Two interviews with Michael Reaves

Two archival interviews about his Star Wars novels Battle Surgeons and Jedi Healer

Two interviews with Michael Reaves
Image: Andrew Liptak 

Years ago, I and a couple of other Star Wars fans set up a fan site for the then-growing Clone Wars franchise in the years after the release of Attack of the Clones. This was long before the (second) animated TV show came to be. After Episode II came out, Lucasfilm put together a massive, cross-medium project that saw novels, comics, short stories, and a smaller animated series, and our site, The Unofficial Clone Wars Site (TUCWS) was an attempt to cover all of that news, and to try and reconcile how the timeline was playing out, beat by beat.

It's where I got some of my first tastes at covering media in a (somewhat) journalistic way: I came onboard the site to write up entries, but also to interview authors. The site's long-gone, but with the news that author Michael Reaves recently passed away, I figure it's a good time to resurrect two interviews I conducted with him. The first was a team effort: I and a bunch of others supplied questions to Brian Gates, the site's lead, and the second was one that I conducted myself.

Building a Galaxy: Unexplored Territory
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.

I don't remember exactly when these interviews were conducted: the first was likely in April or May 2004, ahead of the release of MedStar 1: Battle Surgeons, a Clone Wars novel that Reaves co-wrote with Steve Perry about Jedi Padawan Barris Offee and her role as a medic in the conflict. The second was likely sometime in September, after he and Perry released MedStar II: Jedi Healer.

Here's the first interview:

At what point did you decide that writing was the profession for you?

Probably in the 3rd grade, when I shamelessly plagiarized a story from the magazine Boy's Life and passed it off as my own. Reading it out loud won me the attention of the entire class, and I was hooked on the concept. My enthusiasm was slightly dampened when I learned that writers were, as a rule, expected to come up with original material, but the idea of sleeping in late and not having to punch a time clock was still too enticing to resist.

Who's your favorite Star Wars character and which film do you like the most?

Well, outside of my own characters ...

Like most people my age, I have to go with classic Star Wars. I really can't narrow it down to one person, because Luke, Leia and Han work so well as a team. Like Kirk, Spock and McCoy in classic Trek, they're the perfect triumvirate.

And, as far as the movies go, again, it's the original for me. A lot of people name Empire as their fave, for good reasons. But Ep IV is structurally superior, stands on its own better, and keeps the team together all the way through. You have to remember that these movies are, put together, the biggest Republic Pictures Saturday afternoon serial ever made. It's hard to judge them as individual films when they're chapters of a bigger whole. Ep IV holds up the best as a self-contained story, since at the time George didn't know if he'd get to make the rest of them.

Your first Star Wars novel, Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, was action-packed. Can we expect more of the same with Medstar?

I think MedStar will surprise a lot of people. I had different marching orders going in than I did in Shadow Hunter, and as a result it's different kind of story that Steve and I told. It's structured and paced quite differently than either Shadow Hunter or [Shadows of the Empire]. We're both very proud of the story.

When writing Shadow Hunter, did you ever intend to try and "humanize" Darth Maul, and do you think that a character like him (or, for that matter, like Palpatine/Sidious) can be "humanized"?

MR: Absolutely. There has to be more to his character than just being a killing machine; otherwise he's boring, both to write and to read. No one ever thinks of himself as a villain; everyone's got a reason for what they do. Everyone's on the side of the angels in their own mind. As far as Maul was concerned, Sidious was God. How can you be wrong if you're on a mission from God?

TUCWS: Will we see elements of Shadow Hunter in Medstar? I-Five, the laser beaming protocol droid, is primed for a cameo appearance.

MR: Yes, I-Five is back. I was too fond of the character to let him be mind-wiped at the end of Shadow Hunter, so I just implied the possibility of it; you never saw it happen. So, for those of you who like uppity droids, be of good cheer.

Your work on Batman: The Animated Series won you an Emmy. Ever plan to revisit the series?

MR: I did quite recently, in fact; the result, which I'm very pleased with, is a movie called Mystery of the Batwoman, available wherever fine DVDs are sold.

Have you seen the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated micro-series? If asked, would you write episodes for future seasons?

MR: I've seen a few episodes; usually I'm too busy writing. As far as writing for the series; I'm open to the possibility. So far, no one's asked.

I've read that Medstar is Star Wars meets M*A*S*H. Did you pull from the movie and show to write the books?

Well, the books were pitched to us as a sort of "M*A*S*H in space" concept. The idea was to do something that would have a different focus than the campaigns and battles of other books, the cartoons, comics, etc. It appealed to us. Steve has a medical background. I'm not a doctor, but I play one around the house; with three kids it's necessary sometimes.

Does Barriss Offee dump her Jedi Master, Luminara Unduli, and ascend to the level of Jedi Knight in Medstar? <grin>

Well, she doesn't "dump" Master Unduli, although she is no longer part of a team -- she's now undergoing her Trial. As to whether she achieves knighthood -- you'll have to keep reading.

You and Steve Perry have worked together before. How is it working with another author on a full-length novel? Were there a lot of disagreements?

We work together quite well, because I'm always right. Seriously ... we've worked together a lot, mostly in television, although we have done five previous novels as a team, and we're in the process of developing another one. The fact that we live a thousand miles apart is either a hinderance or a help; I've never been sure.

We seldom disagree; we're both very pragmatic, and believe arguing to be counterproductive. When we do disagree, we compromise. Our esthetics aren't that far apart. As for the mechanics of it, we work up an outline, either by phone and email (we've lately been using an audio-visual internet connection; much cheaper). Sometimes we'll get together for a week or so to hash things out (I usually visit him, as Oregon is, by and large, much more pleasant than LA). Generally Steve does a bare-bones first draft, and then I "gild the Wookiee", so to speak (flesh out characters, descriptions, sensory data, like that). On this book, since it wasn't as plot-driven, there was a lot more give-and-take in the process than usual. Every project is different.

Any hints on Jedi Healer?

Well, the title should clue you that Barriss is more center stage in this one, although it's still an ensemble piece. Expect more medical and emotional crises, more Machiavellian plotting involving Black Sun, and a welcome (at first) change of climate. More Jedi philosophy, sabotage and chicanery, how not to use a lightsaber, a few new faces, and an inebriated droid. Plus: entertaining the troops, hospital hijinks, the finer points of sabacc, and true love (or a reasonable facsimile). It's all there. Or, as Jos Vondar says, "When it comes to original disasters, we set the bar."

You ready for Episode III?

I've already bought popcorn.

Here's the second interview, conducted by me:

Jedi Healer is your third work in the Star Wars universe. At this point, how comfortable are you working in it?

Pretty comfortable, actually. I've got the best of both worlds writing these books; I get to play in George's sandbox, and I get to bring my own toys; in other words, the books I've written so far have largely been populated by characters I (or Steve and I) came up with. It's fun to get inside Darth Maul's head, but it's also fun to create a character like I-Five.

At the end of Battle Surgeons, we see the medical team forced to evacuate quickly, resulting in the deaths of Zan Yant. How much does Zan's death affect the rest of the group, mentally, physically and metaphorically?

They're pretty devastated, particularly Jos. In addition to being a good friend, Zan could create something that could bring just about all the species in the Rimsoo closer together and make them forget the war for awhile. Read Jedi Healer; it's all there.

At the end of Battle Surgeons, we see the reporter, Den, save Zan's instrument, risking his life. Zan later dies, but everyone agrees (except Den) that it was a heroic act. Do you agree with Den's take on heroes -- that they're either "fools or selling something"?

I think that heroism can be found in the unlikeliest of people, which was what we were trying to show with Den. He considers himself a fool for risking his life by rescuing a musical instrument. But that wasn't all he was rescuing, of course. If anything is worth risking one's life for, it's art.

In Battle Surgeons, Den complains that Phow Ji has been made a hero in the news. What is your opinion of spinning a slightly false tale to boost morale?

I think in this case it was more than "slightly false" -- Phow Ji was a psychopath who enjoyed killing. He wasn't ideologically motivated; he would have been just as happy killing clone troopers as Separatists. I feel pretty much the same way as Den did when I encounter such "editorializing" -- I don't like it, but I recognize it will always be a part of war, or any other conflict.

Once again with Den, we see him reporting in a wartime situation. Was this inspired at all by the imbedded journalists in Iraq or other similar examples, such as Vietnam or the Gulf War?

Pretty much. I don't remember if I came up with him or Steve did, but Den just stepped into the story and started asking questions and taking notes.

How important is it to have a media presence in a war?

I think it's very important, as is evidenced by all the lies that can come out of wars when there isn’t someone there with a camera. The media, like all of us, tend to believe what they're told unless they have someone on site. And, of course, you have to have reporters, networks, etc., who aren't afraid to tell it like it is -- otherwise you'll wind up with another Tonkin Gulf. Or another Iraq.

Jos and Barris are both healers through different means. Jos uses many tools and scientific knowledge to treat his patients. Barris on the other hand, uses the Force. Do you think that despite advanced technology and knowledge, that there is something more to healing than tools?

Well, I believe in psychosomatism. Most doctors do too, these days -- it's pretty much accepted in Western medicine that attitude plays a huge part in recovery. An optimist has a much better chance of surviving cancer than a pessimist.

Barriss is playing a duel role of healer and warrior. Which job is more important?

I'm pretty certain she'd pick healing.

Zan's death reminded me a little of one of the classic M*A*S*H episodes, when a character left the show, and was later reported killed shortly after leaving. Is there any connection here?

The episode you're thinking of is the one in which Mclain Stevenson left the show. His character was discharged, and in the final scene was reported shot down (much the same way that Stevenson's career was). As to your question, I don't think we had that particular episode in mind when we decided Zan would die, but, as I've said elsewhere, the books were pitched to us as "MASH in space."

Star Wars EU fans will recognize I-Five, who was also in your previous novel Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter. Why did you bring him back?

Because he was too good a character to drop after just one book. Besides, I wanted to have someone get out alive from Shadow Hunter ...

In Jedi Healer, I-Five makes a comment that he needs money to buy a heart and brain. Is this a Wizard of Oz reference? And if so, is I-Five like either the Lion or Tin Man?

Of course it's a Wizard Of Oz reference. A lot of people seemed ticked off by this for some reason, so I'll point out the obvious: it's a reference that the readers recognize as The Wizard Of Oz, but not the characters. The assumption is that there is some form of fictional work in the Star Wars universe similar to that movie, and this is what I-Five refers to. The similarity to The Wizard Of Oz is what makes it (in theory, at least) funny. I-Five is neither the Lion (if he was, wouldn't he be after courage instead of a brain?) nor the Tin Man. I guess if I had to pick one of the movie's characters to compare him to, it would be Dorothy, since he keeps getting drop-kicked farther and farther from Kansas.

Are there any other references to other movies that we might have missed?

Quite a few, actually; also references to novels, TV, comic books, etc. Some are more obvious than others, and there's at least one that no one will get unless they worked on a certain show for a certain producer whose initials are Steven Spielberg. Again, some people find this intrusive, and that's perfectly understandable. But others find it amusing. In my defense, if any is needed, I need point no further than to various species of aliens running around the GFFA with names like Klaatu, Barada and Niktu.

Concerning I-Five, we see him doing many different things. He tries to get drunk at one point, but is also on a sort of mission to find out who he was before a memory wipe. Can he be called a sentient or a person, based on his wish to learn about his past and because he has an emotional range?

Yes; that's one of the main points of the book, that excluding droids and clones from the classification of sentient is chauvinistic. There's a reference in the second book to the GFFA equivalent of the Turing Test, which says that, if you interact with a computer (read "droid") via intercom, and if you can't identify it as a machine solely by interaction and the replies it gives to your questions, then it's sentient. I think I-Five qualifies.

It's been announced that you're to write a stand alone novel, Coruscant Nights , which takes place after Revenge of the Sith. What can you tell us about the novel?

Coruscant Nights is actually the umbrella title for three novels [Jedi Twilight, Street of Shadows, and Patterns of Force] I'm contracted to do over the next three years. We haven't decided on individual titles yet. And that's about all I can tell you at this point.

Will we be seeing I-Five in Coruscant Nights?

MR: Sorry; my vocabulator is sealed as far as characters, plot, etc. But, since I-Five announced his intention to return to Coruscant at the end of the duology, one could reasonably assume there's a pretty good chance of him getting there.

I'm sure that you get this a lot, but were you writing a primarily anti-war novel? Do you think that war in a case like this – or any war – is justified?

The MedStar books are anti-war novels, yes. Steve and I decided we'd take a stand and say that killing millions and millions of fellow sentient beings is just plain wrong. As for whether wars are justified; personally, I don't believe there can ever be justification for going to war. I acknowledge that, in some cases, war is inevitable. But that doesn't make it right.

Because you're writing in the Clone Wars before Episode III and have a book coming out after it, have you been told anything about what happens in the last film?

Yes. But, before I start getting phone calls at three a.m., I hasten to point out that such knowledge is doled out very sparingly, completely on a need-to-know basis. I will, however, reveal one enormous spoiler for Episode III -- the most important, in fact -- that will probably result in a fatwa put on my head by the Ranch, but what the hell. Ready? Anakin Skywalker is Darth Vader.

Seeing that Coruscant Nights is taking place after Revenge of the Sith, can we infer from the title that it has something to do with the rise of the Empire?

Sure, go ahead. You can infer anything you want about the books. But you'll have to wait until they're published to find out if you're right.

So what can we expect from you in the future? Do you have any more projects with Steve Perry or any solo adventures?

Nothing contracted for with Steve Perry at this point, although we are developing a project together. I'm writing a graphic novel for Dark Horse Comics and three Batman original novels with Steven-Elliot Altman (I seem to be only able to collaborate with writers named Steve; I'm waiting for King to call.) I have a comic book series in development with Top Cow, and an original novel, Armageddon Blues, for Del Rey; plus I'm contracted to co-produce a TV series this fall. It's enough to keep me comfortably panicked.