A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #10: Here There Be Icons


To the left of this text is an icon. His name, for any of you who missed the last half-century, is Han Solo.

George Lucas, of course, was the first person to write about Han. With the able aid of an engaging unknown actor named Harrison Ford, George turned Han into an iconic character—recognizable on sight to millions of people around the world (and possibly to any aliens watching our airwaves 🙂 (Heh.)

Ever wonder what it might feel like to be Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, or Carrie Fisher—unable to walk past a book stand in market, drugstore, airport or bookstore without seeing a fictionalized version of your youthful self staring at you from myriad covers?

While being an icon is probably daunting, writing about one can be equally intimidating. Ann Crispin, of course, was the first to write about Han Solo in depth, and she talks about her mixed feelings of appreciation and apprehension at being asked to undertake giving Han Solo a life.

dashrendar_cardWell, okay, so Dash Rendar isn’t Han Solo, but—hey, he’s an icon too! See, there he is on that playing card. And it is a bit daunting to consider “fleshing him out” as they say. The challenge is to give you, dear reader, a Dash who is familiar and meets your expectations in significant ways, while revealing new and interesting things about him that amaze you, engage you, even surprise you.

This is no easy task. When I read the wide array of comments about the Coruscant Nights trilogy, I see that fans have completely different takes on different iconic characters. Take Darth Vader, for example. Michael Reaves drew exuberant praise and snarled criticism for the way he (and in the case of Patterns of Force, his anonymous padawan) handled Vader. The reason for this is simple: Fans and writers alike have their own idea of who Darth Vader is and what motivates him. The Darth Vader of the first three films was mysterious, aloof. He had no real history and we knew nothing about the human being, Anakin Skywalker, until the third film. Now, though, we have three more films that have allowed us to watch the genesis of the character from the boy, Anakin, to the warped man, Vader.

There’s a flashback in Patterns of Force in which Anakin gives Jax Pavan a pyronium crystal. Having written that scene, I was hyper-aware, when I wrote Darth Vader’s scenes throughout the book, who was inside that suit. Not the carefully controlled Darth Vader of the first trilogy, as portrayed by James Earl Jones and Sebastian Shaw, but the angry, vengeful Anakin Skywalker of the final film—a powerful being driven by a strong impulse to smash what he cannot have and punish those he once called friends. I had to remember, as I wrote, that the man in the black life support suit was, like Michael’s hero, only about twenty-five or twenty-six years old and, though powerful, was not yet a master of his hatred and loss.

That sort of illustrates the hydra-headed challenge of writing these characters. The writer may face having an overwhelming amount of information (as in the case of Han Solo or Darth Vader). In that case, they must step carefully around the pitfalls of violating the reader’s cherished ideas about the character, while adding content to that character that other writers will draw on, in their turn.

In the case of Dash Rendar, we face a dearth of information. Sure, we have a sketch of Dash’s life and basics about his family, but who is Dash Rendar?

That’s for Michael and I to figure out. And, as always, the fans of the genre will let us know how well we did our job.

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A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #10: Here There Be Icons — 13 Comments

  1. I thought that the flashback to the Jedi Archives in Patterns Of Force was wonderful. You are right when you say that your stile of writing is similar to Michael Reaves.

    I can’t wait to see what you cook up for Dash Rendar.

  2. “Fans and writers alike have their own idea of who Darth Vader is and what motivates him.”

    It’s not about that, really. Darth Vader of “Coruscant Nights” trilogy wasn’t just inconsistent with already established character (and I’m also referring to his brilliant portrayal as of year 19 BBY, eg. in comic books “Dark Times” and “Purge” or novel “Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader”), he was also depicted as some kind of insane, kitschy villain of pre-WWII movies era – exactly the same thing Mr. Stover made fun of in his “Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor”. And though I understand that you wanted Vader to feel different that Empire Strikes Back-era Vader, you have actually created completely un-Vader like character, who is given some of the worst dialogues in the whole “Coruscant Nights” trilogy.

    This is definitely not the way to show/treat the greatest fictional bad guy in history. That said, I’d like to make one small suggestion about recreating familiar characters: don’t go too far and don’t change too much.

    Apart from that, I’ve got to tell you, “Padawan’s Journal” is one of the best blog entries I’ve came across in a long time. Keep up the good work and good luck with “Holostar”. Hope it’s gonna be great, heh.

  3. Elizabeth Moon tells the story of being in an elevator in a hotel, and Sean Connery getting on. With an effort she was able to repress fannish shrieks of excitement and glee, demands for an autograph, and so on. Connery eyed her, saw that she was not going to burst into transports, and without motion or gesture expressed his approval. They stood silently side by side until the elevator got to the lobby.

  4. Well, I won’t hold my breath hoping that you’ll think Holostar is great in any event, Jedi, but I think that your post combined with Alex’s above proves my point about characterization rather handily.

    This happens a lot in the life of a writer. The same dialogue and characterization that makes one fan enthuse and throw rose petals makes another one declare that you’ve written “the worst dialogues” ever.

    Now were I a normal human being, the dear Jedi’s peculiar disregard for my (human) feelings, while showing every care for the feelings of the “greatest fictional bad guy in history”????” would no doubt have had me sobbing uncontrollably over my keyboard and wondering if I even should write anymore at all.

    Fortunately, I am not a normal human being. I’m a writer. You’ve no doubt heard that we don’t feel pain like other people. 🙂

    Here’s the thing: I’m pretty secure in my sense that the scene Michael and I created shows a confrontation between two young men who had once been friends but are now mortal enemies (though one doesn’t fully realize it). Both are scarred by the same set of events, but in different ways. One is hiding inside a menacing persona, the other is “naked” of deceit.

    When I originally drafted that scene, my question to myself was, “how would an angry, powerful, but still immature man treat the object of his irrational venom?” The second was, “How would that be altered by the anonymity of the suit?” We behave differently when we are anonymous or hiding behind a persona, I think, and it encourages us to make our gestures bigger and more potent-seeming. In Vader’s case, it makes it easier to hide the subtext of his words because neither Jax or the reader can see Anakin’s eyes or facial expressions … but the writer can.

    Michael and I clearly see Darth Vader differently than Jedi Nadiru Radena does; some fans will like our interpretation, some won’t.

    Which simply leads full-circle to the title of my blog.

    And I’m glad you’re at least enjoying that, Jedi. I shall now adjourn to weep into my tea cup. 🙁

    Maya (Graduate of the Darth Vader School of Personnel Management) 😉

  5. “Well, I won’t hold my breath hoping that you’ll think Holostar is great in any event”

    I’d be scared if you did 🙂

    “Fortunately, I am not a normal human being. I’m a writer. You’ve no doubt heard that we don’t feel pain like other people.”

    I’m actually a writer myself, back in Poland, so I know sth about criticism – sure, we don’t feel pain, but from time to time there comes this guy, who is a real pain in the you-know-what, but in the same time he precisely enumerates all your mistakes… and is usually right about them. I’m not saying I’m someone like that – hell, I wouldn’t even like to be 😉

    But back to business:

    “We behave differently when we are anonymous or hiding behind a persona, I think, and it encourages us to make our gestures bigger and more potent-seeming.”

    I understand completely, but you’re making assumption that Mr. Vader is encouraged to act like stereotypical villain because in this particular moment he is hiding behind a mask and feels anonymous – but now (which is around half a year after “RotS”) he is already that persona you’re referring to and he is already that mask. He’s grown accustomed to his armor and his new image/personality/character, so it’d be strange for him to suddenly get over-emotional. Besides, Jax Pavan wasn’t really Anakin’s friend or vice versa – they just knew each other, as it was said in either “Street of Shadows” or “Patterns of Force”.

    One other thing – as it comes to Darth Vader, I was complaining about his portrayal in the whole “Coruscant Nights” series, not only that particular scene. I greatly respect Michael Reaves, especially for his wonderful earlier works, but in this case he just – how do you say it? – ‘didn’t manage’. Most of SW writers don’t, so it’s nothing new, but since you so closely listen to the voice of fans… One way or another, when opinions concerning Vader in “PoF” are as different as you say they are, maybe you should get to know opinions of Vader’s portrayal in other EU materials of that period so that you can decide which feels the best? I know, I’m asking too much. It decreases your writer’s autonomy (I know how it feels) and makes you irritated, but… it’s a tie-in. Darth Vader is a character created by someone else.

    “I shall now adjourn to weep into my tea cup.”

    Oh no… Now I’ll have a guilty conscience. 🙁
    But I do enjoy it – talking to you, that is, not making you feel bad 😉

  6. Hi, Jedi.

    Seems we have something else in common besides Star Wars. I’m Polish-American myself. Hence the stubborn desire to be understood.

    In my blog I said, “Fans and writers alike have their own idea of who Darth Vader is and what motivates him.” To which you replied,”It’s not about that, really.”

    But, you see, it is. If I were to study the way other writers have handled Darth Vader (which to some extent, I have) and tried to decide what worked, whatever I picked for “my” Darth Vader would still please some fans and irk others. Your view of Darth Vader is your view. It is not shared by all fans everywhere. As I said, I’ve had other fans praise the very characterization you think is so “off.”

    I wrote Darth Vader the way I saw the character evolving from his history: A 25 year-old, severely scarred human being locked inside a fearsome suit. I saw him as very powerful, but still fighting his emotions — which are almost all centered around a feeling of having been betrayed, having been rejected, having “fallen”, if you will. I did NOT see him as already being entirely together behind the mask — already the Darth Vader we see in the first three movies. I see him as a being in flux, still haunted by the things that hurt him. And when he faces Jax Pavan he is faced with all those things in the form of a one-time friend, someone who still adheres to the Jedi code of honor, someone whose very existence is salt in the wounds … and who reminds him of what he is not, what he has lost and what he has become, all in one fell swoop. The dialogue reflects his desire to hurt Jax, but slyly, in a way that suggests he is more in control of his emotions than he really is.

    I frankly would find it odd that that anger WOULDN’T spill out of the cracks in such a situation and frankly, if it didn’t, the character would be less interesting to write.

    And yes, they were friends. What Jax comments on is that he never felt that he could get that close to Anakin — that there was a barrier there.

    But hey, maybe you’ll like HOLOSTAR after all — Darth Vader does not plan on making an appearance therein, so all is well. 🙂

    And thanks for caring what we write — I mean that, most sincerely.

  7. “I’m Polish-American myself. Hence the stubborn desire to be understood.”

    Poles are everywhere 🙂 But ‘stubborn desire to be understood’ in my case would definitely be a part of my Yugoslav heritage… Eh, complicated stuff.

    I’ve got some conflicting feelings right now 😉 You’ve certainly managed to convince me that your point of view is quite plausible (it’s really nice when author actually gives his/her arguments for the things he/she’s written, not just “I did it because I did it”), but on the other hand… well, I still think what I thought when I wrote my first answer here. It’s not the Vader I imagine him to be in the year 18,5 BBY.

    “But hey, maybe you’ll like HOLOSTAR after all”

    Oh, I forgot to say it, didn’t I? In my polish review of “Patterns of Force” I gave the book 8,5/10. I really really liked your – and Michel’s – book. Apart from Vader, few continuity mistakes and not-so-satisfying ending, you did a brilliant job. I read the whole thing in just one day, which is my personal best 🙂 As for “Holostar” – so far I’m unhappy with one thing: 2011. That’s a long time to wait, but I’m sure it’s going to be worthwhile. Right? 😉

    “And thanks for caring what we write — I mean that, most sincerely.”

    Well, it’s Star Wars. We just want it to be the best 🙂

  8. Now, see, that was the missing bit — that there were things you liked. 😀

    I was taught that when you critique something or someone, you always let them know what they did right before you tell them what you think they did wrong. Otherwise, they go away with the impression that you think they’re terrible at what they do.

    I had a software project in which my team knocked themselves out to come up with a neat, innovative game-style learning tool. In the first meeting after we delivered, the Quality Manager launched into a litany of all the stuff we did wrong (which seemed really minor in a lot of instances.) Before he finished I could see by the stricken looks on my staff’s faces that they were feeling terrible.

    “Wait a minute,” I said. “We busted our buns on this project and gave you something no one else has. Didn’t you like anything?”

    “Oh, yeah,” the QM said, “we absolutely loved 95% of what you did. It’s fantastic! It’s just these few little things…”

    “That is not the impression we got,” I told him. “We have no way of knowing you don’t think it’s all trash unless you say so.” (I also told the guy that if he ever talked to my staff like that again, I was going to come after him with a pointy stick. I had a reputation to uphold. My nickname i the corporate offices was the Wicked Witch of the West.)

    Now, I grant you that for a writer whose been at it for a while, it’s not as critical, but it can still put questions in your head. And it really is nice to hear what people thought you got right.

    So, thank you for the kudos for what you liked. And I’m sorry you didn’t like the ending. It’s hampered a bit by the fact that everybody major has to live to fight again another day. We are not allowed to seriously inconvenience Mr. Vader, so we do what we can. You can blame me. I have always liked situations in which the adversary is brought down by his own character flaws — impatience, hubris, the false assumption that if a lot of power is a good thing, exponentially increased power is even better. (Yes, Wily Coyote, there really is such a thing as too much TNT.) 🙂

    I guarantee we’ll do our best by HOLOSTAR.

  9. I think that the lesser known characters are even harder to write in some ways, especially game characters, because each fan has already imagined them in their heads or given them attributes and personalities to “fill-in” the lack of info on them in official sources. I don’t envy writers who have to in-fill character backgrounds for characters who have been around a while and may not have had much in the way of personality building.

    The old OOC (out of character) debate has always struck me as strange, since in real life people are never so predictable, and yet fans will instantly be on anything they think violates a thin wedge of characterization. “Character X would never do/think that!” is a strange position to take, especially when often these characters are thrust into situations we can’t even imagine ever having to be in. And, sometimes, people do irrational things.

    For me I like the idea of characters being more than If/Then routines, and people do change, slip, make mistakes, and it has to be crazy to keep all the variables in one’s mind when dealing with an iconic character such as Vader, who is (as you say) not always the cool customer of the OT but also the hotheaded youth of the PT.

    I’m looking forward to your novel and I thank you for the time in discussing the process with us.

  10. I can’t even begin to understand how hard it would be to write someone as iconic as Darth Vader and then to be subjected to fan reaction on the fruits of your labor.

    Part of what makes Star Wars books so fun is reading how each author interprets and expresses each character differently. If I wanted the same Darth Vader from the movies, I’d watch the movies. I admit, if a character doesn’t jive with the way I imagine him or her in my head, my first reaction is irritation. But I get over it because if I didn’t, I couldn’t enjoy the books in the first place! There’s a certain suspension of belief in the strict framework of characters we enjoy that has to happen for the next version of that character to emerge within the context of each new book.

    I think of this as the “Goof” or “Fudge Factor”–the allowances I think authors are entitled to take because they’re not George Lucas, because they are doing their best (and hopefully, having fun at it) to write a character like we all remember someone else having done so. I only think of it as “goof” because quite obviously, authors are all different people with different talents and different voices.

    But how great is it to be able to remember the many variations on characters like Darth Vader? To find your favorites or the versions that made you laugh (in a good way)? Just as fun as seeing how different artists draw characters like, say, Dash Rendar!

    I think if a character was 100% true-to-life in a book, it would make the moments where we find one version we like above all the rest so much less phenomenal.

    Anyway, I hope this makes sense. I still think the CN trilogy was good fun and no harm done. 🙂

  11. “Ann Crispin, of course, was the first to write about Han Solo in depth…”
    I beleive that Brian Daley, in his three Han Solo novels (Han Solo at Stars’ End, Han Solo’s Revenge, and Han Solo and the Lost Legacy, all originally published in 1979 and 1980), was the first the first author to write about Han Solo in depth.

  12. @PRB

    Those books didn’t really deal with Han Solo’s personal history, they were more adventure stories after he’d already become a scoundrel. 😉

  13. Hi, PRB,

    When I said “in depth,” I meant what Erika was talking about—Ann’s novels centered entirely on filling in Han Solo’s backstory and explaining how he came to be the Han Solo that stepped on screen in New Hope.

    At any rate, neither my editor at Del Rey nor our liaison at Lucasfilm corrected me, so I think I’m at least partly on solid ground. 🙂