Interview with Michael Reaves, ‘Star Wars: Shadow Games’


Michael Reaves is an incredibly prolific author who has had a hand in television scripts, movies, music videos, comic books and novels, including several entries into the Star Wars expanded universe. His most recent novel is Star Wars: Shadow Games, written with Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff:

Javul Charn is the most famous pop star in the galaxy—and the runaway bride of a violent lieutenant in Black Sun, the crime syndicate commanded by Prince Xizor. Or so Javul says. Soon after Dash Rendar, broke and desperate, agrees to be Javul’s bodyguard, he realizes that openness is not her strong suit—and that murder is stalking her tour. Between the discovery of dead bodies in a cargo hold and an attack by an unidentified warship, Dash and co-pilot Eaden Vrill desperately try to understand who is terrorizing Javul’s tour and why. When Han Solo suddenly joins Javul’s road show, the stakes are raised even higher. Now Dash, who has a history with Han and an even worse history with Prince Xizor, follows his instincts, his discoveries, and Javul herself—straight into a world that may be too dangerous to survive.

I grew up as a geeky kid in a tiny little town myself, and like you, found respite in comic books and science fiction novels. I’ve often wondered whether geeks are born or made. Do you have to have a certain kind of social environment to grow up geeky, or is there – for lack of a better word – a geek gene? What do you think?

Well, it’s always a question of nurture vs. nature, but if there is such a gene or a mitochondrion (or midi-chlorian) or whatever, it’s definitely dominant in me. I grew up in the 50s, where there were two main phenotypes: jocks and geeks. There was no doubt which was highest on the food chain. Of course, the Internet has changed all that; when the President of the United States knows who Kal-El is, there’s not a lot of doubt that the paradigm has flip-flopped.

Michael, you’ve had an amazing career so far. Can we talk about your television work for a minute? You wrote for some of the coolest TV shows of the eighties and nineties: Swamp Thing, Monsters, Dungeons & Dragons, Gargoyles and The Twilight Zone, just to name a few. I don’t mind at all saying that these were an integral part of my education as a young geek in training. I’m particularly interested in your work on the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon. How did you get involved with that? Did you or any of the other writers receive much of an orientation or education in D&D? Did you get to meet Gygax or any of the TSR folks?

There was no group orientation that I was aware of re: the show, and certainly not for the game — the intent was to use the kitchen sink mythology as the backdrop for the Realm, but none of the characters were gamers. Nobody ever mentioned that “Gee, this is just like the game!” and there was a reason for that. Today, when people do everything up to plugging in glucose shunts to keep going in the virtual world, it’s hard to remember how controversial roleplaying was in its infancy. CBS wanted to be certain there wasn’t the faintest whiff of idolatrous hagiography or epistemology in the show’s structure.

As for Gygax, I don’t recall ever meeting him, but he sent me a very complimentary email on my script for “Requiem”.

You co-wrote, (along with Alan Burnett, Paul Dini and Martin Pasko) what many consider to be one of the very best – if not the best – Batman animated movies ever created: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Batman has been experiencing a real renaissance lately. If you could adapt any Batman comic arc, what would it be?

It’s been awhile since I’ve read comics regularly; it’s not that I like ’em any less, but who has time? I remember some of the Elseworlds stuff was pretty interesting.

In addition to having written for a number of comic book titles, you remain a fan yourself. What are some of your all-time favorites? Have you found any new ones you enjoy?

I’m quite impressed with a lot of the Vertigo titles: Lucifer, Hellblazer, and others. And just about anything Neil Gaiman does, of course. It’s a thrill to be collaborating with the guy. (Don’t tell him I said that.)

Oh, and Megadeth: You wrote some dialogue for one of their videos. How did that project happen? I’m a fan of those guys. Did you get to talk with Dave Mustaine or any of the other band members?

One of the episodes of Monsters I wrote back in the ’80s was for a director named Paul Boyington, who also did music videos. A few weeks after we finished post on the show, he called and invited me to come up with the background dialogue for the video he was currently working on. The money was only about $500, but I thought it would fun to have on my resume. And that’s it. Never met any of the band, or any groupies either, damn it. The video (and, I assume, the song as well), was titled “Hanger 18”.

You’ve had a longstanding working relationship with Steve Perry, and the two of you have collaborated on a number of novels. Where did you meet and how did this partnership evolve? What would you say was the most challenging project the two of you have worked on?

Oh, God … It was in the mid-70s, at a WesterCon in the Bay Area. He’d sold a few short stories and I’d just sold my first novel (“DragonWorld”). We just hit it off. Later I found myself with something of a backlog in both books and TV assignments, and so I asked him for some help. Fortunately, he turned out to be both fast and good.

Lots of aspiring writers ask me what qualities I look for in a writer when I’m wearing my producer or storyeditor hat. The answer is very simple: I look for someone I can use more than once. Someone who’ll turn in pages that were producible or publishable, and turn them in on time. In short, someone who’ll make me look good. That’s it. That’s all it is. There’s no secret handshake or codeword. I just want someone who’ll make my life easier. You’d be surprised how rare such a person is. Steve Perry is, fortunately, such a person.

As for the hardest project we’ve ever collaborated on … I’m going to narrow it down to books, because if we talk TV we’ll be here all night. The most challenging book we’ve worked on has to have been Death Star. For one thing, it was a big book, with lots of intersecting plots that all had to come together without violating some of the most closely-scrutinized continuity in the Star Wars universe. And in the second half of the book we had to show some of the most famous scenes in cinematic history from differing points of view, not to mention retconning some in a way that put the characters in a different light but didn’t diminish them.

And, of course, the hardest part of all: we had to make it look easy.

I’ve always thought that your Star Wars novels were among the most imaginative entries in the field, particularly the MedStar books. Until I ran across these I had never actually thought of the massive number of combat injuries that must occur in the saga’s huge battles. Your latest novel, Shadow Games, features a Holostar as a main character. You seem to enjoy exploring lesser traveled areas of the Star Wars universe. Why?

Why? Because the roads less traveled are often the most interesting ones. While it’s great fun to write about the classic heroes of one’s youth, to return for awhile to those thrilling days of yesteryear, there are times when it can be a bit constricting. It’s hard to find a new take on the Jedi. In the prequels they’re insular and sanctimonious, as well as seriously out of touch; Anakin and Palpatine manipulate them like puppets. Frankly, I don’t find them very heroic.

But in the Star Wars galaxy, as in our own, there are plenty of unsung heroes. It’s easy to be a big noise when you’re stuffed full of midi-chlorians and a wave of your hand can destroy a regiment. It’s a lot harder when you’re one of the last Jedi on Coruscant and you can’t use the Force for fear of attracting Darth Vader’s attention. Plus I’ve always found the mean streets more interesting as a backdrop than, say, the Jedi Temple.

In the MedStar books we gave them exactly what they asked for: M*A*S*H* set in the Star Wars universe. The stand we took wasn’t exactly controversial: War Is Bad. But we had all the conflict come from character. There’s one Jedi in the story; she’s a padawan, and she draws her lightsaber to defend exactly once. I’m quite pleased with those books.

Black Sun plays a significant role in Shadow Games. They’re bad, bad guys, and I always found the idea that you could have this very “human” kind of evil alongside the spiritual evil of the Dark Side of the Force an interesting contrast. As a writer, how do you handle portraying these two kinds of evil?

To me they’re not all that different. I don’t believe in evil as an abstraction. As far as I’m concerned (and until I am told differently in a tone I can’t ignore), the Force is sui generis. It’s beyond the labeling of good and evil, because I’ve always felt that “The Devil made me do it” is a cop-out. There’s room for discussion about differences in scale (the “Living Force” vs. the “Cosmic Force”), but ultimately the Force is just the Force.

Xizor is a major player in the Star Wars universe, and has always been a favorite villain of mine. What’s it like getting to play with a heavy duty villain like that?

He has a definite style and attitude, which makes writing him both easier and harder (like most larger-than-life characters). One wants to be true to the character, but also have him be spontaneous and original. Still, Steve feels that Xizor has been treated fairly, and if anyone would know…

With the involvement of Dash Rendar, a kind of morally neutral character, and a powerful mob-like organization like Black Sun, this really sounds like a crime novel in space. Are you a fan of the genre? Are my instincts correct? Have you consciously incorporated elements of crime fiction into this story?

Yes. Maya and I were in agreement with DelRey and LFL from the beginning that this book should appeal to a wider audience.

What’s your next project going to be? Do you have anything that you’re working on right now that you’d like your fans to know about?

I’ve got a number of interesting projects lined up. Neil and I are doing a couple of sequels to InterWorld, and I’m producing a film noir vampire movie which I wrote. Plus I just signed up to write the third movie of a space opera trilogy based on Space Patrol, an SF show from the dawn of TV. Sort of the Star Trek of the 50s. Marc Zicree is producing the reboot, entitled Space Patrol: Millennium. Should be fun.