Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our fifty-fifth guest has written articles for the Star Wars Insider, the official website, the Wizards of the Coast site, Star Wars Gamer, the Star Wars Fact Files and Vader: The Ultimate Guide. He’s a member of the Star Wars Fanboy Association – Abel G. Peña.
Lightsabre – Abel, welcome to Lightsabre.
AGP – Thank you, brother. My pleasure!
Lightsabre – You’ve taken your love for Star Wars from being one of the many dedicated members of fandom to an impressive resume of writing. How did you manage that?
AGP – Trust me, I’ve asked myself the same thing. First and foremost, I believed I was a good writer and could do Star Wars in a way that I’d only seen glimpses of: as a truly all-encompassing, cohesive universe. So in the late 90s I wrote a pair of fan fiction stories and some essays for the Star Wars Fanboy Association. The response was very favorable from the right people, so that heartened me… I did have something here. Conviction and persistence go hand in hand. One thing that was clear to me was that my objective with Star Wars was to write fiction, stories told in the Star Wars universe. Everything else was a means to an end or a heartfelt exception to the rule.
Early on I tried pitching something to the original Star Wars roleplaying game licensee West End Games, but before I’d even half-assed my teenage way to a sale, the company went bankrupt. But I was rather determined. At that point I began buying up their stuff at wholesale prices to bone up on my Star Wars minutia, figuring that if and when a chance of writing for Lucasfilm ever came up again, I’d be ready. That chance came in 2000, when Wizards of the Coast picked up the rpg license. The call went out for writers and no previous publishing experience was necessary, just balls and good prose. My first pitch was rejected, and my second pitch, published as “The Emperor’s Pawns” in Star Wars Gamer #5, became my calling card. The story from there is much of the same.
Lightsabre – Tell us something of your career. Where did you begin in writing and what led you to your many varied projects?
AGP – I’ve been writing stories since I was at least five or six; what drove me to, who knows. That’s not very unique, of course, but I do know that even at that early age my writing had an atypical gravity: my stories often ended with the hero dying or martyring himself, or the bad guy winning. I attribute this at least in part to the resonance I felt as a kid with Darth Vader death in Return of the Jedi. I’ve always been particularly moved by tragedy and irony, themes that skulk around my Star Wars work today, from the grim background I created for General Grievous to the misguided hatred of Boba Fett’s daughter, Ailyn Vel, for her father.
Unpredictability is the other driving force behind my writing. Again, that seems like a vacuous thing to say, but what I mean is that when you jump in the Abelmobile and we get where the story’s going, you should say, “Oh… we’re going here? Holy $#@!” There’s a certain satisfaction and also a distinct horror to the rencontre. This feeling becomes more difficult to induce the more you write, obviously, because our brains tend to think in certain patterns. So I try to branch out. The recent “Underworld” projects I co-wrote with Ryan Kaufman for Star Wars Insider and StarWars.com are a good example of expanding my noodle
Lightsabre – What is it like to be a part of the Star Wars phenomenon?
AGP – Hard to fathom, really. Here I am watching Star Wars as a kid, awed by the Force, lasers, and aliens, and a few decades later, I’m writing about the Force, lasers, and aliens. It really doesn’t register most of the time.
I do think Star Wars is really the modern day myth. I know that if I never do anything else, my Star Wars writing has the best chance of outlasting me.
Lightsabre – Your writing covers many areas, from Dark Forces to the Sith Dynasties, but what subject interests you the most?
AGP – The Force, hands down. Jedi, Sith, lightsabers, amulets, Force crystals, even midi-chlorians. Imagine, a world where magic is real. The ramifications are mind-boggling. I like working with that crazy possibility. It invites the ultimate exercise of the imagination, especially when you have to make it work believably with all the regular goodness a universe offers. Science and philosophy are nuts enough without having to take the viability of hocus-pocus into consideration. It’s a fun challenge. Droids, Technology and the Force was probably the most overt mixture of all these elements.
The dark side of the Force is especially attractive to write about, because it combines the concept of unlimited power with careless ambition. That’s a keg of dynamite waiting to go off, and ‘splosions are terrifying fun. It’s also obviously cathartic.
Lightsabre – Working on the official site, the Insider and other official projects means you are in regular contact with Lucasfilm. How exciting is it being in working contact with the very place you’ve loved as a fan for so long?
AGP – It’s surreal working with Lucasfilm for what it represents: legitimate contributions to a world I grew up on and love. The folks at Lucasfilm are good-natured people who care a lot about George’s baby. I do my best to make them happy by writing the kinds of things I want to write about.
Lightsabre – You are immortalized forever as the face of a Star Wars character, the Jedi Knight Halagad Ventor. How did this come about, and how did it feel to be drawn by the amazing Joe Corroney?
AGP – Halagad, yeah. That whole thing trips me out. Well, Halagad Ventor was a Jedi character in a little-known Star Wars RPG module called Domain of Evil, in which he’s identified as nothing less pivotal than the betrayer of the Jedi Order to the Empire. I felt an immediate connection to the character, not only because of his critical role in the Star Wars story, but the fact that hardly anyone knew about him. I suppose I had a rather narcissistic humility going on there. I adopted his name as my online moniker all over the web.
Joe Corroney is an amazing artist. He’s illustrated my Star Wars work almost exclusively since my very first project. So when Joe found himself illustrating a piece for Star Wars Insider in which my buddy Dan Wallace made an in-joke reference to the Jedi Halagad, he couldn’t resist. Joe has a very photo-realistic style, so when he saw that the original illustrations of Halagad from Domain of Evil weren’t that clearly defined, he told me he wanted to draw me as the character. That’s an offer you can’t refuse.
Halagad’s a fabulous pitiful character, but if he were a real person, I probably wouldn’t think too much of him. C’mon sucka, how are you gonna betray the Jedi? At least, like Anakin, he comes back to the good side.
Lightsabre – Which of the myriad Star Wars characters do you feel the most affinity for?
To me, Star Wars will always be “from the adventures of Luke Skywalker.” As heroes go, I don’t like Anakin very much, or Han for that matter. Those guys just need to suck it up and do the right thing, which they do eventually. “Do I help these people in need or help myself?” Oh no, what a dilemma for you! Luke redeems his father and saves the galaxy through his selflessness. That’s a hero.
Obi-Wan and Lando are interesting characters because they’re good men dealt the rawest of deals on screen. “Hey Lando, we need you to betray your homeboy Han, is that cool? Otherwise we’re not only gonna kill you, but enslave your people or just blast Cloud City to bits.” How about Obi-Wan: “Hey Obi, I know you’re straight as an arrow and still just a young punk, but before I die I want you to promise to take this immaculately conceived, nine-year-old we just took from his single mom who’s the most powerful Force-user who ever lived and has much anger and fear in him as your apprentice. Think you can handle that?” But the beautiful thing is, despite their failures, neither of these guys buckles. They come right back and make amends, Obi-Wan remorselessly chopping Anakin up and training Luke, and Lando saving Han and blowing up the Death Star. Those are heroes.
Lightsabre – Tell us something of your other interests outside of Star Wars?
AGP – Writing and good works is my world, whatever the hell that means. Seriously, my nature is philanthropic, and I feel writing what I like to write is the best gift I’ve got to give. So all my other interests are extensions of my need to write well. These include working out, traveling, challenging my assumptions, and learning, learning, learning. Right now my learning interests largely lie in science and history. I also really dig on bullfighting, enough that I created a version of it in Star Wars.
Lightsabre – Tell us about your ‘European sojourn’ at the start of the millennium. Where did you travel and what, if any, Star Wars related experiences did you have
AGP – “I’ve been from one side of Europe to the other and I seen a lot of strange stuff….” I left the U.S. for Italy in 2003 to learn the language and explore the country. I stayed for a few more months after my program was over in order to travel all over the continent, hitting Spain, France, England, Holland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Czech. I still ask myself why I ever came back.
My time in Italy was actually a respite from Star Wars and American life in general. But I did have two memorable Star Wars experiences while across the pond. One was the publication of “Who’s Who: Imperial Grand Admirals.” Author Daniel Wallace sent me an email saying that he’d managed to sell the piece, which we’d originally written for Star Wars Gamer, to Star Wars Insider. At the time, I only had one Star Wars fiction credit under my belt, so I was quite excited.
The other thing was finding the collected novelizations of Guerre Stellari on sale in a Milan bookstore. Kinda hard to resist the adventures of that lovable droid duo “D-3BO e C1-P8.” I nabbed it.
The new anthology Italy From A Backpack includes a nice short story about my time spent in Italy. I encourage fans curious of travel to check it out.
Lightsabre – What lies ahead for you in the future?
AGP – The publication of “Underworld Appendix” on StarWars.com, which is a supplement the “Underworld” feature in Star Wars Insider #89, (available) in U.S. bookstores and which (will) be reprinted in the U.K. Star Wars Magazine. Then there’s “Vader’s Legacy,” a project about the places and people Darth Vader left his mark on beyond his death. I’ll also be at Star Wars Celebration IV next year, which will be right here in Los Angeles. About darn time.
Lightsabre – A quick question about Lightsabre. Any comments?
AGP – I love the number and diversity of interviews you have with Star Wars creators! I love getting first-hand accounts of the creative process.
Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest on Lightsabre. Just one final question. Halagad Ventor, Darth Vader and Yoda are all locked in a prison cell. There is one breathing mask, and as the vents close and the room fills with deadly gas you all dive for the mask. Given Yoda’s age and Vader’s bulk, which one of you gets the mask first?
AGP – Jeez, well I figure Halagad and Yoda are kinda screwed, seeing as Vader already has a breathing mask! I guess Halagad would cut a deal with Vader: you get Yoda, I get the mask. Then he’d feel all crummy about being such a jerk. You Jedi scum!
This interview was originally posted on lightsabre.co.uk on 22nd October 2006.