Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Lightsabre closed its doors in 2009 and as such, a handful of interviews went unpublished on the site, so here is our 155th interview, with legendary Marvel Comics editor and writer Mary Jo Duffy.
Lightsabre – Could you please tell us about how you became involved with Marvel Comics.
MJD – Well, I started working at Marvel when they were doing the classic comic adaptation of Star Wars. I was just a rookie back then and a lot of the established names were working on that comic, but I totally loved Star Wars. Because we had no internet, no scanners and almost no computers, the editors at Marvel always needed a few back-up stories that were ready to be published immediately if necessary. I wrote a couple of these back-up stories, but unfortunately they were almost never used. I became one of Archie Goodwin’s (legendary editor and author of comics) assistants and earned Marvel’s trust because of my work for Archie.
Lightsabre – It seems you already were a big Star Wars-fan. How did you experience Star Wars in the theatre?
MJD – I missed the first show because I was working, but after hearing all those enthusiastic responses, I just had to go and watch that movie. I took my brother to the last show of the first day and it was a life-changing experience. I loved the characters, I loved the story, and so I could have written Star Wars comics until the end of my life. I just waited patiently until the next movie was released and that was a very exciting period as a fan. The movies were a huge success, of course, but there weren’t that many books and not that much merchandising were released between the classic movies. So as a fan it was important to feed your hunger for more Star Wars by yourself.
Lightsabre – How was your relationship with Lucasfilm, because I understand you couldn’t really use Darth Vader or the Emperor?
MJD – I avoided these issues by focusing on the characters that I could use, instead of worrying about the characters that I couldn’t use. I also introduced new characters, which is very crucial in order to renew the story from time to time. My relationship with Lucasfilm was great. We met them and they were very friendly. Back then; I didn’t realize that not all business people are that friendly and honest as the people at Lucasfilm.
MJD – Oh….everything! I remember those characters very well. When I became the author of Star Wars, we were in the timeframe between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi so we couldn’t use Han Solo since he was a popsicle. It wasn’t known whether Harrison was going to come back and I didn’t know how Lando was going to evolve, so I created Rik Duel as a new rogue.
Let me explain how I created Dani. Everybody knows that Harrison was very gorgeous and he had a lot of charisma as Han Solo. Everybody loved Han, but no matter how fantastic Ford was, I was a fan of Mark Hamill who I already knew from television. So I reasoned that there would have been women in the Star Wars galaxy who were physically attracted to Luke instead of Han. One of those females turned out to be Dani. The Zeltrons later evolved into some kind of Force-groupies.
MJD – David Michelinie (the author who preceded Duffy) and myself thought that Lando had much in common with Han, but at the same time, he was totally different. When Han was the rough cowboy, Lando was the smooth gambler on the Mississippi steamboats. If Han was the knight, then Lando was the nobleman. Billy Dee had charm for sale and he was so cool that he could melt an iceberg. I enjoyed expanding Lando’s role a lot.
Lightsabre – Can you name some of your favourite storylines?
MJD – I would pick three. The first one would be The Big Con, where Lando and Chewbacca try to gain information about Han and when Lando disguises himself as Drebble for the first time. The second one would be the story on Godo and finally Tai with Cynthia Martin. It’s difficult to make a choice, but these stories just turned out how I imagined them to be.
Lightsabre – Throughout the years, the Marvels haven’t always been treated fairly. In the nineties they were considered a lower level of canon, but finally that attitude changed and the Marvels finally became a part of the canon.
MJD – Lucasfilm just told us that what we were doing was part of the canon. That’s why I couldn’t use Vader or the Emperor so that we couldn’t contradict the story of Episode VI. I can’t really blame the authors of certain articles that spoke poorly on behalf of the Marvels. Even if it was their job, it was getting harder to feel connected to every publication, old and new. I think there should be a way to fit in a story somewhere in the continuity. Some people write stories because they’re getting paid for it. I wrote Star Wars because I loved the movies and the characters. During the day I was an editor at Marvel and all my writing for Star Wars had to be done after my job as an editor. One day, Ron Frenz busted into the office and told us that Carrie Fisher mentioned in an interview that Mark Hamill always read from the Star Wars Marvel Comics between takes. That was our work and we were very proud of that.
Lightsabre – You also wrote a remarkable prequel story with a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi as a General in the Republic. Didn’t Lucasfilm object to that story?
MJD – No, Lucasfilm even thought it was creative and since the prequels were totally non-existent, there wasn’t a single detail known about Kenobi’s life before Star Wars. I wrote it very carefully so that it wasn’t really connected to one event or another and it didn’t have a fixed date in the chronology. That Kenobi story was in fact one of my back-up stores.
MJD – Lucasfilm just said that they didn’t have any clue themselves about how Star Wars was going to continue, so they couldn’t give me any guidelines. They did tell me to be very careful by using subjects such as the Jedi and the Empire, so I didn’t use them. When I read Dark Empire, years later, I was surprised and disappointed when I saw what they had been able to do with the story.
Lightsabre – Is it true that Marvel was in the running to publish Star Wars-comics once again in the nineties before Dark Horse got the license?
MJD – I don’t know if an offer was actually in the making, but because of the good relation between Marvel and Lucas, I don’t think it’s impossible. That being said, I can guarantee you that it was not Lucasfilm who wanted to end the Marvel Comics; it was Marvel itself that decided to spend more time on the superheroes. Cynthia and me were asked to work on other projects, but we both would have wanted to write Star Wars forever. The sales were very, very good, so it wasn’t the fault of the comic sales.
Lightsabre – Did you ever write any Star Wars stories that never got published?
MJD – As far as I can remember, I don’t think so. There were some that I wish that never had been published, though! Sometimes Marvel decided to print another back-up story right in my continuing storyline, just so they could use all the stories they had. Cynthia and myself were preparing a story when Marvel told us that it would be the last issue. We had to adapt and change the script in order to get a decent ending of the series.
Lightsabre – Was there ever any reason given for the end of the Marvel run?
MJD – No, and the series ended very suddenly. I knew there were some new people at Lucasfilm and they were getting more and more involved with our stories and what happened. It was a bit strange because Lucasfilm started to tell us what should happen (or not happen) to the characters that I (or Marvel) had created. I thought that was a rather alarming evolution, so Marvel decided to spend all their money on the superheroes instead.
MJD – Yes, definitely. I had written and thought of stories months up ahead. The Nagai were being hunted by the Tofs themselves and that’s why they invaded the universe of the heroes. We had a lot more plans with Bey, the half-Corellian, half-Nagai who was a close friend of Han Solo. Bey would become more and more tragic since he was torn apart between two cultures he cherished. It was foreseen that Bey and Dani, who would also become more and more depressed, would attack the Tof fleet in a kamikaze attack so that the Tof invasion could be stopped.
MJD – I had big plans with Bey, who I modelled physically on the Japanese martial artists master Sonny Chiba (Kill Bill). Chiba was a star in Japan and he played a character with the word ‘Bey’ in it, so that’s the origin of his name.
Lightsabre – Did you continue to follow Star Wars eventually?
MJD – It was getting very, very difficult and nearly impossible for myself to read everything that was being published. If it weren’t good, I would have known that I could have done a better job and if it was good, I would have felt sorry for not being part of it.
I thought Episode I was the best of the prequels, but I just couldn’t follow all the comics. I do hear a lot of positive comments about The Clone Wars, and I’m glad you can confirm this.
Lightsabre – Were you ever offered a chance to write another story for Star Wars?
MJD – No, not really. My past experience might have ruled that out, because back then, a certain decision was made to end the cooperation. I once got into touch with an editor – whose name I have forgotten – and he asked me to write a story as a test! I thought this was really a lack of confidence in my writing, like I had never written a story for Star Wars before.
Lightsabre – Looking back at the entire Marvel experience, how would you like to summarize it?
MJD – Do you remember that story with Leia and Dani on Lahsbane with the hot-air balloons? They are gliding away during the night and no Stormtrooper is noticing them, but at the same time, the anchors of the balloons got loose and they aren’t just gliding, they are floating away….when I wrote that scene, I hadn’t had a single clue that it would look a lot like my experience on Star Wars.
Lightsabre – That’s a very nice metaphor. When did you that scene pop into your mind?
MJD – Well, just now! I just realized that it looked familiar and similar.
Lightsabre – I thought it was a very beautiful and poetic comparison. Thank you very much for this interview.
MJD – The pleasure has been mine. It was very nice to talk to you.
This interview was originally conducted for, but never published on Lightsabre.co.uk.