“I started out liking Boba a lot and by the end of the book I was his number one fan; he’s the ideal character for a writer like me,” Bloodlines author Karen Traviss tells Jason D. Ivey in an exclusive interview for The Boba Fett Fan Club. Her next book, Bloodlines, is slated for this month, as well as the e-novella, Practical Man.
Interview with Karen Traviss by Jason D. Ivey
A recent addition to Star Wars’ long list of storytellers, U.K. based author Karen Traviss has made a niche for herself as the definitive writer for all things dealing with clone soldiers and Mandalorians. Karen’s first two Star Wars novels Republic Commando: Hard Contact and its sequel Republic Commando: Triple Zero both deal with Omega Squad, a group of specially trained clone soldiers similar to those introduced in the Republic Commando console game made for PC and X-Box. Besides the novels, Karen has written several short stories and a couple of articles in Star Wars Insider: the magazine for Hyperspace-the Official Star Wars Fan Club. Two of Karen’s short stories “Omega Squad: Targets” (SWI, Issue 81) and “Odds” (SWI, Issue 87) both follow up her novels with further missions carried out by her rag-tag team of clone soldiers. Her other two short stories, “In His Image” (Vader: The Ultimate Guide) and its sequel “Two-Edged Sword” (SWI, Issue 85) both focus on a post-ROTS Darth Vader and his relationship with the clone soldiers. “Two-Edged Sword” is significant to Star Wars lore because it features Jedi Clones, as well as early incarnations of the clones that make up much of Vader’s 501st Legion and the lieutenant that they are derived from. Besides introducing readers to clones of Dark Jedi and early clones to the 501st, “Two-Edged Sword” also reveals to readers Vader’s contempt towards Emperor Palpatine for his constant mind games and shows that the seeds for his eventual betrayal are sown deep within.
Currently, Karen’s biggest contribution to Star Wars has been the creation of Mando’a, an official Star Wars language spoken by the Mandalorians, who are known best for their connection to the bounty hunter Boba Fett. Other than Mando’a, Karen has two Legacy of the Force novels in the works. The first of these, Legacy of the Force: Bloodlines will be Karen’s first novel written about Boba Fett. Prior to writing books based in the galaxy far, far away Karen was a defense correspondent and journalist before debuting with the critically acclaimed sci-fi novel City of Pearl.
In the following interview conducted with Karen Traviss in late 2005, I talked with her about such things as how she was introduced to the Star Wars universe, along with the process of creating Mando’a and finally, her thoughts on Boba Fett who she writes about for the first in Star Wars Legacy of the Force: Bloodlines.
Jason Ivey: How did you come to write your first Clone Soldier novel?
Karen Traviss: It was totally out of the blue. Del Rey contacted me and asked me if I wanted to write it. My first novel, City of Pearl, was due out and they’d seen the manuscript. They wanted someone who could write military SF. So I got the call. I knew nothing about Star Wars, and Hard Contact was my first media tie-in. Basically, the RC’s [Republic Commando's] are the SAS [Special Air Service], the U.K. Army’s special forces regiment, and SBS [Special Boat Service], the Royal Marine’s extra-special forces unit, placed in the GFFA [ Galaxy Far, Far Away]. As my dad said when he read it: “If it wasn’t for all that lightsaber stuff, this would have been an SAS thriller.”
JI: How much did your military background influence your writing the characters?
KT: I was a defense correspondent and it’s mainly that job which provides most of the technical detail for my stories. Being a reservist did help me to get the mental attitude and sense of comradeship nailed down, though. Plus most of my family served in the military or the defense industry at some time in their lives. I grew up in a naval port that was also a garrison town. So it’s part of the fabric of my life.
JI: Where did you get the inspiration for writing on the Clone Soldiers Mandalorian background and their use of the Mandalorian language?
KT: It all sprang from a problem I had with the Kaminoans. The clone program was supposed to be so secret that only the Kaminoans, Jango and the Sith lads knew about it. But I couldn’t believe that the Kaminoans trained special forcesÃ¢Â€Â“ they just don’t have the experience or attitude. So I asked to change canon so that I could introduce real kick-arse commando instructors, and it was obvious that for a secret project like that, Jango would want to recruit some Mandalorians. To keep it secret, they’d have to disappear indefinetly from the galaxy, and so the Cuy’val Dar — “Those Who No Longer Exist” — were born. (Out of 100 instructors, 75 were Mando.)
I decided that Mando fighting skill was so much a part of their culture, language and philosophy that they’d teach all of that to their lads, especially as the RC’s were Jango’s clones; they also saw Mando identity as being a really important spiritual thing to pass on to their trainees. It was one of those accidental inventions born of necessity that gave me one of the best storylines. The Mandalorian vibe is the core of my SW stories now.
JI: Speaking of the Mandalorians, I learned that you have created an official language for them called Mando’a. What was the process like in doing this?
KT: Yes, I developed Mandalorian into a fully working language that I call Mando’a. It started when LucasArts sent me Jesse Harlin’s music and lyrics from the RepCom game when I started writing Hard Contact. I asked if I could take it further and create a grammar and vocabulary, because I needed to add depth to the commando backstory. It just mushroomed from there. A couple of friends-Ryan Kaufman, who’s ex-LucasArts, and Ray Ramirez, a US Army sniper-beta-tested it for me. Now I’ve got an informal class on TOS [The Official Site, www.starwars.com] and there’ll be a feature on it in Star Wars Insider in February 2006. I hope to release the full vocabulary around that time too, so everyone can learn the language and speak it if they want to.
JI: In the short story for Star Wars Insider titled “Two-Edged Sword,” how did it feel to tell the origin story of Darth Vader’s infamous 501st Legion? Would you ever be interested in telling a novel from the perspective of one of the 501st clones?
KT: It wasn’t until I looked back on it that I realized what a terrific break it had been, because I’m now [known as] the clone gal, which delights me. I’d love to do a stormie novel, yes. Basically, I’ll write anyone in armour — clones, stormies, the Fetts or Vader.
JI: Of the following armored characters you’ve written — the Clone Troopers/Republic Commandos, Clone Jedi, Darth Vader and Boba Fett — who has it been the most joy to get inside their heads and discover how they think, react, what motivates them etc.?
KT: Hard to say, really. They all have their appeal. Vader is fascinating because he isn’t the cardboard cut-out villain some people think; I think he’s pretty restrained considering what he’s been through. Boba Fett is very rewarding because he’s so damaged and single-minded. All the clone lads are great because their one common trait is their willingness to do the job to the best of their ability even when they realize what a rotten deal the Republic has given them. They’re true heroes.
JI: Finally, what are your thoughts on Boba Fett, such as your perception of who he is, his motivations or anything else that people might not know about the character that you as a writer have discovered?
KT: Well, this is how I saw him, and I based this purely on listing three or four events in his early life and forming a psychological profile from it. I didn’t want to read how other writers had dealt with him because that’s like getting a third-hand account of someone and then deciding if you like them or not. As a writer, I have to meet the character and form my own opinions. I might disagree with the next person, just as we don’t all share the same opinion on real people we meet. (And I don’t read fiction anyway. I hate reading.) So I did a psych profile. That’s what I did with Vader too; I do it with all the pre-existing characters.
Boba is fundamentally damaged, and ironically it’s his bent-out-of-shape persona that’s also his strength. He’s had a rotten childhood, a totally unnatural one that even his dad’s devotion can’t balance out: in fact, it makes everything else worse because it’s in such stark contrast to Jango’s focus on him. (And let’s face it, Jango is a man with serious issues too. He’s not exactly a role model for stable family life, is he?) Boba’s doomed never to be able to have normal relationships with anyone, or at least he’ll always struggle with fitting into any kind of society.
It’s also what makes him so good at his job, because no normal well-adjusted human being would do what he does, or do it so obsessively well. So it keeps him going. But he becomes defined by his job and he’s not all that sure how to do much else; it’s an addiction to excellence. It affects his role as Mandalore as well. He’s still trying to make Dad proud of him. He’d never admit that in public, though, and he’s as dangerous as ever. He doesn’t accept aging graciously, not deep inside, although he’s smart enough to change his tactics to take account of that. Nobody in their right mind would mess with him, not even now.
He’s almost comfortable with who he is. But that doesn’t mean he’s prepared for what’s heading his way in the Legacy series. I reckon what he has to face in Bloodlines and beyond is harder that anything else he’s ever had to cope with since Jango was killed. I started out liking Boba a lot and by the end of the book I was his number one fan; he’s the ideal character for a writer like me.
He has a lot to learn, and that’s not easy late in life, but his resilience and inner strength is unassailable. You’ve got to admire a guy like that. He simply never gives up. That much of him is very Mando, even though he’s had very little by way of a traditional Mandalorian upbringing.
For those who are interested in finding out more about Ms. Traviss’ work you can visit her web site. More detailed information on Mando’a can be found at Wikipedia.
Star Wars En Direct Radio spoke with Karen about the background of Hard Contact. The audio is available as a ZIP download.
Star Wars Bibliography
- Star Wars Legacy of the Force: Sacrifice (Del Rey, June ’07)
- Star Wars Legacy of the Force: Bloodlines (Del Rey, September ’06) – Amazon.com pre-order
- Star Wars Boba Fett: Practical Man (Online only, September ’06)
- Star Wars Republic Commando: Triple Zero (Del Rey, February ’06) – Amazon.com
- Star Wars Republic Commando: Hard Contact (Del Rey, October, ’04) – Amazon.com
- “Odds” (Star Wars Insider #87, p. 53-61)
- “Two-Edged Sword” (SWI #85, p. 39-47)
- “In His Image” (SWI, Vader: The Ultimate Guide, 2005)
- “Omega Squad: Targets” (SWI #81, p. 61-67)
- “Guide to the Grand Army of the Republic” (SWI #84, p. 24-31)
- “The Mandalorians: People and Culture” (SWI #86)