Have my first novel published. Check.
Be on the New York Times Bestsellers list. Check.
Have one of my novels picked up for possible film. Check.
Do all this before the age of 30. Check.
For Alexandra Bracken, this is a dream come true. Alex is the New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Minds trilogy and at the age of 28, she’s accomplished what many writers hope to accomplish in their lifetime! So could the dream possibly get bigger? Yes.
Alex was tapped by Disney Publishing Worldwide to be the newest author for the Star Wars trilogy of novels that are being released for the next generation of fans. And while the novels are said to be geared for the middle school crowd, her book, The Princess, The Scoundrel, and The Farm Boy, is a fan’s homage to the first movie that started it all. A terrific read, this is a book that will capture your mind and your heart.
You can tell that Alex is a true Star Wars fan by the way she handles what is in essence a nearly sacred text. She honors the past while adding to the richness of the original story. Alex was kind enough to share some of her thoughts in an interview with me about her love of Star Wars, about her writing, and her advice on being a writer.
Hi, Alex! Thank you so much for doing this interview. With so much going on in your life, I know it’s tough sometimes to carve out the time, but it is REALLY appreciated.
It’s absolutely my pleasure! Thank you so much for having me!
Personally, I’m excited, especially after reading The Princess, The Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy. I loved the title. It sort of drew me in right away. What was your inspiration for telling this story from the vantage point of Leia, Han, and Luke, and how did you decide in what order they should go?
When I was approached to do the retelling I was told to really have fun with it, and to be creative with how I came at it. I agonized over this for days, because, to me, A New Hope is kind of a perfect story storytelling-wise—by that I mean the structure of it, the character archetypes, the balance of humor to drama and action, etc. So I went back and really thought about what connected me to the story when I was a kid, and that was the characters themselves.
I pitched the book to my editor as being “The Star Wars Breakfast Club.” I wanted to play with the idea that Han, Luke, and Leia were constantly being given these simple labels—Scoundrel, Farm Boy, Princess—and show how they proved to themselves, and each other, they were more than that.
Like you mentioned, the story is split between the perspectives of Leia, Han, and Luke. Leia opens the story because her capture is really the inciting incident—it brings the droids into Luke’s life, it introduces you to the Death Star and Darth Vader, the primary villain, and so on. Luke needed to close out the story because of his triumphant moment at the very end, and also because I wanted to show his wonder and excitement about joining the Rebel Alliance directly, as well as how he struggled with the feelings of, Should I really be here? Can I make a difference? That left Han in the middle, which ended up being perfect. I got to introduce Obi-Wan and The Force through his skeptical eyes, and bring a lot of humor in to break up Leia and Luke’s dramatic sections.
I thought it was brilliant that you tapped into unexplored parts of each character’s past. I mentioned it in my review, but I loved the idea that Luke didn’t go to public school. I never imagined he might have been homeschooled. And I love how deeply Princess Leia takes her responsibility to the people of Alderaan. In the movies we don’t really see that side of her. What was your favorite character revelation in the book? What piece of new Star Wars lore were you most excited about contributing? And how did you come up with the idea?
I was a huge reader of the old Star Wars Expanded Universe! From ages 8-12, all I wanted to read were Star Wars novelizations and series—really! I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the universe, but I do have a handle on what’s been previously established about their earlier lives. The Expanded Universe has been transformed into Star Wars Legends now that they’re working on new movies that’ll contradict those stories and characters, but I still wanted to bring some of the background of each of these characters forward as a kind of wink to my fellow EU readers and fans. Deleted scenes from the movie also came into play and informed some of my decisions, too. (And, actually, the opening Han scene came from the LucasFilm Story Group, who mentioned that Han was originally supposed to be introduced with a girl in his lap!)
One of the biggest resources I was given permission to pull and adapt from Brian Daley’s radio drama script for the “off camera” scenes that aren’t depicted in the film that I wasn’t creating from scratch. (The material was vetted by the LucasFilm Story Group to make sure it wouldn’t conflict with future stories they wanted to tell.) I’d always considered this material canon, so it was important to me to bring it forward for a new generation to enjoy. Daley had done a lot of work establishing what had happened just before the start of the movie, and he’s actually the reason I got started thinking about Luke’s life in the context of isolation and relative poverty. Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s moisture farm is in the middle of nowhere, and not only is it small, it also seems to be sort of run down. While we know that Owen and Beru are keeping them there for his protection, Luke thinks it’s tied to them needing his help on the farm. It made sense to me to run with that when Luke’s friend, Biggs, comes into the picture on Yavin IV. Biggs got to go off and live Luke’s dream, and I wanted Luke to understand it as a product of Biggs’ life being more privileged.
At the same time, though, I also wanted to put my own spin on all of this information! I had a really fun time with Leia’s section, describing the aunts who were always trying to force her into princess lessons, her first meeting with Emperor Palpatine, her struggles to get anyone to take her seriously and ask her about her causes, not the clothes she was wearing (I call this the Kate Middleton effect!). She gets so much less screen time than the guys, and I always felt like, of the three, her emotional arc had the most room to be fleshed out—for instance, why don’t we see her cry when she’s forced to watch her entire planet and family be destroyed? What inner strength explains her reaction?
My favorite original scene I got to add was something I always assumed had happened, but we just didn’t get to see… namely, that Leia would try to escape the Imperial forces at the first opportunity. I never saw Leia as the type to sit around and wait to be rescued—and, truthfully, she kind of rescues everyone from her own rescue in the end.
You mention in your author bio that Princess Leia is your favorite character in the Star Wars universe. What makes her your favorite?
Leia was my first hero (besides my mom!)—and, truthfully, it was because I wasn’t getting very many depictions of strong females on film and television. I liked that she could be a warrior, but also the voice of reason. Luke’s storyline is pretty centered on the idea of that his life was foretold, or he’s playing an important role in a story that’s already been written, but with Leia you get the impression that she creates her own destiny.
I read on your tumblr feed your post about finding out you were asked to write for this series, and couldn’t help but be exceptionally touched by how your father influenced your love of Star Wars. I’m so sorry to hear he passed away. What is your favorite Star Wars memory with your dad? How has your close connection to your father made you feel about working on this project?
Thank you—one of the hardest things about working on this book was the disappointment that he wasn’t there to share in the fun with me. He was a big Star Wars collector, pretty much from the time I was in first grade, so I really did grow up fully immersed in this galaxy. I’ve been to every Star War Celebration held in the U.S. but one (Celebration VI, which happened just after he lost his battle to cancer). I have so many happy memories that it’s impossible to choose just one, you know? We were making the rounds at antique shows and toy stores for years and years, and his collection really felt like a family project. I mean, how many kids have dads who were on a first name basis with managers at Toys R Us and got to go into their back rooms to check out the new shipments of toys?
His favorite thing was sharing his collection with visitors to the house, though, giving them tours through it and explaining about each piece, and I smile every time I think about his excitement.
I almost said no to taking on this project… crazy, right? But, at that point, I hadn’t watched any of the films or engaged in the Star Wars universe since his death because I had such a strong association between it and him. But the offer felt like getting a high-five from him through The Force, and, ultimately, working on it and revisiting the wonderful story had the opposite effect of what I was expecting—it made me feel close to him.
What inspired you to become a writer professionally? When did it go from hobby or passion to full-fledged career or did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
I was so determined, even as a kid, to be a writer—and not just a writer, but one who wrote children’s books. I think it was largely tied to how much I loved reading. That was the ultimate fun for me, so why wouldn’t writing the stories be just as fun? Growing up, I wrote a lot of fanfiction … a lot of Star Wars fanfiction, actually, and most of it is still online because I can’t remember my password to log back into the website to delete it!
I started writing with the intention of hopefully being published when I was a freshman in college and sold my first book my senior year. My dad really wanted me to be a lawyer, but I realized, in the middle of taking the LSAT, that I would be absolutely miserable if I didn’t at least try to pursue doing what I loved. So after graduating, I worked in publishing as a day job and continued writing until I was in the position to write full-time. It took time and a lot of work, but I’m so thrilled and lucky to get to do this as my career.
What advice would you give to other writers out there who are just starting out? What two or three pieces of wisdom would have or did help you the most in trying to get published?
I always have three pieces of advice I get to writers:
- Read absolutely everything—every genre, both fiction and non-fiction. Take note of what works for you in a story and what you don’t like.
- Write a little bit every single day, even if it’s just a journal entry. With writing, you only improve by practicing and putting the mileage in.
- Don’t let anyone discourage you by saying your dream isn’t realistic. If you are writing then you are already a writer.
Alright, just a few fun questions to finish things off. What is your favorite book or author? When you are writing do you have any favorite “go-to” items (favorite food to snack on, favorite place for take out, favorite spot to write, etc.)? If they make a movie about your life, who would play you (assuming it was filmed now instead of twenty years from now)? And if you could decide on any Star Wars attraction at a Disney theme park to be built, what would it be?
Oh nooo, it’s way too hard to pick a favorite book, or even a favorite author! Growing up, though, I loved the entire Harry Potter series (I was 11 when the first book came out, so I really feel like I “grew up” with Harry!), Roald Dahl, and, like I mentioned before, the Star Wars Expanded Universe. My particular favorite was the Young Jedi Knights series that featured Han and Leia’s kids growing up and learning the ways of The Force at the Jedi Academy.
My secret shame—one I’m trying to break right now—is that I have a mild addiction to Mountain Dew. It’s the exact right combination of sugar and caffeine to act like jet fuel while I’m writing, but so, so, SO bad for me! Take out? Pizza. Always pizza. In terms of where I like to write… I usually trade off between a café and my desk at home. And the actress… hmm… maybe Anne Hathaway?
And since we just learned they are building Star Wars parks, can we get a Death Star run ride, where you participate in one of the Death Star destructions? I think that would feel incredibly satisfying!!
Thank you SO much for taking the time to answer these questions, Alex! This novel was a gift to me and my daughter. Any time you get to share your passion with your children is such a thrill! Thanks again.
Thank you so much for having me—and thank you for helping to raise a whole new generation of Star Wars fans!!