Between 1999 and 2009 brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our one hundred and forty-fifth guest has been writing in the Star Wars galaxy for many years – Jason Fry.

Lightsabre – Jason, welcome to Lightsabre

JF – Thanks Mark! Very much appreciate your interest in the Atlas. Dan and I are thrilled and a little bit relieved that it’s finally out and we can discuss it with everybody.

Lightsabre – There’s always a moment at the start of a Star Wars followers fandom when they are grabbed by an iconic image or moment. What kicked you off on your Star Wars journey?

JF – The same thing that launched so many other Star Wars fans on their journeys — Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer going on and on and on and on across the big screen. It’s very hard to take yourself back to that moment, when Star Wars was a single movie and everything in it was a huge surprise. I loved it from that moment on.

Lightsabre – Which of the 7 big screen adventures is your favourite and why?

JF – Empire. Not because it’s gritty and dark, or because it takes the myth to some fascinating and unsettling places, though I like all those aspects of it. Rather, it’s that the story is so driven by the characters and their interactions. There are so many great character moments in it: Han backhanding the Falcon into staying on, Leia fuming after the close encounter with the mynock (and Han); Luke’s increasing panic as he realizes he’s no match for Vader; even Vader’s curt, seething “bring my shuttle” from the original cut. It’s a terrific character movie, and I really respond to that.

Lightsabre – Where did your career as a writer begin and what led you into the Star Wars arena?

JF – I’ve written all my life; I cut my teeth as a newspaper reporter in Fresno, New Orleans and Washington D.C., which led me to more than a dozen years as a writer, columnist and editor at The Wall Street Journal Online. My entry into the Star Wars arena came courtesy of Dan — he and I wanted to write an article about Corellia and its neighbors for the old Star Wars Adventure Journal, which I absolutely loved. Lucasfilm vetted me as a writer and said OK — just before West End Games folded. That was disappointing, but the Star Wars Insider gave me a shot at writing their books column, which I did very happily for 10 years. The Insider gig led to writing articles for Star Wars Gamer with Dan and our pal Craig Carey, to RPG work for Wizards of the Coast, and then to working with DK and Del Rey.

Thinking back on that, it’s kind of funny that we didn’t explore the Corellian sector in the Atlas. Maybe someday!

Lightsabre – You’ve written a number of Star Wars reference books in the past, primarily focusing on the Clone Wars era and for Wizards of the Coast guides to the Core Worlds and the Outer Rim. What attracts you to the Clone Wars and what is it about your style of writing that is so well suited to reference material?

JF – I do love the Clone Wars show, but the real attraction of the Clone Wars Visual Guide was the chance to work with DK — their books have such a beautiful, clean style, whether they’re about Star Wars or wildlife or the Middle Ages. I also wanted to try writing for kids, which has been an interesting experience that I’m still sorting through. I finished the first Visual Guide and felt I hadn’t done a very good job at that — I felt that the book’s vocabulary and sentence structure were pitched a bit too “old.” But since then, it’s been really gratifying to hear how many kids of all ages love the book, want it read to them, and like reading it themselves. So maybe I did better than I thought, and if I’d tried to push things the other way I would have wound up dumbing down the text. I honestly don’t know — I’m still trying to figure out writing for kids, and would be grateful for anybody’s thoughts, tips and feedback.

By the way, the second Clone Wars Visual Guide — Ultimate Battles — came out just a day before the Atlas, and is all-new material from Season 1, with a bit of a preview of Season 2. It’s a beautiful book — the DK folks really did an awesome job on it. I’ll be interested to hear if kids like that one, too. Hope so!

Regarding your other question, I don’t know if my writing is really particularly suited to reference material. I hope I do a good job at it, but that’s not for me to judge. I’d love to try my hand at Star Wars fiction — I had a great time writing “Deader Than a Triton Moon.”

One final thought occurs to me: Sorting through a lot of sometimes-contradictory information and trying to synthesize it fairly and in an interesting way isn’t too far removed from being a journalist. So maybe that helps.

Q – You’ve written a number of pieces for The Wall Street Journal, including the hilariously titled ’38 Year Old Springsteen Virgin’. It’s an eclectic bunch of articles, so what gets your creative juices running?

JF – Star Wars, music, baseball, journalism, technology — you name it! The Springsteen piece actually never appeared in the Journal — though I did get to write a front-page article for them about the origins of people yelling “Free Bird!” at shows. I’ve also written a novel, which you can’t buy because publishers all seemed to like but didn’t think would sell. (I’m now working on another one.) I don’t know — I basically have to write every day, or I feel kind of unmoored.

Lightsabre – How exciting is it to be a part of the Star Wars universe?

JF – It’s literally a childhood dream come true. I also love the fact that the Star Wars universe is a truly shared universe in so many aspects. Yes, George Lucas can and does change things, but this is his baby, and that’s his right. (And he comes up with some amazing stuff — remember the first time you saw the Podracers, or realized the walkers were going to go up the cliff?) George’s rights aside, I love that the universe has been built up from contributions by RPG writers and novelists and writers of kids’ books and videogame-manual creators and two crazy guys who love geography, and all these contributions are treated equally and taken seriously. There isn’t a caste system of Star Wars creators, and I think that makes the universe amazingly rich and keeps terrific tales and ideas flowing.

Lightsabre – The Essential Atlas sits neatly alongside your Wizards of the Coasts books as it defines a great number of facts and details about the Star Wars galaxy. As a fan first and foremost, how satisfying is it to know that your work is now the primary reference point for so many Star Wars facts?

JF – It’s wonderful, but it’s also daunting. The geography of the Star Wars galaxy is drawn from a huge amount of raw information, most of it dreamed up when no such primary reference point existed. So contradictions abound and it’s inevitable that Dan and I have made mistakes, overlooked things, interpreted things in ways others would not, and favored one person’s prized explanation over another’s. The Atlas can’t be perfect — I’ve already found mistakes I made, and every one of them upsets me — and it can’t satisfy everybody. I know that, but it still bothers me. I’d like to be able to put that aside, but if you’re OCD enough to co-write a book like this, by definition you’re too OCD to let the missteps and mistakes ride. On that score I wish I were wired differently.

Lightsabre – Working on The Atlas was a three year endeavour, undertaken alongside Dan Wallace and a crack team of artists. Did you know from the off that it would, to a lesser or greater degree, occupy three whole years of your life?

JF – No! And I’m extremely glad I didn’t!  I mean, I still would have done it – this was my dream project, after all – but I’m very glad I didn’t know what we were getting into. Our knees would have been knocking so much more than they were already.

Lightsabre – What are your hopes for The Atlas? With fan expectation so high and your previous works setting a lofty benchmark, it seems set to occupy a special place in fans affections.

JF – I hope it appeals to folks from all walks of Star Wars fandom. I hope hardcore geography fanboys like me and Dan are happy to finally find out where all those star systems are. I hope casual fans like the movie maps and find the rest of the book an intriguing read even if they’re not familiar with the vast scope of the EU. I hope there are people who are drawn in by the amazing art of Chris Trevas and Modi and Chris Reiff and Ian Fullwood. I hope fans and authors alike find some intriguing ideas and hints and loose ends that launch more stories.

It was a labor of love for me and Dan, a huge undertaking, and all that. But when somebody picks it up in a bookstore or a library, they don’t know any of that and shouldn’t have to. A book has to just work as a book. I hope The Atlas does.

Lightsabre – You are a huge baseball fanatic, writing the New York Mets blog Faith and Fear in Flushing. Most of us have a defining moment when they realized that a certain sport would entrance them forever (Manchester United versus West Bromwich Albion, December 30th 1978. Albion 2-3 down at half time won 3-5 and I’ve been a Baggies fan ever since). What was your defining sports moment?

JF – Hmm. I’d love to hear what my Faith and Fear in Flushing co-blogger Greg Prince would say about that one. And with the Mets, triumph and excellence are not things you can necessarily count on — sometimes they only aspire to competence and still miss that. My Mets fandom begins really far back in the mists of memory — one of my earliest memories is of my mom leaping up and down in our living room cheering deliriously for Rusty Staub. I like to think that’s where it all started.

But OK, I’ll give you a defining moment from later in life: June 30, 2000. The Mets are down 8-1 to the Braves, their hated and apparently invulnerable rivals, in the 8th inning. Greg and I and my wife and a friend of ours are watching out of grim duty. My phone rings and it’s a friend of mine in the upper deck. She says “Dude, your team sucks” and hangs up. Then the Mets put together this ridiculous rally of walks and parachutes and balls that sneak through the hole, and we slowly allow ourselves to get more and more excited, at first not believing because that will make falling short hurt more, and then daring to believe and then helpless not to and we’re up on our feet and roaring, and with the game tied 8-8 Mike Piazza hits the first pitch he sees over the fence for a three-run homer. Absolute pandemonium. We were screaming and hugging and leaping up and down and I thought I was going to have a heart attack, and then I decided I was so happy I didn’t care.

I still think about that game every couple of days, and it’s kept me in my seat for God knows how many seven-run deficits that never got erased. I’m sure you have one of your own with Albion. Every sports fan does.

Lightsabre – What comes next for you after The Atlas, other than a stiff drink and a long rest?

JF – Well, it’s not going to be a LONG rest. Dan and I are working on some online tie-ins to The Atlas that we hope will make it a living document of sorts for Star Wars fans. The Clone Wars Episode Guide: Season 1 comes out in October from Penguin, and I’m writing a Clone Wars kids’ book that I can’t talk about quite yet but am really excited about. And now that the book that ate my life is finally in bookstores, I really want to get back to that second novel and see what I can make of it.

Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest on Lightsabre. Just one final question. You’re on a long smugglers run from Corellia all the way out to Ryloth and decide to stop off at Druckenwell for a break, some supplies and a little R&R. Suddenly you are recognized and hauled into a dark alleyway where two locals frisk you down and demand money.

Using your innate knowledge of the galaxy you know that Druckenwell is vastly overpopulated and peopled by downtrodden factory workers, so do you:

A – Offer them a 2 week vacation on Cloud City
B – Hope they’re behind on their galactic events and hand them tickets to visit the University of Aldera on Alderaan.
C – Something else?

JF – Eh, in a close encounter like that you want to rely on something other than geography. Yell “A Wookiee Jedi – I didn’t think they existed!“, kick ’em in the choobies and run for it.

Originally posted on on 30th August 2009.

Star Wars: The Essential Atlas
  • Ballantine Books
  • Wallace, Daniel (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 08/18/2009 (Publication Date) - Del Rey (Publisher)