Hasslein Blog: Star Wars and Me: What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

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Hasslein Blog

Friday, August 30, 2013

Star Wars and Me: What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

by Rich Handley

I've recently returned to a galaxy far, far away—one I frequented with great enthusiasm a long, long time ago—and it feels good to come home again.


When I was nine years old, the first Star Wars film arrived in theaters, and I was mesmerized. The amazing effects! The cool characters! The "whooosh" sounds made by the ships dashing through space! And that cantina scene with all those wonderful alien masks! Wow!

OK, folks, keep in mind that I was nine at the time.

As I grew older, my appreciation for the Star Wars universe grew as well. The Empire Strikes Back came out when I was 12, and it's no exaggeration to say that my mind was blown. Vader cut off Luke's hand? And he's all bald and pasty inside his helmet? And wait, he's Luke's father? And Han Solo is frozen in a giant domino, making him stick out the front with a look of pain on his face? And that little green gnome is a Jedi Master? And Leia loves Han, not Luke? And it's ending with Han still frozen??


My brain repeatedly screamed out "OMG!" while viewing TESB, long before anyone actually ever used that annoying expression (which I still don't, thank you very much).

By the time Return of the Jedi debuted, I was 15 years old and not overly receptive to seeing cute teddy bears somehow defeating the same Empire that had previously subjugated a galaxy, blown up an entire planet and forced the Rebel forces at Hoth into a frantic retreat. And yet, despite this, I still greatly enjoyed the film, as the scenes in Jabba's court and in the Emperor's throne room more than made up for the cutesiness factor of the Ewoks.

Thanks to Kelly West and CinemaBlend.com.

And then… well, Star Wars kind of faded away, both in the public consciousness and for me. I still enjoyed the trilogy whenever it was on TV, of course, but the 1980s cartoons and the Ewok telemovies paled in comparison to the spectacular films of my youth, and thus failed to keep me actively engaged. I did pick up—and repeatedly re-read—the brilliant spinoff novels by Alan Dean Foster, Brian Daley and L. Neil Smith. But otherwise, I moved on to other things as I finished high school, earned a college degree, moved in with my then-girlfriend Jill (whom I eventually married) and focused primarily on my first sci-fi love, Star Trek.

But in 1991, something unexpected happened. Actually, two somethings: someone recommended that I read Tom Veitch's Dark Empire miniseries from Dark Horse Comics, while another friend lent me Tim Zahn's Heir to the Empire from Bantam Books.


I decided to give them both a chance... and I couldn't believe how great they were. Two new Star Wars storylines set after the events of Return of the Jedi, both as intricately plotted as the film trilogy, and both worthy of the name Star Wars. What's more, text pages at the end of Veitch's comics referenced Zahn's novels. It was all connected! Just like that, I was pulled back into Star Wars.

Immediately, I began hungrily tracking down VHS recordings of the cartoons and Ewok films I'd previously dismissed, as well as the dreaded Star Wars Holiday Special, a schmaltzy cheese-fest about the Wookiees' version of Thanksgiving. Jill, upon hearing the latter playing in the next room, walked in slowly and asked, "Uh… what the heck are you watching? It sounds like cows having sex in here."

Aaaah! Kill it! Kill it with fire!

Anxious to read more, I scoured comic shops and convention dealer rooms to find every issue of Marvel's long-running Star Wars series—which I'd also dismissed when I was younger, having seen the rabbit-like Hoojibs on a number of covers, but which I absolutely loved after finally giving it a chance. As each new comic and novel hit stores, I devoured them all, intrigued at the growing Expanded Universe into which the franchise was evolving.

While all this was going on, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in writing, either on a full-time or freelance basis. And oh, the Internet happened.

I became involved with online Star Wars fandom, and in so doing met a number of people who had a huge effect on my life, though neither they nor I could have realized it at the time. Mike Beidler, a friend of Tom Veitch who'd helped out on Empire's End, introduced me to author Charlene Newcomb, whose Alex Winger stories I'd greatly enjoyed in West End Games' Official Star Wars Adventure Journal series. I developed a strong friendship with both Mike and Char, and am happy to say that we all remain friends to this day (even if I speak to them less often than I should, 'cause I'm a jerk easily distracted by my work and fatherhood, which is, of course, no excuse whatsoever but is sadly the truth and I really hope they forgive me… ahem).

Char and I were discussing one of her characters (Crimson Durasha) one day when I suggested a possible direction in which to take her adventures. To my surprise, Char invited me to co-write it with her. After picking my jaw up off the floor, I readily agreed. WEG accepted me as her co-author and published our story, "Crimson Bounty," which was a hell of a lot of fun to write and just as much fun to see appear in print. Amazingly, I was now a member of a group of writers able to claim a small piece of real estate in the officially licensed Star Wars universe, and it felt good.


Soon, other gigs came my way. Pete Janes, then a Dark Horse editor, asked my help in researching Archie Goodwin's Star Wars work for a column he was writing for Star Wars Insider magazine—and I received co-credit for doing so, which I hadn't known would be the case, so that was a nice bonus. Dave Pipgras invited me to write for a fanzine called Star Wars Collector, which I continued to do until that publication sadly closed shop. Author Dan Wallace, meanwhile, recommended me to replace him as the comic columnist at Topps' Star Wars Galaxy Collector magazine, and Lucasfilm guru Steve Sansweet approved the assignment.

Because of that fantastic gig—and to the debt I owed (and still owe) to Mike, Char, Dave, Dan and Steve for getting me "in" at Lucasfilm—I was then asked to write the comics column at the Insider as well, after Pete stepped down. This led to a slew of articles for the Star Wars Fact Files series, as well as for Star Wars Gamer magazine, and then (gasp!) a fiction piece titled "Lady Luck" for Dark Horse's Star Wars Tales comic book anthology, thanks to Pete (who was editing Tales at the time) and to my buddy Darko Macan, with whom I co-wrote "Lady Luck."


Looking back, it's all rather surreal to me.

Toward the end of the 1990s and into the early 2000s, the Star Wars prequels hit theaters, and while I enjoyed them for what they were, they didn't quite thrill me the way the original films had (Jar Jar made the Ewoks seem like King Arthur's Knights of the Roundtable). Given the frequent turnover of editors at the various Star Wars publications, which made it difficult to remain in the game without constantly having to re-introduce myself to each new player, I decided to focus on other interests for a while (I'd begun working as a magazine editor—which I still do by day—and was also writing for Star Trek Communicator magazine, so my plate was full). And so my days of writing for Lucasfilm quietly came to an end.

Several years ago, Pablo Hidalgo, whom I'd come to know back during the West End Games days (as an aside, I was invited to interview for a job at Lucasfilm's Skywalker Ranch sometime around The Phantom Menace's release, but I am very happy to have lost it to the eminently more qualified Pablo, who has certainly done a far better job than I would have in the role), asked if I was interested in writing for starwars.com. I realized that I missed playing in the Star Wars sandbox, and immediately said "yes."

Pablo published a short story I had originally written for Star Wars Gamer magazine, but which (for reasons not worth getting into here) never appeared in that magazine. The story, titled "Lando Calrissian: Idiot's Array," was a sequel to both "Crimson Bounty" and "Lady Luck," and featured a solo adventure for Lando, Lobot and Mungo Baobob from the Droids animated series. I was grateful to finally get that story out to fans (it's currently archived at Random House's Web site—check it out), and followed that up with a tongue-in-cheek article titled "10 Parallels Between Star Wars and Harry Potter." (Sadly, I think that's no longer on the site.) And then… well, the starwars.com well dried up for a while as the site went through redesigns and new management.

The story of my life!


In the midst of all this, I formed a lasting friendship with Abel G. Peña, a writer well-loved by fans of the Star Wars Expanded Universe for his ability to retcon any errors, no matter how grave, incorporate the most obscure of source materials, and draw connections no one else would have ever dreamed of. Abel and I have since collaborated on a number of source articles, among them a detailed exploration of the characters and events of the Droids cartoon series and its Marvel Comics spinoff. The first third of that piece appeared in Dungeon/Polyhedron magazine—which unfortunately ceased publication before it could run the remaining portions. For ten years, Star Wars fans asked us about the remainder of the article, but alas, in limbo it remained.

Meanwhile, Abel and I also penned a three-part series about aliens working in the Empire (as seen in the films, cartoons, novels, comics and video games), as well as another source article about Simon Greyshade and the Wheel (a character and space station featured in early issues of Marvel's comic line), both of which were slated to run in Star Wars Insider until editorial staff changes negated their publication once again. We were particularly proud of both works, which we considered our best collaborations… but, like the Droids article, they ended up in limbo for years.


So, where's all this going? Well, in February of this year, I became acquainted with Matt Martin, the current administrator of starwars.com, and pitched a simple article to him: a look back at a long-forgotten comic of sorts, printed by Palitoy to sell its Star Wars toy line. Matt (an extremely likable guy, by the way) was very open to the idea, and so I went back to work writing for Lucasfilm. The Palitoy piece was published a few weeks later (see "Palitoy's Star Wars Ads: The Forgotten Comics"), and during the past half-year since then, I've penned articles covering a number of other subjects as well, including a series of Spanish Droids and Ewoks comics never published in English (see "Droids and Ewoks Return: Spain's Lost Star Wars Comic Strips"... who'd have thought I'd actually end up writing about the little furballs?), a pair of semi-Star Wars-related comics from Stan Lee and Steve Ditko titled "Tales from R2-D2's Data Banks" (coming soon) and an exhaustively detailed look back at the entire Marvel UK line (slated for the end of September).

But what I'm most excited about is that Matt also agreed to publish the long-in-limbo Droids, alien henchmen and Wheel articles, allowing me and Abel to finally unveil these pieces to readers who'd been asking us about them for the past decade. We'd have loved to have seen them all in print publications, of course, but having them hosted on the official site is just as gratifying.


The Droids article is already online in two parts, and can be read here and here, while the three alien henchmen installments can be found here, here and here, with my Stan Lee and Marvel UK retrospectives coming soon. Abel, meanwhile, wrote a great piece about a little-known Italian-language Star Wars comic produced by Hasbro Italy (you can read that article here, as well as an accompanying piece Abel penned for this blog—both make great reading). Along the way, I also introduced Matt to Hasslein Books authors Greg Mitchell and James McFadden, who have begun writing for starwars.com as well (see "Convenient Daily Departures: The History of Star Tours" to read James' work; Greg's is titled "The Not-So-Magnificent Seven"). We're all one big, happy, nerdy family here at Hasslein Books!

What does the future hold for me and the Star Wars franchise? To be honest, I have no idea. But in the meantime, it's been fun revisiting my favorite era of rebellion and period of civil war. Bring on Episode VII! (But please, J.J. Abrams: no more "mystery boxes"... and no more Ewoks or Gungans.)


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2 Comments:

At August 30, 2013 at 11:02 AM , Blogger Abel G. Pena said...

That was an emotional ride. I felt like I was reliving *my* Star Wars career. Despite everything, we've lived charmed lives as writers. It's been an honor, my friend.

 
At August 30, 2013 at 12:18 PM , Blogger Hasslein Books said...

That it has indeed, Abel!

--Rich

 

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