Interview with Aaron Allston author of Legacy of the Force: Exile (Book 4 of the Legacy of the Force series)
Q:With Exile, you've almost reached the midpoint of the Legacy of the Force series. I know that you and your co-writers, Troy Denning and Karen Traviss (along with editors Shelly Shapiro and Sue Rostoni), plotted the series out in detail prior to beginning. How closely have you stuck to that outline, and how smoothly has the collaboration worked so far?
Aaron Alston:There have been some modifications to the outline. Some big, some small. A lot of them arise because, once we’ve had months, rather than days, to think about things, we come up with better or cooler ways to accomplish things. Sometimes we didn’t get approval to do some of the things we originally wanted to and had to drop back and punt–rethink what we were going to do. At San Diego Comic-Con in 2006, we had a second story conference where we did some revising to our plans for the second half of the series.
But in general, we’ve hewed pretty closely to the direction and intent of the very first story conference. I’d say 60% of what was decided at the first conference is still in the series, which is a lot for a nine-book, multi-author series.
The collaboration process between the three of us has been pretty painless. We’re in regular, sometimes constant, e-mail communication, and nobody’s interested in upstaging anyone else or playing a big ego card. It’s been good.
Q:Do you outline extensively with all your fiction, or just the Star Wars stuff?
AA:All of my long fiction, certainly. Though my outlines aren’t truly extensive. For every chapter of a finished book, my outlines tend to have one or two paragraphs describing them.
My outlines used to be much longer–about ten percent of the finished length of the novel. I got over that about twelve years ago; I no longer felt the need to put every thought or character nuance into the outline.
I don’t outline my short fiction at all.
Q:In Exile, Ben moves even more to the center of the action . . . and faces a number of choices that will affect his future as a Jedi or a Sith. That choice seems to be drawing nearer for him. Can you set the stage a bit for readers?
AA:Essentially, Jacen and Lumiya decide that they need to know in which direction Ben will jump–how he will react to certain challenges and problems. So they separate him from his parents and send him on a solo mission to a nightmarish environment. It’s especially nightmarish for someone so young, and it’s not the sort of test where failure means the lights go up and the whole situation is revealed to be a holodeck or Danger Room drama–Ben could die, certainly answering the “survival of the fittest” aspect of the test.
Q:A lot of the action of Exile takes place on the planet Ziost, the ancient home world of the Sith. Considering how dangerous that planet has proved to be in the past, why haven't the Jedi destroyed it?
AA:Because they don’t have a Death Star?
No, seriously, to the Jedi, I think that would be akin to destroying Alderaan because there are a handful of rebels on it. Should they snuff out the lives of every animal, every plant on Ziost, all of which are part of the Force, to eliminate it as a possible threat? I don’t think so.
Also, Luke knows the value of these weird sources of Force influence, even the dark ones. After all, a similar spot on Dagobah probably helped Yoda hide out for the twenty years of his own, um, exile.
Q:Jacen, meanwhile, has already made the choice that still looms ahead for Ben. Have you been following the contest at www.darthwho.com to choose his new name as a Dark Lord of the Sith? Do you know when the winner will be revealed? And are their plans for more fan involvement in major events in the Legacy and/or future series?
AA:I’m aware of the contest and have seen the list of finalist names. But, no, I don’t know about the announcement, or about plans for future fan involvement.
Karen, Troy, and I had our own silly-names version of the contest a while back. I forget what all the suggestions were–my favorite was “Darth Twee,” and it’s one of the reasons the new starfighter in Betrayal was nicknamed the Twee.
Q:Maybe I'm just sentimental, but even after Tempest, I sort of half-believed that Jacen would wake up to what was happening to him and pull back from the edge. But Exile slams the door on that possibility pretty strongly. If you look back and try to focus on one thing that led Jacen to the dark side, what would it be?
AA:Well, I wouldn’t say that Exile slams the door on that issue, no. But if there’s a factor that has led more than anything to Jacen’s slide down the dark path, it’s his own arrogance–arrogance he doesn’t recognize in himself and therefore cannot counter in himself.
Basically, he sees things that are wrong–in the Jedi Order, in the galaxy as a whole–and says, “These are wrong.” Which is fine, everybody does that. But then he hits on a solution and tells himself, “These are right,” with no self-doubt.
A lot of things contribute to this, including being the son and nephew of very famous people (with an associated need to overcompensate for living in their shadows), the training at the hands of Vergere and Lumiya, perhaps a genetic predisposition inherited from Anakin Skywalker.
Q:I used to agree with Luke that the old Jedi rules against marriage and families were outmoded, but this storyline has caused me to think that those old Jedi were on to something. After all, from Darth Vader on, the emotional attachments that inevitably go along with families have proven a deadly impetus to the dark side. Was Luke wrong to permit and even encourage these kinds of attachments?
AA:I don’t think so. I think the dispassionate nature of the old Jedi Order had just as many bad consequences. But any major change in a society, even as small a society as the Jedi Order, is going to take years, decades, to shake out and stabilize.
What the Jedi probably need is some sort of oversight mechanism, where older, wiser Jedi have the opportunity to observe and even the right to intrude into relationships in order to head off real attachment-oriented difficulties. But that, of course, would be a type of personal intrusion that would appall the people in those relationships, at least for the first fifty or a hundred years of the custom, as well as appalling modern readers, who have grown up on a presumption of unfettered emotional freedom.
Still, one of the things the three of us are trying to do by series’ end is establish the difference between healthy emotional relationships and “attachment” relationships among the Jedi.
Q:Has his embrace of the Sith philosophy turned Jacen into a sadomasochist, or was that quality always part of his character?
AA:He’s not a sadomasochist. A sadomasochist is someone who derives pleasure from inflicting or receiving pain, and that’s not Jacen’s bag. He accepts that the pain of sacrifice is one of the things that keeps him centered, keeps him humane, so he suffers it as a necessary condition of the bad things he’s doing. But he doesn’t enjoy it. (And, of course, he’s delusional when he thinks that it’s keeping him humane, because he doesn’t recognize how he is increasingly willing to make those sacrifices.)
I am alarmed to discover that my word processor’s auto-complete feature pops up the rest of the word “sadomasochist” by the time I get to the “d.” What were those programmers thinking?
Q:Once again, Alema and her twisted notions of balance play an important part in events. Yet for all the pain and suffering she's caused, I can't help liking her somehow. . .
AA:It took me a while to warm to her, but there’s something very brave and quixotic about her. Just about every major figure who is her enemy is far more powerful and experienced than she is–she wouldn’t last five seconds in a fair lightsaber duel with some of them. Yet in spite of the odds stacked against her, she keeps pursuing her goals. What she could have been had she not been mangled and gone crazy . . .
Q:You are one of those writers who somehow manages to maintain a blog in addition to being incredibly prolific with published work. Two questions. First, how do you manage to blog and write? And second, your blog is called “When All Else Fails, Complicate Matters”: do you try to put that into practice in your writing?
AA:Well, I only blog when I do have time. I haven’t had time now in several months, partly because of work schedules and partly because of complications from eye surgery I had in December. But once my third novel for this series is done, I hope to return to it a bit more often.
“When All Else Fails, Complicate Matters” is a motto I adopted, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, for plotting and game-mastering role-playing games. It makes for more interesting RPG adventures, so long as you remember the “when all else fails” part and don’t leap too soon to the “complicate matters” part.
Q:As Jacen's teacher, Lumiya is a pivotal character: yet her motivations remain somewhat mysterious to me. Her knowledge of the dark side and the ways of the Sith are so deep that I wonder why she hasn't assumed the Darth mantle herself. Why does she need Jacen?
AA:At least partly, it’s because she’s more machine than woman, and therefore somewhat less connected to the Force than someone who is mostly biological, and consequently cannot learn some of the techniques of the Sith masters.
Q:Thus far in the series, we haven't seen too much of Jacen's twin sister, Jaina, the Sword of the Jedi. I know you can't give anything away, but would I be way off if I guessed that she's going to play a larger role in the upcoming books?
AA:You would be right. The thing about a sword, or any weapon, is that it’s a good idea to keep it in its sheath until it’s ready to be used.