We were in second or third grade when Star Wars came out. Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Leia, Han, Chewbacca. Obi Wan. “Use the Force.” That’s the kind of building block we had when we were building our imaginations. They weren’t alone. Asterix the Gaul and the crew of the Enterprise and everything out of the Toho monster movies were there too. The Micronauts. Remember them? We do.
Every generation creates its own mythos, its own characters. Some persist decade after decade after decade. Sherlock Holmes, for instance. Some rise for a time, and fall away. No one much remembers Raffles, the gentleman burglar who was popular about the same time as Holmes. No one can really know how long the run out on Star Wars will be, but we can say it hasn’t slowed down yet. The characters of Star Wars have been part of our mythos for coming up on four decades now, and there are kids walking down the street to their second and third grade classes with Darth Vader still on their t-shirts and lunch boxes.
When we got the chance to write a novel in that place – that weird almost-sacred corner of our collective childhood between eight years old and ten, when Han and Luke had destroyed the Death Star, and we all assumed Leia was going to wind up with Luke, and no one knew what had happened to Darth Vader – it was both wonderful and deeply, deeply weird. Because of course we wanted to write a story about Han Solo back when he was still more than half a smuggler. We’d both told ourselves and the other kids on playgrounds a hundred stories, and the cool role was always Han Solo. How could anyone not want that?
And on the other hand, we’re in our 40s now. Married. One of us has a kid who’s about the age we were when Star Wars came out. There’s a vertigo in falling backward through time this way. Like going back to an old house you lived in when you were young or a grade school and seeing how small everything looks compared with your memories of it. Only this was weirder, because the things that live in our imaginations aren’t objective. Unlike the buildings we’ve lived in, the figures of our imaginations grow with us, or they fade.
So here’s the thing that neuroscience is discovering about memory: we don’t record events and play them back like a videotape. When we retrieve memories, we alter them. We re-create them. Writing Star Wars is much the same. You can’t really know what Han Solo meant to you when you were a kid because you aren’t that kid anymore. Even your memory is an approximation. Which meant for us that Han Solo and the Falcon and Chewbacca, the Empire and the Rebellion, all the places and people we’d been with for so many years were a little different.
When it comes to the details of the universe, we had all kinds of help. Which aliens we could use, what color the blaster fire should be, how the hyperspace jumps worked. There were people we could ask about that who knew. When it came to the spirit of the story, though. That was on us. We wrote – no, more than that we got the chance to write the Han Solo who meant for us now what it was like to be seven on the playground, defeating the Empire with blasters made from sticks and space ships crafted from monkeybars.
And you know what? It was a lot of fun.
The book’s done now, and we have to give Han back to the folks we borrowed him from, but for a little while – a few months, a year – it was good to go back and see how the old playground looked. Funny thing? Nothing was smaller than we remembered.
James S. A. Corey