely, a greater focus on Palpatine. Luceno was initially wary of humanizing Palpatine and of making him sympathetic, as he saw Palpatine as a representation of evil in Star Wars—he compared it to Professor Moriarty being an effective representation of evil for Sherlock Holmes because of a lack of background. He drew inspiration from the Star Wars prequel trilogy, however, which had told the story of Anakin Skywalker's transition into Darth Vader, and he began to realize that he could focus on Palpatine without diminishing his character.
Luceno spent months making many revisions and submitting many different versions of the outline before he and Roffman reached an agreement on what the book should do. The novel, simply titled Darth Plagueis, was thus reborn. Some of what he had originally developed was carried over, but most of it was scrapped so that he could cast more of the book's spotlight on Palpatine and his relationship with Plagueis. In working so closely with Roffman, Luceno bypassed both Del Rey and the usual Lucasfilm editorial staff, which was a new experience for him. He described Roffman as "George's right-hand man at Lucas Licensing" and assumed that Roffman was speaking directly with Lucas about much of what was going into Darth Plagueis, as it often seemed like the approval was coming to Roffman through Lucas. The plot and story structure were ultimately designed by Luceno, and although some of his ideas were rejected, he later reflected that their axing was for the better. In all, Luceno's discussions with Roffman amounted to about one year of preparation. He had only been given about six months each to write his previous novels, but from Darth Plagueis's initial pitch to its publication, Luceno had five years with which to play. He had not stopped thinking about it after its 2007 cancellation and had done research on The Phantom Menace's pre-history, using both Star Wars novels and Wookieepedia as resources—he believed extensive research was important given how much territory Darth Plagueis was set to cover.
That amount of territory led Luceno to see Darth Plagueis as a sort of untold history of the Star Wars prequel era. With his vast knowledge of the Expanded Universe and the notes on it he had made over the years, he was able to bring in existing characters and situations that were important to the era in order for the story to come together, researching the era in almost the same way he would for a real-life historical book. He was worried that the novel would be a cumbersome read and made an effort not to overdo the references, as he did not want readers to have to work too hard to catch them, but he found this more difficult in the book's third act when the story began to overlap with the timeframe of The Phantom Menace. As well as past continuity, Luceno also minded future developments: he stayed in frequent contact with both Leland Chee and Dave Filoni, the supervising director of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars cartoon, to learn what their plans were for the character and backstory of Darth Maul.
Luceno thought about Maul a lot while writing Darth Plagueis, and after the novel's manuscript was submitted, he was asked to pen two short stories about the character. Ideas for the stories were already floating around in his head, and he felt like they could have been excerpts from Darth Plagueis had he not wanted to keep the novel's points of view focused on its main characters. Luceno worked closely with both Filoni and Ryder Windham while developing the stories, as Windham was concurrently writing a book called The Wrath of Darth Maul. Since Filoni and The Clone Wars's team had very specific ideas about Maul's background, he and Luceno went back and forth until they reached an agreement on how Luceno should portray the characters' transition to Sith-hood. Mindful of the fact that the backstory he had once written for General Grievous had been overwritten by The Clone Wars, Luceno knew he had to be worried about where the cartoon would take certain stories.
Darth Plagueis was Luceno's first opportunity to really write about what was going on inside Palpatine's head without the constraints of not being able to reveal his secret identity as Darth Sidious. He and Roffman decided together that he would not show Palpatine's ultimate plan for overthrowing his master at work, but that he would subtly indicate that Palpatine had his own agenda and include faint instances of the character's own manipulations—as he knew that he could not fill the novel with space battles and lightsaber duels, Luceno relied on political intrigue and machinations in order to keep the story interesting. In developing Palpatine as a young man, he toyed with many ideas before settling on the character as a spoiled scion of wealth, which allowed his sense of the character to grow. He later stated that he gave the scenes featuring a young Palpatine more thought than any others in the entire novel, and the scene where Palpatine and Plagueis first meet particularly underwent a number of revisions. Luceno ultimately discarded much of the material he wrote about young Palpatine, as he was still conscious of the risk of humanizing the character too much, but he did write a scene where a young Palpatine transitions from being inherently evil to openly evil. On Palpatine's relationship with Plagueis, he credits Roffman for always reminding him that the two Sith should be partners throughout the book, plotting together instead of visibly plotting against one another. It gave him a sensibility about the Sith that was different than the one traditionally seen in the Expanded Universe. He also drew inspiration from The Godfather in writing Plagueis as a bit of a mobster, and on creating Plagueis's master Darth Tenebrous, he chose the Bith as the character's species due to their reputation for braininess.
The talks that Luceno had with Roffman revealed that midi-chlorians would have to play a large role in Darth Plagueis. Although Luceno felt that the concept of midi-chlorians robbed the Force of some of its mystery, he knew that they were a part of the Star Wars saga and that there was no way around using them. Aware that they would be a hot-button issue, Luceno drew inspiration from readings he had done on particle physics and described them as intercessors rather than Force-carrying particles in their own right. It was a slight deviation from how they had been described in The Phantom Menace, but he felt that the explanation made more sense and he enjoyed the challenge of bringing sense to the midi-chlorian concept. It allowed Luceno to investigate the Force in a rational and scientific way and to have Plagueis be a scientist rather than a strict mystic; in portraying the character that way he drew inspiration from the H. G. Wells story The Island of Doctor Moreau. Matthew Stover picked up on that character thread with Darth Tenebrous in the companion short story The Tenebrous Way, having Tenebrous experiment in the vein of a classic science fiction mad scientist despite having no contact with Luceno while writing it. The focus on midi-chlorians also allowed Luceno to depict the creation of Anakin Skywalker, but he was not permitted to reveal whether Skywalker was a successful product of Plagueis's manipulation of the midi-chlorians or if he was created by the Force as a counter to Plagueis's experiments. Luceno was told the answer but could not explicitly spell it out in the book.
In Luceno's earliest meetings with Roffman, he opined that there was no suspense regarding Plagueis's death, as Star Wars lore had already established that he was killed in his sleep by Palpatine. In Dark Lord, Luceno had mentioned that Plagueis had transcended the need for sleep, and he hoped to heed his own continuity and to retcon Plagueis's death to make it more exciting and less anticlimactic. He was told in no uncertain terms, however, that Plagueis absolutely had to die in his sleep—there would be no lightsaber duel or other retcon. With that in mind, Luceno asked if the character could still be alive during the events of The Phantom Menace. He wanted to create some surprise, and from his earliest viewing of The Phantom Menace he had felt like there was a more sinister force at play than Sidious and Maul. He got the OK from the top levels of Lucasfilm, and he was thrilled, as he suddenly had so much more to work with and an element of surprise that would keep everybody reading. He thought hard about how exactly Plagueis would be brought down by his apprentice, keeping in mind Palpatine's skills at manipulating others and lulling them into false senses of security. Luceno rewrote Plagueis's death scene multiple times and got input from Shelly Shapiro on how to make it the best it could be, and he ultimately chose to open the book with a preview of the scene, kicking off the reader's speculation on when, rather than how, it was going to happen.
In order to entertain himself, Luceno wrote little bits of humor into the book, including a "Sith Bith" whose name translates to "Darth Dark" and some wordplay involving the word "Muun." He ended up laughing at his own prose half the time when trying to keep some of the jokes from being too obvious. Darth Plagueis was released in hardcover on January 10, 2012, and it was later nominated for the 2012 Goodreads Award for Best Science Fiction. The short story Restraint was included in a paperback re-release of Michael Reaves's Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter on December 27, 2011, and the short story End Game was included in a paperback re-release of Terry Brooks's novelization of The Phantom Menace on January 31, 2012. Despite the new content, neither paperback came with a new ISBN, which made ordering them online difficult for some fans. Luceno took a vacation to some Mayan sites in Mexico in late 2011.
When legends continueEdit
On October 30, 2012, StarWars.com announced that Lucasfilm Ltd. had been purchased from George Lucas by The Walt Disney Company, and that Disney and new Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy would begin producing new Star Wars movies, including a Sequel trilogy. Another announcement was made on April 25, 2014: The new movies would not be beholden to the Expanded Universe, which would be re-branded as "Star Wars Legends" while a new canon would emerge under the oversight of a Lucasfilm Story Group. The new canon would include the six principal Star Wars movies, as well as the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series and the then-forthcoming Star Wars Rebels animated series. Del Rey would retain their publishing license and release books that fell within the new canon. Several of those novels were announced on the same day, including Tarkin by James Luceno. The project had been pitched to Luceno in summer 2013 while he was trying to develop a novel about Emperor Palpatine set during the Original trilogy that would continue the story from Darth Plagueis. He felt like he was failing to get anywhere with the Palpatine novel, but he realized that if he could set Tarkin early enough in the Imperial era he could push forward the stories of Palpatine and Darth Vader while still focusing the book on Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. Although he was initially worried that the Tarkin character would not resonate with casual readers, the challenge eventually became a delight.
Luceno had been interested in Tarkin from his first viewing of Star Wars and believed that the character was as emblematic of the Empire as the Death Star itself, as he casually destroyed planets and possessed ruthless self-assurance that prevented him from acknowledging that the Death Star was fatally flawed. Luceno had a number of questions about who he was and where he came from, and he had discussed the character considerably with Brian Daley after first seeing the film, trying to pin down where Tarkin stood in the Imperial hierarchy and how he maintained what seemed like a genuine friendship with Darth Vader. That friendship and the fact that Tarkin was in command of the Empire's ultimate weapon provided a jumping off point for what Luceno wanted to do with the novel—to explore those aspects, he would need to explore Tarkin's past. He thus had a rough idea of the story and its timeline placement when he went to Skywalker Ranch for a conference with the Story Group, which touched off a number of discussions, including one about the character's past. Luceno did not want to make Tarkin too similar to Palpatine by having him come from a wealthy background, so a suggestion was made by Story Group member Pablo Hidalgo that he come from a colonial planet.
That idea gave Luceno a completely new take on where Tarkin had come from. Although in Star Wars he had been cultured, dignified, intelligent and entitled, the colonial concept introduced the idea that he grew up on an Outer Rim planet and had to work hard to be accepted by the Core elite. It also birthed the novel's plot line of a young Tarkin undergoing trials on Eriadu's Carrion Plateau. Luceno had met colonials who had been raised in Tanzania and Kenya during his travels in East Africa, and he used them as a jumping off point for Tarkin. He did not find the brainstorming session with the Story Group to be any different from his past experiences, as, in his own words, "There's always been a story group." His Tarkin meeting at Skywalker Ranch proceeded in the same laid-back manner as his previous novel meetings in that he sat down with a story group and talked Star Wars over coffee and doughnuts, with the only difference being a few new faces. They discussed what would be happening in Star Wars: Rebels and in upcoming bonus episodes of The Clone Wars—he was even allowed to read the Rebels series bible and some of the show's scripts—and Luceno left the meeting feeling like the Story Group was not trying to steer him away from any of the ideas he had for his book. He thought about Tarkin for another few months before coming up with a formal outline.
With the Dark Times open to new exploration in Star Wars fiction, Luceno reflected on how to portray the era and ultimately decided to focus on the Empire's military might, in contrast to Darth Plagueis being about economic and political manipulation. Five years after the Clone Wars, he wrote the Emperor as still consolidating power and determining who he could trust; he also hoped to suggest that Tarkin's casual disregard for life when destroying Alderaan was based less on him being a psychopath and more on him being an instrument of Imperial authority. Luceno believed that Tarkin's arrogance was a peculiar kind, in that he saw himself as part of an elite and chosen master race who need to supervise lesser groups by keeping them in check in order to prevent chaos and lawlessness. That arrogance stemmed from Tarkin having survived in a certain way
- "Around the Galaxy"—Star Wars Galaxy Collector 7
- "Brian Daley 1947-1996"—Star Wars Insider 29
- "Bookshelf"—Star Wars Insider 52
- "Remembering Brian Daley"—Star Wars Insider 55
- "Bookshelf"—Star Wars Insider 55
- "Bookshelf"—Star Wars Insider 56
- "Bookshelf"—Star Wars Insider 72
- Star Wars: New Jedi Order Round-Robin Interview
- "The New Jedi Order in 100 Easy Lessons"—Star Wars Insider 74
- "Jedi Library"—Star Wars Insider 80
- "Blaster"—Star Wars Insider 105
- "A New Hope for Radio"—Star Wars Insider 127
- The Essential Reader's Companion
- "Launch Pad"—Star Wars Insider 150
- "Blaster"—Star Wars Insider 152
Notes and referencesEdit
- James Luceno on Wikipedia
- James Luceno at the Robotech Wiki
- James Luceno. Penguin Random House. Archived from the original on September 13, 2016. Retrieved on February 15, 2017.
- James Luceno. Fantastic Fiction. Archived from the original on October 12, 2016. Retrieved on October 12, 2016.
- Summary Bibliography: James Luceno. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Archived from the original on November 12, 2012. Retrieved on January 14, 2017.
- James Luceno. Brian Daley: 1947 - 1996. Official website of Brian Daley. Archived from the original on April 4, 2016. Retrieved on October 15, 2016.
- Finding Aid to the Brian C. Daley papers. Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery. Archived from the original on August 9, 2016. Retrieved on May 5, 2017.