After the rebels destroyed the Death star at the end of Star Wars, they celebrated. But as we learned in subsequent movies, they won the battle but still had to win the war. And in the current Dark Horse comic series, simply titled Star Wars, writer Brian Wood has been exploring the uncharted territory between Episodes IV and V and shown Leia taking charge, Luke taking orders, and Han and Chewbacca getting into lots of trouble.
And that’s just in the first story-arc.
In July’s Star Wars #7, Wood kicked off a new arc with his frequent artist collaborator Ryan Kelly (Local, DMZ, Northlanders, New York Four) to show Luke and his frequent ally Wedge Antilles behind enemy lines in the Empire – captured on purpose for a secret mission looking for a spy within their ranks. Meanwhile, Han and Chewbacca are up to their necks in bounty hunters, including a certain Fett. And meanwhile, Darth Vader is at odds with the empire over a recent demotion and the hard-charging Colonel who is vying for his place by the Emperor’s side.
In this month’s A Galaxy Far Away, we rendezvous with Wood to talk about the series so far, his future plans, and his favorite bounty hunter; here’s a hint, it’s not Boba Fett.
Newsarama: A lot has happened in the first seven issues of this Star Wars title, Brian. You’ve shown Han & Chewie on their own, a spy within the ranks of the Rebellion, Darth Vader trying to earn the respect of the Emperor, and Princess Leia really stepping up her game as a tactical officer. Taking measure of it all so far, how do you think your run so far has accomplished what you set out to do?
Brian Wood: It's done exactly what I've wanted it to do (and more, if you count the commercial success, which was a happy surprise for everyone involved). This first arc sort of naturally spread from 6 issues to 12, which is no small change from the initial plans, but it's a decently big story with lots of scene shifts and X-wing dogfights, and plots within plots. And we still have at least one major twist yet to come, and some pretty interesting scenes that show, in deeply personal ways, how Luke and Leia cope with their losses from A New Hope.
Nrama: I really admire the way you handled Leia and made her the point person for Mon Mothma’s search for a Imperial spy inside the rebellion. Can you tell us how that aspect of the series developed in your pitch and conversations with Dark Horse and Lucasfilm, and how it’s played out so far in the series?
Wood: In my first draft proposal, I tagged on at the end "Oh, and I really want to make Leia an X-wing pilot." No explanation or argument, just this one line that I suppose could have been taken as joke. I was deadly serious, but I wasn't sure how it would be received by either Dark Horse or Lucasfilm. But thankfully they took it as serious and agreed with it, no discussions. At least one of the editors was relieved, since I'm led to understand that much of Leia's EU depictions have her in a purely diplomatic role. So I went for it, made her the leader of this squadron of pilots and gave her some serious chops. Every so often I get flak for it, but people who think Leia can't handle this role are people who just haven't paid attention to the films.
On balance, what I've done with Leia has almost universal support amongst the people I've spoken to, and reviewers I've read.
Nrama: One thing your Star Wars run so far has been full of his dogfighting, complete with some seemingly realistic terminology on maneuvering a ship in space. Can you tell us how you plotted out these dogfighting segments and made it work? I remember Lucas referring old World War 2 footage for the films.
Wood: My main source of inspiration are the X-Wing series of novels, which handle the mechanics and details of dogfighting in a way I could never hope to match. But I did think more about traditional airplanes than "spaceships", thinking about rudders and yaw and pitch, rather than just allowing the fighters to float around any which way, whenever. I can certainly understand Lucas' attraction to the WW2 stuff. But, to be honest, those X-Wing novels deserve all the praise for that, as far as what I've written.
Nrama: Creeping up in the shadows of this is Boba Fett, already on the trial of Han and Chewie way before he appeared in Empire Strikes Back. What are your plans for Boba?
Wood: I have no plans to do anything major with Boba Fett, except to establish this prior connection to Han. Nothing major in terms of character development or continuity alteration. That said, there's a pretty wicked chase scene coming up.
Nrama: And there’s more than one bounty hunter on deck; you’ve also shown Bossk in some scenes. I remember you saying you have a particular fondness for Bossk – so what do you see in him?
Wood: Mostly his ship. It looks cool as hell, and has the coolest name: Hound's Tooth. I could write a whole series based just around that.
Nrama: In the final pages of Star Wars #6 we saw Wedge Antilles and Luke being read in on the plans to ferret out the Imperial spy. Wedge was always in the backseat during the movies but had some great stories in subsequent video games and novels. What’s your take on him and his role in all this?
Wood: I like Wedge. Again, the influence of those X-Wing novels shows up, as he was a main character in those. Because of that, I've come to consider Wedge to be an A-list character equal to Luke and Han but I came to realize he's not that in the eyes of most fans and so it was a surprise for them to see me using him as much as I am. As an aside, I also like Wedge because I like the actor who played him, Denis Lawson... I love anything that guy does, especially his role in Local Hero, one of my all-time favorite films. So Wedge will always be around in this series, at least as long as I'm writing it.
Nrama: Re-reading the series so far in preparation for this interview, I was stuck by a small but personal moment when Leia was reminiscent about her homeworld, Alderaan, by watching a little touristy video. I haven’t read or seen where she ever got to properly absorb that loss in the fast-paced world of Star Wars. Will you be touching on that at all?
Wood:Yes, in a much, much bigger way. It happens in this next trio of issues, #7-9. Luke, too.
Nrama: And sitting next to you in the pilot’s cabin, the Chewie to your Han Solo (or is it vice versa), is Ryan Kelly. You’ve worked together extensively since 2005, but he seems and out-of-left-field choice for Star Wars – but in a good way. How’d it come about?
Wood: I suggested him. Dark Horse has their own rolodex of potential artists for these books, all of them perfectly well-suited, but as a writer who values past collaborators, I ALWAYS recommend someone I've worked with in the last. In the case of Ryan, he was known to Dark Horse after he narrowly missed out on a Buffy book, so his samples were all on file. I put his name in, next thing I knew he was hired. I knew Ryan's a Star Wars fan, too.
With Ryan, it’s become a sort of secret project of mine to get this guy in on all sorts of different projects because, I've come to realize, there is literally nothing this guy can't draw. Vertigo fantasy, cute girl dramas, war-torn Manhattan, Viking warfare, Star Wars, you name it. And he draws the HELL out of Star Wars. He's incapable of turning in any less than his maximum effort, and it really shows. The most criminally overlooked artist, I think, in the eyes of editors.
Nrama: Ryan’s first issue is on stands now, and I think I’m with the fans in saying he's got the necessary eye for detail with ships and what not, but he really nails the human aspects of this to keep it from having a cold feeling. Knowing he was on the receiving end of your scripts, did you orient your storytelling different to take advantage of that?
Wood: Most of these scripts were written before I knew it was Ryan drawing them, so I didn't have as much of a chance to customize the scripts. But this is a case of this series in a general way being perfect for Ryan, ANYWAY, so he can just stroll in and start laying down the ink almost as if it was written for him. It's all very seamless. And as well as Carlos D'Anda can handle the details, Ryan can match him, so overall it's a very good mix of talent.
Nrama: Before we go, what can you promise coming up in the Star Wars comic series?
Wood: Well, I'll skip ahead and talk about next year, starting with #13. Less X-wings, less dogfights, less deep space and more diplomacy and politics, more planet-based. Turns out Hoth wasn't the only world they had a base on, in between films.