Our ‘Tarkin’ Interview with James Luceno

October 24, 2014 at 12:01 am | Posted in Books, Interview, Random House, Star Wars, Star Wars Books | 2 Comments
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Front cover of 'Tarkin'Tarkin will be hitting book stores soon and for those looking forward to the release, we have an interview with author James Luceno. James talks about the title character, his similarities to the Sith, the use of surnames, and some very fun insight into the novel without spoiling anything.

What drew you to choosing Tarkin as the focus of your next Star Wars book?

James Luceno: Actually, Tarkin was pitched to me. I worried at first that while Peter Cushing is immediately recognizable in the role, casual fans might not recall the name of the character who commanded the Death Star. Even so, I jumped at the chance. I always viewed Tarkin as being as emblematic of the Empire as the Death Star itself. I loved his casually sarcastic comeback to Princess Leia’s line about recognizing Tarkin’s “foul stench” when she was first brought aboard the battle station. “Charming to the last,” he replies. “You don’t know how hard I found it signing the order to terminate your life.”  Equally intriguing to me was Tarkin’s relationship with Vader, who in the first film we know only as the Dark Lord of the Sith. I didn’t see Tarkin so much as holding Vader’s leash as being his equal in the Imperial chain-of-command, and I wondered how that came to be. Finally, for all Tarkin’s ruthless self-assurance, he is shocked that Leia would lie to him about the location of the Rebel base, and in his final moments he refuses to acknowledge—openly, at least—that the Death Star, as much his project as it was the Emperor’s, is also fatally flawed.

Throughout the story, there is an underlying theme of hunting. Tarkin is shaped by his survival in the wilds of Eriadu and the lessons he learned there, primarily the art and nature of hunting and being hunted. He views himself as a predator and his opponents as prey. The story even goes to the extent of having him hunt down a group of dissidents. How did you come about choosing that underlying theme for Tarkin?

JL: Tarkin isn’t a Sith, but his disregard for life and his desire to impose his will on the galaxy aligns him with the dark side. Where a Jedi might look upon nature as the purest reflection of the Force as a binding, ubiquitous power, Tarkin is taught to view life as a constant struggle for survival. Where a Jedi is expected to immerse him or herself in the flow of life, Tarkin views that circle of life and death as a trap. Filmmaker Werner Herzog had some choice things to say about this aspect of nature in journals he kept while living in the Peruvian rain forest during the filming of Aguirre: the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo. In reference to the jungle, he writes that while there is a harmony of sorts, it is a harmony of “overwhelming and collective murder,” and that any love he has for the jungle is against his better judgment. In such a godless—Forceless—sphere, escape can only be achieved by fighting one’s way to the top of the food chain and doing whatever is necessary to remain there. One’s inferiors, then, need to be controlled by laws; blunt force and rule by fear are the only adequate responses to chaos. Had Tarkin been raised by a compassionate slave on Tatooine rather than by a martinet on Eriadu, perhaps he would have become Spartacus instead of the STAR WARS equivalent of Himmler or Goring.

Back cover of 'Tarkin'Palpatine, Tarkin and Dooku all go by their last names rather than by their first names. What’s your take on that anomaly?

JL: Except among his closest friends, Palpatine is a self-proclaimed mononomial; Tarkin is seldom referred to without the honorifc “Governor” or “Moff;” and Dooku proudly wears his title as “Count.”  It’s easy to attribute all this to nothing more than stylistic choice, but perhaps it goes to an issue raised in the novel about being “larger than life.” In our culture, entertainers like Madonna, Sting, and Prince created names for themselves; others like Cher and Liberace elevated the use of their actual names; and still others—Einstein, Manson, Bogart—have had uninomial status foisted upon them. Seeing themselves as superior, as larger than life, Palpatine, Tarkin, and Dooku grew into the inflated versions of themselves, and needed to have their diva status recognized by everyone.

Was their any inspiration for Tarkin’s granduncle Jova? Of all the characters in the book, he’s easily the most quotable.

JL: Jova is an amalgam of several people I met while traveling in Africa and the Americas decades ago, especially a Belizean living in Guatemala who I accompanied on long walks and hunts in the forest. He would use his machete on every venomous snake, spider, and scorpion we came across, even against those that weren’t posing a threat. Aside from reproaching me for what he saw as a tendency to “hasten my journey,” he would say: “Leave your potential enemies lying about, and one morning you wake up with fangs in your throat.”

With so much having been written about the Death Star, how much of the existing history did you use and how much did you have to alter or invent for this book?

JL: I consulted Ryder Windam’s Death Star Owner’s Technical Manual and many other sources. But I decided early on that the story was not going to focus on the battle station; rather, that the nascent Death Star would be a nebulous threat looming in the background. With the Lucasfilm Story Group I discussed how far along the station was five years after the end of the Clone Wars, and precisely where construction was taking place. The notion of slave laborers and the battle station’s various weapons systems were already established, though I did borrow from an episode of The Clone Wars to hint at the power source for the superlaser. Based on the location of the construction site I created supply routes as well as security bases and marshalling yards; similarly, a backstory for who had been in charge of the project and when, in order to lead up to Tarkin’s promotion.

How was your experience with working with the new Lucasfilm story group?

JL: I’ve remarked elsewhere that writing can be a lonely profession, and that I value every opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm with people who are as invested in a project as I am. This time, in addition to assessing the story  I wanted to tell, there was a good deal of discussion centering on how to proceed as the so-called Dark Times are opened up to new exploration in novels, animation, and source books. They were very receptive to my ideas and I made use of many of theirs. All credit, in particular, to Pablo Hidalgo, who suggested that I consider giving Tarkin a background as a kind of “colonial.” Throughout the outline process and following the submission of a first draft, the Story Group kept me on target, as it were, and reined me in from including too many references and too much expository prose.

While not a direct sequel, Tarkin does build upon the legends established in your previous book Darth Plagueis. In Darth Plagueis, we saw the dark side’s victory against the Jedi and the birth of the Empire. In Tarkin, we see the Empire and the dark side coming into its stride. Yet it is implied that there is still much to do. Do you think there is room to tell a third part to this saga of the dark side and the Empire?

JL: Five years after the war the Emperor is still consolidating power, sorting out loyalties, and deciding who can be trusted to manage the business of the Empire while he devotes himself to expanding the power of the dark side in ways that have yet to be depicted. So where in Darth Plagueis the focus was on economic and political manipulation, the focus in Tarkin is on military might. Readers could, I suppose, go from Tarkin to A New Dawn and Rebels and directly to A New Hope. But I do think there’s room for a third part – a final stage focusing on the attainment of ultimate metaphysical power. The Emperor is on the verge of achieving that just prior to the events of A New Hope. Sure of himself, he disbands the Senate and gives Governor Tarkin permission to make the Death Star operational – only to be undermined at the last moment by the revelation of the existence of Luke Skywalker, the son of the Chosen One. The Force has finally struck back. But where the Emperor is convinced that the showdown between light and dark must be waged in an other-wordly dimension, the battle is in fact ultimately won in the human heart.

James LucenoWe want to thank James Luceno for taking the time to answer our questions. If you have not yet ordered Tarkin yet, you can find retailer links at Random House’s official product page. You can also check out their landing page. Tarkin will be out in hardcover, digital and audiobook formats on November 4th.

Posted By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.


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  1. […] Roqoo Depot hat den Autor James Luceno über den Schreibprozess seines Kanonromans Star Wars: Tarkin ausgefragt, der am 4. November 2014 bei Del Rey erscheinen wird. […]

  2. […] Roqoo Depot hat den Autor James Luceno über den Schreibprozess seines Kanonromans Star Wars: Tarkin ausgefragt, der am 4. November 2014 bei Del Rey erscheinen wird. […]

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