Thursday, August 11

Interview – Author Adam Christopher on Creating His Own Legends in Shadows of the Sith

We all bring our own expectations, passion, and love to Star Wars. For better or worse, Star Wars often mystifies us, whether we realize it or not. Many of us came to the stories in the galaxy far, far away as children. As a 41-year-old, it often perplexes me how deeply Star Wars still resonates each day. So, it was a pleasant surprise when I sat down to speak with author Adam Christopher, author of Shadow of the Sith, and he expressed the same sentiments. Because we live in different parts of the world, there’s a substantial time difference and it wasn’t lost on me Adam spent his Friday night talking Star Wars with a complete stranger. Shadow of the Sith is a unique story and one of the few out there which establishes the state of the galaxy in the thirty-years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. 

 

Before proceeding, I’ll warn this interview contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for Shadow of the Sith. I’d recommend reading the novel first and/or checking out our review here. You’ve been warned.

 

 

First off, it’s a rare privilege for me to speak with Star Wars creators and Adam was delightful. I began the interview acknowledging we’re two grown adults, talking about Star Wars and how deeply the mythology still resonates with so many fans on a subconscious level. I often wonder how deliberate authors are when they approach a canvas like Star Wars, rooted in the writing of George Lucas, who tapped into everything from Flash Gordon to Joseph Campbell’s map of the Hero’s Journey. For Adam, it’s back to the beginning, being a child and watching the film which started it all.

 

The thing about Star Wars is, you look at A New Hope and it’s a samurai movie, it’s a western, it’s a war movie, and it’s a swashbuckling adventure. It’s science-fiction and it’s fantasy. George Lucas put everything he loved into it. So for me, it’s the ultimate storytelling canvas. You can tell any story you want to. It’s one of the greatest modern mythologies. When I came to write the book, there was the fan-side of me and the writer-side of me. I’d done other tie-ins, like Stranger Things, so I know how to guide that fan-side of myself so there’s something other people can read and make sense of. Otherwise, you can kind of go crazy with that kind of story. In writing Shadow of the Sith, I was aware of that mythology of Star Wars. And while you can tell any kind of story, I treated Shadow of the Sith like it was Episode 6.5.

 

While many writers would find it daunting to approach such a impactful franchise, Adam states his approach with a calm confidence and acknowledgment this is no small task but he’s grateful to accept the challenge. Shadow of the Sith digs deep into the lore of the Jedi and Sith, which can be a very difficult topic. The story itself establishes how Rey came to be on Jakku, following her parents fleeing Ochi of Bestoon, who’s been tasked by a mysterious messenger from Exegol to hunt the cloned progeny of Palpatine. While that chase ensues, Lando Calrissian enlists Luke Skywalker’s help after he hears whispers of what’s happening to Rey, Danthan, and Miramir (Rey’s parents are named for the first time). Lando’s daughter has been missing for some time and the galaxy’s most dashing rogue exists with the singular purpose of finding her. When he learns of Ochi’s pursuit of Rey at the behest of these sinister agents, he’s emboldened to aid them while carrying a sliver of hope this may lead him to his own daughter.

 

Shadow of the Sith

 

As much as Luke Skywalker threads hope and compassion through the saga, his presence can be a divisive one in newer stories. Many fans bring their own expectations to who Luke is and what he should do when he shows up in Star Wars stories beyond the original trilogy. Adam seemed well aware of this when I asked him what it’s like to write such a character with such looming presence in Star Wars.

 

The key to Luke is balance. We see him in The Mandalorian where he’s the Jedi warrior. Then we see him in The Book of Boba Fett where he’s starting to train Grogu and he’s the peaceful Jedi Master. In Shadow of the Sith, he’s always making decisions about what he could do and what he should do because he knows the power he holds and he’s got the ultimate first hand experience of what happens if that power is misused. He’s constantly making that judgement through the story. Stick to the path, the good path.

 

Admittedly, I’m someone who brings a lot of expectations for Luke Skywalker, because I want these characters to be more than set pieces who elicit flash-in-the-pan nostalgic reactions from readers or viewers. With a high bar of my own, I felt Adam did an excellent job of balancing all expectations fans have for Luke Skywalker.

 

Adam also understands this isn’t just a story about Luke and Lando. The challenge of carrying the legacy and expectations which come along with these characters is hard enough. Maybe an even greater challenge is developing characters who help carry the story with them. Shadow of the Sith presents characters who are brand new and others we’ve only had glimpses of in other stories. This is another challenge Adam was acutely aware of in his approach to the story.

 

One of the things about writing this kind of book is you have characters like Luke and Lando, who lots of people know, possibly better than people in real life. Then you’ve got characters like Dathan and Miramir. I didn’t create them, they exist in the Star Wars universe because we see them for five seconds in The Rise of Skywalker, but they don’t even have names. So in a way, they feel like original characters. Then there are characters which I’ve created, so you’ve got this challenge because people know Luke and Lando. And they will know if the author gets it wrong. You have to capture those characters perfectly. Because, as a fan, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. And you’re going to see immediately and it just pulls you out of the story. You have to create original characters with the same kind of presence, voice, and story narrative as strong as people like Luke and Lando. These are characters no one has ever met before. So you’re starting at the bottom. These characters have to stand on their own two feet. You have to capture characters people already know and love–and you have to create new stuff.

 

Adam continues, expressing his own attraction to characters whose presence personifies the expression “less is more”.

 

As a kid, my favorite characters in The Empire Strikes Back were the bounty hunters. You see them for one scene. They’re kind of weird, with these amazing designs, but apart from Boba Fett we don’t know anything about them. When I was playing with my action figures as an eight-year-old it was Zuckuss and Boskk, because I could create those stories myself.

 

I often wonder how many Star Wars stories germinated from eight-year-0ld future authors playing with action figures, because I remember the wild stories of my own from those days. It’s heartening to hear an author honor that part of themself when approaching multi-billion dollar franchise.

 

Once Adam established his approach to characters, old and new, the daunting task of the story presented itself. There isn’t a lot of material establishing what went on between the victory in Return of the Jedi and the fall of the New Republic in The Force Awakens. Adam went in well aware Shadow of the Sith needed to be a watershed moment, creating connective tissue between the trilogies. Luke Skywalker, Lando Calrissian, Rey, Ben Solo, and Anakin Skywalker all make appearances. Characters like that demand a strong story with real consequences to the greater Star Wars narrative. Adam speaks about this challenge, as well as continuing the characters and stories other authors introduced.

 

Because we’re in this period where something big has to happen. It’s in this middle period between the trilogies. It’s all very well, everyone thinks the Emperor is dead, the Sith are gone, the New Republic is all great, and Luke is building his temple. Something big has to challenge that, the status quo. So, as a fan of Sith-y things, using stories I’ve read like Dark Legends with Darth Noctyss and this very distinctive lightsaber, as well as the Acolytes of the Beyond. Because we get these little snippets and tantalizing glimpses, you want to know more.

 

Kiza, the antagonist in Shadow of the Sith, a dark side Acolyte possessed by a cursed mask, wields the scimitar, crimson lightsaber introduced in George Mann’s Dark Legends short story “A Life Immortal”. Dark Legends is an interesting source to draw from, and Adam elaborates why when I ask how much digging he did into other canon material, specifically what’s been established with Sith lore. It exists in between what are considered legends and canon. While I used to be a stickler for canon and continuity, stories like Dark LegendsRonin by Emma Mieko Candon, and the Disney Plus series Visions really hit home why telling a good story is more important than adhering to every word of canon.

 

 

Dark Legends and Myths & Fables, though they aren’t canon, I love that they’re fairy tales told within the Star Wars universe. What was the real story which evolved into these fairy tales that are then told around the campfire or at bedtime? Maybe there was actually some truth in those. So being able to tap into things like Dark Legends to borrow some bits and pieces, to not fully explain a story but to hint that maybe there’s a bigger truth. The galaxy far, far away is a larger and stranger place than we know. And as a fan I’m geeking out!

 

Something I often wonder about is how much authors borrowing bits and pieces reach out to the authors who created the stories they touch upon. While preparing for our video chat, I put Dark Legends next to my computer, preparing to ask Adam if there was any kind of collaboration between himself and its author, George Mann. Funnily enough, George Mann will likely be just as surprised and pleased as readers who open Shadow of the Sith for the first time.

 

George knew nothing at all. He’s a good friend of mine and we talk often. I wanted to surprise him. That’s the thing about Star Wars, it’s this great repository we can all pull from. If you want to use something relevant to the story you’re telling then you can use it. Exegol fits the whole theme of death and rebirth. It’s a weird, nightmare Sith-world, but it’s also a kind of place of rebirth and regeneration. Which is why Palpatine’s there, having survived death. So to use that story, I kind of had to. It’s such a visual story, with the scimitar lightsaber, which is super unusual and had to be there.

 

 

Shadow of the Sith introduces some compelling new characters and ideas. While reading and preparing for this interview, I wondered what character Adam enjoyed writing the most. Authors are stewards to their characters and their individual journeys, while also balancing the story and intersection with other characters. This can bring a lot of challenges and joy, but sometimes there is a character who almost writes themself. For Adam, it’s Kiza, who is a unique antagonist to the story, a character caught between possession by an ancient Sith and a Jedi who offers a way out.

 

If there’s one character, it’s Kiza. Because she’s quite spooky and I enjoyed creating her world. There’s a kind of old, Universal-era monster quality to her setting. She’s in trouble. She’s been taken over by the mask and she knows it, which makes it even worse. But she was good fun to write. I don’t want to say the cliche those chapters wrote themselves, because they didn’t, but they were a lot of fun to write.

 

 

Other characters, like Rey and Ben Solo, appear as children in Shadow of the Sith. Rey is present through much of the danger her parents face, so I asked Adam how he speculated she remembered none of this when we meet her in the sequel trilogy.

 

The thing with Rey is she’s six-years-old, not only is this a traumatic experience for her, then she’s stuck on Jakku with Unkar Plutt. She was six-years-old, so she’s locked it away during her time on Jakku. She’s developed a barrier. She hates her parents for leaving her there but she still wants them to come back. You can have two opposing feelings. Then, in The Force Awakens, she has that vision and Maz Kanata says they’re not coming back. Maz can read the truth in her. It’s the truth Rey knows. Somewhere inside her, she knows. She needs to learn about her own experiences and relearn them. Rian Johnson, in The Last Jedi, wrote that whole thing Kylo Ren said. He taunts Rey, while trying to get Rey onto his side by talking about her parents and what happened. He’s not lying, he’s reading that from Rey’s mind. I mean, this is what Rian Johnson said. So Rey believes that. Now, whether that’s the truth or not almost doesn’t matter, because it’s what Rey believes. It’s part of the barrier she’s built up. For a six-yea- old to go through what Rey’s gone through would be pretty traumatizing, so it’s just her way of dealing with it.

 

Many fans wonder when we’ll get more stories about Ben Solo’s days as a Padawan. Other than Charles Soule’s The Rise of Kylo Ren comic series, we’ve seen very little of Ben’s days studying the Jedi ways. Considering his popularity and the compelling story we have the broad strokes of, I asked Adam if he considered using Ben more in Shadow of the Sith. While it would’ve been interesting to put these two into close proximity early on, Adam recognizes how protective Luke is of young Ben. Young Rey is in danger because of her parents circumstance and their arc is to get her to safety. In a way, Luke gives Ben his own adventure, by leaving him behind as protector of the younglings at his fledgling Jedi temple.

 

Ben’s a little bit too young and the danger Luke senses is a little too great. Luke needs to protect people. What I did with Ben, you can see his curiousity coming out. He’s got that curiosity, he’s already got the awareness of the legacy, and at that point, he’s going to be a great Jedi. He was only ever going to be in a couple of bits, while giving a hint of his future. Luke sees a great future in him. For us, the tragedy is we know what happens.

 

Shadow of the Sith is a BIG book. Adam didn’t hold anything back, but I often wonder what cuts have to be made with a story of this size. Surprisingly, Adam suggests very little was cut, and his collaboration with the Story Group gave him the opportunity to tell even more story. Adam’s the second author I’ve interviewed, and along with Charles Soule, has expressed nothing but positivity and encouragement coming from the Story Group. Their job is to encourage creators to tell a big story and they’ll help it fit into the galaxy far, far away.

 

The book I wrote was way too long. I’d given them a few warnings but the finished version ended up being even longer. It’s unusual because you often cut stuff, even stuff you really like. I’m very grateful they just let me go for it. It was a really long book but you tell the story you need to tell.

 

Because authors love to pay homage, whether it’s to Star Wars or other influences, I wondered if Adam put any Easter eggs in Shadow of the SithTimothy Zahn fans will immediately perk up when they get to a certain scene involving hot chocolate, a nod to Heir to the Empire. Adam playfully uses the scene to weave between legends and canon, giving fans something in between.

 

As soon as it’s Luke and Lando, they’ve gotta be drinking hot chocolate. I had to bring that back into canon. That’s the thing, the legends of Star Wars. The story of when Lando first had hot chocolate…who knows?

 

 

There’s also another homage to one of Adam’s favorite Star Wars authors, Michael A. Stackpole, author of the excellent X-wing series. Keep an eye out for the name of Lando’s speeder, the Stack Polaris Stormwolf. It’s a combination of the author’s name and his website. Considering the homage, I ask Adam if there’s a book or author he comes back to for inspiration.

 

For Star Wars, it’s Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover. Matthew Stover did something really special with Revenge of the Sith, which shows what a Star Wars book can be. And then there’s Michale Stackpole, because his X-wing books are just fun. This is Top Gun in space. This is action-adventure, espionage, and all that kind of stuff. Both authors show you can tell any kind of story in Star Wars. In general, one of my favorite authors is Douglas Adams. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of my favorite books. But, the thing is, I couldn’t write comedy. I don’t. I’m just not that kind of person. What strikes me about that book is the imagination and the sense the author is just having a lot of fun making the stuff up. It’s so good that sense of fun is real. Which is why it’s my favorite book. There’s something about it. The kind of x-factor which exists between the lines that you can’t explain. It’s just a book, it’s just a story, but there’s something about it that’s undefinable.

 

 

Star Wars continues to grow across media. The stories in film, television, video games, comics, and books intersect and branch out. Speaking with Adam reminded me approaching them can be a similar process. Nothing will ever fit perfectly into place, but once if we step outside our own expectations and demands, there is a greater story we can see. Not every part of it will be perfect, but that’s what makes it a good story. Adam’s intrepid writing in Shadow of the Sith will hopefully be the first of many stories we get in this unexplored period of Star Wars. Between this thirty-year trilogy gap and The High RepublicStar Wars readers have a lot to look forward to. The themes and mythology will continue to resonate with older fans like Adam and I, while sparking imagination in a whole new generation of fans finding their footing in these stories for many years to come.

 

Shadow of the Sith is available wherever books are sold. Huge thank you to Adam Christopher for his time and Courtney Mocklow from Del Rey for arranging this interview.

 

Kyle Larson lives in Portland, Oregon. When he’s not running trails, he’s reading and writing.

source: www.starwarsnewsnet.com