Interview – Author Sam Maggs Discusses Her New Novel “Star Wars: Jedi – Battle Scars” and Her Writing Career

Author Sam Maggs has been writing published books, comics, and video games since her debut release The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy in 2015. For Lucasfilm Publishing, she has contributed to the Star Wars Adventures comic-book series and last year’s short-story anthology Star Wars: Stories of Jedi and Sith. And now Maggs has been the video-game spinoff novel Star Wars: Jedi – Battle Scars, which takes place between the smash-hit Jedi – Fallen Order game and its highly anticipated upcoming sequel Star Wars: Jedi – Survivor.

Today, in celebration of the novel’s release from Random House Worlds, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Sam Maggs about her writing career, her history with the Star Wars franchise, and her approach to bridging the gap between Fallen Order and Survivor in Star Wars: Jedi – Battle Scars.

Mike Celestino, Laughing Place:  What was your relationship with Star Wars growing up? I’m assuming you were a fan.

Sam Maggs:  I was, actually– I was sort of born into it. My parents are both big Star Wars fans. They actually saw A New Hope in theaters in the ‘70s 22 times. They were big fans, and so I guess instead of rebelling and getting into sports or something, I just kind of went with it. [laughs] But I watched the movies a lot as a kid growing up– I remember being in the sixth grade and my dad pulling me out of school to go see a matinee of The Phantom Menace the day it came out. I’ve always just loved the hopefulness and all the potential in the world of Star Wars. So yeah, I’ve been a big fan from the jump.

LP:  Tell me about your writing career prior to your Star Wars work, and how did you get involved with Lucasfilm Publishing?

Maggs:  I had actually done a lot of writing prior to getting involved with Lucasfilm. I published a bunch of different novels and nonfiction books. In my day job, I’m actually a video game writer– I’ve written for games like Marvel’s Spider-Man over at Insomniac, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands over at Gearbox, Call of Duty: Vanguard for Sledgehammer, and I’ve written a bunch of comics as well, including the Marvel Action: Captain Marvel line over at IDW, which was Marvel’s all-ages Marvel Comics line. And IDW also had a Star Wars all-ages line called Star Wars Adventures, so after I’d been writing on Marvel Action for a while, they asked me if I’d be willing to pitch some shorter stories over on Star Wars Adventures, which I did. I wrote a Kylo Ren story and a Luke and Leia two-parter, which actually takes place on Bogano from Jedi – Fallen Order, because [I’m a] huge fan [of that game]. That was how I got introduced to the Story team over at Lucasfilm, and how they got to know my writing. At first, I spent a little bit of time working on the remaster of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic video game, when it was still being made over at Aspyr. Then there was an opportunity [on] a short-story collection [that] came up called Stories of Jedi and Sith, and the Lucasfilm folks– again having come to know my writing through the comics– asked if I wanted to write a short story for that, which I would say was kind of my audition piece for Battle Scars.

LP:  What was the genesis of that short story, ‘Luke On the Bright Side’? How did that specific idea come about for you?

Maggs:  When [LucasBooks Executive Editor] Jennifer Heddle approached me about writing a story for this collection, she asked if I wanted to write a Luke story in particular, and obviously– who wouldn’t jump at that? I mean, [he’s] the O.G. [laughs] But I’ve always found the time in-between A New Hope and [The Empire Strikes Back] really fascinating, because in Empire we start on Hoth, in the middle of things already. I love the idea of, ‘What happened when they got there? How did they find it? What was that experience like after they get their medals at the end of A New Hope, and before they end up on Hoth? What happens in that intervening time?’ So that was the first idea that I pitched, was something that takes place then, because Luke is still coming into his powers at that point– figuring out what it means to be this hero that Luke grows into over the course of the trilogy. I love that, and the folks at Lucasfilm really liked the idea, too. That was how that came about.

LP:  You mentioned being a fan of Jedi – Fallen Order. What was your experience and relationship with that game when it was released a few years ago?

Maggs:  I played it [and] I enjoyed it. I was actually living with someone at the time who was working on the game, so I had been really hype about it for quite some time– I had been privy to some of the behind-the-scenes stuff that was going on. I played it during the pandemic, and had managed to stay unspoiled about the fact that you fight a certain very important Star Wars baddie at the end of the game. I mean, it’s been out for several years now– you fight Darth Vader at the end, but I had remained completely unspoiled about that somehow. There’s a video of me on TikTok somewhere losing my mind about it live, as it happened. [laughs] I was so shocked. Anyway, I absolutely loved the game. The game itself is great– it’s super fun to play; Respawn did an amazing job with the mechanics and the gameplay, but what really spoke to me– and what always speaks to me the most about stories that I really connect with and love– is the characters. I’m a real sucker for a ragtag space crew who are up against the big mean galactic corporation. I’m [also] a sucker for found family, so this really hit all the marks for me. I remember basically as soon as I finished playing the game, I went on Twitter, and I think I tweeted, ‘Let me write the Merrin book.’ [laughs] Immediately, the second I finished, because I genuinely think the only way they could’ve improved the first game was more Merrin. She doesn’t come into it until the very very end, and I remember immediately being like, ‘Oh my god, I want to know more about her. I want to know more about this character and her relationship with the crew, and what it’s like to be the dark-side girly amidst all these goody-goodies.’

LP:  You said ‘Luke On the Bright Side’ was kind of your audition for this novel, but how did Jedi – Battle Scars come about for you specifically and what was your initial approach to bridging the gap between Jedi – Fallen Order and Jedi – Survivor?

Maggs:  I didn’t know it was my audition at the time. I think in hindsight, looking back, that was their way of being like, ‘Can she execute something like this, and write something good and on time?’ I was approached by the folks at Del Rey directly, by my editor Tom Hoeler, who later told me that as soon as Respawn and Lucasfilm came to them with the idea of doing a book in-between both games, Tom was like, ‘Sam’s the only person.’ They approached me right off the bat. I’m very flattered by that and honored about it, frankly. That was pretty cool, for a bunch of different reasons. But right away I was hopping on a call with Lucasfilm and the Respawn team, who put together a deck to show me what the story of Star Wars: Jedi – Survivor is. They wanted me to know where the crew was going [and] what the next story is. And then Respawn had put together a really helpful one-sheet, which touched on all the emotional and important plot beats that they needed me to hit in this book to set up the next game. So I started out from there, I had played [Fallen Order], so I knew where we were coming from, I had the story of Survivor, so I knew where we were going, and I had the important, ‘XYZ has to happen in this book.’ One of those things was [that] Respawn had envisioned Merrin as pansexual, from her conception as a character, [but] they didn’t have the time or space to really establish that in the first game. I mean, there’s a couple lines that imply it directly, but they really wanted to establish that canonically and inarguably in this book. That was a big thing that they really wanted me to hit, which I think is one of the reasons that they approached me for this– I’m a queer author, this is a book that has a queer POV character in it, I’m a game writer, you know. That’s how it came about. I had all of these building blocks to start from, and then from there I was able to put together an outline that everybody at Lucasfilm and Respawn and Del Rey were able to be happy with.

LP:  I feel like I probably already know the answer to the first part of this based on what you’ve said, but which of the preexisting members of the Mantis crew did you find most interesting to write, and how do you go about getting inside the heads and voices of characters you did not create?

Maggs:  Obviously [the answer to the first part] is Merrin– she’s fascinating. We haven’t spent a lot of time with the Nightsisters in general in the Star Wars universe. I find them fascinating, and I think Merrin’s story in particular is so interesting because she’s been through such intense trauma. I mean, the Mantis really is like ‘Trauma: The Ship’ in a lot of ways. [laughs] How does someone go through processing that trauma when they’re around people who are so focused on the Force and the light side and goodness, and she’s not? It was so interesting to me– dark side best friends with light side. Again, it’s fascinating. I also found the Fifth Brother really really interesting to get into. I loved getting into his head, [but] in terms of getting into the heads of characters that I didn’t create, that’s almost my entire career. I primarily do IP writing, which is writing for other people’s worlds, and I really love it because it comes with this preexisting sandbox. You have your universe; you have your established characters. All you have to do then is take your little action figures and put them through their paces, and tell the stories you want to tell using them. I don’t have to get bogged down in world-building and character-building. I already have a preexisting set of characters to work with– it’s why people love writing fanfiction so much. It takes all that out of the way, and so it’s all about just playing the source material a bunch and getting super familiar with those characters. I was also able to get a lot of the initial character design documentation from Respawn, that set out a lot of their initial thoughts for the characters– where they came from, what their mindsets are, why they act the way that they do– which was really helpful.

LP:  You also got to create a new character named Fret. What were the origins of this defector from the Empire for you as a writer, and how does she fit in and relate with the more familiar cast?

Maggs:  Fret was really important to me to include for a bunch of different reasons, but I think primarily as an outsider who comes in to shake up the existing dynamic of the crew. By the time we get to Battle Scars, the Mantis crew has been together for a couple of years, and we all know what it’s like to live with people– even people that you love– in close quarters for an extended period of time. Tensions start to build up, and Cal especially doesn’t really want to face any of it. He’s gonna have to sooner or later, and Fret kind of forces those confrontations among the crew– between each other, but also within themselves– to say, ‘Here are the things that we’ve been avoiding talking about, that are gonna cause problems in the Mantis crew, but also the things about myself that I have been avoiding thinking about or looking at directly.’ Having an outsider come in forces everybody to look at those hard things that they don’t want to. It forces Merrin to be like, ‘Why am I obsessed with this person right away? What is it about her that draws me to her?’ It forces Cal to be like, ‘Why do I feel some kind of way about a new person coming in and Merrin being really connected to her?’ It forces Cere to be like, ‘Why am I having trouble trusting this person?’ That felt really important, because ultimately the Mantis crew is not a closed system. They exist as a kind of second home and fresh start for people who have been displaced by the Empire. They were bound to get some newcomers eventually, and Fret is– if not the first one, she is certainly one of them.

LP:  You mentioned the Fifth Brother, and you do get to write from his perspective in this novel as well. How important are the villains to this story and how did you construct the conflict between the heroes and their antagonists?

Maggs:  I knew I wanted to use an Inquisitor. Obviously, they’re Cal’s big nemeses, and the big nemeses of the Star Wars universe at this point in the timeline– post-Order 66, pre-A New Hope. Lucasfilm actually suggested the Fifth Brother to me, because we’ve seen him in Rebels, we’ve seen him in [Obi-Wan] Kenobi now, but we actually don’t know that much about him outside of [the fact that] he doesn’t really get along with other people very well and he fights really well. We didn’t even know his species; that was really the extent of our knowledge about him, so Lucasfilm came to me and was like, ‘This feels like a really cool opportunity for you to dive into his backstory a little bit more. Tell us where he’s from, tell us why he is the way that he is. Tell us how he feels about the Jedi. It was a cool opportunity for me to indulge my big The Last Jedi feelings, and talk about why I think the Jedi suck in a lot of different ways. [laughs] Which is not to say that I think the Sith are right– I just think that the Fifth Brother makes some points. That’s all I’m saying. [laughs] So that was really cool– I mean, it’s cool for any Star Wars author to be able to leave their imprint on the canon indefinitely, and to show up on Wookieepedia. That was really really interesting, but I think ultimately for me, the villain of this story isn’t really the Fifth Brother. It’s the conflicting emotions of the crew members, and how that impacts their relationships with each other. Again, I’m a character girly. I love plot, but I think those are the real important things. The Fifth Brother’s there; that conflict is important, but it serves to heighten the emotional conflict, I think.

LP:  As this is all building up to the events of Jedi – Survivor, how excited are you for that video game, and how excited should we be as gamers and as Star Wars fans?

Maggs:  I’m so excited. I’ve had the opportunity to play it; I’ve had the opportunity to see it a bunch. It is so good. I can’t say too much about it, but I will say that I think that it takes everything that we loved about the first game and enhances it– makes it better. Get hype about it. I know that you’ve seen from the trailers that it’s a little darker than the first game. I think Battle Scars sets that up a little bit. [Survivor] starts in a really interesting place that– I think and I hope– Battle Scars gives a lot of context for, when you get into it. Oh man, it’s so good. It’s so fun. And Cal– you’ve seen him in the trailers– the poncho’s gone, he’s got some stubble. We’re graduating to the next level of cool Cal here, so [I’m] very stoked about that. [laughs]

LP:  Jedi – Survivor recently got delayed from this month to late next month. Are you happy that people will have time to sit with and absorb your novel before they get to play the game?

Maggs:  Yeah, it’s funny– I’d already been getting messages from people being like, ‘A week is not enough time for me to read Battle Scars before Survivor comes out.’ So when it was announced that it was getting pushed out six weeks to April, I was like, ‘Oh great!’ Not only was it great for the game– [Respawn gets] to put the polish on it that they wanted to, which is awesome, and players are gonna be stoked about that, too, because it’s gonna be the experience that you want when you play a game out of the box. You want it to be as perfect as possible, obviously, so that’s great. I’m so glad that the Respawn team got the time that they needed to get the game to the place where they wanted it to be, but also for people to have a month and a half to sit with the book– to take the time to read it, to listen to it on audiobook, or however you want to consume it, and get hype about starting Survivor. It really worked out for the best for everybody.

LP:  What other projects are coming up for you that you can tell us about?

Maggs:  I have a bunch of stuff upcoming that I can’t talk about yet, but next month I am part of an anthology called First-Year Orientation, which follows a bunch of college students on their first year in the dorms. I had a horrible experience in my first year of college in the dorms, and so that kind of comes through in the book. [laughs] But you can check that out from Candlewick Press in April. Otherwise, pick up Jedi – Battle Scars. It’s out today! So exciting.

Star Wars: Jedi – Battle Scars is available now wherever books are sold. Star Wars: Jedi – Survivor will be released on Friday, April 28th for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows, but is available now for pre-order.

Mike Celestino
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 all his life and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.