SDCC 2016: Chuck Wendig Talks ‘Life Debt’, Snap Wexley, and Writing in the Present


DSC_0047Chuck Wendig is the author of Star Wars: Aftermath: Life Debt, the second volume in the Aftermath series: a trilogy that looks at the events immediately following Return of the Jedi. Wendig broke from a very busy Comic Con schedule of signings and panels for a quick discussion about the new book and some of its characters.

UNBOUND WORLDS: You’re here at San Diego Comic Con signing the second book of your Aftermath Trilogy: Life Debt. Would you tell me a little bit about it for those who haven’t read the book?

CHUCK WENDIG: Life Debt is set a few months after Aftermath. We see the same crew from Aftermath: Nora, Jaz, Sinjir, Mr. Bones, and a few new additions. They have taken on a new role in the New Republic—to hunt imperials—and they are very good at finding people. When Han Solo loses Chewie trying to liberate Kashyyk, and then loses himself in the process, Leia comes to them to try to find them. That kicks off an adventure that feels intimate in scope, but then gets a lot bigger and crazier: Galactic conspiracies are afoot.

UW: You’ve tread onto sacred ground with Han and Chewie on Kashyyk. What was that like?

CW: It is both daunting and easy at the same time. Daunting, because you don’t want to get it wrong, but easy because I’ve been grounding myself in Star Wars for the last three decades. The key is to not overthink it when you’re writing these: to sort of tip my head upside-down and let the voices I’ve had in my head for so long spill out. That tends to be the best way to write them.

UW: You favorite a third-person present tense which is quite different from the other books in the Star Wars fiction line. Why did you go with that? What are some of the advantages of using this?

CW: On a simple level, what’s great is that Young Adult books tend to take a present tense viewpoint to telling stories. Sometimes first-person, sometimes third-person, but a lot of young adult fiction is written in present tense. For me, a person who likes to write in that already, the great thing is that we’re speaking to young readers and to older readers who are willing to be drawn into the cinematic component. Star Wars begins as film and moves on to TV. To have the books feel exciting in that kind of action-adventure thing, present tense keeps you in the moment. I always say that past tense is like looking at a painting on a wall in a museum, but present tense is like watching the painter paint it. It’s like watching Bob Ross: You see him painting on his half-hour show. You really don’t know what’s going to happen. I love that feeling: What’s he going to paint here? Is that an ocean? Is that a rock? There’s also a component where you think he’s going to mess the painting up completely but by the end he pools it all out. To me, present tense is like watching the painter paint. When you look at the Star Wars crawls, they’re written in third-person, present tense. I want to capture that: I do think that it’s very cinematic, and that’s why we went with it.

UW: Can you talk a little bit about the historical parallels between what the team is doing and what was happening after World War II with the Nazis?

CW: Sure! There’s a “Nazi hunters in Brazil kind of thing” once a war is over. In this case the war is not over, but you have a New Republic that is feeling dominant, maybe a little cocky, and is looking to capture high-ranking Imperials and prosecute them for their crimes, or get them to roll over on other Imperials. That’s what happened after World War II. Some of what is happening in the book mirrors World War II and what is happening today with the War on Terrorism, or it mirrors the rise of certain political toxicity. We’ll see more of that go on, so yeah, it’s kind of an interesting mix of real world elements.

UW: There’s a character in Episode Seven—Snap Wexley—and you’re dealing with his childhood now. Did you have much room in developing that part of his life?

CW: I’ve had a lot of room because Snap, kind of like Wedge in the original trilogy, is not a fully formed cinematic character. He’s on the screen and has a little bit of a backstory that we know, but generally speaking, there’s a lot to do with him, especially since I was getting to write him from a kid’s viewpoint. It’s pretty easy to bake in what we want to do with him and get him to where we wanted him to go as the Snap Wexley we know in The Force Awakens.