Day 405 – Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein wrote the middle-grade novel Cobalt Squadron and the short story “Change of Heart” that appeared in the A New Hope anthology From a Certain Point of View. She answered a few questions via email for this interview.

What was your introduction to Star Wars?

My dad took me to see the original Star Wars movie in July 1977 when I was 12. I pretty much didn’t want to go, as I thought the title sounded boring (it wasn’t called A New Hope yet) – I thought it would be a lot of macho shooting. The cinema was in lower Manhattan, and we had to stand in a line half a block long to get in, though it was months past the release date.

Long story short, I LOVED IT. I loved Princess Leia, and her grit and her trickery. I loved the vast worldbuilding, and the quirky characters, the originality and the slickness of the filmmaking. When The Empire Strikes Back came out three years later, I saw it in the cinema 13 times.

I still have the ticket stub from my first Star Wars movie.

Do you have a favorite character from any of the Star Wars films or TV series? If so, have your favorites changed over time?

Well, I was a Princess Leia fan for the first one when I was 12, but then I really loved and related to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back when I was 15. I was struggling with my own Jedi training (Advanced Chemistry, etc.) and used him for inspiration to stick with it.

By the end of the film saga I’ve come around again to liking Luke, with his grouchiness and sense of humor in old age – though of course I have a soft spot for Rose Tico, who is the point-of-view character in my book Cobalt Squadron. I was THRILLED that Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose, narrated the Cobalt Squadron audiobook.

I’m also, kind of ridiculously, a fan of the electronic characters – and not just the droids. My favorite character over the entire saga is the Millennium Falcon. I have shed tears over the Millennium Falcon.

Why do you think Star Wars has meant so much to such a wide variety of people for so long?

Probably for the same reason it has meant so much to me – because it is so complex and changes over time. There’s such a wide range of characters and situations – there’s a little something for everyone to relate to in there.

So many of your books are about pilots – what attracts you to writing about pilots and flying?

Well, I am a pilot. My husband had a private pilot’s license when I first met him, and we did a lot of flying together in our early dates. So eventually I learned to fly, too, and being a writer, I wanted to write about it.

I’ve also long been a fan of the literature of flight – an avid reader of the works of Antoine de St. Exupéry and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, both of them pilot-writers. And as a woman learning to fly, I became fascinated with women in aviation throughout history. It all fits together!

How did you get connected with Lucasfilm Press to write the book Cobalt Squadron, a Star Wars book fittingly about pilots and technicians, set right before The Last Jedi? Did they reach out to you?

Yes they did – because of my novel Code Name Verity, which features a female pilot. When that email came through, and after I’d figured out that it wasn’t spam, I was so excited I couldn’t speak. I tried to tell my son (then 16) and all that would come out was a high-pitched squeak: “STAR WARS! STAR WARS!”

Did you have any access to The Last Jedi script before you wrote Cobalt Squadron? If not, were you given any kind of information about Rose and Paige Tico?

I was locked up in a room with the script for one day, months in advance of the film’s release. I was also shown some stills from the filming, detailing the Resistance Bombers that Rose and Paige fly in, and pictures of Rose and Paige and the rest of their crew. I was legally sworn to utmost secrecy. I was so nervous about the things I knew that I just refused to talk about it to anyone before the film came out. It was like being an international spy.

Some of the characters in Cobalt Squadron can be spotted in the film The Last Jedi and also make appearances in some of the other The Last Jedi tie-in books such as Bomber Command by Jason Fry or The Last Jedi novelization, also written by Fry. Did you communicate at all with Jason about any of these characters or events, and have you ever spotted some of these characters in the film?

The characters who turn up in the film aren’t my invention – I knew about them ahead of time and included them in the book on purpose. But yes, I sure did spot them!

Jason and I didn’t have direct communication with each other while we were writing, but we did get to see each other’s books because they were supposed to be in line with each other. I was really flattered that Jason used my parting scene between Paige and Rose in the novelization! I also loved the way he expanded on some of my throwaway details (for example, he made up a backstory for my character Fossil).

We finally met at New York Comicon in 2017, a couple of months before the film’s release, and it was like two secret agents working on the same project had been thrown together at last. We were so relieved to be able to talk to each other! “Oh my God, how about when they made us change the names of those damn bombers for the THIRD TIME?”

How would you describe Cobalt Squadron to people who haven’t read the book yet? 

My elevator pitch for Cobalt Squadron is “It’s the Siege of Leningrad in space.”

My instructions for the book were simply to “make us love Paige and Rose so much that we just want to keep flying with them together forever!”

It’s the story of a Resistance Bomber squadron trying to save an obscure planetary system from being destroyed by the First Order. Paige and Rose Tico, a gunner and a mechanic on board, enlist the help of a very young stowaway from the besieged world. Shenanigans ensue.

I loved having the chance to create a bomber crew, to think about how they work together on board and with the rest of their squadron. I really, really loved being able to do some worldbuilding of my own (I invented an entire planetary system and conjured up two new planets, Aterra Bravo and Refnu, which are now canon in the Star Wars universe. What joy!)

Shostakovich’s “Leningrad Symphony” was my background music while I was working on it. I couldn’t tell people at the time, because I felt like that was a spoiler!

For people who have read Cobalt Squadron and would like to read more of your work, do you have a “read this next” recommendation for them?

Definitely! If you want more about bomber crews fighting against oppression, read my new book The Enigma Game, out in May 2020! [Note: it looks like this book has been pushed to November 3, 2020]

If you want non-fiction about bomber crews fighting against oppression, read A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II (Balzer & Bray, 2019). This book was named a finalist for YALSA’s Excellence in Non-Fiction for Teens Award in January 2020.

And of course there’s always Code Name Verity, which is a thriller about a transport pilot and a captured spy in World War II.

Are there any Star Wars characters you’d love to have a chance to write about for a future Star Wars story?

You know how I said the Millennium Falcon is one of my favorite characters? I would like to write a story set on the Millennium Falcon.

I actually have a short story called “Change of Heart” in the anthology Star Wars: A Certain Point of View. My story is about Leia’s interrogation, from the point of view of one of Darth Vader’s personal guards. I loved writing that because it gave me a chance to study and think about Leia’s character – and a reason to watch the movie again.

Can you share any projects you have coming up?

I mentioned my new book The Enigma Game. I’m starting to write another novel about young pilots, set during the “Golden Age of Flight” in the 1930s. And I’m working on some more aviation non-fiction – all aimed at young adult readers. I’m between projects or I’d go into greater detail. Watch this space!

Learn more about Wein’s work on her website.

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