Kevin J. Anderson
The following interview was originally conducted
by writer Doug McCausland in 2014 for the twentieth anniversary of the classic
Legends (Expanded Universe) trilogy, Jedi Academy. You can reach Doug at
Timothy Zahn’s quintessential Thrawn trilogy is credited with kickstarting the
Expanded Universe, it was Kevin J. Anderson who really sent the Star Wars
mythology in a million new directions. In addition to co-penning the fan
favorite epic from Dark Horse Comics, Tales of the Jedi, KJA also wrote
1994’s Jedi Search, Dark Apprentice, and Champions of the Force
(making up the Jedi Academy trilogy), 1995’s Darksaber,
and the Young Jedi Knights series in the latter part of the decade.
Anderson is also an experienced editor, having edited three volumes of Star
Wars: Tales compilations.
recently had the chance to speak with Mr. Anderson as a delayed celebration of
the Jedi Academy Trilogy‘s 20th anniversary (the third installment was
released on October 1, 1994). During our half hour conversation, we had the
chance to speak about a multitude of topics, including long standing fan
controversies like the “superweapon of the week” trope of the mid-90’s, the
characters Kyp Durron and Admiral Daala, and the rebranding of the Expanded
Universe as non-canon “Legends”. Also read on to learn which fan favorite
Star Wars character nearly met his demise in the early 90’s…
really distanced the post-Return of the Jedi books from the influence of
Jedi itself, really throwing the characters into the next era of Star
Wars. Was this a conscious decision of your own, or was this really a
mandate from Lucasfilm?
thing about a 20th anniversary is me scratching my head and thinking, “Wow, that
was 20 years ago!” The main thing was when Dark Empire came out from Dark
Horse, and Tim Zahn was doing the Thrawn trilogy, those were almost experimental
shots. At the time, there was a great deal of resistance in the publishing
house. “Why do you wanna do more Star Wars? Star Wars is dead,
there’s no more movies. Why would you want to do this?” When the Dark Empire
comics and Tim’s books came out, they were sort of independent.
really knew whether Star Wars was gonna take off. Some of the people
behind the projects had great faith, obviously. Tim wrote a terrific trilogy,
and Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy did a terrific job with Dark Empire. They
made history and took off. Tim’s Heir to the Empire hit number one on the
New York Times Bestseller’s list. Star Wars fans supported it like crazy!
Then we were off to the races. Now it wasn’t just a one-shot, it wasn’t “let’s
make a Star Wars book and see what happens”. This was a real thing, like
the Star Trek books that were all over the place.
the second person asked to do a trilogy, and we sort of were in a position that
we knew it was going to go somewhere, it wasn’t just figuring out if people were
into Star Wars. Lucasfilm and Bantam Books had big plans. They realized
there were going to be a lot of books. All of us together made the conscious
choice. I was in a meeting at Skywalker Ranch when this was discussed, whether
the future Star Wars books would tell an ongoing story or standalone adventures
that you could just read one and not another. For the readers who don’t know,
the Star Trek books took the latter approach. You could pick up a book
and it was a Star Trek adventure; you didn’t have to read them in order
and know how one fit with the other.
Star Wars, we decided that this was a history. Each novel would take place in a
certain timeframe, what happened in previous books would have an effect on the
current one. Tim Zahn’s trilogy actually happened before Jedi Academy
started, building up a universe. Once we had that sort of premise, then we can
start mapping out the history. It seemed an obvious thing that if Luke was
trained as a Jedi Master and most of the Jedi Knights had been massacred, but
there were still people with potential to use the force, then he would try to
bring the Jedi Knights back. Of course, that was a game changer, and we had the
chance to introduce a lot of cool Jedi characters to use!
those characters was the young Jedi trainee turned Sith apprentice Kyp Durron,
controversial among both fans and in-universe characters for his extreme tactics
in stamping out the fragments of the Empire, stealing the Sun Crusher
superweapon and essentially going on a killing spree. However, seeing how he
arguably shortened the Galactic Civil War by several years, do you see Kyp as
sort of a “necessary evil”?
a necessary demonstration, because Luke had been warned of the potential of
falling to the dark side. Yoda tells him that training isn’t easy and he needs
to watch out for certain things about being exposed to that kind of power…
obviously, which we can see through Vader and Palpatine and everybody else. If
Luke was just suddenly willing to train a whole bunch of people, it seemed
necessary that he sees that he’s going overboard. Not everybody could handle the
power that he was giving them. Kyp Durron was a very interesting rise and fall,
rags to riches kind of thing. He was an underdog street kid from the lowest
levels of society. He had nothing going for him but his potential to use the
Somebody from that part of society being catapulted into a position of power and
influence, realizing he could do the necessary thing… some of us might think he
went a little too far. In that end, he’s a demonstration that the Jedi Knights
need to be checked and monitored, that they can’t just go and impose their power
and take over everything. And of course when you have a person with that much
potential in the force getting their hands on such a super-powerful weapon, the
Sun Crusher, that’s a very dangerous mix.
same time, who knows what would have happened if Kyp didn’t blow up the Cauldron
Nebula and wipe out Daala’s forces. She was preparing to go on a suicide run to
Coruscant with a kamikaze Star Destroyer.
guess you could look that he did good things, but he did a lot of damage. He
went to the dark side and got redeemed, and to me that’s a perfect character
arc, where you have a naïve, powerless person who gets his power, goes
overboard, and redeems himself. A lot of the Star Wars characters, not just Kyp,
have followed that path.
topic of Kyp and the Sun Crusher… a staple of 90’s Star Wars literature was the
“superweapon of the week” trope. Every year seemed to spawn a new, crazy weapon:
the World Devastators, Galaxy Gun, Sun Crusher, and Darksaber. Some fans think
it’s ridiculous in retrospect; however, the way I see it, you worked in a
government lab for 12 years…
worked in a lab where we did government stuff, we built nuclear weapons and
advanced technology… I know what that attitude is! If you’ve got the technology
of the Death Star, you keep building it! If you have a repressive government
like the Empire, they’re not gonna say, “well, we have enough weapons, we don’t
need any more!” They’re gonna keep designing them. But that’s kind of what some
of the fans were joking about, but they didn’t get it!
wrote in Darksaber was all about that: in Darksaber, the Hutts get
a hold of the Death Star plans and build their own. It’s not another
“superweapon of the week”, that novel is about the proliferation of nuclear
weapons. If you start building these things, what happens when Russian mobsters,
Middle Eastern terrorists get control of nuclear weapons?
back up. In the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union built these nuclear
weapons. What happened after that was they started getting loose, and any old
gangster/thug could get their hands on nuclear plans. That’s the point of
Darksaber: once you have these weapons, they start to proliferate and get
out. So it was based on something I was working on, something that’s realistic
in politics, not “let’s build a new toy that dominates the last big new toy!” I
think some readers just looked at it and said, “Oh boy, it’s just another Death
Star laser.” That wasn’t what the book was about.
Maw Installation employees like Bevel Lemelisk, Qui Xux, and Tol Sivron based on
your real life co-workers?
when you work for twelve years in the department of energy, department of
defense for 12 years, you’re working in a government research lab dealing with
these sort of people. You pick up certain personalities. I made fun of a few
things with red tape and bureaucracy, the fact that anything gets done. No
specific “this character is based on this guy I worked with”… however, the
Twi’lek guy, Tol Sivron…
Actually, the reason I asked is because of the scene where Tol is bickering with
his employees about missed paperwork and protocol as the New Republic fleet is
about to wipe them all out.
that was a specific reference to something that happened at my workplace. The
Maw Installation is being attacked, stuff is blowing up, and the guys on the
intercom are urging the employees to read the emergency plan and find out what
you’re supposed to do, as if they’re gonna dig up the file and read the plan! We
had something like that where I worked… we had this big earthquake disaster
plan. We were told if some earthquake happened and the building was collapsing,
we were supposed to take out our file and flip to the proper page and read the
paragraph to understand what we were supposed to do, and I remember reading that
thinking… “Well, what I’m supposed to do is get my ass out of here immediately!”
was a joke based on a real thing at my work; it made me slap my head that
bureaucrats were that clueless about what people in an emergency situation would
do. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I would do in that situation is
going through my bookshelf and pulling out my employee manual, flipping to the
disaster response pages, and reading the paragraph about how I’m supposed to run
out of the building…
everything is collapsing around you! Anyway, onto Daala. Jumping a bit forward
in the timeline for this question, books you didn’t write yourself. In your
trilogy, Daala is driven by bloodlust, not really motivated to do anything but
inflict as much damage on the New Republic as possible, killing the Dantooine
colony and thousands of Mon Calamari. However, EU writers decided that she would
become the Chief of State of the Galactic Alliance in more recent novels. Do you
think she actually has the mental capacity to have that kind of power?
books that I wrote, she was sort of a ruthless, desperate loose cannon. Fans
complained that she wasn’t as good of a tactician as Admiral Thrawn, but she’s
not. Not at all. She’s a loose cannon who shoots first asks questions later.
That means that she did a whole lot of tremendous things and doesn’t become the
statesmen until years later. After all of the ordeals that she went through and
the crisis she faced, she could certainly grow and learn her lesson. We have
certain politicians right now that seem to be hotheads and speaking before they
think… they go on to become better leaders.
have your own ending/fate in mind for Daala?
[laughs] Oddly enough, I had planned to kill her at the end of Dark
Apprentice! There’s a big explosion at the end where the Nebula catches fire
and wipes everything out. I thought she was going to be killed, and that’s how I
wrote it. I had a whole batch of test readers who had read Jedi Search… I
mapped the whole thing out, Lucasfilm approved of it, Daala was supposed to die
at the end of book two! But man, the test readers wanted to lock me into a room
until I rewrote it because they liked the character so much! We basically
brought her back from the dead and kept her going. Yes, I was going to kill her
in book two, so she’s already lived a lot longer than I ever imagined!
under the impression that you wanted to kill Mon Mothma in Champions of the
Force, but the idea was vetoed by Lucasfilm.
suggested Mon Mothma to be killed… we were writing these novels to show the
readers that things could change in this universe. This isn’t one of the things
where everything’s the same at the end of the book as it is in the beginning. We
were writing the history of the New Republic: characters change, people die. At
the time, they weren’t quite ready to kill off Mon Mothma, although when you
watch the movies, she has one little scene and line. However, she’s important to
the government of the New Republic. I proposed killing her, but they at the time
decided to let her get better, so I wrote it that way. Of course, my next book,
Darksaber, I killed off Crix Madine… thank goodness I didn’t suggest
killing off Chewbacca, though! [Read: Vector Prime, R.A. Salvatore, 2001]
[laughs] Did you have any other big ideas that were shot down by Lucasfilm?
a whole bunch of brainstorming… “how ‘bout we do this, how ‘bout we do that?” It
seemed that we would paint a target on Lando’s back, that we could get rid of
him… [Lucasfilm] decided not to get rid of Lando! I mean, from a writer’s
perspective, he was a character who had run his course. But we had done extra
things with him since then, so I’m glad he’s still around. I’m sure Billy Dee
Williams is glad he’s still around. [laughs]
all kinds of things, so many projects. I had a total of 54 Lucasfilm projects,
if you count all the Dark Horse comics, anthologies, Cantina pop up books… they
sure let me do so many things. I couldn’t remember if there were any instances
where I’d have a tantrum because they didn’t let me do something. [laughs] If I
suggest something, and they had a thumbs down, I would suggest something else!
have a lot of experience behind the scenes really putting this universe
time, we were all a team of authors. I was in contact with Dave Wolverton, Kathy
Tyers, Mike Stackpole, and Tim Zahn, along with Tom Veitch a great deal with
Tales of the Jedi comics. We were like a small team exchanging ideas. Tim
Zahn would plant something in The Last Command that I picked up on in
Jedi Search, and we did that sort of stuff. I’ve been out of the loop for a
while, I’m not sure if Lucasfilm writers do the same thing now, but we had a
great little team who were building the history of this universe. We were like
the worker bees building a foundation.
sure you know about the status of the EU now, right?
mean the whole “Legends” thing.
Did this news affect you at all, when it was announced?
know, that’s probably the question I get asked more than anything else from
Star Wars fans. A lot of them have righteous dignation and come to my
defense, or to everybody else’s defense, but it’s been twenty years, and I don’t
even know what printing we’re in? We’re fifty something printings into Jedi
imagined that if they made sequels to the movies, they would pick up on my
novels and film them. We were writing our own Expanded Universe books. If you
were JJ Abrams, you wouldn’t want to rely on the hundred something books that
have been written, you’d want to do your own thing! I’m perfectly content with
that. As a writer in the Star Wars universe, I’ve seen a lot of my ideas picked
up and seeded into The Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons. They put
some of [EU authors’] ideas in the Special Edition. That’s really cool.
you see Darth Maul, when he turns on his double lightsaber, I can point at it
and say, “Hey, that’s what we created in the Tales of the Jedi comics!”
That’s cool, from a writer’s perspective it makes me so excited to see that sort
of stuff. Lucasfilm owns all that stuff; we were writers for hire. Whatever we
did, they could do what they want with it. I certainly wouldn’t complain if they
wanted to do Jedi Search as a movie. But I never, ever expected it.
trades reported a while back that a solar-system destroying weapon and Yavin 4,
possibly the Jedi Academy, would be appearing in the sequels. We’ll have to see
would be cool! I would love that, but I’m not counting on it.
want to backtrack a little bit before we wind down, picking up on a line from
Dark Apprentice. Lando and Han are discussing the pharmaceutical uses of
glitterstim spice from Kessel, and Lando says to Han something along the lines
of, “I know you wouldn’t have smuggled spice if you didn’t know the benefits of
the substance.” Is Han really not as much of scoundrel as we were led to believe
in the original Star Wars?
was actually from some discussions with the Lucasfilm people. I was writing Han
going into the spice mines of Kessel, where he used to smuggle the spice out. I
was told by some politically correct people at Lucasfilm, “Spice can’t be a drug
because Han was smuggling it… that makes Han a drug dealer! You can’t have one
of our main characters be a drug dealer!” I said, “It’s spice, and he’s running
Imperial blockades, what did you think it was?” They said, “Well, it’s like a
food flavoring!” He’s not gonna be flying through Imperial blockades with a ship
full of oregano! [laughs] It was actually a discussion.
didn’t want Han Solo to be a guy smuggling drugs, because he’s one of our good
guys. I went, “You know he was a scoundrel, and he redeemed himself and joined
the Rebel Alliance?” It got to the point that we were butting heads enough that
we sent a letter to George Lucas to settle our conflict: was space a drug? A
food additive? Something else? George wrote back. I love this; he wrote back,
“Of course it’s a drug!” My compromise was to not make it something like crystal
meth that people were dying from; we had to make some decent aspects of it. Han
still is our main character, you don’t want him to be Walter White selling
you ever return to Star Wars if you were asked?
absolutely. I love Star Wars! It made my career, and I went to see Star Wars the
first week it came out. Yes, I’m that old. It’s a big influence on my life and
I’d love to do it. The real problem for me is twofold: I’m running a publishing
company, I’ve got a whole bunch of books under contract, I do seminars and
several trade shows a year, so fitting it into the schedule is tough. The
hardest part right now is getting up to speed again. When I was writing the
Jedi Academy trilogy, it was an unexplored landscape, and we could make up a
bunch of stuff. Right now, even when you take the old EU books and call them
Legends, there’s so many books I haven’t read, so much has happened, and it
would be hard for me to jump into it again. I’m sure we could figure out
something if they wanted me to write a Rebels episode…
would be a cool gig.
a lot of potential there that we could work on. We’ll see. I loved my time with
Star Wars, I’m pleased with what I did, and I’m amazed the fans are still around
after twenty years, people who come up to get their battered old books signed to
say it’s the first book they ever read. It makes me feel satisfied with the
I go, I’m going to ask you this on behalf of Jedi Council Forums member Unicus
to provide some much needed closure: Was the Sith Lord Ludo Kreshh’s name a pun
on the word “ludicrous”?!?
all. [laughs] Not at all, sorry! I think I got it from the movie Labyrinth,
that big, hairy, crusty creature was named Ludo, if I remember correctly. I
don’t know where Kressh came from. He’s just reading too much into it. [laughs]