We continue our look back to interviews conducted in years past by members of the Fantha Tracks team, and catch up with a former LucasArts projects leader, novellist and writer – Haden Blackman.
MN – You’ve been involved with Star Wars for many years, via your 13 years at LucasArts, your work on The Essential Guides, the Star Wars Galaxies novel Ruins of Dantooine and numerous comics for Dark Horse. As someone who’s had an influence on the saga through various media avenues, what is your preferred format in delivering a Star Wars story? Is it books, guides, comics or video games?
HB – I just love telling stories, so I don’t tend to favor one medium over another. I will say that every medium is very different, so whenever I’m asked to pitch a project, I try to focus on stories or material that will work best for the specific medium and really leverage its strengths.
One of the strengths of comics is that they can deliver both quiet character moments and huge spectacles at a fraction of the cost of a film or video game, and without any of the technology challenges. Really, I’m only limited by what I can dream up, the artist’s abilities (which usually far outstrip mine as a writer), and the number of pages per issue. We can show massive explosions on Coruscant or a dramatic fight in the Jedi Temple – scenes that would take many artists and engineers weeks or months to complete in a game or film.
MN – What initially sparked your ongoing interest in the Star Wars saga?
HB – Honestly, I didn’t really fall in love with Star Wars until I started working at LucasArts. Growing up, I was always much more of a horror fan. I liked The Empire Strikes Back, but the other films wouldn’t have made my Top 10 list, and I had never read a Star Wars comic or novel or played a Star Wars game. Then, I was hired by LucasArts to work on an interactive encyclopedia (Behind the Magic), and I dove into the universe. I was blown away by how fleshed out the universe had become, and was very impressed that it still managed to feel cohesive. I really credit Timothy Zahn and all those who followed him with reviving Star Wars and turning it into a living, breathing universe. They did a great job creating new characters and storylines that felt intrinsically “Star Wars” without being redundant or (to use a game term) just reskins of the films. That seemed like an awesome challenge, one that I’m still trying to achieve.
MN – Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison follows on the heels of the very well received Darth Vader and the Lost Command, which showed a different facet to Vader than we’d seen before. In these post-Revenge of the Sith years, do you relish the opportunity to look inside the mask and delve into the motivations of Anakin as he adjusts to his new position as Palpatine’s apprentice?
HB – Absolutely. I think that Vader is potentially most interesting during the years right after Revenge of the Sith, when he’s trying to solidify his position within the Empire and adapt to his new reality. He really has lost everything, except the Emperor, and that relationship is incredibly dysfunctional and tenuous. I feel like, between the movies and comics and cartoon, we really know the heroic, cocky, emotional Anakin and the cruel, powerful, single-minded Vader – but we haven’t seen how he went from one extreme to the other. Every time I get to write a Vader story, I try to show him changing in that direction. The Hidden Blade deals with his obsession with the Jedi; The Lost Command focuses on his guilt and self-loathing over all his bad decisions and his hand in Padme’s death; and Ghost Prison exposes another raw nerve… In each story, Vader makes a decision that takes him one step closer to the Vader we know from A New Hope.
MN – When pulling a comic book together, how does the choice of artist affect the type of story you are writing? Some artists bring a different dynamic to the page, which a writer presumably can utilise to any given end. For instance, how did having the legendary Rick Leonardi on Lost Command affect your writing? Or doesn’t it change it at all?
HB – I usually don’t know who the artist is going to be when I’m pitching a story, so I just try to come up with something that I think will be as fun to draw as it will be to write. I do tend to write really detailed scripts, but I always try to leave some room for interpretation, character designs, panel experimentation, and the like. I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with some really talented artists who throw out my bad ideas in exchange for something better, and make my good ideas great.
MN – It’s clear that Anakin is a character you have a strong affinity for, through his appearances in your nine issues on Star Wars: Republic, The Force Unleashed series, Galaxies, Star Wars Purge: The Hidden Blade and the two recent Vader series. What is it that draws you back to Anakin and his story?
HB – I like characters who are “damaged goods,” and as a horror fan I’ve always been drawn to the Frankenstein’s monster-like aspects of Vader. But mostly, it’s really interesting to explore the evolution of the character from Anakin in Revenge of the Sith to Darth Vader in A New Hope. And I do feel like the entire saga is, in many ways, Anakin’s story, so it’s a great honor and challenge to show the different facets of him.
MN – Are there any era’s of the Star Wars timeline that you would like to get your teeth into? Or perhaps locations that have yet to be explored in any great detail?
HB – I really enjoy the period between the two trilogies because it’s such fertile territory for storytelling. Beyond that, I’d love to tell more stories focusing on the exploits of Luke, Han and Leia during the height of the Rebellion. Or delve into the far past or far future, which provide opportunities to start from scratch and create a whole new cast of characters. The Star Wars underworld and the undefined sections of Coruscant are also interesting to me.
MN – Lieutenant Tohm was an interesting choice to make the focal point of the first issue of Ghost Prison. He’s seems to be a man with a good heart who’s buying into the promise of this new Empire, but already we can see that the Empire put little stock in training their men to a high calibre – they are essentially cannon fodder. How do you view the Empire’s training regimes at this time of the Empire’s birth compared to the scrabble and grit of the rebellion in this era?
HB – One of the challenges of this time period – within about a year after Revenge of the Sith – is the fact that no one has yet defined a real threat to the Empire. The Jedi have been all but destroyed, the seeds of the Rebellion have barely been planted, and “rebels” like Bail Organa don’t yet have a plan or any kind of organized resistance. Since there is no Alliance or Jedi Order to rally against the Empire, I’ve tried to establish that it’s still an extremely tenuous time for the Emperor because he hasn’t consolidated his power across the galaxy yet. There are planets that are still resistant to the new order, and it’s unclear whom the Emperor can trust within the Senate and the military. To make matters worse, his terrifying “enforcer” has almost been destroyed physically, emotionally, and psychologically; now, Vader is unpredictable and may not be the powerful right hand Palpatine needs. The Emperor wants to lock down the galaxy as quickly as possible, using an overwhelming show of force to crush all opposition. But mass-producing soldiers has consequences and leads some in the military to question the Emperor’s rule. Using a young, ambitious lieutenant who has his own demons seemed like a good way to show that dynamic unfolding. And after Lost Command, which is essentially from Vader’s point-of-view, I wanted to show Vader’s influence and impact on others from another vantage.
MN – With comics, books, TV shows, video games and other media all playing in the same sandbox, how difficult is it to ‘get your story straight’ and make sure you’re not contradicting each others ideas and plotlines? Does Leland Chee have any kind of involvement in determining the kind of tales you can craft?
HB – It’s really pretty straightforward. My initial plot synopses always get approved by Lucasfilm Licensing before I start writing scripts. I’m fairly knowledgeable about the universe, but I can’t read everything or stay on top of all the new continuity, so it’s extremely helpful to have people like Leland Chee at Lucasfilm weighing in to identify any possible conflicts. Any suggested changes have been pretty minimal – perhaps because the time period doesn’t have a lot of established continuity. And more often than not, it’s less about “you can’t do this” and more about “you could include this character or event” as a way to tie back into other stories. Each script also gets approved by Lucasfilm; most of the feedback is focused on keeping the timeline straight – helping me remember when TIE fighters first appear, for example.
MN – Star Wars fandom is large and vocal. Do you often get chance to interract with those fans, and what are your thoughts on the community?
HB – One of my most rewarding moments was attending the first Star Wars Galaxies fan fest, where we spent several days hanging out with the fans, hearing what they liked and didn’t like about the game, debating the merits of different Star Wars stories, and generally bonding over our mutual love of the universe. The fans are definitely passionate, but they’ve always been very supportive, insightful, and caring towards me and my work, which I appreciate.
MN – George Lucas is now the co-chair at Lucasfilm, with Kathleen Kennedy working alongside him. What do you think we’ll be seeing in the future from the team over at Lucasfilm? More TV? More films, or other means of telling the Star Wars story, like webisodes, motion comics or theme parks?
HB – I have no idea! But whatever happens, I hope that we continue to see really creative people expanding the universe by creating new characters and telling new stories in every possible medium.
Many thanks to Aub Driver at Dark Horse for helping to arrange the interview.
- English (Publication Language)
- 424 Pages - 04/07/2020 (Publication Date) - Marvel (Publisher)