Interviews

Interview with James Luceno, Author, Star Wars: Tarkin

 

When Lucasfilm decided to relaunch its Star Wars publishing program, one of the first authors the company turned to was James Luceno. Having written books like Labyrinth of Evil, Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, and Darth Plagueis, Luceno had a firm grasp on how to portray the darker, political, militaristic side of the Star Wars universe. His Plagueis novel in particularly was widely acclaimed for enriching the prequel trilogy and expanding fans’ understanding of Darth Sidious and the master who set him on his dark path. An undisputed giant of the Expanded Universe, Luceno was perfectly positioned to help smooth the transition from the EU to the new canon with an in-depth look at one of the original trilogy’s most fascinating characters: Wilhuff Tarkin.

Today, Del Rey Books publishes Star Wars: Tarkin, the second novel in the new Star Wars canon. Like its spiritual predecessor Darth Plagueis, Tarkin is partly an origin story for a mysterious character and partly a primer on an entire time period in Star Wars history. It gives readers an expansive look at the earliest years of the Empire, when agencies are fighting for influence and former Separatists are still presenting problems for the new regime. In Tarkin, the unprecedented expansion of the Imperial war machine is still years away, waiting to be featured in the Del Rey novel A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller (which was released in September) and the Disney XD television series Star Wars Rebels (which premiered in October).

Having interviewed Luceno about Darth Plagueis for TheForce.Net and Unbound Worlds, I was interested in how he applied many of the storytelling strategies from that book to a new character, a new time period, and a new set of problems. In our hour-long conversation, Luceno discussed Tarkin’s relationship with Vader, the influence of The Clone Wars, the book’s game-changing description of the Emperor’s true goals, and the revelation of Palpatine’s first name.

This interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity, contains moderate Tarkin spoilers.

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Unbound Worlds: I want to start by asking you about your interest in ancient cultures, which I see on the “About the Author” page. What have been some of your favorite archaeological trips, and has any of that influenced your writing, Star Wars or otherwise?

James Luceno: The culture that has fascinated me since I got on the road back in the late 1960s is the Mayan culture in Central America. I’ve spent a lot of time down there traipsing around to various remote ruins, but I’ve also been to Columbia in the Andes, a lot of times in Peru and Bolivia, several times in Asia to Angkor Wat and outlying cities from that major site, Burma, there’s a lot. It’s just been a hobby of mine since the late ‘60s.

And in fact there’s a couple of Mayan sites I was just reading about that were recently excavated in southern Mexico that I’m hoping to get to in the next month or two.

All that stuff has been brought into my writing in one way or another. When I first started out writing, I was doing adventure novels. Those were definitely reality-based and based on a lot of trips that I took, but that stuff makes its way into the Star Wars novels as well.

UW: How would you compare Tarkin’s early years and formative experiences to the way you wrote about that same time in Palpatine’s life?

JL: With Tarkin, I was playing more with the idea of an initiation for someone who is neither a Sith nor a Jedi, but has to face a certain type of trial. With Palpatine I don’t really think that that was true, except when he really became a follower of Plagueis, but with Tarkin I was after something else. I wanted to present it in a more realistic way, in terms of how a person can be shaped by experiences that test one’s mettle very early on in life.

UW: How did you come up with the idea for Tarkin’s trials on Eriadu? What made that a good crucible for him as a young man?

JL: The idea started in the [Lucasfilm] Story Group discussions, because we were tossing around some ideas about Tarkin, and the suggestion came up that perhaps, while he came from a wealthy family, Eriadu itself was kind of an outlier, comparable to a colonial planet. You can think of lots of examples, like South Africa in the beginning, or Kenya, or even India. I ran with that idea because I had never thought of Tarkin in those terms.

Once I got hooked on that idea of him being from somewhere comparable to those countries I just mentioned, I concocted this notion of him being taken out into the wilderness and exposed to nature in a way that was really antithetical to the way a Jedi would look upon nature. Instead of finding the Force in nature—a sense of a binding goodness to the universe—one could see it in tooth and claw, [the] battle for survival. Once I hooked on that idea, it was easy to move forward with the kind of test that he would be put through.

UW: Tarkin criticizes the Jedi for “remaining faithful to their ethical code” when he thinks they should have stopped the Clone Wars sooner. Is he not a big fan of ethics? What would you say his ethical code is?

JL: I think he sees himself in service to this greater notion of preventing lawlessness and chaos. He has this peculiar kind of arrogance that those who have survived in a certain way are really a kind of chosen group, an elite, almost master race if you will, who then become in charge of supervising less groups. The only way to do that is by instilling them with fear and keeping them in check, lest they all turn on one another and reintroduce chaos to the system. In terms of the Jedi, Tarkin understood the power of the Force, the power that they had at their disposal, and questioned why they wouldn’t use that power to simply oversee the galaxy.

UW: How did your view of Tarkin’s philosophy change as you were writing the book? Did you always see him as the man who would eventually develop the might-makes-right Tarkin Doctrine?

JL: The Tarkin Doctrine comes from the EU, if I’m not mistaken. That’s been around for a while, so that was in the back of my mind while I was writing. But I do think that it came together in the book. Once I got to know Tarkin—once I got to know his beginnings and I started crafting those scenes of different experiences he had at the academy or during the Clone Wars—it began to lead to this sense of righteousness about how one goes about the business of rulership.

UW: In the book, Tarkin briefly touches on the Jedi-versus-Sith conflict, and he describes it in very amoral, political terms. He just calls the Sith “the ancient Order they [the Jedi] opposed and abhorred.” What do you think Tarkin thinks of the Sith to the extent that he know anything about them?

JL: Well, you know, he was speculating, of course. He didn’t know for a fact. But I think he sees everything in this cut-and-dry, struggle-for-the-upper-tier manner. It didn’t matter to him what the metaphysics of the Jedi are, the metaphysics of the Sith, or even what their difficulties were. He just saw them as yet another example of the kind of competition that he despised—that the stronger should rule, and that’s simply the end of it.

UW: I get the sense that Darth Vader is one of the most difficult characters to write, because he had such a quiet power in the films and you don’t want to give him too much to say. You wrote what I consider to be a seminal Vader novel with Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader. How do you keep him cool in a book?

JL: In this book, it was very deliberate: I didn’t want to give Vader a point of view. I wanted to try and keep that dark point of view to Tarkin and the Emperor. What I thought was interesting about Vader was [that] since he has no face that is going to respond to what you say with a smile or a scowl or anything else, you tend to project your feelings onto him. He becomes some kind of living Rorschach test. I just wanted to depict him by his words and by his actions.

Even Tarkin’s thinking about why this Sith—who may in fact be Anakin Skywalker—might still be holding a grudge about the trial of Ahsoka, that’s from Tarkin’s point of view. I don’t think I went anywhere in the novel where Vader verified that. It’s just Tarkin again wondering about Vader. I tried to keep him as quiet as possible. It was interesting even writing the dialog, because I kept going back and chopping it into smaller sentences, trying to get that cadence correct, even when it was that exaggerated way of speaking that he has.

It was challenging, but no more challenging than trying to get Tarkin’s voice.

UW: It’s interesting that you mention chopping down Vader’s dialog. Several times in this book, Vader throws Tarkin off his game by not clarifying a statement or refusing to elaborate on a subject. Tarkin is still getting used to interacting Vader in this fairly early stage in their relationship.

JL: You know, it’s funny. You must have had this experience, where you sometimes meet people who just don’t…you try and engage them in a conversation, but they don’t respond in a way that really makes a conversation easy. And it can really put you off; you don’t know where to go, you don’t know whether you’ve said something wrong or crossed some kind of boundary. So I wanted to keep Tarkin off his usual good footing, because he wasn’t always sure about the impact of his words or his actions on Vader.

UW: One of the biggest questions you answer about Tarkin in the book is whether Tarkin knows who Vader is. Did the answer to that question come from Lucasfilm or did you get to take the initiative there?

JL: It did come out of discussions, because it was very important for me to get a sense of whether or not I was going to be allowed to go there. When you look at A New Hope, there seems to be a kind of strange closeness between Tarkin and Vader, and it always struck me that Tarkin knew about Vader’s background—even when Obi-Wan’s name comes up—that somewhere along the line, Tarkin knows. [I figured that] he made that guess on his own and always went with it, or maybe there’s some scene that has yet to take place between Tarkin and the film itself where there’s an actual revelation. I don’t know where it comes from. Does it come from Vader? Does it come from the Emperor? Is there another clue that makes it a certainty?

But in any case, that was always my sense of it—that Tarkin understood Vader’s background.

UW: What did you think about the debate over this question before you wrote this book? In your mind, could Tarkin have realistically not known?

JL: I think that’s why, for the purposes of the book, set only five years after the end of the war, he’s going off things that he’s observed. There’s something about the way [Vader] interacts with stormtroopers, the way he wields a lightsaber, little things that Tarkin has picked up on. But he’s not certain at this point, and the book really doesn’t give him a lot more to go on, except for little things that Vader acknowledges during the novel—his knowledge of certain planets, his awareness of certain kinds of strategies or maneuvers. It’s Tarkin just building up this case in his own mind for who Vader is.

I think, though, that you’re right. It could be that he could’ve been in the dark, he could’ve been wrong. There may be something in the future that’s going to set this matter in concrete one way or the other.

UW: There are times in this book where Vader feels much more like a man than a machine, and that’s rare for this era. We get some dark humor from Vader at times and he seems to be interested in Tarkin’s Carrion Spike story. Were you trying to push back on the caricature of Vader as totally unfeeling and humorless?

JL: I definitely was, only because I’m always interested in the development of character. At least in my experience, people don’t change overnight. I know there’s a real case to be made for Anakin Skywalker being turned into something else essentially overnight on that operating table, but I just don’t buy that, and I feel like—because this book is set only five years after those events—that I had the liberty to explore just the vestiges of the man in the machine. Maybe I’ll get a lot of pushback from fans about that, but it seems to me that, at this stage—this is not right before the movie, so there’s still transitions that can occur.

UW: I don’t think you’ll get pushback. I think this is a much-needed look at him between the two trilogies.

JL: That’s the part that appealed to me, too, and again, it has to do with when this book is set. I hope that reader are going to understand that this is still early in the development of the Empire.

UW: And you show the early stages of the Imperial bureaucracy really well. COMPNOR is rising, there’s infighting between the intelligence agencies, and there are still concerns about Separatist holdouts. The Empire is fighting some basic structural challenges.

JL: The Emperor, at least in my thinking, really doesn’t want to have to be saddled with all of this. He needs to put teams in place. He needs to find out who can do what, who he can trust with what task. That’s still being sorted out, to some extent. So you have this Ruling Council, and you have the military—it does come out of the Clone Wars, but now it’s been reorganized into something else. You’ve got graduates from the Imperial academies, and just a lot of things going on simultaneously, so that there can be conflicts.

Moving forward, when we get to A New Dawn, there’s a suggestion that it’s a much, much tighter organization than it was only [about] seven years earlier. Even in that time period, things have become more solidified.

UW: How much did you talk with either author John Jackson Miller or the Story Group about the version of the Empire that we saw in A New Dawn?

JL: I didn’t have any discussions, but I was following John’s outline submissions and the discussions he was having with [Star Wars Rebels executive producer Dave] Filoni and the Story Group. I knew where he was headed. We were both working on the books at the same time. I think he was out of the gate a little bit sooner than I was, but I was aware of what he was setting up and how he was going about that.

UW: When you talk about how Sidious was trying to foster a friendship between Anakin and Tarkin, it really gives new meaning to some of the material from The Clone Wars that you reference there. Did you work with Dave Filoni on that part, and what did he tell you about how he saw the Sidious/Vader/Tarkin dynamic?

JL: We didn’t have that discussion, but it was interesting to me, because I had missed seeing that little story arc, those three episodes of the trial. So when I finally saw them, it provided me with so much material that I was grappling with, trying to find ways to tie this book together. What I would like to ask him—and I hope some day I’ll get the chance to—is whether that little story arc was really pointing the way to this relationship between Anakin and Tarkin, or whether that was just a happy discovery for me.

How did you read that? Do you think that that story arc was headed in a particular direction?

UW: I would like to think so. There was a lot of material that we didn’t see. But I have to imagine that, if you’re going to bring back Tarkin after the Citadel story arc, you’re consciously building toward a bigger role for him, one that affects the other characters we’re seeing. I get the sense that they wanted to expand on the Tarkin/Anakin relationship.

JL: And I think it goes back, even, to the earlier story arc of the Citadel, where there’s that first hint of rapport between the two of them. There’s some good lines of dialog in there. I just went with that; I figured that, if there was going to be an issue, I would hear back from Lucasfilm or the Story Group that “No, no, no, no, no, you’re heading in the wrong direction here.” But since I wasn’t getting any negative feedback on what I did, I assumed that I was on the right track.

UW: Well, there’s a Star Wars Celebration coming up in April. I don’t know if you will be there, but I would love to see a panel with you and Dave Filoni talking about exactly this issue. You’d get a huge audience for that.

JL: (laughs) Put a bug in someone’s ear about that. I am going to be there. That would be a lot of fun, to talk about what was on everyone’s mind.

UW: I really enjoyed the way you explored the tension between Sidious and Vader, who are still a relatively new team. At one point Sidious says Tatooine forged Vader, and Vader says it didn’t, and Sidious says “Oh you mean, it forged Anakin?” What do you think Sidious thinks of his apprentice right now? Is he more impressed or worried with how he’s turning out?

JL: I think at that point…I don’t think he’s worried. I think that he sees that Vader has yet to grow into the full potential that the Emperor imagines for him. I think that the Emperor sort of gets off on that kind of feisty exchange. I think it’s part of the Sith mentality, to just engage in those kinds of psychological or verbal battles. It shows that everybody’s staying their toes. I enjoyed writing that scene where the two of them are trying to show their strengths in each way. I think at that point the Emperor was amused, in a good way, that Vader would stand up to him about certain things.

UW: It also seems like Sidious wants Vader to learn from Tarkin. The Emperor sees Tarkin as more than a lackey; he sees him as a visionary Imperial. There’s something for Vader to glean from Tarkin’s conduct.

JL: I think this is more of the Empire-building. I think he sees in Tarkin someone who can be very, very useful. And of course he’s got Vader at his right hand. It’s important to him that these two find a way to work together, because he doesn’t want any issues. He certainly can’t have his military working in opposition to Vader. The plot of the book works to his advantage. This plot that’s going on works to help these two forge the kind of relationship that the Emperor values.

UW: Your book is the first place I’ve seen anyone discuss the idea that the Sith shrine under the Jedi Temple was partly responsible for the clouding of the Jedi’s minds during the war. Where did you get that idea from?

JL: It made sense to me. This has happened time and time again in history. Let’s take an example. Cortez comes over with his army, he lays waste to the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, and one of the first things they do is they raze the Aztec temples and they build churches. There’s a certain thinking in Mexico that the strength of those temples is not entirely occluded by the churches that have been put on top of them. I thought, “Well, that’s an interesting analogy for what’s going on here.” The Jedi tried to cap the power of this shrine, but there’s leakage. It’s not just Sidious; it’s the power of history, it’s the residue of what’s left of the dark side there.

That’s the way I see it, and that’s the way I have Sidious interpreting it. It’s not fact, but it certainly could be.

UW: I almost don’t know how to process what you write about Sidious’ plan to use the Sith shrine to extract secrets from the dark side. He’s talking about reshaping reality and creating a universe. I feel like this is the most concrete description of Sidious’ real ambitions that we’ve ever gotten. He even says that the Death Star’s real purpose wasn’t its power but its symbolism, which meant he was free to step back from being the symbol. Can you talk about how this description of his hidden agenda came together?

JL: You know, it’s always been on my mind, the question of what his endgame is, what he really wants. I’ve never been content with the notion that it’s just simply a desire to live forever, immortality, the power over life and death. I’ve just given this a lot of thought. Because of where I’ve landed in the franchise, having had to write a lot about the Emperor and about Palpatine and all these other things, I just kept thinking to myself, “This franchise is not like Tolkien, it’s not like Game of Thrones, and the Evil One here has to have an agenda that is very different than what we’ve seen in other franchises.” I’ve been moving little by little toward this notion of his wanting to use the dark side to reshape reality, or give reality the shape that mirrors his most dark designs.

I hope that that can be explored further, and I certainly would love to be the one to do it.

UW: I’ll put in my vote for that, because I think there’s a lot to explore there. I mean, you do such a great job of showing how the Emperor really doesn’t care for this whole Empire-building, bureaucratic-wrangling business. He is about the Sith ethos. The Empire seems more like an instrumental resource for him. It exists to facilitate his larger plan.

JL: I see it as his vehicle to the next level. In my mind, he’s coming close to that as we get closer and closer to A New Hope. I’ve always wondered, why does he disband the Senate when he does? Is it simply because the Death Star is moving through space and about to become operational? I think it’s bigger. I think he was really onto something then, that something momentous was about to occur. And he’s undermined when he learns not so much that the Death Star has been destroyed, but that the son of the Chosen One is out there.

UW: And that gives even more meaning to the scene between the Emperor and Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, where the Emperor wants Vader to turn his son. It’s no longer merely about recruiting or destroying a nuisance. When you add the perspective you just explained, it’s about the emergence of a mortal peril to Sidious’ decades-long plan.

JL: Yeah, I mean that’s the way I see it. It’s always a tricky thing, because as a writer in this franchise, a contributor, I struggle—I’m not trying to take ownership. It’s just my interpretation of where I see things headed, or a deeper meaning to certain movements in this saga.

UW: Well, I think it’s to your credit that you’re ambitious about wanting to flesh out these characters and themes even as you’re deferential to the collaborative process.

JL: Yeah, no, I definitely don’t want to [make this the James Luceno Universe]. I realize the role I play here. It’s just my job to explore some of these little tidbits.

UW: Did you always plan to get inside Vader and Sidious’ heads as extensively as you did? It seems like we’re following them almost as often as we’re following Tarkin.

JL: Well, yeah, it was my plan, in the sense that…when this project came up, I was still trying to come up with…not a sequel to Darth Plagueis, but I wanted to…there were things that I wanted to write about the Emperor that were just lingering thoughts that I had after completing Plagueis. I was working with different things and I wasn’t really getting anywhere, and I think I was moving too far forward in the timeline. But with Tarkin, I saw a way to not only tell his origin story, but to show where things stood at that particular moment.

It was always my plan to include the Emperor, to include Vader, and to set this against all this busyness that’s going on. It’s almost like an entry to the Dark Times: to put everybody on the page, like, “Here’s where we are, and then things can go forward from here.”

UW: It’s basically a primer on the early days of the Empire, viewed from the top.

JL: Yeah. I read this book that I wrote, Cloak of Deception. This is sort of a mirror image of that book. That book was set just before The Phantom Menace and [was] introducing a period. I wanted this book to, in a way, introduce this next period.

UW: I enjoyed the way you brought in the events of Cloak of Deception. You gave the main story of that book—the Eriadu trade summit—new meaning by adding the role that Tarkin played in its aftermath.

JL: Yeah, and I hope people don’t think that I’m trying desperately to canonize my previous contributions. (laughs) That stuff just seemed to fit.

UW: We don’t learn who the shipjackers are until very late in the book. Their plan almost seemed like a MacGuffin to facilitate the interactions between the main Imperial characters. Was this a conscious decision to avoid connecting us to them for as long as possible, so we would side with Tarkin over them more comfortably?

JL: I think the question I’m sort of asking—or the book is asking—is, “Are they the good guys?” Rather than have the narrator describe them and get into them, I wanted them to shed more light on who MacGuffin is. I wanted Tarkin to be the one who finds out who they are. But yes, they are kind of a McGuffin. There’s kind of a grey atmosphere to what’s going on with the attacks that they launch. I wanted to suggest that things aren’t as black-and-white as they sometimes seem.

UW: It’s interesting to go from scenes with Tarkin, where he’s offering his perspective on the shipjackers’ destruction, to the scenes where the shipjackers are vilifying and worrying about Tarkin. We really get two sides of the same coin in terms of who Tarkin is.

JL: Yeah, and I think that that’s a lot of what goes on in the world we live in. There’s a lot of interpreting going on without any clear-cut sense of what really constitutes right and wrong.

UW: Teller’s hypocrisy is a very interesting thing. He is furious at Tarkin for targeting people who were caught in the middle of his fight with the pirates, but he does the same thing in this book. What role did you want Teller to serve in this book? How does he affect Tarkin?

JL: I wanted to give exactly that impression, that there’s a lot of contradiction, in terms of actions. As Tarkin makes clear, they fought on the same side during the Clone Wars; they were allies of a sort. Teller’s real issue has to do with the fact that the Empire abandoned his people. He’s got a personal grievance that he has turned into a campaign. This can be a recipe for disaster.

UW: That’s one of the big themes of Star Wars—that revenge leads to ethical compromises and a moral unraveling.

JL: Right, right. You can try and justify your actions any way you want. Yu can build up a lot of evidence and convince yourself that you’re justified in taking this course of action because of what was done to you or to others. But just as you say, once you step over that line, you are headed for the dark.

UW: What did Lucasfilm want from this book and from you?

JL: It was very simple: They wanted a book about Tarkin. That was it, it was one word: Tarkin. It was totally up to me to come up with when the book was going to be set, what his background was, what he storyline was. They had no agenda. They just wanted to see if I was interested. I thought about it and wrestled with it for a while, I was just like, “Anybody remember who Tarkin is?” I just went through lots of different changes. But they just handed it over to me.

UW: This book incorporates a number of EU elements in passing, such as the planet Nam Chorios and its prison, which refers to the EU novel Planet of Twilight. What do you think the relationship between authors like yourself and the EU will be going forward? How do you think writers will approach any impending contradictions as new books attempt integrate the EU the way you did?

JL: I’ve thought about this a lot. Early on, I was thinking, “Well, the EU is there, we can pick and choose, we can kind of mine it.” But it’s [been] different than that as I’ve moved forward, especially after finishing the book. There’s kind of an organic thing going on, where the saga is being sorted out, or the high points, the real events in the saga are being sorted out and canonized. For me, I don’t really have an issue with this. I understand that there are contradictions. In this franchise, there have always been contradictions, going back to the movies themselves.

I’ve adopted this policy where—even with the new film that’s about to come out and certainly change the continuity that we’ve grown up with post-Return of the Jedi—to me, Tim Zahn’s books and all those Bantam-era books, they’re still going to be there for me. I appreciate them as stories. They’re well-told, they’re very interesting. So even if the movie is telling a different story, I’m not ready to dismiss anything that’s come before.

I don’t know how authors are going to handle it. I think this is what the Story Group’s role is going to be, in terms of making some elements canon, maybe working around something. I’m just not privy to what their plan is. Anything I say is really speculative. But that’s just my personal on it. I’m not going to dismiss anything that’s gone before.

UW: One of the things that fans really like about you as an author is that you keep up-to-date with the other Star Wars material, whether books or TV, that’s being produced in between your own book projects. Do you also try to keep up with what the fan community is saying, through forums, Twitter, and other channels?

JL: Not when I’m writing, because I’ll just end up getting either distracted or angry or depressed or (laughs) I’ll want to find another job, I’ll want to go back to carpentry.

I try and read everything [from Lucasfilm]. I try and read the comics, I read all the novels, I’m watching Rebels, I certainly try and keep myself completely plugged into the franchise.

I don’t have a Twitter account, I don’t follow anything on Twitter, I don’t check in with Facebook. Things will get back to me through friends and my son, who (laughs) will say, “Hey, somebody said this,” or, “This is going on.” I’ll jump in from time to time and try and see what’s going on in the fan base, but I just don’t feel like I should have a presence there. I think that’s for the fans, and I don’t want to…I want to know what’s going on, but I want to be separate from it.

UW: Since you mentioned Rebels, what are your thoughts on how the series is exploring the Empire, this institution that you have explored so thoroughly in Tarkin?

JL: I like most of what I’ve seen so far. Whenever a series launches, it sometimes can take half a season or even sometimes a full season before it finds its footing. I know where the series—I’ve read the series bible, I’ve read outlines of the episodes that are coming up. I’m looking forward to it. I think that everybody’s on the right track.

UW: I think you saw that gradual ramp-up with The Clone Wars as well. It really picked up after the first season when it started connecting to bigger things.

JL: Yeah, yeah, I agree.

UW: If you were given the chance, would you like to keep writing about how Tarkin and Palpatine were working together before and during the war?

JL: I’d like to go closer to the movies. I do have something in mind, but I think I have to see what develops with the Marvel comics and some of the other novels that have been commissioned. I can’t really say much right now. I have to see where things are headed.

UW: I have to ask you about the biggest revelation from this book by far, which is Palpatine’s first name. What do you think of Sheev?

JL: Honestly, when the name was given to me, I scratched my head a little bit, I thought, “That is just not the name or the type of name that I expected,” and I really wondered, “What was George thinking? Why did he choose that particular name?” I know that there’s all kinds of interpretations—it’s Shiva, or sheaves of grain, or some sort of constraining factor. There’s a lot of ways to interpret that name. I just didn’t have a big problem with it. I know that Lucasfilm has been sitting on that name for several years. It’s not something that just came up out of the blue.

I was almost reluctant to use it, because I was worried, and maybe rightly so, that it would be kind of a showstopper, that once that name was there—here’s a character we’ve always referred to as Palpatine and now suddenly he’s got this first name. But it was going to be used by somebody. So I figured, if there’s a contradiction there, at least let me contradict myself, contradict one of my own books.

It’s funny, because I had a scene in an early draft of Darth Plagueis where Plagueis learns Palpatine’s first name, but never refers to him by that first name as a means of paying respect to Palpatine’s huge ego, like Plagueis wants Palpatine to believe that Plagueis accepts him just the way he is.

And I think the use of the first name in Tarkin…I could sort of see Palpatine allowing some people to know as a means of pulling them into his inner circle, almost like somebody like Sting, who is not Sting to his closest friends and family members. By knowing his first name, you’re part of his group. So there may be other Ruling Council members who know that name, and Palpatine might have used it as just this way to cement relationships.

I’m kind of surprised at the craziness that’s been going on around the name. I thought, “Well, here’s a little piece of canon direct from George Lucas.” But it’s just blown up into something that I didn’t expect.

UW: Well, if we’ve learned one thing over the past decade or so, it’s that when George Lucas introduces new canon, there’s always going to be a 50-50 split on it.

JL: (laughs) That is true, isn’t it? Yeah.

UW: If people want to read more of your work, what do you recommend they pick up?

JL: I have nothing in the works in the Star Wars franchise, and I have nothing in the works of my own. I’m going to take some time off. There’s some travel that I want to do. There are people that I haven’t seen in a while that I want to check in on. I’ve got nothing out there to promote.

Thanks to James Luceno for an incredibly illuminating and engaging conversation about Star Wars: Tarkin, on sale now from Del Rey Books. If you’re a fan of Tarkin, Vader, Sidious, or the Empire in general, you don’t want to miss this book.