By Mark Edlitz
Mark Edlitz, the director of Jedi Junkies interviewed Daniel Wallace, the writer of The Jedi Path. Wallace, who has written extensively about the Star Wars universe, authored or co-authored The New Essential Chronology to Star Wars, Star Wars: Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle, Star Wars: The Essential Atlas, The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia and Star Wars: The Ultimate Visual Guide.
Few books tied to iconic movie series are as playful or as well-thought-out as The Jedi Path. From the conceit that the book consists of a series of documents discovered “near the ruins of Byss” to the inclusion of coins, badges, and other artifacts, the contributors have managed to create a tactile and delightful addition to the Star Wars canon. Introductory sections set out the Jedi Code and history of the Jedi Order, while later sections discuss such subjects as the three pillars, becoming an apprentice, and advanced lightsaber techniques. Not only is the text copiously illustrated, but some pages are mischievously ripped out (the Prophecy of the Chosen One) and supposedly handwritten annotations by Obi-Wan Kenobi and others add to the experience. [Source]
Mark Edlitz: What is the The Jedi Path?
Daniel Wallace: The Jedi Path is both a book and a box of souvenirs. It’s presented as if it were the last surviving copy of an ancient Jedi textbook once owned by Yoda, Obi-Wan, Anakin, and other famous Jedi, containing their graffiti-like scribbles as well as treasures that they tucked away inside the pages such as a metal coin, a starfighter patch, a severed Padawan braid, and more. The book is packaged inside a metallic mechanical vault that hisses open when you push a button. The overall experience is really one-of-a-kind.
Did the concept of the book change over the course of writing it?
From the start we knew The Jedi Path would be written as if it were an in-universe artifact, but we didn’t know exactly what form that would take. We had to figure out the lineup of Jedi Masters who wrote the main text, the chain of ownership of who would have written in the margins, the number and nature of the souvenirs, all of that evolved organically as we refined the concept.
Writing an “in-universe” artifact must have presented some unique challenges.
The most obvious challenge being, where to put the Star Wars logo? In fact once you remove the outer packaging there is no obvious indication that this is a movie product tie-in – well, except for a publishing-mandated indicia page, but we put that as far back as we possibly could! We really wanted this to feel like it was something that could have been plucked from Yoda’s nightstand.
Seems like finding the right tone for the text must have been tricky. You have to impart a lot of info without making it sound too dry or too much like a Wiki entry.
That’s right, and the key there was establishing some unique voices for the text’s authors. Rather than treating it as an info-dump, I made up a list of seven Jedi Masters with names, backgrounds, and personalities, then assigned different chapters of the book to each of them. From that point it was easy to speak through their voices and allow individual quirks to come through in the writing. I wouldn’t describe it as an authoritative text as much as I would the collected opinions of a diverse group of people who aren’t necessarily correct.
Based on your previous books about Star Wars you obviously already had a great deal of knowledge about the universe. What kind of additional research did you need to do for the book?
First and foremost, I didn’t want to get any of the lore wrong. This required going back to the movies to see what they established about the Jedi, and diving into certain bits of the Expanded Universe to make sure all the facts were correct. The video games have done quite a bit of extra work regarding the Force, as have the role-playing games. The various styles of lightsaber combat have been explored extensively too. But also, I didn’t want to only include information that superfans have already read and really worked to include new facts, bits of history, and hints to other bits of history that I left open-ended.
What did you discover about the Force and the Jedi way while working on The Jedi Path?
There would be a lot of controversy over the Jedi in the Star Wars galaxy. Clearly they have superpowers and they also have history and politics behind them – they’re basically knights who serve the crown. But their practice of taking babies away from their families to be raised in the Jedi Temple would surely be unpopular with parents, and the movies indicate that the Jedi have a problem remaining open to new ideas – for example, the Temple librarian who insists that if the Jedi don’t know a fact, then that fact essentially doesn’t exist. Therefore I think the Jedi were a great force for good, but were hamstrung by their own sense of rightness that they weren’t able to see the danger that was right under their noses. And this is why they were annihilated during the Clone Wars.
Your observation that the Jedi were great forces of good who were limited by their own dogma is very interesting. One of the messages behind Star Wars is that it’s healthy for a society to challenge authority and not accept the status quo. That is why the heroes are the “rebels.” However, because the Jedi are the moral center of the films audiences tend to overlook their flaws.
I’d agree with you on that. Because the are set against the Sith, who are unambiguously evil, it’s easy to think of the Jedi as unambiguously good. But the movies are quite clear on the fact that the Jedi are fallible, and I’d argue that their greatest flaw was their inflexibility. Anakin, in fact, had the right idea in questioning why he wasn’t allowed to save his mother or protect Padmé. If the Jedi had tried to address his concerns he wouldn’t have felt he had to seek out knowledge from the Sith.
Did you add any information/customs/philosophies to the Force or Jedi way that didn’t previously exist in the books, movies or Expanded Universe? If so, what?
By necessity I needed to do a lot of filling in the cracks. The process of how a Padawan becomes a Knight is something that has never really been explored, for example. There’s a mention of the Jedi Trials but it hasn’t really been clear what those Trials were all about. I explored those in detail, and came up with a hundred other tiny details about life in the Temple. For a book written by the Jedi, I also tried to work in counterpoints to Jedi philosophy here and there.
One of the more unexpected additions to the Jedi tradition in the prequels is the notion that Jedi shouldn’t marry and fall in love. The Jedi in the book (like the fans themselves) disagree over this.
It’s an interesting question and one that I had to understand from both sides in order to write about it. For the Jedi, it’s essentially a sin to have extra love for your spouse, or your family. The Jedi believe in serving all without prejudice, and commitments run counter to that. But while that’s a logical argument, you can see how it’s tough to deal with emotionally. In their insistence on no marriage, or on taking babies from their families, the Jedi can seem a bit too Spock-like even though they are acting with the best of intentions.
Fans did not universally embrace the introduction of midi-chlorians in the prequels as an explanation as to why some are powerful in the Force. I love your explanation about midi-chlorians. “I urge you not to think too much on this necessary biological symbiosis but to instead cast your focus wider. After all, we do not drink the bowl but the soup contained within it.”
The midi-chlorians are an example of a theme of symbiosis that George Lucas wanted to bring to the table in Episode I. And I like them as an example of a microscopic lifeform that exists in symbiosis with our own cells, and that both we and the midi-chlorians are part of the Force. That being said, the fact that Anakin had a midi-chlorian count of over 20,000 is where it starts getting sciencey and I can sympathize with fans who don’t like that element. For what it’s worth, The Jedi Path leaves the door open on that subject, stating how even rock-based organisms that don’t technically have living cells at all can still become strong in the Force.
Some fans prefer the Jedi to be more in the spirit of the popular perception of the Knights of the Roundtable: brave and skilled heroes fighting for what’s right. But Lucas has said that thinks of Jedi as “warrior monks.” Lucas doesn’t want viewers to ignore the religious elements of the order.
I think both can work quite well. The warrior monk characterization was foremost in my mind while I was writing The Jedi Path, but there’s something to be said for the romantic King Arthur version of the crusading knight. But of course, the crusading Knights were crusading on behalf of their religion, or at the very least on behalf of their king who was said to have a divine rulership mandate by God. So religion is wrapped up in all of this iconography, and I definitely tried to incorporate elements of Jedi philosophy as a religious tradition.
Can you talk about writing in the voices of Luke, Ben Kenobi, Anakin and Yoda.
Writing the scribbles in the margins of the pages was a lot of fun, and it wasn’t hard to capture the voices of characters like Luke and Yoda since I’ve been exposed to their voices as a fan for so long. Each character generally had a role to play in the annotations. Anakin’s comments are challenging, Qui-Gon’s comments are empathetic, the Emperor’s comments are sneering, Luke’s comments are wise with hindsight, and so on.
Part of the fun of the book is that the annotations create a dialogue of sorts between characters from both trilogies. So, in effect, Luke has direct contact with his father. Before his transformation into Darth Vader.
Creating chains in the annotation comments was something I tried to do as much as possible. A chain from Obi-Wan to Anakin to Ahsoka Tano is interesting because all three know each other, but their comments were written from when all three were Padawans, so a relative newcomer like Ahsoka gets to see a veteran like Obi-Wan in a new light. In the case of Luke, this book would be a revelation. Not only his father, but “old Ben” and Yoda are all writing here, decades before Luke’s time. I tried to imagine what it feels like to uncover a box of old letters from your parents or grandparents.
I love the napkin included in the book that is (supposedly) the napkin that Ben Kenobi used to draw the design of his light saber. How did that come about?
The idea for the napkin came from becker&mayer’s design team, I believe, and it’s one of my favorite removables. If I remember correctly, I was the one to suggest that it be Obi-Wan’s napkin, based on the fact that he’s clearly a frequent customer of Dex’s Diner and I could imagine him sitting at one of the booths with a cup of Ardees and furiously sketching as he keeps himself caffeinated. http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Ardees
What’s your favorite artifact from the book?
Other than the napkin, my favorite is probably the metal Jedi credit. Unfortunately it’s also the easiest artifact to lose! I’ve dropped it and had it roll under the couch more than once.
What was the process of working with Lucasfilm?
I worked with the book producers at becker&mayer and we both worked with Lucasfilm. Ultimately Lucasfilm has approval over the project and has veto power over any item if they don’t think it fits in the Star Wars universe. Luckily, after we hashed out the outline there was very little controversy over the contents and I did fewer revisions on The Jedi Path than on most other projects I’ve written.
Any feedback from George Lucas himself?
I heard from someone at Lucasfilm that George saw The Jedi Path in action and asked where his copy was. I can only imagine that George got his copy very quickly after that comment!
Luke’s journey in the original trilogy would have been very different if, along with the hologram of Leia, R2D2 handed him a copy of your book.
This is true! And because it’s so true, we really had to struggle to figure out a point in the timeline when Luke could have possessed this book without it acting as a spoiler. Ultimately we figured that Luke couldn’t have possessed this type of knowledge until at least 20 years after Return of the Jedi!
The Jedi Path is available exclusively at Amazon.com.