Author uses The Force to pen 'Episode III' novel

Sunday, June 12, 2005

CHICAGO -- The Force. In the "Star Wars" universe, there is nothing more magical or powerful. There is also nothing more sacred to the millions of "Star Wars" fans worldwide.

So it would seem the last person "Star Wars" creator George Lucas would want to turn his screenplay for "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith" into a novel would be an author who previously had upset countless fans with his interpretation of the Force.

As Yoda might say, "Incorrect, that assumption is."

Meet Matthew Woodring Stover, a 43-year-old author of seven science fiction novels, including three in the "Star Wars" series.

Stover has been a Lucas fan since the original "Star Wars" movie debuted in 1977. Then 15, he rode his bicycle to see the movie at a theater in his hometown of Danville, Ill., and was hooked. He moved to Chicago in 1983 and later turned his lifelong love of writing into a professional pursuit.

He almost glows when asked why he agreed to write "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith."

"I did it basically for this reason right here, when you look at that cover, there are two names on it, mine and George Lucas'," Stover says, motioning to a copy of the book on the table in front of him, as he runs his fingers over their names. The book omits in its title the words "Episode III."

His first effort, "Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Traitor," published in 2002, is the one that upset so many fans.

"I had one character tell a Jedi-in-training that the only dark side he needed to worry about was the one in his own heart. And that got a lot of people up in arms ... because the dark side has been for a lot of people, a surrogate for the devil," Stover says. "One of the things that 'Revenge of the Sith' makes absolutely clear is that the dark side has external existence in the same way that the Force does, but it really springs from the human heart."

Fans who disagreed with his interpretation started blasting Stover on the Internet. When they started calling his suburban Lake County home earlier this year after a newspaper published the town's name, his wife began to worry.

"People started calling and asking for him and that got real scary because we live way out here in the country," she said.

Even so, the couple has since gotten to know some fans through conventions and found them mostly polite and receptive.

Howard Roffman, president of Lucasfilm's licensing division, said the company understands that with legions of devoted "Star Wars" fans out there, "it's hard to do anything that doesn't cause an uproar."

The company signed Stover on for a second novel, "Star Wars: Shatterpoint," which was published in April 2004, and then handed him the job of writing the novel version of "Revenge of the Sith."

"We chose Matt because we liked the way he handled characters and character development, and we knew that would be a key element of doing the novel for 'Episode III' ... what motivates a character to make a horrendous choice in his life," Roffman said.

Stover and Drake, a retired artist, rent a modest house on six acres where Drake tends to her two horses. The home is decorated with Drake's original artwork -- not Darth Vader masks or life-size Jedi cutouts. In fact, aside from copies of his books in his office, little would speak to Stover's passion for "Star Wars."

Instead, his passion for the series comes out in his desire to challenge his readers. "My goal, always, is to make people think and make them question their comfortable assumptions. So as long as they're thinking, as long as they're debating and arguing, I'm happy."

Stover, who has short red hair and a mustache to match, stands 6 feet and 1 inch and has a slim but solid build, the result of nearly 30 years of martial arts training. He's incorporated that training into vivid fight scenes in his novels.

"When you do the martial arts for a long time, it becomes part of your life, and it's part of everything you do," Stover says.

While writing his "Star Wars" novels, Stover made three trips to Lucas' Skywalker Ranch in Nicasio, Calif., the last in January 2004. "I went there to tell him what I wanted to do with this book and also to interview him about what was going on inside these characters' heads because that's what I wanted this book to be about," Stover says.

So why does an author whose book has been on The New York Times list of best sellers for two months and who just finished a national book tour still tend bar? He says the money from the "Star Wars" books has gotten better, but is not making him rich.

"Writing is a solitary profession," he says. "Bar-tending gets me out of the house. Without that and taking my dog to the park, the only people I would talk to would be my wife and my dog."

His fellow bartenders picked up extra shifts while Stover was writing the 418-page "Revenge of the Sith," and then traveling to promote it.

Despite some e-mails and annoying calls, Stover and Drake are quick to point out that "Star Wars" fans are also the most polite they have ever met. At the recent Star Wars III Celebration in Indianapolis, Drake said a few fans knew she worked with horses and talked to her about the animals while waiting to get their books signed.

Scott Chitwood, 32, one of the founders of TheForce.Net, a fan Web site dedicated to all things "Star Wars," met Stover at the Indianapolis event. "He's a great public speaker," Chitwood said. "He's not afraid to get in there and fight with the fans."

Chitwood, a structural engineer who lives in Houston, wrote a review of Stover's book and said it did a good job of filling in the film's plot holes. For example, Yoda leaves at a critical part in the movie to go to the Wookie home planet without any explanation. The book explains that Yoda's trip was a ruse to draw out the Sith Lord Darth Sidious.

Stover is serious about "Star Wars," but his face brightens when asked about his favorite character: Obi-Wan Kenobi.

"He is the one that makes the move that ends up saving the galaxy," Stover says, a smile starting to appear. "And being an Obi-wan fan from way back, being able to write that was really cool."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: