Interview with Troy Denning, author of Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Tempest
Question: Tempest is the third book in the Legacy of the Force series, which you are writing along with Karen Traviss and Aaron Allston. What is it like to plot and write a multi-book series like this with two other writers?
Troy Denning: Honestly, it’s a blast. And it’s not just Aaron and Karen that I work with. There are several editors—led by Shelly Shapiro at Del Rey and Sue Rostoni at Lucasfilm—and a lot of other people from both companies who’ve participated in the brainstorming. It started one Sunday night when Shelly sent a note out saying that she and Sue were looking for ideas for the next series. I pitched something that had been developing in the back of my mind while I wrote Dark Nest, and that became the seed. Then we all got down to the real work of plotting the series as a team. Basically, we try to get together whenever possible—usually at conventions, but we started with a special session at Skywalker Ranch—and develop the big story ideas. The actual process during these sessions is surprising simple—someone just tosses out a suggestion about where we need to go next, and we start building on that. Occasionally, an idea will get shot down, but that’s surprisingly rare. I like to think that’s because we’re all so well attuned to each others' thought processes, but I suspect the truth is that it’s just so much fun we really don’t like to rain on each others' parades.
In any case, it’s a wonderful process that produces some incredible twists and turns in the plot, more than any one mind could produce. And it’s incredibly invigorating. These sessions are six to eight hours of heavy brainwork, and by the end of the day, I always have more energy than I started with.
And I should say a special thanks to whoever invented email. We’d be lost without it. There are a million tiny details that need to be coordinated as we outline and write our individual books, and of course we all have different takes on those details. So we have these enormous, mind-boggling discussions over tiny things like what title a particular character should have or how a space fleet should be organized. They can get pretty convoluted and ridiculous—Shelly once threatened to feed herself to a polar bear—but they’re absolutely necessary. Star Wars readers expect continuity, and this is how you get it.
We’re incredibly fortunate to have people who genuinely enjoy working with each other. I’ve been involved in many creative committees over the years, and sometimes they end up being more about personalities than the project—and that just takes energy away. We don’t have that with the Legacy of the Force, and the credit has to go to Shelly and Sue for putting together such a compatible team. We really do feed off of each other, and that makes the whole thing fun.
Q: In addition to your work on Star Wars, you've written a number of fantasy novels. Do you consider Star Wars to be science fiction or fantasy? Is there a hard-and-fast dividing line between the two genres? Do you approach your Star Wars novels differently than you do your other work?
TD: I do think there is a hard dividing line between science fiction and fantasy. Science fiction is concerned with man’s relationship to his technology, while fantasy is concerned with man’s relationship to his spirit. Star Wars is neither. It’s space opera. It has a galactic scale, its primary conflict is good vs. evil, there’s a strong romantic element, and the laws of physics are secondary to the needs of the story (we all know faster-than-light travel isn’t really possible). But it goes beyond space opera in its concern with the relationship between technology and spirit, and that’s probably why many people consider it “science fantasy.”
I think that’s why writing Star Wars comes so naturally to me. As a fantasy writer, I’ve learned to keep my focus on the spiritual condition of the primary character. I do the same thing in Star Wars—at their core, my stories are always about the hero’s relationship to himself.
Q: Tempest features the return of Alema Rar, a character from your Dark Nest trilogy. Can you bring readers up to date on who she is and what makes her such a dangerous adversary?
TD: I introduced Alema in Star by Star in the New Jedi Order. At the beginning of the book, her sister, Numa, is killed, and that is what sets up Alema for her fall to the dark side. She and Numa were raised in the ryll dens of Kala’uun, and Numa was the only person Alema could rely on. So, she took Numa’s death very hard, and there’s a scene in Star by Star where Luke foresees her fall to the dark side.
But Luke doesn’t foresee just how far Alema will sink. In the Dark Nest trilogy, she falls under the Dark Nest’s influence. She ends up betraying Han and Leia, and eventually the entire Jedi order. Several battles follow—one with Luke and a couple with Leia—and each one leaves Alema a little more scarred, physically and emotionally.
The destruction of the Dark Nest—which has come to fill the place in her heart that her sister Numa once held—leaves Alema shattered in every sense of the word. She’s more dead than alive, horribly disfigured, and alone in a way that she’s never experienced before. She manages to put the pieces back together in the years following Dark Nest—but they don’t fit quite the same way they used to, and she returns in Legacy of the Force completely twisted.
Q:I was intrigued by Alema's notions of balance, which almost make a crazy kind of sense.
TD: A villain always thinks he or she is doing the right thing—that’s one of my central tenets when I write “bad guys.” In Alema’s case, it’s a pretty hard conclusion to reach, but she manages. She has a warped perception of reality, and it was natural to ground that perception in her history as a Jedi. The Jedi were what saved her from life of misery in the ryll dens of Kala’uun. Being a Jedi is also what cost the life of her sister, and two Jedi—Luke and Leia—are the ones who cost Alema her beauty and grace. There’s a certain balance in that—and it’s that Balance that she seizes as the rationale for her actions.
But it even goes beyond that. There’s a theme of balance between good and evil that runs all through Star Wars, and Alema sees that far more clearly than any other character. You need evil to have good; Anakin Skywalker couldn’t have killed the Emperor unless he became Darth Vader first; there wouldn’t be heroes unless there was evil to call them to arms.
Q: One of the major themes in Tempest is the relationship between fathers and sons. There is the dynamic between Luke and Ben, and between Jacen and Han, but even in more symbolic ways it seems that this theme is central to the series. It made me think of a line from the new Superman movie: "The son becomes the father, and the father becomes the son." Can you address this?
TD:I haven’t seen the new Superman movie, but there are some definite father-son dynamics in Tempest. Luke and Han both disapprove of what their sons are becoming, and that disapproval drives their actions.
Luke’s son, Ben, is struggling to live up to his father’s legendary status. He believes the fastest way to achieve that goal is by attaching himself to Jacen and Galactic Alliance Guard. But Luke knows that this “fast track” is fraught with peril, and he’s struggling to open Ben’s eyes to the danger. In a sense, Luke is committing the universal blunder of parenthood—believing that a child can learn his most important life lessons through his parent’s experiences.
Han’s son, Jacen, has already made his mistakes. Jacen has become what Han hates most: a strong, unyielding authority figure. Instinctively, Han recognizes the danger and the evil in that, yet he still loves his son, and he still believes that Jacen can be saved.
Q: Jacen's journey toward the dark side continues and even accelerates in Tempest. Yet it seems that, despite the suspicions entertained by other characters, notably Luke, everyone is careful not to openly accuse him. In fact, it seems as if they're all complicit, eager to look away from the evidence right before their eyes. Why is this, do you think, and is it a weakness inherent in the Jedi approach to the Force?
TD: It’s a weakness of human nature. We never want to see the worst in the people we love, especially our children. Luke and Mara are afraid to see the worst in Jacen because it would harm their relationship with Han and Leia, and because Jacen is so important to Ben. Concluding that Jacen is irredeemably evil pitches them into conflict with Ben, and it brings into question their judgment in allowing Jacen to mentor him. But, even more importantly, the Skywalkers’ own experiences prove that a person is seldom irredeemably evil; after all, Mara was Palpatine’s assassin throughout her early life, and even Luke has crossed to the dark side. If anyone should understand the possibility of redemption, it’s those two.
As for Han and Leia—well, they’re still hoping for the best. They’re very loyal, and they’re not going to turn their backs on Jacen easily. He’s doing wrong and they’ll be the first to tell him so, but they refuse to give up on their son. They want to see him make amends and return to the right path.
Q: There are many paths leading to the dark side, but Jacen's must be one of the most insidious, because it depends upon all his most noble qualities — not their subversion but instead their exaggeration.
TD: True. Jacen started the NJO as one of the purest and most thoughtful of the young Jedi Knights—and he still is. He’s more dedicated than anyone to bringing peace to the galaxy—even if he has to impose it by force. Perhaps that’s because he’s looked more deeply into the dark heart of sentience than anyone else, and he’s been terrified by it.
Jacen is the worst kind of villain—a fundamentalist and a fanatic. Because of his good-hearted nature, he believes the galaxy should be a certain way--just and peaceful. Because of his experiences, he has reached the conclusion that it’s acceptable to do anything to reach his goal. That’s a very dangerous combination—especially when a powerful leader’s worldview is out of touch with reality.
Q: Lumiya continues to be a fascinating villain. It's tough to pin her down as simply motivated by revenge, even though that's obviously a big part of her actions. How do you see her character?
TD: I don’t see Lumiya as motivated by revenge at all—it’s just a delicious by-product. To me, she’s someone who truly believed in the Imperial vision—a galaxy united in peace under a single ruler—and who was bitterly disappointed when Palpatine’s character flaws led to the destruction of that dream. In the past, she has expressed her bitterness through attacks on Luke and his family, because they were responsible for the Empire’s destruction—and her own. But she has never abandoned her dream: she is always on the lookout for a new force that can unite the galaxy under a single, strong hand. From time to time, when a likely candidate has appeared, she has offered her assistance. But now, after watching Jacen, she is convinced that she’s found the one for whom she’s been searching all these decades, and all her energies are focused on her goal.
Q: Will the Legacy series show Luke employing the full extent of his powers? I've sometimes felt that previous depictions of Luke have been reluctant, for whatever reason, to show what he's fully capable of. After all, he is Grand Master of the Jedi order, probably the most powerful and skilled Force-user in the universe.
TD: Very powerful characters suffer from the Deus ex Machina syndrome, and Luke is certainly no exception. Because nobody is sure exactly what his limits are, I think that some readers expect him to be capable of fixing huge problems with little more than the Force. The trouble is, those kinds of stories fall into the superhero tradition, and Star Wars is space opera. The heroes are supposed to face huge problems and have limited resources—it’s the imbalance between the two that makes space opera, at its best, so engaging.
So I’m not sure how to answer the question. Luke is certainly going to face some enormous tests of his strength and character, and he’ll certainly have to call on all of his resources if he is to prevail. But is he going to shove moons around with the Force? I don’t think so. To survive Legacy of the Force, he’s going to have to rely on more than his Jedi abilities.
Q: Are you already working on your next book in the series? And can you tell us anything about the next installment?
TD: Yes, I’m already hard at work on my next Legacy of the Force book. It will be the sixth one in the series, and its title will be Inferno. I don’t know how much I can reveal about it yet, except to say that it will feature many of the same characters who survived Tempest—and that Jacen will finally discover who his true enemies really are.
As for the two books between Tempest and Inferno, they’re not mine, so I shouldn’t drop too many hints. I can tell you this much, though: they’re both going to be fantastic!
Q: What other projects do you have in the works, Star Wars-related and otherwise?
TD: After Legacy of the Force, I’ll be turning my attention to an epic fantasy series that I’ve been developing for several years. I’m very excited about it—and it is under contract—but it would probably be premature to say any more about it yet. After that, I’d always welcome a chance to return to the Galaxy Far, Far Away.