A Solar System Not So Far, Far Away: Star Wars and The Jupiter Pirates


As an author with nearly two dozen Star Wars books on my resume, I knew people would ask how George Lucas’s saga influenced my own space-fantasy series for young adults, The Jupiter Pirates.

The short answer? Without Star Wars, Jupiter Pirates wouldn’t exist – and all my other storytelling efforts would be very different too.

As confessions go, that’s not too shocking. I was eight years old when I saw Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer fill the screen of a theater in Long Island, and I knew my life had changed. As a kid, I devoured every adventure of Luke, Han and Leia I could find. As an adult I kept reading, but also studied how Lucas reverse-engineered myths and hero’s journeys, and I learned storytelling lessons from him, his scriptwriters, directors and editors.

The long answer is  … well, it’s a bit complicated.

Sure, Star Wars influenced aspects of Jupiter Pirates, from the basics of the setting to storytelling decisions few readers will notice. But the similarities people have asked about most often are coincidences. That’s been an interesting lesson for a writer – you can never predict what aspects of a story will resonate with readers, and every reader interprets a story in his or her own way.

OK, the basics: The Jupiter Pirates follows the adventures of Tycho, Yana and Carlo Hashoone, who are crewers aboard the privateer Shadow Comet, siblings and competitors. The Comet’s captain is their mother, Diocletia Hashoone; their father Mavry Malone is the first mate; and their grandfather Huff Hashoone is the ship’s former captain and an old-school pirate. Tycho, Yana and Carlo each want to be the next captain of the Comet, but the captaincy is handed down from one generation to the next, and only one of them will be chosen.

Jupiter Pirates is a lived-in universe – the technology is rusty and pitted, instead of gleaming and perfect. That’s something I definitely owe to Star Wars – the Millennium Falcon, that lovable bucket of bolts, always felt more real to me than antiseptic starships with spacious bridges and softly pulsing lights for controls.

In Jupiter Pirates, the depictions of moons and asteroids are reasonably accurate – for instance, the settlements on the moon Callisto are on its dark side to shield them from Jupiter’s radiation. But my starships tumble and weave in combat, because Star Wars taught me that’s much more fun than dogfights resolved by vectors and math. Think of it as physics like it oughta be — when a very smart HarperCollins copy editor asked how gravity works aboard the Shadow Comet, I replied “magic.”

Star Wars shaped another key decision I made, but in a different way: Jupiter Pirates has no aliens or robots, and is set entirely within our solar system. I love Wookiees, astromechs and hyperspace (heck, I helped map the galaxy far, far away), but my Star Wars books left me feeling like those things had been done, and I wanted to work with a different palette for my own series.

So on to the “it’s complicated” part.

The biggest surprise has been what people read into names.

More than a few fans of Star Wars’s Expanded Universe connected my protagonist Tycho Hashoone with Tycho Celchu, the Corellian X-wing pilot invented by Michael A. Stackpole.

Tycho is an odd name, yes – but not one that originated with Star Wars. My Tycho was originally named Herschel, for the astronomer William Herschel. But Herschel Hashoone sounded more like an accountant than a privateer, so I grabbed a replacement name from another astronomer — Tycho Brahe, best known for losing his nose in a duel. When readers starting asking about Tycho Celchu, I had to admit that hadn’t occurred to me.

The same goes for Huff Hashoone, Tycho’s half-cyborg grandpa. There is a Huff in Star Wars, and he’s also a grumpy old guy – Huff Darklighter, Biggs’s dad. But the name was taken from my family tree – my great-great-great-grandfather Mathias Gershom Huff lived near Gettysburg, Pa. in the mid-1880s. (I mined my ancestry for many of the archaic, oddly formal-sounding names in Jupiter Pirates.)

And Yana has nothing to do with Jaina Solo — I filched that name from The Chris Isaak Show, of all places, only to discover later that I’d remembered the name incorrectly. Isaak’s harried manager was named Yola.

There is one odd name connection that nobody’s spotted: For The Essential Guide to Warfare, I invented a Rogue Squadron gunner named Hosh Hune. An Easter egg created for my own amusement? Nope — I’d completely forgotten about Hune by the time I turned to my own story. Obviously I’d been playing with combinations of sounds – in making up names I tend to favor soft sounds like “sh-” — and that particular one got lodged in my head.

But that brings up one of the fundamental mysteries of writing and storytelling – how it’s equal parts planning and dreaming.

For Jupiter Pirates I researched privateering, the mechanics of claiming vessels as “prizes,” and naval terminology from the Age of Sail. And I developed some elements of the plot and aspects of the characters in exacting detail. But elsewhere, I let my imagination roam, and built a story from bits and pieces of things that stuck with me – as explored here, Jupiter Pirates’ inspirations include The Sopranos, Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin books, and lots of half-remembered pirate movies, books and illustrations. And some of the storytelling or character decisions I made are a mystery to me – I can’t tell you why I did what I did, other than to say it felt right.

And of course things change from your original idea. When I first outlined the story of Jupiter Pirates, Tycho (then Herschel) was 12 and Yana was 10. But in thinking about the rest of the series, I realized there were things I wanted Yana to do that wouldn’t be believable if she was too young. And in an odd way, the characters were both stronger as twins than they were as siblings – Tycho’s personality struck the reader as both his own and a reflection of his sister’s, and vice versa. So Yana got two years older, and Diocletia and Mavry wound up with twins.

Huh. Come to think of it, Luke was originally two years older than Leia, wasn’t he? OK, fine – chalk another one up for Star Wars.

Jason Fry lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. His Star Wars books include The Essential Guide to Warfare, The Essential Atlas and Darth Maul: Shadow Conspiracy. For more about the Jupiter Pirates, visit jupiterpirates.com.