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Inside the Head of ‘Star Wars

July 30, 2008

By Scott A. Rosenberg, amNewYork, New York

Jul. 31–” Star Wars” is the franchise keeps on giving, with toys, comics, apparel and pretty much any other type of merchandise you can think of.

And, if that’s not enough, “Star Wars” creator George Lucas is back with another movie, this one an animated jaunt through the Clone Wars, set in between the second and third movies, focusing on Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi as they fight evil Jedis and everyone’s favorite Hutt, Jabba.

Karen Traviss, in town for a book signing Thursday night, is no stranger to “Star Wars” with a few novels under her belt. She has written “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” based on the upcoming film, in theaters Aug. 15.

Is this book a straight adaption of the film?

No, it’s what they call “re-imagining” — which I used to think was one of those weird arty neologisms until I actually did it, and the word sums up the process pretty well. Lucasfilm let me have my head and said, “Okay, tell it the way YOU want to tell it.” It’s great to have that freedom, and Lucasfilm has always been very supportive of my idiosyncratic and journalistic take on the Star Wars universe.

The novel is for adults: the animated feature is for the younger fan — although like all Star Wars, it will appeal to all ages — and there are other books aimed specifically at that age group. So while THE CLONE WARS tells the same basic story, it’s not a straight repeat of the movie.

Before video tapes and DVDs, a faithful reproduction of a film was what was wanted, but now we can dissect a movie on disc at our leisure, a novel can provide something extra, something different, and give added value and an expanded experience.

A novel can do something that films and TV usually can’t — a glimpse inside the characters’ heads. I write very tight third person point of view, so the reader is right behind the eyes of each character, seeing what they see, and feeling what they feel.

You’ll experience what it is to be Jabba, not as a giant slug but as the head of a massive crime syndicate, a being forced to compete in a world dominated by fast-moving, sneaky bipeds — humans. You’ll understand how Dooku sees himself — a political idealist.

You’ll feel Anakin’s torment over his past and his mother’s fate. And, of course, you’ll get inside the minds of the clone troopers — real soldiers, real men without any choice in their lives.

The novel has almost no dialogue from the movie, the characters are depicted differently, and some scenes are very different, but it’s the same story retold with my take on it; as in all my books, whether tie-ins or my original fiction, the core of the story is the politics of identity and the ethical choices everyone faces. .

With the impending television shows, will The Clone Wars era be one that you will return to in novel form? The novel is the first of five books, and I’ll be writing two more of those. The other two are being written by my good friend, Australian novelist Karen Miller. We’ve really enjoyed working on this and spending hours on the phone debating Obi-Wan’s motivation and just how damaged Anakin has been by his pretty hideous experiences.

Who is your favorite Star Wars character to write and why? I don’t have a favourite, actually. The “tight third POV” style that I use is — I’m told by an actor buddy — much like method acting, thinking yourself into the mind of a complete stranger. Writing is like a rollercoaster ride for me, an adventure. I love exploring the world through “playing” people who are absolutely nothing like me.

Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s disturbing, and everything in between, but I always come out changed by it. Characters have changed my mind about some very fundamental moral issues, and that’s the real satisfaction in the way I write — the ultimate learning experience.

I admit that some books have left me really shaken for days, like a nightmare that stays with you. Recreating the experience of, say, bereavement in my own head is pretty rough. I was used to switching off from emotions every day of my working life as a journalist, but in fiction, you have to feel it 100% or else it’s a flat experience for the reader.

I like to write soldiers, of course. I suppose that’s my stock in trade; the theme runs throughout my own Wess’har series, and now I’m doing Gears of War, so I can’t deny that I’m a military writer. I show the clone troopers as the real human beings they are — it’s important to me that younger readers see that, because I don’t want to foster a view that some human lives are worth less than others. The clones are treated as subhuman, but they’re men, and the reader can’t avoid that ethical dilemma — it’s fundamental to the moral subplots in Star Wars.

I believe in truth in fiction, because fiction is dangerous; even in what appears to be an innocuous family saga like Star Wars, it has immense power to create stereotypes and influence readers, so I make sure that I portray fictional men and women in uniform — clones or not — honestly, and with respect. Our real-life service personnel do the toughest one of all; so it’s my duty to make sure I tell it like it really is for their sake — even in Star Wars. The very fact that I have the luxury of sitting on my backside in a nice safe environment and getting paid to write fiction is down to their sacrifices. I never forget that.

How did your other Star Wars novels prepare you for this book? I know the Clone Wars era pretty well now through my Republic Commando series (which continues as Imperial Commando after the fall of the Republic) so this was partly familiar territory. But some of it is fresh fields for me, like Jabba.

A reader told me this week that they never thought they’d care what Jabba thinks, or understand him, but they did. That’s what I like to hear.

There are many sides to any story, and I tackle all fiction as a news story; I start from the premise that it’s real, and “interview” the characters. It’s up to the reader to decide who they believe. I pose questions, but I don’t give answers — because most of the time, I don’t think I have any.

And I see my role as not only to entertain the reader, but to make them think about things they might never have questioned before.

Karen Traviss, Thursday at Borders Books, Time-Warner Center 7:30pm, FREE 10 Columbus Circle at W 58th St (1,A,C,B,D to 59th St-Columbus Circle) 212-823-9775

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