Right out of the gate, the novelization of The Last Jedi does something that shocks old-school Star Wars fans and surprises the more casual geek.
On the very first page, the book almost casually mentions Camie, a teenager who was cut out of A New Hope in post-production and largely only mentioned in what are now non-canonical books and comics. By the third paragraph of this book, she’s named as Luke Skywalker’s ever-patient wife on Tatooine, and even as we learn that the scenario is a dream of a path not taken, it still cements her in modern Star Wars lore.
It’s a major decision that sets the tone for a book that takes the most radical Star Wars movie to another level — and the sort of decision you’d only expect from a lifelong fan who has been writing Star Wars books for two decades and inventing stories about the characters since A New Hope first opened in theaters.
“It actually was a seed of an idea I'd been kicking around for years,” author Jason Fry says in the new episode The Fandom Files. “It was this what-if story, and I wanted this quiet apocalypse where everything seems fine, and then the more you dig into it, you realize that things are actually really awful. The galaxy has gone to a very, very bad place. I wanted it to be super quiet so you could miss everything that had gone wrong if you don’t look too deeply.”
After conversations with Last Jedi writer/director Rian Johnson, and further reflection on the themes of the movie and the function of a good novelization, Fry realized that the reader would want an insight into Luke’s mind — as would the Force. If he made the what-if dream a message from the Force, it would be the perfect way into the book.
“I kept thinking that one of the really fun things in The Last Jedi is you get the sense of the Force almost as an entity, almost as a character in its own right,” Fry says. “There's no way the will of the Force would let him get away with that, and so it would constantly be trying to get at him and get him to listen. Then the last logical piece was, where are we going to be most vulnerable in that way? It's dreams.”
Few people are as qualified to make that judgment as Fry, whose childhood fandom became an amateur hobby and then a full-blown career in the late ‘90s. When the internet first offered fans an opportunity to dissect their favorite obsessions with like-minded nerds, he quickly discovered an AOL community where people shared a passion for the smallest nuances of the unmapped galaxy.
“I had kept this Excel database of all the planets and star systems that people had thought of, and with the internet in its early days, I was trying to figure out how to update more and make more useful,” he says. “I got to be good friends with a bunch of people, one of whom was Dan Wallace, who wrote a book for Lucasfilm for Del Ray called The Essential Guide to Planets and Moons. The funny thing was I didn't want to give [the Excel] to Dan, because I was worried he would feel I was stepping on his turf. Finally, the book was out, and I was like, ‘Oh, here, I made this thing,’ and Dan was like, ‘Why didn't you give this to me when I was writing the book? This would've been really useful.’”
A missed opportunity to be helpful wound up becoming the start of a new career, as he and Wallace — they stayed friends — soon wrote a follow-up book: Star Wars: The Essential Atlas. The idea was to create a guide to how the entire galaxy works, with a back-of-book roadmap that would link coordinates to every single planet ever mentioned in Star Wars books, comics, games, toys, and other media — this during a time of wild spinoffs and predating the modern Lucasfilm Story Group and reset canon. Even the people in charge were skeptical of their goal.
“I remember the poor editor was like, ‘How many of these planets do you want to do grid coordinates for?’” Fry recalls, laughing. “There were about 2,800 at the time. Turns out we missed about 50.”
Still, it was a pretty good ratio, especially given the scavenger hunt nature of the job — there was no Wookieepedia at the time. Since then, Fry has written several more Star Wars books and products, with varying degrees of editorial freedom.
“Every project will be different. For something, like the book Weapon of a Jedi, the basic story had been thought of, and it was my job to fill it in and then take it to some different places. For The Last Jedi novelization, we were sticking really pretty close to a story and then figuring out some ways you can enrich it and deepen it in a way that a movie can't,” he says. “On the other hand, I wrote a four-book series called Servants of the Empire, which tied in to the Rebels TV show, and for that one, I knew from the beginning we were going to retell one Rebels episode and from a different point of view. Then the character I was writing about, Zare Leonis, was a bit of a cameo in another one, but other than that, I was free to take that story wherever I wanted.”
Fry loves the job, but it’s not his only gig. He also writes his own original novels — his acclaimed Jupiter Pirates series is now four books deep — and spends significant time and focus on his other childhood-passion-turned-career: baseball.
Even before he fell in love with Star Wars, Fry was an obsessive New York Mets fan, born into the afterglow of the team’s miracle ‘69 championship run and growing up in the waning days of Tom Seaver’s Hall of Fame run in Queens. In fact, Seaver was traded from the Mets less than a month after the first Star Wars hit theaters, a transaction that felt to fans as if the Dark Side had taken control of executive M. Donald Grant’s mind.
As with Star Wars, Fry stuck with the team through some lean years (OK, they’ve mostly been lean years) and devotes a fair amount of time to his well-regarded and long-running blog, Faith and Fear in Flushing. Jocks and nerds haven’t always seen eye to eye, to say the least, even though Fry thinks that they have more in common than they’d probably want to admit. That’s the argument he’s made time and again when trying to straddle the two worlds.
“I used to get simultaneous side-eye from my Star Wars peeps, who were like, ‘Why are you going to the stadium with a bunch of drunks to watch ritualized aggression?’” he says, laughing. “I'd be like, 'Dude, it's really not like that. It's just epic stories with heroes and villains that go back forever. You just don't know the ending going in.'
“Then there were Mets fans who were like, ‘You're hanging around with guys who dress like Wookiees?'” he continues. “And I'm like, 'You're basically a David Wright cosplayer, only you're only wearing the top half of the costume, so I'm not sure how high your horse is. These worlds have so much more in common to me than separates them.'"
Fry’s argument is slowly winning out, as Major League Baseball teams host their own Star Wars nights, complete with cosplay contests and giveaways. Fry was asked to dress like a stormtrooper for the first Mets-hosted Star Wars night, an experience he expounds on in the podcast.
“For me, they're both the same thing. They're both these epic stories going on forever, which you can just jump into for two or three hours —more like three with baseball these days, but you know what I mean.”
To contact us about the podcast -- or to nominate yourself or someone else as a future guest! -- feel free to drop us an e-mail or tweet at us. And if you like what you hear, please be sure to rate and review us on iTunes!