Our Interview with Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff on ‘The Last Jedi’February 26, 2013 at 7:06 am | Posted in Books, Interview, Star Wars, Star Wars Books | 4 Comments
Tags: coruscant nights, maya kaathryn bohnhoff, michael reaves, the last jedi
To help celebrate the release of The Last Jedi, we took some time with co-author Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff to get a closer look at the fourth book in the Coruscant Nights series. The first half covers more general topics, while the second half delves into serious spoiler territory.
How did the story for The Last Jedi come about?
Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff: Michael had pitched an idea by email for a fourth Coruscant Nights book, and as we were working on Shadow Games (our previous collaboration) our editor, Shelly Shapiro, contacted us and said, “Hey, guys, would you like to do another novel? There was that story you pitched a bit ago, and we’d like you to write that book.”
So, as Michael put it, “We’d be crazy to say ‘no’.”
How did you break up the duties of writing the novel?
MKB: Starting with Michael’s email, which was about two paragraphs as I recall, we started brainstorming the plot line. We both tossed ideas into the pot and stirred zealously, then Michael wrote the first working draft of the outline. I knocked that around a bit, he tweaked it further, and we finally sent it to Del Rey/LucasBooks. Our editor made notes, the experts at Lucas made notes and then we rewrote the outline.
In fact, we reworked it several times before we came up with the outline we went with. It was the same basic plot framework, but substantially different in some details from the one we started with.
After that, I wrote the first draft of the novel, and Michael went back over it, making adjustments. Actually, as we were coming down to the wire, he made a suggestion about I-Five’s situation that surprised me because it was a departure from where we’d initially been heading with the droid. Ultimately, I loved it; it sort of has this inevitability.
The announcement for a fourth Coruscant Nights book was made pretty early, yet there was a long wait until The Last Jedi finally came out. Was there a change in scope or direction for the story?
MKB: The long wait was really only a function of how long the lead time needed to be because we were in the midst of another Star Wars project. That, and how many books are in the pipeline at a given moment. So, that was all scheduling. We had the contract two years or so before the release date. The actual writing took a little less than a year of that time. There were some major changes, actually, but I can’t talk about them without making spoilers and making the writing process sound like magic … or torture … or torturous magic.
Who came up with the idea of giving I-5YQ multiple bodies?
MKB: Actually, that was me. We had originally had him building a new body out of spare parts ending as a super-assassin bot. But when I started to write the first scene in Geri’s workshop, I got this wild idea that what was truly I-Five was his CPU, not his chassis, and fell rather in love with the idea of having him disguise himself as different types of droids.
I had a great time with that part of the story. My favorite I-Five incarnation is the DUM pit droid.
What exactly does a miisai tree look like?
MKB: Of course it’s a conifer, because I have this “thing” about conifers. WP Kinsella (think “Field of Dreams”) said that pine trees have something in their sap that makes you dream. I totally get that. In fact, I have a whole novel kind of dedicated to that premise (Taco Del and the Fabled Tree of Destiny). Miisai are like bonsai trees. This one has sort of a multi-level symbology which I’m hoping readers will “get”.
Have you conceptualized a backstory for Darth Ramage? For instance, do you know what era he was from or what species he was?
MKB: Michael’s done some work on Darth Ramage that showed up far more in the original outline we did. I don’t recall too many details about him. Maybe Michael does … and wouldn’t you just love to know?
With Del Rey/Random House’s new outreach to eBook stories, would you consider doing a story on Darth Ramage?
MKB: I would definitely be up for doing that. I’m going to assume my Jedi Master, Michael, would feel the same way. After all, we did “And Leebo Makes Three” for the Shadow Games backstory. And now you’ve got me all jazzed about the thought of writing a Ramage story!
!!! SPOILER QUESTIONS !!!
How did Laranth’s death come about? Was it hard to let her go?
MKB: It was hard to let her go for me. I have a personal knee-jerk reaction to killing off the hero’s love interest. Smacks of Little Joe Syndrome. (That’s a “Bonanza” reference, but it’s sort of a romantic red shirt. Any woman who loves the hero MUST DIE.)
Don’t get me wrong: that wasn’t really a consideration here, but the original idea behind the book was that Jax needed to be almost broken, and Michael felt killing Laranth would be a means of accomplishing that. What else did he have to lose that would have that impact? There’s I-Five, but I-Five is sort of necessary in Jax’s universe and he’s the connective tissue that binds Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, the MedStar series and the Coruscant Nights series together.
I think Michael rather likes killing off important characters. We’d originally talked about killing off Den Dhur in Patterns of the Force, but when it came down to the wire, Michael couldn’t do it. “You pick someone to die,” he said. “‘Cause somebody’s got to die.” (Alas, poor Rhinann, we knew him well.)
But note that, just in case we do any more Jax Pavan stories (and a hearty raspberry to those who think we ought to kill him off) we created a couple of female characters that have some chemistry with Jax.
As hard as Laranth’s death must have been, was it difficult killing off a bad guy like Tesla or was it much easier?
MKB: Interesting question! I was going to say easier, but that depends on what you mean. Laranth was hard to let go of emotionally (and she does have a presence in the story even after she’s dead), but writing her death scene was “easy” in that I was able to put myself in the emotional viewpoint of the characters who witness her death—Den and Jax—and just write. I like that sequence because it resonates emotionally for me. What was hard about it craft-wise, was the fear of not having given the reader enough of Laranth alive—and her relationship with Jax—for them to feel the impact of her death the way we hope they would.
Now, Tesla was easy to let go of emotionally, but it was hard from a craft standpoint because when you axe a malevolent character like that, his death has to create a big enough MOMENT and be executed in such a way that there’s a sort of emotional symmetry or rightness to it. We wanted Tesla’s death to be poetically just. I think it was.
When writing The Last Jedi, what role did you see the Cephalon playing in relation to Jax?
MKB: My family is re-watching Babylon 5 right now on our “yay! the whole family is home!” nights, and it occurs to me—‘cause that question surprised me—that the Cephalons are kind of like Kosh. Or at least they play a similar role to the Vorlons. They’re the seers, the oracles. They say these impenetrable things that only make perfect sense in retrospect.
But of course, if you follow that trope back far enough, you probably get to Tolkien’s Valar or at least the Mayar, which are also beings who are loosely tethered to what we think of as reality. These sort of timeless beings that, though they can see some events, can’t see everything.
Michael introduced the Cephalons earlier in the series, and I admit I became fascinated with their points of view and the impact that these weird oracular pronouncements could have on someone in Jax’s unique position.
What they present to Jax is really similar to the time travel paradox (or prophetic paradox) of causality: if you are aware of an event in your future, how do you know that your efforts to change it won’t actually be what brings it about?
Things get pretty bleak in the story, yet I thought it ended on a positive note. Did you ever consider a different ending?
MKB: Oh, yes. And I know there are readers out there who feel we should have given Jax the ultimate ending. Heck, we heard about how “Jax should die!” when Patterns of the Force came out.
For this I blame George R.R. Martin (who is a lovely gentleman, by the way, and whom I wish every success). But his Game of Thrones series has created an expectation that in any serious dramatic work, your favorite character should die just ‘cos.
The editorial point of view was, “If you want to kill Jax, you may. But you don’t have to.” Once we started working on the outline, we gave no serious thought to it because that wasn’t the kind of book we wanted to write. We wanted to write a book about the indomitability of the Jedi spirit. Even though he thinks he may be the last of his kind, Jax keeps going because he knows he must—the alternatives are too horrible.
Jax may want to die—is willing to die—but, as they say: Thereby hangs the tale.
We want to thank Maya for taking the time to answer our questions and we hope everyone checks out The Last Jedi.