If you are a Star Wars fan like me, you were sitting outside your local bookshop (or in my case, next to my mailbox) for the better part of six months waiting for Jason Fry‘s adaptation of Star Wars: The Last Jedi to arrive. Star Wars novels are something of a unique beast when in comes to media tie-ins, offering not only insight into major moments from the film, including deleted or alternate versions of scenes, but they also expand the scope of the universe. The adaptation of A New Hope, for example, included not only the fabled “Journal of the Whills,” but for more than 20 years was the only vaguely canonical way that movie fans knew the emperor was named Palpatine.
Touted as an “expanded edition” of writer-director Rian Johnson’s film, Fry’s adaption delves deeper into what has become one of the best reviewed, and, among the fans, the most divisive, episode in the Skywalker saga.
Via email, Fry answered our burning questions about his collaboration with Johnson and his own reactions to some of the, shall we say, seismic moments of the movies.
Yahoo Entertainment: How much backstory did Rian Johnson give you? How much room were you given to play in adapting his story?
Jason Fry: I can’t say enough about how gracious and generous Rian was in trusting me with his story. For backstory, I read multiple drafts of the script, taking notes of scenes that had been dropped, additional dialogue, and the like. Then I met with Rian for a couple of hours at Skywalker Ranch, and he gave me his blessing to use anything that I thought might fit.
In that meeting, we also talked about the characters, what motivated them, and how he’d worked to present them onscreen. That helped me get a handle on the new characters, such as Rose Tico and Holdo, but it also let me understand Rey’s emotional journey — which obviously was critical to making the novelization work.
The best advice Rian gave me, though, was about tone. He noted that he’d tried to make sure the movie kept a sense of adventure and fun even when weighty subjects were being discussed and tragic events threatened to unfold — the way he put it was “lift, not drag,” which I loved. I kept that in mind as I wrote, and looked for ways to supply lift whenever I thought the book needed it, whether it was by extending fun conversations, adopting an unexpected point of view for a scene, or exploring a bit of interesting lore.
You indirectly address some of the criticism of Luke’s portrayal by having him wonder what the Luke Skywalker who had left Tatooine would think of the man he had become. Talk us through your own initial reaction to Johnson’s vision for Luke, and what you discovered writing him.
I see why you put it that way, but the purpose of the prologue was entirely about the story, and not any conversation around the film. My goal was to have the prologue echo Luke’s exile on Ahch-To — in the vision as in the events of the movie, Luke stands apart from a galaxy that desperately needs him. I also saw the prologue as a way to immediately introduce the Force as a presence in the story and almost a character in its own right. Luke grasps that his dream was crafted by the Force as a way to get a message through the defenses he’s thrown up against it, and knows that things are about to change.
And OK, I also knew it would give me an opening line that would make readers do a double take. Guilty as charged.
I loved The Last Jedi and was surprised by some of the negative reactions to the movie. But then I remembered that I’d needed some time to come to grips with the story after I first read the script. Certainly Luke’s portrayal and the way his story ended was a big part of that — since I’d been eagerly reading and watching Luke Skywalker stories for 40 years, how couldn’t it be? But after a little reflection I understood what Rian had done and really appreciated it.
The Last Jedi’s a challenging movie, no question about it. “This is not going to go the way you think” sums it up perfectly. But as I see it, while at first The Last Jedi might feel like a deconstruction of the heroic stories we’re used to as popcorn movies, it’s ultimately a reaffirmation of them. And Luke is the key to that. In the beginning he dismissively asks Rey if she expects him to go out with a laser sword and face down the entire First Order, and in the end he does exactly that.
People aren’t required to like the movie, of course, but I do hope some of the initially skeptical Star Wars fans have had time to wrestle with The Last Jedi’s story a bit, as I did. And perhaps by coming out when it has, the novelization can be a way for them to reconsider that story.
One thing that really helped me with writing Luke and exploring the Force was that it wasn’t my first rodeo. In 2015, I wrote a young-adult book called The Weapon of a Jedi about Luke learning to connect with the Force in an ancient Jedi temple and fighting his first lightsaber duel. Writing that book was my “Luke boot camp,” and gave me a much deeper understanding and appreciation of both the character and the Force. That proved invaluable in writing the novelization — not just for the Luke scenes, but for any scenes where the Force was a presence.
We learn a bit about Leia’s Jedi training in this adaptation. What insight did Johnson and Lucasfilm give you into her time learning to use the Force?
Honestly, that also came from Weapon. I wrote a new scene after the Resistance escapes D’Qar where Leia reaches out with the Force and reflects on training that Luke gave her years earlier. It was a good character scene for Leia, but it also established the basics of the Force: It’s generated by life but overflows the boundaries of the living things that create it. I knew that introducing that idea then would be useful for translating Rey’s epiphany on the island to print, and for explaining how Leia drew herself back to the bridge of her cruiser after Kylo Ren’s attack.
The biggest issue with describing Leia’s training was to avoid confining future storytelling by defining something when we didn’t have to. That’s always an important consideration in telling Star Wars tales, one the editors and Lucasfilm’s Story Group help authors keep in mind. Star Wars storytelling can feel like a high-wire act at times, so it’s reassuring to know those folks are your net.
This book answers a number of lingering questions leftover from The Force Awakens, such as how Kylo Ren survived Chewbacca’s bowcaster blast. What were the biggest questions you were most excited to answer?
The question I really wanted to tackle was what happened between Rey and Kylo in the interrogation scene on Starkiller Base, where he starts digging through her mind only to find her in his. The way I saw it, Rey’s unexpected connection with Kylo threw open a lot of doors in her mind, allowing her to grasp on some level how he was able to use the Force and access those abilities herself. Rey was clearly born strong with the Force, but obviously hadn’t been trained. As I saw it, that strange connection with Kylo allowed her to jump the line, in a way — with time and training she certainly would have been able to mind-trick a stormtrooper or summon a lightsaber to her hand, but that literal meeting of minds let her do those things instinctively and immediately. The peril for Rey was that the doors that had been thrown open wouldn’t shut, leaving her understandably afraid and in need of a teacher.
That’s the way I’d interpreted what had happened in The Force Awakens, so I flashed back to that moment when Rey finally admits her fears in the Ahch-To library and asks Luke to train her.
Johnson has been coy about whether Rey is really a “no one,” but in my reading of this novel, there is little doubt left that Rey is indeed someone who comes from nothing. Do you hope this novel puts the question of Rey’s parentage to rest?
Oh, there’s no way it will do that! Star Wars fans are willing and even eager to go down with the ship when it comes to a cherished theory. But that’s part of fandom and nothing new. I know this because in 1981, my friends and I were still arguing furiously about whether Darth Vader had told the truth about being Luke’s father, and I’d repeatedly cite a line in the Empire Strikes Back novelization that says Luke could feel the truth of Vader’s words. It did absolutely nothing to settle the argument.
One of the most shocking moments in the adaptation is the revelation that Ben Solo knew what Luke saw in his mind the night Kylo Ren was born, implying that he had already turned to the dark side. Was this something that came from your discussions with Johnson?
To clarify, Luke sees that the night of their confrontation in the temple, not the night of Ben’s birth. It’s what causes him to ignite his saber, even if it’s only in a moment of terrible fear that he immediately regrets. There is a moment in the novelization where Leia recalls feeling darkness in Ben before his birth, only to have Luke assure her we all have light and darkness within us. It’s a cool detail I can’t claim credit for — Chuck Wendig introduced it in his Aftermath trilogy.
Rian and I did brainstorm a bit about how to translate the three Rashomon-style flashbacks with Luke and Kylo to the page. That was a challenge in other scenes too: At several critical moments, the film uses the visual language of film for storytelling in ways I had to re-create from a different starting point. The biggest challenge was Rey’s voice-over after the mirror cave. In the movie, we know she’s telling someone what happened, and the shock is that it’s Kylo and not Luke. I spent a few days pacing around muttering to myself while I tried to figure out a way to replicate that surprise on the page. I think what I came up with works, but it’s for readers to decide.
This book confirms that Snoke is not the only dark-side user older than Palpatine, but would it be a correct interpretation, after reading this novel, that Snoke had some relationship with the erstwhile Darth Sidious?
I don’t know. Snoke certainly had to know of Sidious’s existence — he was the most powerful being in the galaxy, after all — but exploring their relationship beyond that was something we decided was best left for other storytellers to tackle. If I were Snoke, though, I would have been very careful about attracting Sidious’s attention. To borrow a line from another beloved franchise, dark lords don’t generally share power.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi — Expanded Edition is on shelves now. The Last Jedi is now available on digital HD and will debut on Blu-ray on March 27.
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