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Tue July 16, 2013

Use The Books, Fans: 'Star Wars' Franchise Thrives In Print

Originally published on Tue July 16, 2013 7:56 am

There's been a frenzy of excitement since last year when Disney bought Lucasfilm, creator of the Star Wars franchise, and announced it would make more Star Wars movies. Fans are eagerly awaiting hints of what might happen next in the story, and one way the franchise keeps fans interested is through a pantheon of Star Wars books, the latest of which is Troy Denning's Star Wars: Crucible.

Alexandra Alter wrote about LucasBooks, the publishing arm of Lucasfilm, for The Wall Street Journal. She tells NPR's David Greene that the novelizations have become much more popular than anyone thought they would.

According to Alter, "It's actually gotten to the point where there are really hardcore Star Wars fans that prefer the books to the movies."


Interview Highlights

On the time span the novels cover

"Twenty-five thousand years, and there's more than 200 of the novels, so it goes all the way back, I believe, to the beginning of the Jedi Order. Right now, they're sort of 40 years beyond where the original trilogy of movies left off, and that's kind of the furthermost point in the future for the novels."

On who writes Star Wars novels and what the process is like

"There [are] dozens of writers that contribute, everybody from horror novelists to sci-fi novelists. You have people that have kind of specialized in being Star Wars novelists, which is a sort of funny specialty for a novelist because there's not much creative freedom, actually. Lucasfilm controls all the story lines; they provide writers with really detailed plot points. The writers have to submit their outlines for approval, and anything that kind of deviates too far from what Lucasfilm has in mind is not going to be approved, that's going to be changed so that they can keep everything consistent across their brand."

On who is in charge of keeping everything consistent and how they do it

"LucasBooks has three editors that are involved in crafting the story line. And then sort of the grand master of the universe — the Keeper of the Holocron is his official title — this is Leland Chee and he's the continuity editor and he's got an incredible amount of work to do. He has to make sure that, you know, in every single story the aliens have the right number of eyes and arms, the technology's right. He's the one that makes sure that there's no detail that's amiss, because fans would certainly notice if an alien had five arms and they were supposed to have four.

" ... The Keeper of the Holocron has created this vast database — it has 17,000 characters in it, it's got all the star systems in the galaxy. And he has this database that he searches through if he needs to refer to something. I think he's the kind of uber fan and genius who has a lot of it in his head as well."

On the size of the Star Wars books series, which began in 1976, before the first film even came out

"LucasBooks is putting out 60 to 70 titles every year. And I don't know of any other movie franchise that has created this other parallel universe of novels that has gone on to be perhaps as successful as the films, certainly reaching an audience far beyond what you would expect."

On what book fans will be looking for in the new Star Wars films

"Fans of the books are concerned that the new movies are not going to be faithful to the narrative that's unfolded. You know, 40 years have passed in the Star Wars world. Han and Leia are married [and] they have kids. Luke is married and has a son. And I think Star Wars fans really want to see those characters come to life on the screen and some of them are going to be very upset if they don't see the story of the books played out in films."

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Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And now to some business in a galaxy far, far away. There once was a bickering couple named Han Solo and Princess Leia.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "STAR WARS EPISODE V - THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK")

HARRISON FORD: (as Han Solo) Ah. Come on.

CARRIE FISHER: (as Princess Leia) You're imagining things.

FORD: Am I? Then why are you following me? Afraid I was going to leave without giving you a goodbye kiss?

FISHER: I'd just as soon kiss a Wookie.

FORD: I can arrange that.

GREENE: But the "Star Wars" movies never tell you what happened to these lovebirds and their flirtation. Some people do know.

ALEXANDRA ALTER: They get married. They have three kids. You know, in the most recent book they're grandparents, so they've been together for 40 years at this point.

GREENE: The parallel universe of "Star Wars" books is today's last word in business.

That voice was Alexandra Alter from The Wall Street Journal. She's been paging through this world and writing about it. She says the creators of this franchise published the first novel in 1976 - the year before the first film came out. It was a way to promote the movie.

ALTER: But it's continued far beyond what anyone, I think, initially thought it would. It's actually gotten to the point where there are really hardcore "Star Wars" fans that prefer the books to the movies.

GREENE: That's pretty amazing. It shows you the power of the books. And we should say these books, they cover a time span of something like 25,000 years.

ALTER: That's right.

GREENE: I mean, that's a lot of material.

(LAUGHTER)

ALTER: That's right. Yes. Twenty-five thousand years, and there's more than 200 of the novels. So it goes all the way back to the beginning of the Jedi Order. And right now, they're sort of 40 years beyond where the original trilogy of movies left off, and that's kind of the furthermost point in the future for the novels.

GREENE: Who is writing all of these things?

ALTER: There's dozens of writers that contribute. You have people that have kind of specialized in being "Star Wars" novelists, which is a sort of funny specialty for a novelist because there's not much creative freedom, actually. Lucasfilm controls all the story lines; they provide writers with really detailed plot points. The writers have to submit their outlines for approval, and anything that kind of deviates too far from what Lucasfilm has in mind is not going to be approved; that's going to be changed so that they can keep everything consistent across their brand.

GREENE: So there are actually people who work for Lucas who are looking at these potential books and making sure that characters stay true to who they are and no one dies at the wrong time? That's quite an odd job.

ALTER: Yes. LucasBooks has three editors that are involved in crafting the story line. And then sort of the grand master of the universe is - the Keeper of the Holocron is his official title - this is Leland Chee, and he's the continuity editor and he's got to make sure that, you know, in every single story the aliens have the right number of eyes and arms, the technology's right. He's the one that makes sure that there's no detail that's amiss, because fans would certainly notice if an alien had five arms and they were supposed to have four.

GREENE: That certain alien, I knew that alien had five arms and...

ALTER: Exactly.

GREENE: How does he keep track of all these characters and all this stuff?

ALTER: That's a great question. So the Keeper of the Holocron has created this vast database - it has 17,000 characters in it. It's got all the star systems and I think he's the kind of uber fan and genius who has a lot of it in his head as well.

GREENE: I would imagine you'd have to be to have that job.

ALTER: Yeah.

GREENE: Step back for me if you can, Alexandra, in the world of books and publishing, I mean have you ever seen anything like this?

ALTER: You know, I haven't come across this. I was really astonished when I first heard about these books. I sort of thought, that's interesting, the story has continued, but I didn't realize how extensive the universe of books is. I mean LucasBooks is putting out 60 to 70 titles every year. And I don't know of any other movie franchise that has created this other parallel universe of novels that has gone on to be perhaps as successful as the films, certainly reaching an audience far beyond what you would expect.

GREENE: And so we are getting three new movies, and I know there's a lot of anticipation about how true those characters in the movies are going to be to what we've learned about in the books.

ALTER: That's right. Fans of the books are concerned that the new movies are not going to be faithful to the narrative that's unfolded. You know, 40 years have passed in the Star Wars world. Han and Leia are married, they have kids. Luke is married and has a son. And I think Star Wars fans really want to see those characters come to life on the screen and some of them are going to be very upset if they don't see the story of the books played out in films.

GREENE: Alexandra Alter, thanks for joining us, and may the force be with you.

ALTER: Thanks so much, with you as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF "STAR WARS" THEME SONG)

GREENE: And that's the business news on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

(SOUNDBITE OF "STAR WARS" THEME SONG) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.