We continue our look back to interviews conducted in years past by members of the Fantha Tracks team, and our 2012 interview with the author of the Return of the Jedi novelisation – James Kahn.
MN – Yours is a name that will be very familiar to novel readers of the 80’s, with your work on the novelisations of Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Poltergeist and Goonies. Looking back, how exciting a time was that for you, mixing it up with these amazing franchises?
JK – And don’t forget the timeless classic, Poltergeist II. But in fact it was an amazing time, finding myself working with these incredible film makers, on projects that I loved to watch, let alone write. It was exhilarating, and my wife tells me I was all full of myself.
MN – Your first novel, World Enough and Time launched a career that has taken you around the galaxy and back again, taking in novels, film, novelizations, television and music. When you embarked on your artistic journey, did you realise it would be so ecclectic and cover so many different forms of expression?
JK – I’ve been a storyteller as long as I can remember. When I was 9, I used to rewrite the endings of comic book stories in magazines like Amazing Stories and Fantastic Tales. I also wrote story songs and poems and short stories from a young age. So I think I’m just doing what I’ve always done. The focus shifts from time to time, but it’s always storytelling.
MN – You worked as an extra on E.T: The Extraterrestrial after producer Kathleen Kennedy called the front desk of the ER you were working in and asked if any of you guys knew how to resuscitate an alien. Firstly, did you know how to resuscitate an alien? And secondly, please tell us something of your time on that amazing set.
JK – I was quite certain I could resuscitate an alien, and I told her so. A number of us spent time working on the resuscitation scene – as extras in hazmat suits, writing the tech dialogue (“He has no femoral pulse!”) and generally being star struck. Spielberg was an amazing director, and everyone surrounding him had a young, casual, energetic feeling. It felt like a college dorm. After I got to know him a bit I gave him a copy of my recently released World Enough and Time (due to be re-released in September 2012, by the way). Based on his reading parts of it, he assigned me the novelization of Poltergeist – with the proviso I had to finish in a month. So I left the set of E.T in a hurry, buried myself in Spielberg’s office for 26 days in November, and came out with a book.
JK – My editor at Ballantine/Del Rey for my World Enough and Time novel was Judy Lynn Del Rey – who also had the Lucasfilm job. She recommended me to Lucas, and Spielberg seconded the nomination.
MN – Presumably you worked from an eatrly draft of the Return of the Jedi script, as there are scenes and references that didn’t make it to the final cut of the film, as well as images in the inserts that were not in the finished product. How far in advance were you given that script to work from, and how much latitude are novelisation writers given to deviate from the script they are given – some or none at all?
JK – I was given an early draft and a boxful of production stills, weapons drawings, wardrobe sketches, etc, about a year before release – when it was still titled Revenge of the Jedi. I did a fair amount of additional writing, including an entire made up chapter about Princess Leia and her years on Alderaan. Lucas cut it – he gave very little latitude to my original flights of fancy, and clearly wanted me to stick to his very well thought out and crafted story. Spielberg, on the other hand, gave me as much leeway as I wanted on Poltergeist, Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – he liked my notions and encouraged me to run with them. Consequently the Poltergeist novelization contains about 50% more material than the film, all made up by me. And I added an entirely new chapter in the Indiana Jones novel, all about Short Round, titled A Boy’s Life – which was the title Spielberg originally had for E.T.
MN – Your Return of the Jedi novel didn’t lead to any further Star Wars adventures, as at that time the saga was winding down into a period known to long-time fans as the Dark Times? With your old acquainatnce Kathleen Kennedy now co-chairman at Lucasfilm, if the chance to write a new Star Wars novel arose, would you take it?
JK – I’d jump at it.
MN – You wrote the novelization of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom right after Jedi, another hugely anticipated adaptation of an eagerly awaited film and followed that with Goonies, a Spielberg produced classic of the 80’s. As the go-to guy for novelizations, did you purposely back away from writing them, or did other opportunities come a knocking that steered you in another direction?
JK – I was moving into television at that point. I’d just gotten a more than full time job as head writer on a medical docu-drama called Family Medical Center, when I was asked if I’d like to write the novel for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I would, in fact, have loved to, but I just didn’t have the time at that moment, so I turned it down. My TV career picked up, I no longer pursued novelizations, and they didn’t ask again either.
MN – You worked on Star Trek Voyager for some time. That must have been an amazing opportunity and experience, to work on the other classic sci-fi franchise?
JK – I’d been a big Star Trek fan for many years, so I jumped at the chance to work on Voyager. (And I got Gene Roddenberry’s old office!) It was year 7, though, and we were cancelled after that, so I moved on.
MN – Your focus is now clearly on your music, with the albums Man Walks Into A Bar and Waterline being released since 2010. It’s clear this is where your heart lies right now, it’s etched into the tracks available on your website. Going forward, what are your hopes for your music?
JK – I’ve loved playing music all my life, but never really took it seriously until a few years ago. Now I find it’s the most personal writing I’ve done. Something about words and music together goes right to the heart, for me. And of course all my songs are story songs. I’m currently doing a children’s album, then another folk/country album. Hope to turn my latest, Man Walks Into A Bar, into a stage musical – every track on the CD is about a different person in this bar on a given night – and then there’s a meta-story that connects them all.
MN – As someone who’s been on the outside of the Star Wars galaxy for almost 30 years, how do you view Star Wars in 2012 and the fan community that surrounds it?
JK – I’m gratified to see the fan base, like the Force, is strong. I think it’s a classic myth that will endure for generations.
MN – What new adventures lie ahead in the near future for you?
JK – I’m currently producing my first feature film, a romantic comedy, with a new nonprofit film studio here in Southern California. Turns out I’m not all that in love with producing. I have a reincarnation thriller novel in the offing, and a murder mystery. Couple scripts I’m trying to sell. Re-issuing my old sci-fi trilogy, trying to figure out social media. You know, the usual.
MN – Thanks so much for being our guest, it’s been fascinating.
JK – It’s been my pleasure. Please ask all your readers to go to my website, and buy my music. And follow me on Twitter. And like my Facebook page. And look for World Enough and Time when it comes out again. And drive safely, don’t smoke, be kind, beeee good, phone home, and try to remember, the Force is with you. Always.
Interview originally posted at JediNews.co.uk.