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The Force behind the stories: Lucasfilm Press editors on expanding 'Star Wars' universe

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The Force behind the stories: Editors Jennifer Heddle and Caitlin Kennedy on Star Wars (Photo: Lucasfilm Press)

While talking with Lucasfilm Press about their new and upcoming titles “The Galaxy Needs You” and “R2-D2 is LOST!” the idea of talking with Jennifer Heddle and Caitlin Kennedy, members of the Disney Lucasfilm Press editorial team who oversee novels, comic books and roleplaying games, was brought up. I’d never interviewed an editor before, but I was interested in understanding the strategy and process of building the off-screen aspects of the "Star Wars" narrative.

I couldn’t say no.

Ryan: Give me an idea of what your usual work week looks like.

Jennifer: There isn't really any such thing as an average work week for us. We oversee, for lack of a better word, all "Star Wars" publishing worldwide. Pretty much everything comes through us in one form or another.

Jennifer: For books that are licensed out, we work out what the book's going to be and any resources that they need and you know, to make sure that it feels like "Star Wars" and the best "Star Wars" book it can be. At Disney, we also have what we call a vertical publishing imprint called Disney Lucasfilm press. Those are the books that we work on directly. Caitlin and I are the actual direct editor for those titles.

Caitlin: We're editing the book, but we're also working with Disney's sales team, marketing team and production team.

Ryan: What is your relationship with the Lucasfilm story group?

Jennifer: We work with them very closely. They really oversee all of the storytelling that's going on across all media for "Star Wars" including movies, TV, books, games [and] resorts. They really help us focus on what stories can be told without interfering with any storytelling that other parts of the company are doing.

Caitlin: Unlike other franchises ,where what happens in the comics is totally different than what happens in the movies and what happens in the movies is really different than what happens in the TV shows, with "Star Wars," it's one shared galaxy, one story. That's why [the story group] are there. They’re the keepers of that story and they have all of that knowledge. What's so great about that is that we're able to tie things together for super fans. [The story group] have eyes on everything and we have eyes on everything. We’re all on the same page and know what’s happening in the various pockets of the galaxy. Putting all of that connective tissue through all these various means of storytelling makes a galaxy feel so much richer.

Jennifer: They are certainly involved with developing the story, but we’re the ones who are working with the authors.

Ryan: How does that work? Do authors pitch stories or do you pitch them stories?

Jennifer: It's a case by case basis. Most stories do originate with Lucasfilm. We don't take unsolicited pitches officially speaking. There are certainly times where an author that we have a relationship with may come up with an idea that we like and we'll explore it on this end. But for the most part, we in Lucasfilm publishing are looking at what the priorities are for the franchise as a whole and how we can best support that with our publishing titles.

Ryan: Recent books have been tied into the release of “The Rise of Skywalker.”

Caitlin: It was a really exciting time. We knew that there was window time that took place between Episodes VIII and IX. I was working really closely with the story group and the filmmakers to figure out what was the Resistance’s attitude during that window of time? What kind of missions were they going on, what were the problems they were facing? We had a great idea for Finn and Poe going on an adventure and the premise of the story worked really well with our Choose Your Destiny format, a choose your own adventure style chapter book series. Some of the stories were larger in scale. Like the logistics of where the resistance is during this time, that what we wanted to explore in the Del Ray novel. But focusing on what Rey was up to and getting to explore that in “Spark of the Resistance” in the middle-grade novel. I think we have a sense of what stories we want to tell and it falls into place naturally.

Ryan: Do you see anything changing as we’re shifting into a space where the galaxy is opening up? Will we see stories that aren’t rooted in anything we already know?

Jennifer: All that I can really say right now is that we are thinking about exactly that very thing. Be on the lookout of announcements in the not-distant future.

Ryan: So how do you guys decide what's going to be a novel versus maybe a comic book series or even a children's book?

Jennifer: That's something that we discuss when it comes to developing a film program. We'll look at what stories we think can be told around and in conjunction with the film and what demographic and medium it's best suited to. It’s very much like a case by case kind of thing.

Ryan: Is there an emphasis for you guys to make sure you're balancing all of the content and giving everyone something that's age appropriate?

Jennifer: I think that's one of our main goals. To publish something for everyone. Obviously, we have what we call our core audience, which are our dedicated adult fans who've been following the franchise for many years and we certainly published for them, but we are very aware that "Star Wars" is in large part for children. As fans and followers ourselves, we want to make sure that there are more and more fans being made every day. So, we certainly like to do projects that are aimed not just at the children, but also at the adults who are fans to buy for their kids so that they can enjoy the books together.

Ryan: The shared experience of passing it from one generation to the next.

Jennifer: That's a really important part of "Star Wars" for fans; passing a love for it along to their kids.

Ryan: There's been an emphasis on diversity. I know there's been push back, but I want you to know that, that I appreciate that you are doing these stories that are pushing the envelope a little bit as we push the envelope socially in general.

Jennifer: I don't worry about backlash. I think that what we do is important and everyone deserves to see themselves represented in what we do. And it's that simple.

Caitlin: Small choices can be big and have a big impact on the galaxy. Anyone can be a hero. Anybody can do something to help another person. So, I think, particularly from a children's perspective, I love how there is a focus on friendship and optimism and what being a hero really looks like, that sacrifice and caring for one another and being kind to one another.

Ryan: I think if you go back to the original stories, it, it was always about people making friends and relying on each other and, and finding a new family.

Jennifer: And families come in all different flavors.

Ryan: Do you guys have favorites books over the past couple of years? Are there certain projects that that have meant more to you personally?

Jennifer: Well, that's like asking us to choose among our children. So that's always a really difficult answer. A project that means a lot to me is a young adult book we did, “Leia, Princess of Alderaan," which explores Leia as a teenager and first becoming involved with the rebellion, it's something that I had wanted to do since I first started working here. But I love all the books we do.

Caitlin: One of my favorites was working with Adam Rex on “Are you scared, Darth Vader?” I come from a bit more of a traditional children's book background and I've always been a huge fan of Adam's work. He's a brilliant storyteller, he's hilarious and his artwork is just incredible. It's one of my, one of my favorite books and I love reading it out loud, getting to share with people at comic cons and family and friends. It's a great example of how there is so much to be mined in Star Wars.

Ryan: I loved “The Galaxy Needs You.” It was like a love note to my seven-year-old self. It encapsulates everything I loved about "Star Wars".

Caitlin: I've been really fortunate. Sometimes I get to take my editor hat off and I get to put a writer hat on. Sometimes I'll just wake up at four in the morning with a picture book idea and I'll run it back to the other editors. Sometimes it’s a fit with something else that was already percolating. It's always an honor when I get to do that.

“The Galaxy Needs You” really just came out of having read the script for [Episode] IX and feeling really inspired by Rey’s story. The whole arc of her story from [Episodes] VII through IX and really wanting kids to be inspired and to know what makes a hero, the true values of a hero. And for kids to know that they're just as capable. They may not have the force necessarily, but they have what they need inside of them. Each person is so individual and unique and has such great gifts to share. So, it really was sort of just like a blending, as if Mr. Rogers met "Star Wars." There are lines from it that I'll just repeat to myself during the day of like, “I can do hard things,” I can do this. The galaxy needs all of us because there's nobody like each of us.

Ryan: That’s what attracted me to "Star Wars" in the first place. It was the story of a farm boy who turned out to be something more than he ever thought he was. In the films, my feelings about "Star Wars" were best represented by the end of “The Last Jedi” with the young boy with broom. It was just such a beautiful moment. I bawled like a baby because "Star Wars" was really, really important to me as a kid. And I felt like that in that moment I felt recognized. I was seen. And I think that's also one of the things that “The Galaxy Needs You” does. It affirms that. “We see you.” I think that that's something that kids need.

Caitlin: Yeah. I mean when I love about it is that it's just a reminder that we are all special in our own way and you don't have to be special in the way that everyone else is. You have your own unique qualities and that's what the galaxy needs.

Ryan: Between the comics, video games, books and other releases it is hard to keep up on everything. Is there any concern about over flooding the market with too much material?

Caitlin: I think as long as they're good stories to tell, I think we have plenty of people who want to read them. The fan base is growing every day, literally with kids who are devouring this stuff now for the first time. So, as there are stories to tell in the galaxy, which is a pretty big galaxy, there's a lot of places we could go.

Jennifer: That said, we're not going to be publishing 20 books a month any time soon either.

Ryan: When it was announced that the Expanded Universe was not canon, we learned that people actually really are passionate about these books and these stories. It was difficult for a lot of them to set those things aside, but it had to be at least comforting somewhat to you guys to see that people actually cared that much about the stories to begin with.

Jennifer: Absolutely. Fans are what keeps us going, what we rely on. We would never take that for granted.

Caitlin: That's the best part of whenever we can get to "Star Wars" Celebration or San Diego Comic Con or New York Comic Con, really getting to talk to the people who are enjoying these books and especially on the kids front. To have seven year olds and 13 year olds come up to me and tell me what their favorite books are and what characters they love. It’s just so inspiring and it's so exciting.