Force Friday wasn’t only about introducing Star Wars: The Force Awakens toys and apparel to the world; it marked the beginning of book releases for Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The publishing program includes at least 20 novels and comic books that tell new canonical stories and contain clues for the upcoming film buried within the text. Three middle grade novels dropped by Disney Publishing on September 4 star fan favorite characters Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Han Solo. Set within the timeline of the original trilogy, the stories cover fresh ground. Phil Noto provided covers and art for all three novels, while different authors tackled different titles. Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry penned Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure, Greg Rucka wrote Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo Adventure, and Fry tackled The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure.
I caught up with Noto and Castellucci at a Force Friday kickoff event and learned their lives and careers were both influenced by Star Wars. Noto saw A New Hope in theaters on his 6th birthday and went home and started drawing Star Wars characters immediately. He said, “I had always had fun drawing stuff up until then, but that was like the first thing that I was like, ‘Wow, I love this. I need more.’ I just kept on drawing Star Wars for probably the next seven-eight years throughout the run on the original trilogy. It just kept my attention. I mean, it kind of even took me out of comic books because I would–I was reading Avengers and some other Marvel things and then when Star Wars came along, it was just like all Star Wars. If it wasn’t Star Wars, I didn’t have time for it.” He found himself drawing Luke Skywalker and Han Solo the most.
Castellucci was 7 years old when she first saw A New Hope, and it brought an epiphany. “My first memory, and really sort of origin story of me becoming a writer, is when Darth Vader goes spinning off at the end of the movie and I jumped up in the movie theater–this is an early memory of mine–I jumped up in the movie theater, grabbed my dad, and said, ‘There is going to be another movie.’ And it was the first time that I understood that stories could continue and that it’s someone’s job to write that story and that was the moment that I knew I wanted to be a writer. Like, that is the defining moment of my career.”
Both Noto and Castellucci were thrilled to get the call to work on the new young adult novels. Noto had worked with Lucasfilm Publishing Creative Franchise director Michael Siglain previously on DC Comics and given that Noto was working on covers for Marvel Comics’ Shattered Empire series and did a popular Star Wars: The Force Awakens fan poster that was all over Tumblr, he was on Lucasfilm’s radar. Noto’s schedule was rather busy, but he carved out time because it’s Star Wars. He said, “It was a treat, too, because these are untold stories that take place within the original trilogy timeline. The books have some Episode VII era stuff but nothing taken straight from the movie–things that would lead up to the new film. It was a joy to see a little glimpse of that stuff.” Besides getting to draw his favorite characters from childhood, he also illustrated new characters, aliens, and vehicles.
Castellucci recalled getting the email about writing a Princess Leia story from Siglain one morning and thinking it was a dream. “I saw it [the email] and I actually thought, ‘I’m still dreaming.’ Like I just thought, ‘Oh, I must still be asleep. That cannot be a real email.’ And then, no, it really was real. And so I emailed back, ‘Yes!’ And then, basically, I had to figure out how to not just be like, ‘I’ll do it just for a stick of gum.’ I’m still thankful that I came onto their radar.”
Moving Target is the only one of the middle age novels to be set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Castellucci said getting to write within that time period was extremely exciting for her. “That’s always been a sort of fundamental question for me, ‘What happens to Princess Leia between that time?’ Everything has changed, and her heart has been whiplashed this way and that through many things, like Alderaan and Han being frozen. So, what kind of a woman is she? That was always a sliver of time I was interested in.” She really looks at the period as a time when Leia is throwing down and figuring out what kind of leader she wants to become. She said, “The part that I’m getting to expose about Leia is how she learns or is trying to figure out how to balance duty and heart. I think that’s a real challenge for her, and I think my book has a mission that helps to show how she sort of begins to navigate those two parts.”
Moving Target, Smuggler’s Run, and The Weapon of a Jedi are all available now online, in stores like Target, and at your local bookseller.