Author Rebecca Roanhorse has made a name for herself over the past couple years with her acclaimed novels Race to the Sun, Trail of Lightning, and Storm of Locusts— the latter two representing the launch of her ongoing “The Sixth World” series. Now, Roanhorse has taken her first step into A Galaxy Far, Far Away with the new canon novel Star Wars: Resistance Reborn, part of Lucasfilm Publishing’s current “Journey to The Rise of Skywalker” initiative, setting up the events of this winter’s highly anticipated Episode IX.
Last week I had the fortunate opportunity to speak with Rebecca Roanhorse over the phone to discuss her approach to writing a Star Wars novel, her history growing up with the franchise, and what it was like creating her own entry in this beloved sci-fi/fantasy saga.
Mike Celestino, Laughing Place: This is your first Star Wars novel, and I've always been curious: how does an author come to be a part of that world? Are you invited by Lucasfilm based on your previous work? Do you approach them?
Rebecca Roanhorse: I was invited. They approached me. When A Certain Point of View came out– that was the short story collection that had a lot of contemporary sci-fi writers writing within the Star Wars universe– I was pretty excited to see it. And I remember I had posted on Twitter that I would love to see a Native writer write in the Star Wars universe, because Star Wars has a lot of Native influence, like Princess Leia’s hair buns [came from] Hopi influence, and the Ewoks come from the Miwok tribe in Northern California, and when Leia walks into Jabba the Hutt’s lair in Return of the Jedi she says ‘Yaté yaté,’ which is actually Navajo [Yá'át'ééh] for ‘Hello’.
I thought that was really cool, and I did this whole thread about Native influences in Star Wars, and then the way that Native visual artists particularly had spoken back to that and integrated a lot of Star Wars universe stuff into their own work, like a mutual love relationship [laughs]. So I did that, and then other Star Wars writers saw that and were like, ‘Hey, they should let Rebecca write a Star Wars.’ And I hadn’t meant me, I just meant some Native writer might be cool. That kind of picked up, and the editor of my original work mentioned it to the folks at Lucasfilm. Then it came back, they contacted my agent, and I got offered to write Resistance Reborn. And I said, ‘Absolutely.’ That’s how I got the gig.
LP: Well it sounds like you’re very enthusiastic about the franchise. Can you tell me a little bit about your personal history with Star Wars? Were you a big fan growing up?
Roanhorse: Yeah, Star Wars has always been part of my life. I can’t remember when it wasn’t. I also have an older brother who collected all the action figures back in the day. He had the whole Darth Vader head [carrying case] with all the action figures in it. We had the Millennium Falcon and I remember trying to collect the little proofs of purchase to send off for Boba Fett. Very exciting [laughs]. I used to play with the action figures. I used to create my own stories and my own adventures with them, and obviously I saw the movies. I wasn’t as much into the Expanded Universe until recently, but I’ve always been a fan.
LP: What sensibilities and experiences of your own do you feel helped in your approach to writing a Star Wars novel?
Roanhorse: Leia was really my gateway into understanding the Star Wars universe and understanding the characters. Realizing that she’s been on and off through this war– it’s a generational war that spans her lifetime– and what that must be like, the losses that she’s had: she lost her parents, her brother, her husband, even her son, in a way. Just the pile of grief that she must carry around with her, and still she goes on. Still she’s brave, and she fights the good fight. And she tries to lead the next generation. I think understanding that, because we all have grief and we all have things that we’ve suffered through– not all of us a war, but certainly our own internal wars– to see the humanity in that really helped me to take my experiences and have some insight into what these characters are going through.
LP: Star Wars: Resistance Reborn has a lot of work to do in bridging the gap between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. What were your first thoughts on how to approach that assignment?
Roanhorse: Well, they do give you notes. They gave me probably a couple of paragraphs of what they wanted to see in the story– the characters they wanted to focus on, the ones they did not want to focus on. And then they said, ‘Run. Take it from there.’ I knew we wanted to make a Poe-focused story, and I knew a lot of what I thought was important about Poe, and I think that they would agree. Sometimes I forget who came up with what first, but I know they definitely did not want to [ignore] what went down in The Last Jedi as far as his behavior on the Raddus and the deaths that sort of lay at his feet. And I was definitely down with that. I thought that had to be something you address immediately.
I also read the Poe [Dameron] comics and I wanted to bring Black Squadron in. That was one of their suggestions as well, and [drawing from] the larger universe– bringing in characters from Battlefront, other characters from other properties within the universe. It went off from there.
LP: And how much information were you actually given about Episode IX going into the writing process? Obviously Lucasfilm tends to be fairly secretive about its upcoming films. How much are they holding back from you?
Roanhorse: Yeah, that [information is on] a need-to-know basis, and I did not need to know [laughs], in their opinion. Not that much, I don’t really know anything about what happens next. I know where we wanted to end the story to set it up for Episode IX, but I don’t know anything else. I’m very in the dark.
LP: In addition to setting up the next movie, the novel also deals with some of the ramifications and unanswered questions from the end of The Last Jedi. How did you decide which of those threads to follow?
Roanhorse: A lot of the direction of which threads to follow came from Lucasfilm and my editor at Del Rey, Tom. But how I was going to spool those out [and find out] what was the meat on those threads, to mix metaphors, was up to me. So they were like, ‘Hey, we want Poe to deal with what happened. Now you tell us how he’s going to deal with that, and who’s going to confront him, and how that’s all going to go down. It’s up to you, but we know we want this issue addressed.’
LP: You mentioned having revisited some characters created by other recent Star Wars authors, like Claudia Gray and Chuck Wendig. How did that come about, and did you seek guidance from them at all?
Roanhorse: I got no guidance. Those authors probably didn’t know I was using their characters until somebody told them [laughs]. Hopefully I did them justice. I tried to handle them with care, and clearly the way the original authors portrayed them influenced the way that I portrayed them as well. The Claudia Gray influence was totally my choice, because I loved that character– I’m trying not to spoil it– but I didn’t want to let him go. I was very excited that they said ‘yes’ to that, and that Claudia said ‘yes’ as well.
I did not want to write Wedge [Antilles] without Norra [Wexley]. I think she’s a great addition to the Star Wars Universe. I love having space marriage [laughs] and getting to dig into that, and to have these war veterans and [find out] how they’re dealing with the aftermath of the war. Can you settle down into this quiet life, with the Resistance calling you back, even if it means you might die? And I think it [was] a note from Lucasfilm that they wanted Shriv in the story somehow. But I took that and ran with it, because I love Shriv as a character, and I really wanted him to play a pretty meaty role in the book. They gave the suggestion, then it was up to me to decide how to include these characters.
LP: As far as Wedge goes, a lot of fans had been wondering what happened to him in the wake of the Aftermath trilogy. How did he come to be a part of Resistance Reborn?
Roanhorse: I think that was a conversation that my editor and I had, that it might be interesting to include him. But we hadn’t really discussed exactly how, and to what extent. So I made some suggestions about how to do that, and [Lucasfilm was] all for it. It was really collaborative. This is a very collaborative novel. We all worked together to come up with the ideas.
LP: We don’t get any Kylo Ren or General Hux in this novel. Was that omission a conscious decision from the beginning?
Roanhorse: Well, this is a Poe book, and I think it’s definitely focused on the Resistance. But [there’s] a little less Rey, for example, because her story and Kylo Ren’s story are for the movie. They’re saving that part for the big screen.
LP: Can you tell me more about working with the Lucasfilm Story Group, and how their influence helped shape the events of the novel?
Roanhorse: They don’t really help [in that way]. They’re more like your teacher with the red pen. They didn’t really directly influence the shape of the novel, per se, but what they did do was approve my outline. There’s probably about six or seven people– not just the Story Group, but the editors and everybody who have to approve that. If there [are] problems or inconsistencies, they flag those, which is great, actually, because it’s a huge universe. Somebody’s keeping track of it, and it’s not me! [laughs]
They are incredible. They’re like a living Wikipedia about Star Wars information. They would make suggestions sometimes if I needed a particular planet or a particular creature, they would be like, ‘Oh yeah, you could use this, or you could use that.’ Or if I needed to know something that could disable an X-Wing, they’d be like, ‘You could do this.’ One of the pieces of advice I got from other Star Wars writers was, ‘You’re the writer. You focus on character. You focus on plot. Let the Story Group fill in the technical details. That’s what they’re for. That’s what they’re good at. That’s not really your job.’ So I really took that to heart.
LP: After having written the novel, which Star Wars character ended up being your favorite to write for, and why?
Roanhorse: The one that changed the most for me was Poe. When I first started the novel, I was not as excited about Poe, but writing him, getting inside his head, seeing the challenges and the things that he’s faced really helped humanize him for me. [It] made him real. I think coming out at the end of the novel, I’m a huge Poe fan.
LP: The audiobook version of Resistance Reborn is read by the talented voice actor Marc Thompson. I’m just curious if you’ve had any interaction with him or any input into the way he performed the characters you created.
Roanhorse: I met Marc at New York Comic Con. That was the first time I’d met him and spoken to him. He’s awesome. I listened to a little bit of [the audiobook], and he does all the voices. It’s great. I think he does Poe’s voice the best. It sounds just like [actor Oscar Isaac]. But no, I did not give him any notes or anything. That is his own interpretation of the characters. [From] what I’ve heard, he does a great job.
LP: Lastly, how does it feel having made your own imprint on the Star Wars universe and what do you hope fans get out of Resistance Reborn?
Roanhorse: It feels freaking fantastic [laughs]. It’s awesome. It’s the dream you never thought you could dream. If you had told me that I was going to get to do this when I was a kid playing with those action figures and making my Lincoln Log Death Star, I couldn’t even fathom it. [It’s] amazing. It’s really been a dream.
I want fans to love it. I want them to engage with it, maybe have some insight into the characters that they didn’t have before. I want them to see some old faces that surprise them and delight them. I want them to meet new characters and have them fall in love with them as well. I just want them to have a great Star Wars experience.
Star Wars: Resistance Reborn is available now wherever books are sold from Lucasfilm Publishing and Dey Rey Books.
Mike serves as Laughing Place’s lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast. He’s been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general since a very young age and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.