The “How I Would Have Written The Force Awakens Author Panel” at Dragon Con 2015 was, as the title suggests, about how several Star Wars authors – namely Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole, Rebecca Moesta, and Kevin J. Anderson (with Paula Rosenberg moderating) – would have written Star Wars: The Force Awakens. To be clear, this wasn’t official in any way; it was simply a group of very experienced writers examining what they would have written, in an off-the-cuff (and sometimes intentionally silly and ridiculously funny) manner.
I was lucky enough to attend the panel and it was, in my opinion, absolutely hilarious! My favorite aspect of this panel was how much fun the authors had with the discussion, how engaged they were, and how they weren’t afraid to be both outlandish and serious at times. It was actually difficult to keep up with their banter sometimes, especially when I was laughing too much to type accurately. (P.S. One of the reasons I love the Star Wars track at Dragon Con is because of how nice the authors are there, and how open and available they are with fans.) Here is the panel, recapped and somewhat abridged.
The authors began with describing how they would open the film.
KJA: The Ewoks take over the Star Destroyer …
Zahn: First we’d see a group of X-Wings, with new ships in front of them and a Star Destroyer behind. The Star Destroyer attacks the new ships. Immediately we have a new threat, new ships, new aliens, something different from what’s been done
KJA There’s a virus that gives everyone a sort of Jedi powers, mutating the midichlorians (audience groans) hey, it’s canon so we’re stuck with it! And there’s a vaccine to fix it.
Mike: There’s a tyranny of Jedi who want to protect their power by robbing other people of their ability to wield the Force? Wow.
Zahn: Luke is a hermit that doesn’t want to be connected with them.
Mike: So we have three factions: the New Republic, the Remnants of the Empire, and the theocratic Jedi, divorced from the other two factions.
Rebecca: Where’s Luke’s hermitage, on the infected planet?
Mike: It has to be on Tatooine!
Zahn: Naboo? All the Gungans become super powerful! What’s interesting is, we’ve all collaborated with each other, and this is how we do it, bounce ideas off of each other.
Mike: One of the ideas that could be worked with is a philosophical split in the Jedi Order.
Zahn: You could have a group of Jedi with the slogan “Never Again”, like the Jews, and are dead set against being shot in the back again, and are willing to do almost anything to guarantee that.
Mike: There’s three sets of Jedi: There are the Lukists (those who follow Luke and make the Jedi a force for good); the heretics, who want everyone to have powers, and the conservative Durronians (who follow Kyp!) and are the Never Again Jedi. Some will join the Durronians to feel safe and prey on their own people. [Rebecca comments on them being collaborators.] They are, much like the Poles in World War Two who attacked Jewish ghettos to curry favor with the Nazis.
Rebecca: What about the Force wielding Ewoks?
Zahn: They drowned on Naboo. (audience laughs)
Mike: Some of the infected Force wielders would not be that good at it. Some defect and become like Jedi ronin. Lukists would choose apprentices from them, Durronians would indoctrinate some, incarcerate others.
Zahn: I’m really fascinated by the heretics who don’t have any powers but think everybody should have them, those who have presumably developed this virus and are turning it loose. And some who are infected die, because they don’t acclimate well. So then it’s almost a genocide, because the heretics are infecting them to try to make them force wielders.
Mike: The people who survive but get no powers become deranged, semi-messianic, and believe it’s their mission to make everyone a Jedi because they believe someone will be powerful enough to cure them, or maybe raise from the dead the people who’ve been killed by the virus. So the virus has a cure, but the cure has problems.
Paula: So is this the process you guys normally use?
[All authors enthusiastically agreed]
KJA: This is how I developed my Saga of Seven Suns – as a Star Wars arc, but then I realized, this is too cool, I don’t want to give it to Star Wars! So you brainstorm everything, if you have a premise, you want to know why it’s the case, how people react to it, how everything is done, etc.[KJA returning to the plot]: So the person who originally came up with the idea that everyone should have Force powers is a damaged person. It’s a very interesting person, how far is he willing to go? He doesn’t think he’s a bad guy, but others who don’t want this think he is. For their own good, he releases the virus into the water supply, etc.
Zahn: Some of the worst villains think they’re doing it for your own good.
KJA: So why does Kylo Ren’s lightsaber have two sides in the hilt?
Mike: To light cigarettes!
Zahn: It doesn’t really work as a guard because a lightsaber blade would cut right through it. Kylo Ren could have found it, a relic, that wasn’t very well made, or else he was a novice when he made it, and not very skilled.
Rebecca: I think it’s a light toothpick! I want a light dagger …
[At this point the authors invite members of the audience to pitch ideas so that they may riff on them.]
KJA: Anything we come up with is ours! *laughs*
Mike: Even if you come up with it, it’s ours! That’s what it’s like, writing tie-in fiction. Anything you come up with is theirs [the license holders].
Zahn: What this shows is, people say, “oh you stole our ideas!” Well, come on, you could do a thousand ideas and riff on it.
Rebecca: People do come up with the same ideas.
Audience member: Some of my speculation: The Skywalker lightsaber that was lost is thought to be mystic, people hunt and find it.
Mike: That sounds like Excalibur, and I can see Hollywood doing that, but I hope for more than that, because that goes into the realm of magic, and Star Wars never really had that feel.
Zahn: You could have a famous, renowned lightsaber, but nothing more. The only thing I can think of is some want it as a relic.
Mike: Think of a group of Jedi who revere Vader and think he was right. It’s the Order of Vader-
Zahn: The Glove of Darth Vader (Audience groans). Maintenance workers on Cloud City find the tossed away lightsaber and put it on eBay, so that’s how Finn got it!
Bryan Young: Which of the Big Three would you kill in TFA?
KJA: Wow. I’ve wanted to kill them all at one time or another (audience laughs). Han, and he’d go out in a blaze of glory. I want to Luke to survive.
Mike: No, Luke has to die! He’s in Moria, and says “You shall not pass!”, dies, and comes back as Luke the White, and defeats the Order of Vader. (Everyone laughs)
KJA: Yeah, Han would have to drive a planet into a sun or something.
Mike: Luke would have to die by self sacrifice. In our scenario, Luke is the leader of one of three factions, and were he to die in some climax, the faction is left leaderless, or the heir (perhaps a child of his) is left pressured with the leadership. But the question is, are the big three still central characters with a function, or are they more legacy characters with cameos, like: “hi mom, hi dad, I’m off to college” and the new characters do everything?
Zahn: Something Disney has always done well: if you look at SW movie relationships, they’re pretty dysfunctional. But I’d like some good functional family relationships, like the Incredibles movie. The family have family fights, but come together in the end. It would be great to see Luke, Han, Leia and their kids lining up and kicking the snot out of everyone else.
KJA: To riff off your idea, a bunch of people in some Armageddon city have died because of the virus (40%), 30% are crazy, and 30% are Force users, with Luke standing in front of them and telling them “You shall not pass”. Gives me chills.
Tim: Or Luke could offer to teach them, showing them the right path. So he and his students face off against that horde.
[Audience member pitches an opening scene wherein a survey team goes to a planet (some time in the original trilogy era), they are captured, and decades later try to build the planet into a Death Star]
Mike: Not to be critical of your idea, but you’re going back to “hey, let’s do the Death Star again”. As authors we work to try to do what LFL hasn’t done. As good writers as we are, we’re never going to be able to describe the trench run and make it feel how it felt to watch it. That’s not how narrative fiction works. We take you inside the characters heads, and are more subtle about the action going on and grab you into it, emotionally. In movies you are along for the ride with the character, but may have to guess more about what’s going on in their heads.
KJA: My science mind looks at that scenario and thinks, if a Star Destroyer can have a soft landing on a planet, that’s going to be a small asteroid with no air, so you wouldn’t be able to set up a colony. And a Death Star is an artificial thing, you build it. If you can terraform a planet into a Death Star, you don’t need a Death Star, so that goes off in a different direction. That would fail a brainstorming test, at least for me.
Mike: Maybe what this ship was, was the original ship carrying the virus. What if the Empire was trying to clone Jedi warriors with this virus, and these guys, having been unconnected with the world for decades, have set up their own theology, and those who die because of the virus are considered not worthy, while the best of them are the ‘graced’ class, are revered and rule them in a community: this is the new virus origin. When they reconnect with civilization, they see the Empire has lost, and lost because they, the fanatics, had failed, and they have to rectify that. That is how the virus spreads. When we sit around and elaborate on plots and riff on them, all of our (authors’) different experiences and backgrounds play into it, and we have varying ideas.
Zahn: And these fanatics are going to seek out the Empire, but if the Empire’s already friendly with the New Republic, they’ll call for help: “you guys have Luke Skywalker. He defeated the Emperor. We don’t know what we’re facing now, but it seems to be worse. Can we get some assistance here?” It drags our Legacy characters back into the action.
KJA: So now we have a sub-sect of people who were experimented on by the Empire, infected with the virus, and some time down the line there’s some horrible consequence from it. There has to be some consequence – other than the obvious. This is fun! This is the easy part. The writing it ….
[Audience member asks a question about the political/cultural response to the Emperor forcing the Empire into the Republic. And what if in TFA the Sith are a political force that the people can actually choose.]
KJA: There was that in the Old Republic, and it was taken this way and that way. But if you have a master and an apprentice, it’s not a very big political party. (audience laughs)
Mike: But the idea of an ultra conservative political party – like UKIP in the UK, who hates foreigners, which was a common sentiment in the Empire. And if you look at ultra conservative parties like in South America in the 80s which had death squad of sorts, doing nefarious things, arresting people, making them disappear. That sort of party would make for a great villain or source of villains.
KJA: That’s what your lost ship would gravitate towards.
Audience member suggests an opening, with a western-style town, with two factions fighting. We then see a Jedi come in, and it’s Luke. We pan up and see it’s representative of a wider, galaxy spanning war: A cold war going hot.
KJA: You’d have to explain why Luke is down there, if it’s a bigger situation. Like if he exiled himself, then it works.
Rebecca: Or he sees that that place as a crux to the larger problem.
Zahn: There’s something neat about starting a story where the reader has no idea what’s going on/why, and then the author slowly reveals it.
Mike: When you look at the original movies, it was just two factions. Now we have a very complex plot, with multiple factions and the characters under various pressures. With more depth, you can take this story across multiple mediums like movies, comic books, and novels. Plus, some stories don’t work well on the screen, but do work well as novels or graphic novels.
Audience member: please continue the Expanded Universe.
KJA: We’re taking donations.
Mike: We’re doing a kickstarter! *laughs*
Zahn: If we get to five billion, we’re gonna buy Lucasfilm from Disney!
[Same audience member pitches an opening wherein, on a desert planet, a scavenger strips a carcass, but gets caught in a sandstorm. Upon escaping the storm, he sees a structure which is, in fact, the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.]
Mike: It’s an interesting reveal, but you have to ask yourself: when you look at A New Hope and you see the blockade runner and the Star Destroyer: what does that tell you? It tells you it’s a science fiction movie. Whereas having a scavenger running from a sandstorm, it doesn’t tell us it’s a science fiction movie, it doesn’t tell us it’s Star Wars. For this new film, for this opening scene, we need some semblance of that. You could have that scene, but have it be a kid racing on a speeder, he looks back, terror on his face. There’s a sandstorm, but we don’t know what causes it. He gets knocked out, comes to and the sandstorm has revealed what you want. Now we know it’s Star Wars.
Zahn: But now you also have to remember it’s only been thirty years. It’s not going to be sand – unless you invoke some Doctor Who.
KJA: Or this virus has got involved (audience laughs). But you could make this storm purple and have lightning bolts, so it’s like a Force storm.
Mike: It doesn’t have to be the Temple. When this Force storm from these wild Force uses has struck, it turns out to be a ship that they’ve brought down and it turns out that something very bad is going on. Again that tells us it’s Star Wars.
Same audience member: you took my concept and (makes exploding sound).
Mike: That’s what we do for a living!
Audience question: KJA, I know you said you’d kill off Han if you had to kill off one of the big three, but what about the Falcon?
Zahn: How many times did they wreck the Enterprise? We can do this!
KJA: The Enterprise messed that up “Oh no, we destroyed the Enterprise! Cry cry cry, and we rebuilt it”. Han has to fly the Falcon and crash in a huge blaze of glory – which disperses the vaccine that infects everyone (audience laughs).
Zahn: This vaccine thing is popular!
Mike: I don’t want either of you to do public health stuff. Because crashing a ship to spread a vaccine is not gonna work!
Audience member: who would you pick to run the New Republic? Mon Mothma’s a little old.
KJA: Look at the Presidential candidates right now, that doesn’t matter.
Mike: Donald Trump running the New Republic. Holy Mackerel! That explains his hair. He’s got to be a Force user.
KJA: I’d create a new character. It’s been thirty years.
Mike: Could be Wedge Antilles. War hero gets elected (wild cheering from the audience).
Zahn: We’ve got all sorts of possibilities. We could have Luke be the hermit type, but Leia, who was holding office, is disgraced because of some sort of public opinion thing and is now less popular. This is sounding a lot like The Incredibles again? Oh well, I love that movie! But these characters could have 30 years worth of baggage we don’t know of, and we could have new character arcs.
Audience question: Would Thrawn run the new Remnant?
Tim: If I were in charge he would!! (audience laughs)
KJA: So if they come up with “The Virus Wars” anytime soon we’re going to be very upset if they don’t hire us to write it.
— Unfortunately the authors had to wrap up there as the panel had ended, but thankfully you can see them at almost every Dragon Con!Powered by Sidelines