Remembering author David Farland

The author of The Courtship of Princess Leia died earlier this week at the age of 64

Remembering author David Farland
Image: Andrew Liptak

In 2015, I was a contributor to Barnes & Noble's Sci-fi & Fantasy Blog, and had pitched to my editor an extensive series of posts about the background and history of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. It was an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan: a whole bunch of new films were on the horizon, prompting many fans to look back on the now non-canon Expanded Universe to wonder what might be salvaged from it.

This series was by far one of the biggest projects that I'd put together, and I began reaching out to author after author to ask what inspired the stories that they'd written, and how they approached playing in a story world that they had long been fans of.

Building a Galaxy: Heir to the Trilogy
While the Star Wars franchise is best known for its films, it’s also well-known for its sprawling novel series, the Star Wars Expanded Universe. While it’s no longer canon, it kept Star Wars going for decades, and still retains a loyal following.

One of the authors I reached out to was David Farland. Under the name Dave Wolverton, he wrote the 1994 novel The Courtship of Princess Leia, as well as a handful of other shorter stories. The novel was one of the first that I'd picked up as a young Star Wars fan, purely on the cover, and read it more times than I can remember.

It's an interesting, notable entry in the franchise. Set four years after the Battle of Endor, It tackles a couple of major questions about the post-Return of the Jedi world: how did Han and Leia get married (as seen in Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire) and how did the New Republic go from being a scrappy rebel group to a actual government? There's some weirdness and elements that haven't aged well, like the part where Han essentially kidnaps Leia when he thinks that he's going to lose her to an arranged marriage to a powerful faction in the galaxy that would help support the New Republic. There's also a bit about Han winning a planet in a gambling session, and a power-hungry Imperial Warlord named Zsinj.

What's interesting about the book is that it's introduced characters and other elements that were later picked up on by other authors. While the book was rendered non-canon after Disney purchased Lucafilm, some of those elements have been brought over into canon status, such as the planet Dathomir and the Nightsisters, a civilization of Force-sensitive women, who have since been prominently featured in The Clone Wars.

On January 14th, Farland died after suffering a fall and an ensuing stroke. He was 64, and leaves behind not only a long legacy within the Star Wars universe, but as a science fiction and fantasy writer as well. His family has set up a GoFundMe to help his family with expenses, and a funeral is set for later today.

I didn't know David well, but he was gracious with his time and recollections when I reached out to him about my project. Here's the interview I conducted with him back in October and December 2015.  

When were you first approached to write a Star Wars novel, and what made you decide to do it?

My editor called me shortly after I had written my second novel and asked if I was interested. I’d always been a huge fan. I went to the first movie (Episode 4) some 37 times when it came out. At first I went because I loved it, then began to study it from a storytelling point of view. So it was easy to say “yes” to an offer to write in that universe.

Your novel, The Courtship of Princess Leia, took place a couple of years after the end of Return of the Jedi: how did you come up with the specific story that you told? Was there any overarching plan that your book was slotted into?

I’d heard of course that Luke and Leia were married in Timothy Zahn’s books, and my first thought as, “Oh, it couldn’t be that easy, not with their fiery personalities.” I’ve always been a romantic, so I thought I’d come up with a storyline. I didn’t really have an overarching plot, just a strong desire to make this episode great.

Your book takes place before Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire: how did you go about positioning your story to set up the events in that novel?

Back in those days, it really wasn’t hard to coordinate with other authors. I didn’t want to foreshadow Timothy’s work, just have a fun episode there.

Did you work with any other authors while you developed your book?

I talked with Kevin J. Anderson and Kathy Tyers early on, and later with Michael Stackpole and perhaps one or two others, but not really many others.

When did you write The Courtship of Princess Leia? How was it received when it was released?

I actually wrote the book in the spring of 1994. Bantam had me write it and then released it pretty quickly. When it came out, it sold like mad. I had several friends who wrote to me and said, “I just saw a display of your books at the store,” and each time I would drive right down to the store immediately and check out the display, only to find that the books were all sold and that the display had been taken down. Seriously, one of those little displays didn’t last 20 minutes. I calculate that even though I only hit #3 on the New York Times bestseller list, my books had to have out-sold the #1 bestseller by a margin of 2 to 1. But back in those days, the NYT list wasn’t very accurate, since it didn’t actually work based on books sold.

In fact, it was so popular that one huge romance author called my editor to complain. She yelled at my editor “Who in the hell is this Princess Leia!” Apparently she thought that I was taking her spot as Bantam’s lead author.

Overall, I think that it was well received. I created the planet Dathomir so that fans could have a good source for force users for future books, games, and movies, and that worked out well, and I got a lot of people who felt grateful that I’d actually put women in a position of power in the Star Wars universe—something that I felt was lacking in the previous movies.

In the novel, you take your characters to Dathomir and brought in the Nightsisters, which was later introduced as an element in The Clone Wars series. Were you consulted on this at all? This is one of the few elements of the older EU that has remained canon, through the TV series.

Not then. I was consulted by West End Games when they put them into their gaming universe. As authors, when we create something for a major franchise, it becomes the property of the franchise. So they don’t need to consult me before they use it, and I wouldn’t expect that. I am delighted, though that they have continued to use it. In fact, I’m hoping that we can see Dathomir in one of the future films.

What informed your conception of the Night Sisters? They're certainly different from the Jedi and Sith that we'd previously seen in the franchise.

I really wanted to create something that was a tad different, perhaps more “tribal” in its orientation. In many cases, power corrupts, we know, but I wanted to show that its influence doesn’t always lead to corruption. So I wanted some Night Sisters who would be . . . more concerned with building a world that they could live in, too.

Your book takes place before Han Solo and Leia Organa get married - as seen in Zahn's book - how did you go about portraying their relationship? It certainly seemed like they were destined to be together after ROTJ.

I have to admit that I wondered about Han’s character. After all, before he met Leia, he was a drug smuggler, and that suggested to me that he had a darker side to him. He was essentially an anti-hero, someone who had given up on life, on society.

At about that time, I was raising my family, and I noticed how often my older children would regress when faced with obstacles—a ten-year-old girl suddenly acting like a four-year-old. Then I noticed adults doing the same, and I wondered, “What would have made Han act that way? Would he regress under the right circumstances?

And then what about Leia? As a princess, she would have been raised to serve her people. Would marrying a “scoundrel” like Han Solo really serve her people, what few are left of them.

It just seemed to me that with a bit of probing, there were some natural obstacles to their union, and as a writer I wanted to play with those.

I've seen some criticism recently about how Han essentially drugs and kidnaps Leia to prevent her from being married. How did that come about?

I have to admit, my wife and I had watched the old romance Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at about that time, with its wacky idea of having the male protagonists kidnap the brides, and I suspect that in the back of my mind, I was wondering, “Could you make a similar plot work in science fiction?”

Personally, I’m not a fan of the idea of drugging and kidnapping women. Or men. Or children or dogs.

But it did lead me to wonder about things like, “Could Leia ever forgive himself for that? Could Han forgive himself?” “What could bring them back together?” Ultimately, I was interested in the idea that love is based upon two peoples past history together, that it is something that builds and grows.

Ultimately, I suspect that there’s something about characters in books and movies that we don’t often take as seriously as we should. In other words, we don’t really think of characters as real people, and judge them as harshly as we should. There are other critics and writers who have pondered this idea long and hard, and this is one of the few times in my books where I wanted to play with this idea for effect.

Zinji and the remains of the Empire are later used quite closely in Aaron Allston's X-Wing novels, which precede yours: did you work with him at all to line up the chronology and characters?

No, he came a few years later as an author, and I’m not sure that I’ve even met him.

Other elements of your novel were used in future novels in the series: what relationship did you have with other authors that you came after you?

I worked with Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta, mainly. You have to understand that as Star Wars authors, we were literally scattered across the world, and so we didn’t have get-togethers.

Given that your book was published earlier, and it takes place earlier in the series timeline, how aware of what you wrote and how it would impact future works were you?

When I wrote Courtship, I was aware that it “could” impact the future of the franchise, but you have to remember that at the time, the franchise was basically dead. Lucas hadn’t worked on a movie in years and although he had originally said that there would be a trilogy of trilogies, he never did outline them or write the screenplays.

So I think that the concepts rattled around in the back of his mind, and I was hoping that eventually the series would be resurrected. Happily, in large part because of the success of the novels, that has happened.

Though [The Force Awakens] is still two weeks away, I’ve already got my tickets.