A Long Time Ago: Martha Wells on How Star Wars Inspired Her Writing


Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

I was actually a Star Wars fan before I saw the first movie.

In 1977 I was 13, and had been reading sci-fi and fantasy since I first wandered into that section of the public library at way too young an age. One day at a mall bookstore, I found the novelization of A New Hope (which at that time was just called Star Wars). The cover made it clear it was a movie about to come out, but I read a lot of movie novelizations because it was very hard to get my parents to take me to actual movies in actual theaters. And this one caught me as I read the prologue:

From the first Saga, Journal of the Whills: “They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally, they became heroes.”

Leia Organa of Alderaan, Senator.

At 13, those words signaled awesomeness ahead, and I was exactly the right age to enjoy the hell out of it.

I was an isolated kid in a lot of ways, and didn’t know anybody else who really liked SF as much as I did. And I’d been told over and over again that liking SF/F, or liking anything involving books and media so intensely, was weird and strange and probably bad, or if not bad, something that made me a figure of ridicule. It was especially bad for a girl to like those things, but I was sure to get over it when I grew up and stopping being silly. I knew I wasn’t the only one, I knew there were other people like me out there; all these books and comics had been written by people, for people. But before Star Wars, it was hard to believe those people really existed.

Then I read this movie novelization, and read it again, and made the two whole friends I had read it, and we read it aloud to each other, and acted it out.  And finally, a month or so after the movie came out, I got to see it.  It was a shock at first, so different from how I’d imagined it from the book. But it wrote itself into my DNA and it’s still there, so many years later.

Because so many people loved it, it was a revelation. I wasn’t the only one who liked things like this. There really were other people, and they were everywhere. I found Starlog Magazine, I found Star Wars fanzines. When it came time to go to college, I selected the university I went to based on Starlog‘s list of college SF/F clubs. I worked on a university-sponsored SF/F convention, I met SF/F writers.  I became an SF/F writer.

I think I’d always wanted to be an SF/F writer, maybe since I was in elementary school writing Godzilla fanfic with crayons. Definitely since I read Erma Bombeck, and realized that writer was a job you could have, a job that maybe even a weird silly little kid like me who felt deeply inadequate could have.  

But I’m not sure I would have made it without Star Wars. It was an affirmation, a lifeline.

In 2013 I got a chance to write a Star Wars novel, Star Wars: Razor’s Edge, and I’m not even sure I understand just how excited 13 year old me would have been by that fact. I wish I could go back and show it to her.