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Posted: 20th December 2008

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[ Interviews ]
Matthew Stover

[ Matthew Stover ]

Later this month Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor will be published. Written by Matthew Stover, who has already contributed three novels and one short story to the Star Wars Expanded Universe, it will tell the tale of the Alliance's efforts to stop Lord Shadowspawn and his legions of shadow stormtroopers from resurrecting the Empire only one year after the deaths of the Emperor and Darth Vader. Matthew's first Star Wars novel, Traitor (2002), formed part of The New Jedi Order story arc, while his second, Shatterpoint (2003), was set during The Clone Wars with a story that featured Mace Windu. His last book, the novelisation of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), was an international best-seller.

Star Wars Books are pleased that Matthew has taken the time to participate in this interview.

Matthew, welcome to Star Wars Books.

If you like, could we begin with a short resume of yourself and your work to date?
I started writing books when I was 17. I started selling books to publishers when I was 33. Now, at 46, I’ve written five originals and five media tie-ins. By this time next year, gods willing, I will have written seven tie-ins and be almost done with my sixth original.

Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor will be your first Star Wars novel in three years since you penned the novelisation of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, how does it feel to return to that galaxy far, far away?
I never left. I signed the contract for the book that is now LUKE SKYWALKER & THE SHADOWS OF MINDOR in 2006, not long after the mass market edition of REVENGE OF THE SITH came out. It’s just taken a long time to write, due to some unfortunate issues with my health.

What made you return to the Star Wars universe?
A bathtub full of money. Samuel Johnson said: “No one but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” I am trying very, very hard to maintain my non-blockhead status.
The fact that writing for Star Wars is also a lot of fun is just a bonus.

Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor will be set in a period rarely visited in recent times, namely the early years of The New Republic, was there any particular reason for choosing this period?
For exactly that reason. There’s a period of four or five years that hasn’t been nailed down into second-by-second continuity . . . and even so, continuity issues were probably the single biggest stumbling block in this novel’s production. When you’re dealing with Luke, Han and Leia, you’re taking on characters whose entire lives, more or less, have been already recounted in considerable detail. Part of my job in this book was to take the Luke Skywalker of RETURN OF THE JEDI and show how and why he would grow into the Luke Skywalker of DARK EMPIRE. This turned out to be considerably trickier than I had anticipated.

Your two previous original Star Wars novels, Traitor and Shatterpoint, caused a certain amount of controversy amongst the Star Wars fan fraternity for their perceived morally ambiguous themes. But you have previously stated quite strongly that there is no moral ambiguity in your work; does this perception by fans and even reviewers still irk you in any way?
Nah. They have their opinions. I have mine. We can agree to disagree.

Yet in a recent fan survey of the Top 100 Expanded Universe Works[External site - opens in a new window/tab] conducted by TheForce.net, all three of your Star Wars novels are in the top 10, Shatterpoint #9, Traitor #3 and your novelisation of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was number 1. Clearly fans enjoy your work and their expressed themes, does this make you more hopeful that at least some fans understand the themes expressed in your work?
Oh, I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of fans understand my work very well. It’s just that not all of them like it. Which is their privilege, after all.

In a recent blog entry[External site - opens in a new window/tab] you wrote that Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor is your "attempt to get the EU back to its pre-Zahn roots... specifically to evoke memories of my all-time favorite SW books, Brian Daley's Han Solo novels", do you therefore feel that the Star Wars Expanded Universe mythos has somehow lost its way over the past 20 years?
Not at all. I hope it wasn’t taken that way. I was merely trying to hearken back to the zippy pulp energy of Daley’s Han Solo Trilogy and Foster’s SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE (not to mention his legendary ghost-written novelization of ANH). This is not to say that there’s anything inherently wrong with how the EU has been progressing; I just wanted to write a book that leaned more toward the action-packed Thrilling Tales side. After all, I’ve done brutal and depressing three books in a row. It was time for a change.

Your previous Star Wars novels featured individual characters and their suffering, not just physical but also emotional, is this a theme we can expect to continue in Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor?
Jeez, I hope not.
I mean, sure, there is suffering in the book—if nobody’s suffering, there’s no need for a hero to swoop in and save the day, right? And sometimes, the hero himself might need saving . . . but really, getting that deep into somebody’s tortured soul takes up a whole lot of page-time, and I was working with an enormous cast in this book: Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, C-3P0, R2-D2, Lando, Fenn Shysa, the pilots of Rogue Squadron, some old friends from other sources . . . and that’s only the good guys. Add in the various enemies, secondary characters and an exotic alien or two, and all of a sudden you’ve got a very crowded book. It’s one thing when the book is mostly a one-man show, like Traitor and Shatterpoint, but to put that kind of deep focus on people in a book this crowded would require a War and Peace-sized story.
After all, the aim of this one is to unroll an old-fashioned whiz-bang space-opera thriller. I hope I’ve hit that mark.

And your previous Star Wars novels contained more scenes of explicit violence than is normally associated with Star Wars and acknowledging that the films do themselves portray implied violence: amputations, decapitations, burned corpses, etc as a means of storytelling; is this a theme you continue in Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor?
Dunno. I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em. (Which is a baseball metaphor roughly translating as: “Don’t ask me, I just work here.”) I don’t think of my Star Wars novels as especially violent, or especially graphic. Let me put it this way: anybody who thinks my Star Wars books contain graphic violence should read HEROES DIE, BLADE OF TYSHALLE and CAINE BLACK KNIFE to see what real graphic violence looks like.

As an acknowledged character writer, and I believe that your own acting experience lends you "the ability to inhabit a character", how do you see yourself in the role of say Luke Skywalker, or Princess Leia following the events in Return of the Jedi? Will we see this in Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor?
This is a seemingly simple question that could require a staggeringly complex answer. Let’s just say that Luke and I don’t have a lot in common, and leave it at that.

In an interview[External site - opens in a new window/tab] back in March 2001 with Gabriel Chouinard, you commented that "every fantasy writer living today should get down on their hands and knees and kiss J. K. Rowling’s feet" because she introduced a new generation of young and old readers to SFF. Now, nearly eight years, five movies, a plethora of merchandise and another three Harry Potter books later, do you still believe "may the gods’ rain blessings upon Harry Potter"?
Did I say kiss her feet? That seems uncharacteristically restrained; I was almost certainly thinking of a different body part. Look: I do occasionally change my opinion. I’ve even—once or twice—been known to admit I was wrong. This is not one of those times. Just wait for all those Potter Kids to graduate from college, get real jobs, and start looking around for something to read. Sure, maybe half of them will never buy another fantasy novel. Maybe even three quarters. Which would still leave a fantasy-hungry pool of readers totaling roughly seven and three-eights bazillion. In round numbers.

In that same interview with Gabriel Chouinard, you stated that "all fiction is a subset of fantasy", "I'm a fantasy writer" and "SFF should be more than junk food", do you believe that attitudes towards SFF by the general public have changed in the last 8 years, or is SFF still encumbered, as you may call it, as being "junk food"?
Still is. Always will be. For every show like Firefly, there will be a dozen like Charmed. Simple fact: give a monkey the choice between broccoli and chocolate, the monkey will choose chocolate. The trick is not to convince people that they should watch or read stuff that’s “good for them,”—to convince them to eat broccoli even when they want chocolate—the trick is to make the broccoli taste like chocolate. You get it? For a couple of seasons (Four and Five, if my memory serves), Buffy the Vampire Slayer was not only the most flat-out fun to be had on television, it also—eloquently and elegantly—tackled some profound existential issues with admirable seriousness . . . and without ever abandoning the Action-Girl-vs-Monster framework.
Broccoli that tastes like chocolate—an idea that could change the world . . . or at least support the career of a middle-aged SF writer.

There is no doubt that the increasing popularity of SFF in the unwritten mediums of television, with shows such as Battlestar Galactica, Smallville and Lost; and the movies, with The Golden Compass, Stardust, I, Robot and Minority Report; has given SFF a new golden age. Do you see a division in audience, or do you feel that the audiences of the unwritten mediums are discovering more of the written medium?
Beyond slightly expanding the audience for the kind of media tie-ins that make up the bulk of my income as a writer, well . . . no. Virtually all fans of SFF lit also watch at least some of the SFF TV programs and films, but the reverse is not even remotely true. The act of reading contrasts sharply with the non-act of watching television; reading narrative prose requires an active engagement of imagination, to internally create many of the features that are spoon-fed to the audience of narrative film and television.
It was once a truism (which I’m not sure was ever experimentally verified) that the human body burns more calories while sleeping than while watching television. The SFF prose audience is a small subset of the SFF all-media audience, and always will be.

So, do you believe that there is a worry that this new golden age of SFF television could be nothing more than the fickle fancy of a television audience who could popularise another genre at the expense of SFF's success?
I doubt it. With the advances in digital effects, fantasies from Harry Potter to X-Files are becoming ever-cheaper to produce. What you will see will be bleed-overs of other genres into the fantasy realm. We’ve already had plenty of vampire detectives; we’ve already had a lawyer show where the main character has psychic powers. It won’t be long before somebody does a night-time soap featuring clans of obscenely powerful demons vying for prestige in Hell.

SFF within the movie industry appears to be only latching onto popular children's or classic SFF, the works of Philip Pullman, Eoin Colfer, Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick amongst others, do you feel this to be detrimental in any way towards modern adult SFF?
No. See my answer about film-vs-prose above.

What's next for Matthew Stover?
The usual: a couple more hired-gun projects, then the Big Wrap-Up of the Acts of Caine. I always seem to have more work in hand than I can possibly accomplish, though it somehow still seems to get done.

On your blog, StoverBlog (http://mattstover.blogspot.com[External site - opens in a new window/tab]), you claim that Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor will be a best-seller (of course, there's no doubt that it will be anything less!). Premonition, or do you have Force vision abilities?
Both.

Finally, if you could meet face-to-face with any fictional person and could only ask them one question, who would that person be and what would you ask them?
YHVH. I’d like to ask Him if the Old Testament of the Christian Bible portrays Him unfairly, or if He really does stand behind every word.

Thank you Matthew for your time, it has been a pleasure and wish you every success in the future.


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