The Writer’s Block: Special Star Wars Edition

I have to admit, when I heard that there was going to be a new Star Wars movie, my inner geek cheered. When I learned that Disney was also going to release a retelling of the original trilogy using amazing children’s book authors, I thought I had died and woke up on Tatooine.

Two of the three authors have been interviewed on the blog before, Tom Angleberger and Adam Gidwitz – serendipity! The third is Alexandra Bracken, best known for her amazing YA books). All three agreed to let Middle Grade Mafia in on their take on such an iconic movie series.

First, I asked each of them to share their approach to the project. Second question was if there were characters or story lines that served as a foundation for their retelling. Thirdly, each author shared their style of storytelling and how that fit with the episode they were charged with. Lastly, I wanted them each to share a memory that stands out from when they first were introduced to Star Wars.

Episode IV – Star Wars: A New Hope as retold by Alexandra Bracken

Star Wars A New Hope The Princess the Scoundrel and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken

THE PRINCESS, THE SCOUNDREL, AND THE FARM BOY

alexandra bracken

We were given so much freedom to play with our retellings that it actually took me some time to figure out how I wanted to approach it! Even when I was younger, what attracted me most to the story wasn’t the special effects or battles, but the characters themselves–I wanted to be Princess Leia so badly! So I decided to really dig in and expand on the… shall we say, somewhat light characterization that we get in the films. I pitched my retelling to our editor as the “Star Wars Breakfast Club.” It plays with the idea of the simple labels that others try to pin on the characters and that Han, Luke, and Leia occasionally believe about themselves. The narrative is split up into close third person point of views between the three: we open with Leia, then move into Han, and end with Luke.

I had a blast teasing out a few ideas in particular about who Leia, Han, and Luke are. I should start by saying that I was a huge reader of the Star Wars Expanded Universe (now called Star Wars Legends) growing up, so I was coming into the project with a bit of background knowledge and having read a good number of depictions of the three of them. As a nod to my fellow EU fans, I tried to include little tidbits about their pasts that won’t be contradicted by the new films coming out.
Leia ultimately has the least amount of screen time in the film, so I felt like there was the most work to do with her. I wanted to show readers her past as a senator and give a sense of how she’d been dismissed as a kind of pretty princess playing dress up while waiting to be queen–for instance, she describes her frustration at being asked questions about her outfits while on important diplomatic missions. (I call this the Kate Middleton Effect!) I also firmly believed that Leia would have tried to escape at least once before the guys show up on the Death Star, so I got to write that scene in… however ill-fated it turned out to be for her!
With Han, you get the stretch of the story from his initial meeting of Luke and Obi-Wan at the cantina through their Death Star escape. You’re introduced to the Force and the concept of the Jedi through his skeptic’s lens–it was so fun to write Han snark and show his struggle with wanting to believe in something and fear and uncertainty holding back.
In Luke’s section, I was inspired by a subtle note in a scene of Brian Daley’s radio drama adaptation of A New Hope (I was lucky enough to be able to adapt directly from this script as well as the film script!). Adam always likes to describe Luke as being a blank slate as a character and, to a certain extent, I agree with him. But he had a whole life on Tatooine, and, alas, most of the scenes showing him with his friends there were cut. But Daley brought up the point that Luke’s best friend, Biggs (the one we meet at the very end, just as Luke is setting off to destroy the Death Star), grew up wealthier, and with more opportunities than Luke. His family owned multiple farms to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s slightly run-down one. So it was really interesting to me to cast his understanding of his future in the light of coming from a place of disadvantage and it sparked a number of questions–for instance, where did Luke go to school? Of course Biggs got to go to the Imperial Academy–his family had workers for their moisture farms, whereas Luke was told by Uncle Ben repeatedly he needed his help, and his applications were always being put off for another year.
I write primarily character-driven stories, and was very, very excited to delve deeply into each character’s personalities, fears, goals, and hopes. I actually think that being a Star Wars fan inspired my love of storytelling–it was the first time I ever really examined the construction of a story arc and character arcs and… well… let’s just say this author wrote a bunch of Star Wars fanfiction growing up.
My dad was serious Star Wars collector–we’re talking vintage toys, posters, you name it–right up until he passed away a few years ago. I have so many happy memories of the films and going to conventions. I actually do remember the first time I watched the movie! I was about five years old and my Dad apparently decided that it was time for us to be welcomed into the galaxy. I couldn’t really figure out the plot, but I remember being absolutely terrified when Darth Vader came aboard the Tantive IV. I think I even hid behind his chair!
Episode V – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back as retold by Adam Gidwitz
Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back So You Want to be a Jedi by Adam Gidwitz
SO YOU WANT TO BE A JEDI?
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For me, the heart of The Empire Strikes Back, and really the entire original Star Wars trilogy, is Luke’s training on Dagoba. This is when he enters the heart of darkness, the center of the soul, and comes out the other side a Jedi–or nearly one. So when as I wrote the first draft of my retelling of The Empire Strikes Back, I wanted to ensure that the reader felt like he or she was on Dagoba, too, training to be a Jedi like Luke. But it wasn’t working, and it wasn’t working, and it wasn’t working, and I was getting very discouraged indeed. So then I started thinking about all the radical things I could do to get the story humming again, and to draw the reader in. And one of the more radical ideas was, “What if I write the book in the second person?” So I tried it, and the story just started to flow. All the distance between a ten year old (always my ideal reader) and this movie from the early eighties evaporated. You weren’t looking at an actor with feathered hair training to be a Jedi–you were training to be a Jedi. So the first major choice I made was that. And the second was the Jedi lessons. Once you’re training to be a Jedi–well, I might as well train you, right? So I teach the reader how to meditate, and how to meditate while standing on one foot, and how to meditate while standing on one foot while someone throws dirty socks and underwear at you. You know, important Jedi stuff. So I’m very faithful to the events of the film. But the style is something pretty new and pretty exciting, I think.

Yoda was the character that I expanded on the most. Not in terms of backstory, but in terms of the breadth of the lessons he teaches Luke. I have him deliver a parable about a Jedi master who loses his apprentice that is lifted directly from the second-century Chinese text Chuang-Tzu. I also have him tell a fairy tale, as a nod to my previous work (A Tale Dark and Grimm and its companions). Also, I do Japanese martial arts, and the relationship between a teacher and a student is unique–physical and spiritual alike. So I tried to channel that in creating the relationship between Yoda and Luke.
Episode VI – Star Wars: Return of the Jedi as retold by Tom Angleberger
Star Wars Return of the Jedi Beware the Power of the Dark Side by Tom Angleberger
BEWARE THE POWER OF THE DARK SIDE!
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I wanted it ALL. I wanted to pack in everything I love AND everything everybody else loves. And maybe add in a few new things too. But I also wanted to keep the action rolling and very very rarely stopping for a second for breath. So, the result is a pretty thick book… with footnotes!
Beyond the main characters — and I absolutely put R2 and C3P0 in the category — I wanted to pay extra attention to Mon Mothma, Moff Jerjerrod and Nien Nunb.  And the Ewoks…. I want the reader to walk away from this book going, “Mirchiwawa, those Ewoks really DID take out a legion of stormtroopers!!
I really wanted some of that Victorian “dear reader” feel. You know:

“What is the Emperor up to?” he [Admiral Piett] wonders.

The Emperor is up to no good, as you can imagine, reader. 

The very first time I saw Star Wars I was a little too young to grok it all. But by the time Return of the Jedi came out, I was a Star Wars nut, collector and memorizer. This guy, Doug, had already spoiled the whole Darth Vader really IS is his father thing for me, but I still loved it.

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Thank you to Alexandra, Adam, and Tom for sharing with us. I cannot wait to tear into each of your stories and relive Star Wars through new eyes.

Visit their websites and buy their books!!

Alexandra Bracken – http://www.alexandrabracken.com/

@alexbracken

Adam Gidwitz – http://www.adamgidwitz.com/

@AdamGidwitz

Tom Angleberger – http://origamiyoda.com/

@OrigamiYoda


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