SDCC 2016: Chuck Wendig Talks Star Wars, Aftermath, the Interludes and More!

When Chuck Wendig’s first Aftermath novel came out in September 2015 I was absolutely enthralled. This was it. Aftermath was the first official continuation of the history of the Star Wars universe after Return of the Jedi in the new Star Wars canon.

As a huge fan of the extended universe growing up I had been waiting anxiously to see what was coming next. Aftermath didn’t disappoint. It was an entirely new envisioning of a galaxy far, far away and I loved every moment of it.

We were introduced to a whole new cast of characters including Norra Wexley, her son Temmin, and their brand new, mis-matched team of heroes (and anti-heroes) who would go on to change the galaxy for the better.

Meanwhile we also got a look at Rae Sloane and the Imperial remnant as they tried to pull themselves back together after the loss of the Emperor. Intermixed between the pages of their adventures were various ‘interludes’ which provided a microscopic look at other characters, events, and locations throughout the galaxy at roughly the same time.

The second book in the trilogy, Aftermath: Life Debt, released on July 12th, just a week and a half before San Diego Comic-Con 2016. We were lucky enough to get the chance to sit down with Chuck Wendig in San Diego to talk about Star Wars, the Aftermath trilogy and interludes, the evolution of Temmin Wexley into The Force Awakens‘ Snap Wexley, and more!

SPOILER ALERT! There are some minor spoilers for Aftermath: Life Debt in this interview and a major spoiler in the final interview answer. Be aware!

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Sam Wildman: Thanks for taking the time to meet with us, we really appreciate it.

So tell us – what has been your favorite thing about working on Star Wars?

Chuck Wendig: Working on Star Wars is its own reward. I’ve lived Star Wars in my head for the last four decades so to actually secure some tiny little creative acreage in a beloved world – that’s huge for me.

How does it feel to have such a huge influence on the development of the new Star Wars canon – especially the new post-Return of the Jedi canon?

I try not to let it pressure me but it’s pretty astonishing to have even that tiny bit of authority over things. If I were to tell this to my eight-year-old self his eyes would probably pop like corks. He’d like hemorrhage and short circuit. It’d be great.

When working on these books how much of the story to come – as far as the movies and everything goes – do you have to be spoiled on?

Well with the first Aftermath book I knew what the state of the galaxy was up until the point of the film. I didn’t know much about the film – just a few details. But then when I started to write Life Debt it was still before The Force Awakens came out.

Oh, wow, was it really?

Yeah, and they wanted some harder connections. So they sent me the novelization and then later the script. This was in November and the movie was coming out in December – so I read halfway through. And I was like, “If I read halfway through am I getting what I need? And they were like, “Yeah you can stop there.” So I read halfway through and I left the latter half of the movie unspoiled. So that was lucky!

How was the decision that Temmin would eventually become Snap made? Did that come before or after the movie?

Well, it was something we talked about early on: Finding a character who was in the film that we could use [in Aftermath]. I had already pitched this character of Temmin and so it was really the question of whether or not we could re-write him and re-work him so that he could become [Snap]. And we were like, “Oh, it totally works!” In fact, it worked extra well. The Force was with that story point, I think.

Snap has popped up now in some other stories like the Poe Dameron comic and Claudia Gray’s Bloodline. Do you have any influence on his appearances in other media?

I talked at length about it with Charles [Soule] when he did the Poe Dameron comic. I didn’t discuss it with Claudia at the time but I knew it was happening. And I know she had the book at the time and was looking at the material.

Are you keeping up with other books and comics that are coming out as part of the new Star Wars canon?

I read all of the comics. Because the comics are amazing. Darth Vader is an astonishing read. [And] I’m actually really liking the Poe Dameron comic. It’s snappy and fun and the Phil Noto art is great. And Charles is an amazing writer. Plus you get bonus Snap Wexley so I’m always into that. I’ve kept up with the novels, too. Claudia Gray’s Bloodline in particular is just such a good book. I’m so excited to be within miles of that book at all. Lost Stars was good but Bloodline just accelerated my love for Claudia Gray’s work.

Where did the idea for the interludes come from? Because those are, honestly, some of my favorite parts of the Aftermath books.

Upon getting brought on board to do Aftermath the first initial discussion (and it was a really short discussion) was like “Hey, you know what’s really great? That World War Z book.” There’s not really like a single story line. It’s just a look at the world [overrun by zombies]. But at the same time since this was a new foray into the Star Wars novelizations and canon I felt like I wanted to capture what is sort of traditional about Star Wars –something with a small group of people looking to change the larger galaxy [in] a more traditional narrative. But then I was like, “Well can’t we do both?”

So far which interlude that you’ve written has been your favorite?

Oh, boy, that is a tough one. Some of the Life Debt interludes are so much fun. [Like] the Malakili one. Being able to name the rancor is super awesome. [And,] you know, he’s just sort of a fascinating sad purposeless figure after the horrible man in black came and killed his beautiful pet. Like I want to write [his story] and take it seriously. He’s a real character who has been left wrecked by the events of that film. He’s lost his rancor. He’s lost everything – his job, his rancor, his boss – it’s all gone. I really just had so much fun [with that one].

If you could take any of these stories and expand them into their own book – besides obviously the one that ultimately led to Life Debt – which one would you choose?

You know that’s a good question. There’s a HoloNet reporter – Tracene Kane. [She’s in Aftermath] and she gets another interlude in Life Debt. I think there’s a cool story there of a war reporter who went from a galaxy that was cloistered and controlled by the Empire and now [there’s] suddenly this open free media again. [She’s this] character who can go out and explore the galaxy again and talk to people and find out what’s really going on. She would be such a great perspective on the galaxy at large. That would be pretty cool – doing a sort of travel log of Tracene Kain and the HoloNet.

In Aftermath the primary focus was on Nora, Temmin, and the team that they were putting together. In Life Debt, though, some very familiar faces appear with much greater significance. Will we see more familiar characters taking the forefront as we move forward into the final book?

Yeah, you’ll see that a lot more in Empire’s End. You’ll see more with [Han and Leia] and Mon Mothma will take on a bigger role in the narrative.

What was it like to get to write so Han, for Chewie, for Leia, and getting really into this characters this time around?

The trick I found was to not think too hard about it because if you think too hard about it you kinda mess it up. I’ve been brining myself in the Star Wars universe for the last several decades and I found that their voices came to me naturally as long as I didn’t try very hard with it. As long as [I didn’t force it] I found that they were there.

Rae Sloane has been one of my favorite characters in Aftermath. She’s not the stereotypical bad guy like so many Imperials are often portrayed. With your development of Rae – and with what Claudia Gray did in Lost Stars – we’re seeing authors really trying to humanize the Empire. Is that difficult to do?

Well I think you really have to do that eventually or else you sorta fall into the trap of assuming in that cartoon Nazi way that everyone is inherently evil as soon as they join the Empire. Now, they’re absolutely complicit in the evil of the Empire but that doesn’t mean they don’t believe in what they’re doing. Most people think they’re the good guys in their own story and so that’s sorta my interest.

Getting in their heads and understanding why they are doing this and having [that] empathy – not sympathy but empathy – with those characters. Because they don’t see themselves as mustache twirling villains. They believe that they are the keepers of law and order in the galaxy. And that’s something worth looking at.

You’ve got an incredibly diverse cast of characters in the Aftermath books – both as main characters and as interlude characters. I think that’s been really great and I thought it was really cool that this time around we had the interlude character with the non-gender pronouns.

What is it that’s so important to you about making sure that you have that sort of representation in Aftermath? Why is that in particular important to you?

I mean, I know I’m covered. I’m good. I have no problem finding stories which I’m in some way represented. [But] I went to New York Comic Con last year and an artist friend of mine very correctly pointed out that a lot of the people lining up to see and consume the media that they love are not going to see themselves represented in the media they love. Like literally in no way, shape, or form.

Star Wars to me is such a huge fantastic universe and you have such potential with it. I don’t see why in this day and age something as awesome as Star Wars can’t speak to the whole audience and not just a slice of it. So that’s the plan.

Are there any moments, scenes, or characters you’re particularly proud to have brought to the Star Wars universe?

I’ll get a tiny bit spoilery in this case.

There’s a scene [in Life Debt] with Han and Chewie where they say goodbye to each other on Kashyyyk towards the end of the book. It’s like a heart heartbreaking scene in a way. You know they get back together again and have more adventures but they’re going off to have their own separate lives for a while. It’s like breaking up a huge couple in a way. And any time you can write something emotional and effecting and pivotal is just awesome.

Thanks again for making the time for us, Chuck!

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As we said earlier, Aftermath: Life Debt released on July 12. The final book in the trilogy, Aftermath: Empire’s End, is slated for release on January 31, 2017 from Del Rey Books and you can pick up the first book in paperback and hardcover at bookstores nationwide. Chuck is also working on Marvel’s on-going Star Wars: The Force Awakens comic book adaptation. You can check out the rest of his work over on his website, terribleminds.com. You can follow him on Twitter, too, at @ChuckWendig!