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- "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 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. While growing up, he enjoyed watching war movies and TV shows such as Victory at Sea, Wings, and Air Force, and he was an avid reader as a teenager, although he once failed a High school English course. Luceno read 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. He spent ten years trekking the world while in his twenties, traveling to Asia, South America, Europe, and Africa—in the early 1970s, he spent a year traveling from Egypt through Sudan, Ethiopia, and East Africa, and he at one point photographed a pride of lions that were basking in the sun. Luceno has cited Fleming's works as being responsible for several tight spots in which he found himself during those years, including close encounters in South America with drug dealers, rogue scientists, and nascent insurgents. He also read several of Pynchon's books during his journeying, which would often take him weeks or months to finish.
Luceno kept a detailed journal of his own overwhelming travel experiences and of conversations he had with other travelers. 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. 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. When he returned home, he worked as a carpenter for a decade, and he also made ends meet by working as a general contractor, astrologer, travel scout, and rock musician—Luceno played bass guitar in various rock and roll bands that performed throughout Bergen County, New Jersey, and he also played professionally as a session musician in New York City studios. He once worked as a wilderness guide for the California Company High Country Passage. While living in Englewood, New Jersey, Luceno 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 both he and Luceno were dating women who worked at the same restaurant. The two men were also both working on their first novels, and when their girlfriends realized that they were each dating a writer, Luceno and Daley were introduced. The two became close friends, and in 1977, they attended the premiere of a film called Star Wars. There was little buildup to Star Wars in the media, and 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. Luceno's own first novel, Head Hunters, finally saw publication in 1980, and he credits Daley with aiding him in that process. The two also traveled extensively, journeying together to such places as Nepal, Thailand, Peru, and the jungles of Central and South America. They once spent five weeks hiking in the Himalayas, and upon their return to Kathmandu, Nepal, they found a bootleg copy of Star Wars's second sequel, Return of the Jedi (1983), which had only been in theaters for a short time. The two screened it for the porters and Sherpas that they had hired for their trek. Around this time, Luceno sired his first son, of whom Daley was the godfather.
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 began airing its sixty-five half-hour episodes in September 1986, five days a week. It 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. Since Galaxy Rangers failed to succeed in the toy market, it produced insufficient ad revenue to support any additional seasons. Luceno and the rest of the show's writers were disappointed, as they felt that its premise was innovative and new. Galaxy Rangers developed a cult following after its cancellation and was eventually released on DVD in 2008.
- "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
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 ToyFare 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 Del Rey Books, the imprint of Ballantine under which Daley had written The Han Solo Adventures, was set to relaunch the Star Wars universe in novel form, they planned on employing both Daley and Luceno to author the new adventures. The two began discussing the franchise with each other considerably, but when an internal political battle at Ballantine saw them lose the license to publish Star Wars literature, 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. Daley had been tagged to write the first of Del Rey's new novels, and Luceno later reflected that his friend would have likely given the saga a mythological tone as opposed to Zahn's military science fiction. He also believed 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. Rio Passion, 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. He also reflected that the premise and tone of the series was very similar to what would later appear in 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 but was 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 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 Daley's partner 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.
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.
Working in Star WarsEdit
Crafting the futureEdit
- "They first hired me sort of as a consultant, to come over and supervise… sort of the construction and the detailing of this new series, and at the time, I thought that my involvement was going to be limited to that."
- ―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. 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 Star Wars creator 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. He also wrote a "series bible" and worked with author Daniel Wallace to expand the map of the Star Wars galaxy.
Luceno read 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' opening volume, and found himself tasked with writing the death of Chewbacca. When negative fan reaction to the character's demise manifested in scores of hate mail, Luceno commiserated with Salvatore by sharing stories of his own Robotech-related hate mail. 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 yield one hardcover novel and four paperbacks every year for four years, with important events occurring only in the hardcovers while the paperbacks dealt with subplots and side stories. When Shapiro and Rostoni read the manuscript of Stackpole's The New Jedi Order: Dark Tide I: Onslaught, however, they realized that every volume of the series would be vital to The New Jedi Order's main storyline. Luceno was thus tasked with writing about the character of Han Solo, one of the three primary characters of the original Star Wars trilogy. Solo and Chewbacca had been best friends within the Star Wars universe for decades, and Luceno's job was to tell the tale of Solo finding himself while overcoming the grief he felt at the death of his friend. Shapiro believed that many of Bantam's authors had not known what to do with Han in their novels, which had resulted in character stagnation; 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. He was also pleased at the chance to write an homage to Daley, who had written some of the Expanded Universe's first Han Solo adventures.
Hero's Trial, the first volume of the Agents of Chaos Duology, featured Solo re-encountering many of the characters that he had met in Daley's novels. Luceno wrote the novel with the goal of producing a tribute to Daley and a "Han Solo, this your life" novel, and claims to have felt Daley's presence over his shoulder while he wrote it. He found a sweet-and-sour irony in his writing subject, as he had shared a twenty-plus-year friendship with Daley that he saw as akin to the friendship of Solo and Chewbacca. As he had 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, even after having read many of the Bantam novels in the 1990s. In writing about Solo's grief, his aim was to approach it in a very adult way and to push Solo away from his wife, Leia Organa Solo. Luceno found that writing an older, isolated, and grief-stricken Solo was a challenge, but he has identified the character as one of his favorite to write, citing his humanness and the fact that he has not been able to grow and evolve in the same way as his Force-using family.
Daley's works were not the only source material that Luceno drew inspiration from while writing Agents of Chaos: Both Hero's Trial and the duology's second installment, Jedi Eclipse, featured a large number of references to and returning characters from various Bantam novels. Many elements of the books were his own creation, including the Ryn species, who were modeled after the Romany people. The Ryn Droma was a major character in the duology and became the co-pilot of Solo's famous starship, the Millennium Falcon, in Jedi Eclipse, as Luceno and The New Jedi Order's planning team had been seeking a replacement for Chewbacca. Within Agents of Chaos's pages, Solo overcomes his grief by helping Droma find his missing family members, who have been separated from him by the Yuuzhan Vong's ongoing invasion of the galaxy. Organa Solo works to relocate refugees displaced by the conflict, and members of the Yuuzhan Vong Priest caste plot to destroy the Jedi Master Luke Skywalker's Jedi Order. Meanwhile, the galaxy-ruling New Republic fights furiously to repel the invaders. Solo's plotline dominates much of Hero's Trial, but shares roughly equal page time with other stories in Jedi Eclipse.
Hero's Trial was released in paperback and audio cassette on August 1, 2000. Jedi Eclipse was released in the same formats respectively on October 1 and October 3 of the same year. Luceno received mixed reaction to the books, with some of the negative feedback a result of his decision to separate Han and Leia Organa Solo. Both volumes sold very well, however— every installment of the New Jedi Order drew a sizeable readership and 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
When letters began to pour in indicating that fans wanted to see Han Solo team up with his wife, Luceno saw to it that Droma faded into the background after the events of Agents of Chaos. The character played a sizeable role in Kathy Tyers's The New Jedi Order: Balance Point, The New Jedi Order's 2000 hardcover entry, but parted ways with Solo at the end of the book. After Luceno, Shapiro, Rostoni, and authors Troy Denning and Matthew Stover met at Skywalker Ranch to discuss the the future of the series, the decision was made to kill another major character in 2001. Denning's hardcover The New Jedi Order: Star by Star was slated to be the last stand of Han and Leia Organa Solo's son Anakin. In an effort to spotlight him prior to his demise, the planning team decided to shift much of The New Jedi Order's focus in 2001 and cancel Michael Jan Friedman's Knightfall Trilogy, which had been set to follow Balance Point. Gregory Keyes was contracted to write the Edge of Victory Duology, two Anakin-heavy books that would be released throughout the year. 2001 thus saw two fewer New Jedi Order books published than in 2000, which allowed Del Rey and Lucasfilm to spotlight several novels that year which were set in the era of the Star Wars Prequel trilogy. Luceno was hired to write two of the prequel books: a political thriller set just before 1999's Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, titled Cloak of Deception, as well as the eBook novella Darth Maul: Saboteur, which was written as a companion piece to Michael Reaves's 2000 novel Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter.
The primary antagonists of The Phantom Menace had been the Neimoidian leaders of the Trade Federation, who were manipulated by the Sith Lord Darth Sidious into invading the planet Naboo. Both Saboteur and Cloak of Deception explored the foundations of the alliance between the Trade Federation and the Sith. In Saboteur, Sidious's apprentice Darth Maul plays two rival mining companies against one another, which ultimately delivers a star system into the Trade Federation's hands. Maul was a character from The Phantom Menace with a mysterious background, and Luceno found it difficult to get inside of his head and write scenes from his perspective. After studying the relationship between Sidious and his apprentice Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi, Luceno tried to imagine what it was like to serve Sidious and chose to write Maul as a very introspective character. Saboteur was released exclusively in electronic format, and was made available for USD $1.99 on the websites of online booksellers.
When Luceno saw The Phantom Menace in theatres, he was intrigued by several references made in the opening crawl to events that occurred before the opening of the film, and immediately hoped that a novel would be written to tell their tale. That task ultimately fell to him, and he had direct oversight from George Lucas while writing Cloak of Deception. Lucas instructed him to write a political thriller that focused on Senator Palpatine, the alter-ego of Darth Sidious, and the Galactic Republic's Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum. He also told Luceno not to reveal that Palpatine and Sidious were one and the same—that revelation came in 2005's Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith, and prior to that, Lucas considered it a spoiler. He did, however, allow Luceno to depict Palpatine as a master politician and consummate manipulator. Luceno closely studied all of Palpatine's scenes in The Phantom Menace, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, and looked to several works of William Shakespeare in depicting Palpatine's manipulative relationship with Valorum. He saw Valorum as a tragic figure, and likened the writing process as similar to writing about the state of the Garden of Eden before the meeting of Eve and the serpent
While constructing Cloak of Deception as a political thriller, Luceno drew inspiration from famous thriller authors such as Frederick Forsyth and Robert Ludlum but nevertheless wrote an outline that was heavy on action and focused primarily on the Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. Shapiro and Rostoni helped him trim down the action until he had struck a balance between politics and lightsabers. After completing his first draft, Luceno was given access to the script of the upcoming 2002 film Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones, which allowed him to add in hints of senate intrigue and key alliances that would go on to appear in the film. He consciously attempted to not foreshadow too much, but included in the book several organizations and a character from Attack of the Clones, the latter at Lucas's request.
Cloak of Deception was the earliest adult novel in the Star Wars timeline, and as such, Luceno chose to treat it as an introduction to the entire saga. In the book, he gave basic descriptions of many elements that had already been established in other pieces of fiction. He saw it as a risky move, as readers had grown to take things about the Star Wars universe such as Jedi Knights and the Force for granted, but approached it as a unique challenge that he ultimately enjoyed. Luceno  Luceno saw it as akin to the J. R. R. Tolkien novel The Hobbit, which serves to many readers as an introduction to Tolkien's later work, The Lord of the Rings. Luceno attempted to mirror the three-part structure that he saw in the Star Wars films and to honor many of the films' conventions; he treated Cloak of Deception as the novelization of a Star Wars film that was running in his head. Cloak of Deception was released in hardcover and audiobook on May 29, 2001.
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
Although Luceno was busy in the early 2000s helping coordinate The New Jedi Order and writing Cloak of Deception, he found time to write original fiction of his own. Memories End and Danger in the Fifth Dimension, two novels in the Web Warriors series, were both published by Del Rey in 2002. The books featured a pair of orphan brothers working as detectives in futuristic cyberspace who began to be targeted due to information they had uncovered. A third book was planned in the series and appears in several online databases, albeit with no available information.
Halfway through production of The New Jedi Order, Luceno and Shapiro sat down to take a look at the entire series. The storyline had been pulled in several different directions due to the sheer amount of authors working on it, and Luceno and Shapiro reassessed everything that had happened thus far before they began to plan how the series would wrap up. As Luceno had been aboard the project from the beginning and had been privy to nearly every idea that had been tossed around, he emerged as a natural choice to write The New Jedi Order's final chapter. He was intimately familiar with the characters and story arcs and had a vast amount of information at his fingertips. Not all of the multitude of secondary plots that had been developed throughout the series had been resolved, and Luceno assembled a three-page-long list of dangling plot threads that needed to be closed. Despite the wealth of information available to Luceno, the book took him nearly a year to research and write.
Luceno devised the book's title—The New Jedi Order: The Unifying Force—which he derived from the concept of the Unifying Force, a future-oriented way of looking at the Force. As the series had largely been about the Jedi struggling their way through the war, he saw The Unifying Force as largely being about the Force and its redefinition by Luke Skywalker's Jedi Order. The title also extended to the New Republic, who in the book amass a unified force of fleets to attack the Yuuzhan Vong, and to the Yuuzhan Vong's Shamed Ones, who play a major role in ending the war. Many characters in the novel are forced to rethink truths that they have long accepted, and Luceno enjoyed writing about them the most, including Jacen Solo, Luke Skywalker, the droid C-3PO, and the Yuuzhan Vong Nom Anor and Harrar. With Harrar, a Yuuzhan Vong priest, Luceno gave the Yuuzhan Vong more depth than traditional black-and-white villainy; he hoped to give the book a good deal of gray morality. He had always thought of the Yuuzhan Vong more as tragic wanderers than as hateful invaders. Although the planning team had discussed the idea of wiping the Yuuzhan Vong out at the series' end, they felt that a merciful option would be more interesting. The invaders were thus sent into exile after the conclusion of the war. Luceno also considered killing Han Solo, but ultimately decided against it.
In writing The Unifying Force's final scenes, Luceno drew inspiration from the final scenes of the The Lord of the Rings and attempted to instill a sense that an age was ending. In considering how long-running television programs traditionally wrapped up, he tried to leave the characters in places where fans could imagine them moving on and living their lives. The Unifying Force was released in hardcover and audiobook on November 4, 2003. Throughout November, Luceno toured the United States to promote the book's release.
Following the conclusion of The New Jedi Order, Luceno decided to follow a life-long dream of his and began to look into acquiring land somewhere in the Yucatán Peninsula. Having learned to thatch in Guatemala, he hoped to build a thatched-roof house on the property. Luceno intended to take a long break from Star Wars, but after being shown concept art of the Battle of Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back and of Ben Kenobi's hut from the original Star Wars film, he agreed to write the reference book Inside the Worlds of Star Wars Trilogy. He took a short break to build the thatched-home before doing so, however. Luceno's family also owned a log cabin in Maryland around this time, and when not writing, Luceno found time to perform carpentry work on it or to play bass.
A prequel and a sequelEdit
Curtis Saxton, a Star Wars fan and the author of the Star Wars Technical Commentaries Curtis Saxton acted as a consultant to Luceno during the writing process of Inside the Worlds, and the book was released in August 2004. Around this time, the 2005 release of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the final installment of the franchise's prequel trilogy, was on the horizon, and various Expanded Universe leadups to its story were being commissioned and released. Luceno was contracted to write Labyrinth of Evil, a hardcover novel that featured many of the film's major characters and which took place in the days immediately prior. The book was billed as a "must-read prequel" to the film. Luceno greatly enjoyed the fact that Star Wars films often began in the middle of an action scene, but nevertheless jumped at the chance to write the backstory for Revenge of the Sith's opening action sequence.
Luceno was given the first draft of Revenge of the Sith's script and was continually kept updated on revisions it underwent until such time as he was required to submit Labyrinth of Evil's manuscript. He additionally read Matthew Stover's novelization of the film as it was being written. Luceno had also been tasked with writing the reference book Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith The Visual Dictionary, and accordingly had access to film stills and props. He spoke frequently with Sue Rostoni, Lucas Licensing editor Jonathan W. Rinzler, and Episode III Set Diarist Pablo Hidalgo, all of whom were frequently viewing rough cuts of the movie. Luceno was in close contact with George Lucas during the writing process and was able to ask him questions about certain characters. Lucas was unable to resolve certain plot points from Attack of the Clones or provide backstory on some of Revenge of the Sith's characters and events; those jobs fell to Luceno. The condition that he would create a backstory for the character of General Grievous was essential to Luceno receiving the contract for the book, and Lucas provided him with some information that helped him expand and flesh out Grievous's character.
Labyrinth of Evil was released on January 25, 2005, nearly four months prior to Revenge of the Sith. The Visual Dictionary was released on April 2. Luceno's involvement with the Revenge of the Sith timeline continued when he was hired to write a book set in the immediate aftermath of the film that would form a loose trilogy with Labyrinth of Evil and the movie novelization. It was set to follow Darth Sidious, Darth Vader, and a group of Jedi who escaped the Great Jedi Purge that occurred in the film, but was titled Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader and promoted as a Vader-centric sequel to Revenge of the Sith despite the character's relatively modest role in the book. Dark Lord was originally scheduled for an early 2006 release, but its publication date was swapped with the novel Outbound Flight and pushed forward to late 2005 in order to capitalize on the hype that surrounded the theatrical release of Revenge of the Sith.
One of Luceno's primary goals with Dark Lord 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 Darth Vader's story arc with that of the Jedi Roan Shryne. In Dark Lord, Vader walks a path that takes him further and further away from the Force, while Shryne finds himself moving closer to it. Other characters that contrasted with Shryne were several Jedi who were disaffected with the Force in the aftermath of the destruction of the Jedi Order. Luceno found inspiration for writing Vader after speaking with a staff member of LucasArts who had worn Vader's suit for a photo session and who described to Luceno what it felt like to be inside of the costume. Dark Lord was published in hardcover on November 22, 2005. Luceno received a large amount of criticism from fans for the small role that Vader played in the book and later apologized in an interview for the misleading title. A scene from Dark Lord was later used in the fifth issue of the comic series Star Wars: Dark Times, released in 2007, which featured Vader and was set during the same time period. Luceno was credited in the issue for writing the scene's dialogue.
Poised to pen PlagueisEdit
Labyrinth of Evil was the first work of Star Wars canon to mention Darth Sidious's Master, Darth Plagueis. Plagueis was later mentioned in Revenge of the Sith, and Luceno was afterward contracted to write a novel about the character for a 2008 release. Plagueis was a character that Luceno was very interested in writing about, but he feared that the subject would be off-limits due to the mystery that surrounded Sidious. As such, he was thrilled when he was given the go-ahead to write the book. Luceno had a number of discussions with representatives of Lucasfilm Ltd. about how the novel should be approached before writing a detailed outline and submitting it at Skywalker Ranch. While he was there, story conferences for the upcoming Legacy of the Force series of novels were taking place, and Luceno was invited to attend them. He was surprised to discover that Legacy of the Force would see the character of Jacen Solo fall to the dark side of the Force in the years following the events of The New Jedi Order, as Luceno had believed that Jacen would go on to replace Luke Skywalker as the leader of the Jedi Order.
While writing the book, Luceno was once again in direct contact with George Lucas. He asked Lucas if Plagueis could be a non-Human character; Lucas liked the idea and decided that the character would be a Muun. He made a significant start on writing the book, but staff members at Lucasfilm Ltd. reconsidered his outline and began to feel that he was making the background and history of Darth Sidious too concrete. They believed that he was diminishing the mystery behind Sidious's character. and undermining his effect as a character of evil incarnate. One person in particular at Lucasfilm Ltd. was very opposed to some of the directions that Luceno wanted to take the novel, and it was ultimately put on hold in 2007 to be rethought. Before it could be written, decisions about the nature of the Sith and their Rule of Two had to be made. Luceno later considered that he had been over-reaching and attempting to button things up too tightly, but he held onto hope that the novel would one day be unshelved. Although the novel was on hold, Leland Chee, the Keeper of the Holocron continuity database, indicated that Plagueis remained canonically a Muun.
|1996||Brian Daley 1947-1996||Star Wars Insider article|
|2000||The New Jedi Order: Agents of Chaos I: Hero's Trial||Novel|
|2000||The New Jedi Order: Agents of Chaos II: Jedi Eclipse||Novel|
|2001||Darth Maul: Saboteur||E-novella||Also included in Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter|
|2001||Cloak of Deception||Novel|
|2003||The New Jedi Order: The Unifying Force||Novel|
|2004||Inside the Worlds of Star Wars Trilogy||Reference book|
|2005||Labyrinth of Evil||Novel|
|2005||Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith The Visual Dictionary||Reference book|
|2005||Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader||Novel|
|2011||Restraint||Short story||Included in re-release of Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter|
|2012||End Game||Short story||Included in re-release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace|
- "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 72
- Star Wars: New Jedi Order Round-Robin Interview
- "The New Jedi Order in 100 Easy Lessons"—Star Wars Insider 74
- "Launch Pad"—Star Wars Insider 150
- "Blaster"—Star Wars Insider 152
Notes and referencesEdit
- Interview at CloneWarz.com
- Star Wars Celebration VI interview with RoqooDepot.com
- SciFiWire: Star Wars 7 exclusive: James Luceno on Tarkin & EU canon