Behind the scenes with E.K. Johnston on writing Ahsoka

e-k-johnston-cropAhsoka by E.K. Johnston comes out today from Disney-Lucasfilm Press in hardcover, eBook and audio. It tells a great story that helps fill in some of the critical gaps between her departure from the Jedi Order in The Clone Wars and her appearance as the Rebel agent, Fulcrum, in Rebels.

In early September, author E.K. Johnston was a guest panelist at Salt Lake Comic Con, where she discussed her novel on two panels: “The Life and Times of Ahsoka Tano” (alongside Pablo Hidalgo, Amy Ratcliffe, and moderated by Bryan Young; panel available from Full of Sith) and “Star Wars Books: Writing the Force” (alongside Christie Golden, Cecil Castellucci, Matt Martin, and moderated by yours truly). Here is an abridged transcript of the panel, focusing on Johnston’s responses to the moderator prompts and panelist discussion as relating to writing the newest chapter in the story of Ahsoka Tano.

Here’s what Johnston had to say (trying to stay spoiler free) on the behind-the-scenes of writing Ahsoka:

Jawajames: In general, what makes a good Star Wars story? What are those key elements?

Ahsoka (YA novel)E.K. Johnston: One of the things that drew me into The Clone Wars and the prequel trilogy was the terrible sense of inevitability, where you know terrible things are going to happen to the characters you’ve come to like. Now, that extends to Rebels. But I like that sort of dramatic tension.

Jawajames: How do you go about adding depth to Ahsoka Tano, the protagonist who is already a well-defined character in Star Wars, while maintaining that she feels right to the audience?

E.K. Johnston: I asked a lot of questions and got a lot of good feedback as I was going through. When it got confusing at times, there were some very excited phone calls where we talked about the character of Ahsoka and where she was in the story that I was going to write. It was much more collaborative than I’m used to, which was a lot of fun, and it made it a kind of a shared story.

Jawajames: Tell us more about that how collaboration works when writing Star Wars?

E.K. Johnston: The collaboration almost completely changed my writing schedule. Since I’m in the Eastern time zone, I’d be up at 9 a.m. and not have an email, and think “That’s strange! Oh, yeah – California.” It almost slowed down the process, which made me think a lot about what I was doing. Also, the end of season two of Rebels was airing at the time, and so every week, I’d watch the current episode of Rebels, and then email, “Hey Jen [Heddle], I just saw the new Rebels. Don’t worry, I’m fixing the outline.” I didn’t want to hit the same emotional beats so I would write some scenes over again. They were really great and very receptive. I was told a lot of backstory -it was a lot of secret keeping. It was really fun to work on a project that everyone was truly engaged in.

[Matt Martin mentions that while he doesn’t get to interface with the authors all that often, he was in some of the early phone calls on Ahsoka.]

E.K. Johnston: There were a lot of people, to the point where everyone was doing R2-D2 impressions, and I was just sitting at home, doo-do-doo…

Matt Martin: — because we were all in one room. An entire room full of people and you were on the phone, and it’s so sad.

E.K. Johnston: I laughed a lot.

Matt Martin: Especially when you have someone like Dave [Filoni] in the room, and when it gets late in the day, and as soon as Dave starts going, he just starts going…

ek-johnston-ahsokaJawajames: How did binge-watching The Clone Wars and Rebels work for researching the characters in Ahsoka?

E.K. Johnston: I watched The Clone Wars chronologically [story order, not air date order, which is how Christie Golden binge-watched them]. I watched the first five that aired, then went to watch them in order. I ended up binge-watching them very quickly because I also wanted to watch Rebels before someone could spoil me. I didn’t watch The Clone Wars originally, because I was afraid I was going to like the clones and then get sad – which is exactly what happened.

The other thing I bought most of the first wave of Star Wars novels for Christmas and spent my Christmas last year reading all the books. My original plan was to understand the tone people were writing in, and then I realized that everyone was writing all over the place. I thought, “Cool! This is going to be great.” Then I read Lost Stars, and thought, “I’m never going to be that good!” — that book was amazing. That was my goal the whole way through: Lost Stars-caliber writing because it was just astonishing.

Jawajames: What real-world influences have you brought into your Star Wars writing, whether it be characters or situations or Easter eggs?

E.K. Johnston: There’s a reference to The Emperor’s New Groove that I was really proud of.

Jawajames: What are some of the influences on your writing? Other writers?

Cecil Castellucci: For Star Wars or for my writing in general? Because my writing in general, my influence is Star Wars!

E.K. Johnston: That is very true. This was something that was weird about writing the Ahsoka book – it’s my only book that doesn’t have Star Wars references. The number of times I typed out, “That’s not how the Force works,” and then erased it was in the double digits.

Jawajames: After developing a plot and outline, how do you balance where you need the story to go against where the characters want the story to go?

E.K. Johnston: Ahsoka was the first book I’ve outlined. Usually, I’m a pantser, making it up by the seat of my pants, which doesn’t fly too well with shared stories. I stuck to the outline pretty closely. There were a couple of moments, always with a side character, where I realized that a slightly different angle would be better. With Ahsoka in particular, it was keeping my tendencies out of her. I tend to write similar types of books – my heroines often have common characteristics. Often I would underwrite scenes, then Jen [Heddle] would reply “Could you do this?” and it would be what I totally wanted to do in the first place. This was a bit of double-checking, which was a really cool way to do it.

Jawajames: What is your writing process in general?

E.K. Johnston: I’m a binge writer. I went up to my brother’s cottage for a week and wrote the book. I learned two things about myself:

  • I am terrible about spelling Star Wars words. I couldn’t google because there was no wifi. I would get to words and realize that I had never seen this word in print. So the first draft was full of ridiculous things, like the-planet-where-Greedo-is-from.
  • I tend to write very, very quickly, but at that point, I had been thinking about the book for about three months. It’s like the bottle is there, I just have to open it and start pouring. Everyone would comment, “You wrote so many words!” and I would be, “I need to sleep for a week and watch a lot of My Little Pony!”

Jawajames: How do you incorporate other key elements of Star Wars, like humor?

E.K. Johnston: After the first phone call I had with the Story Group, I had three notes. One I can’t tell you. But the second one was “Remember, Ahsoka is a people person.” The third one was “Remember, Ahsoka is funny.” When I was going through the book, that was something I kept reminding myself – something has to be funny to her, because that is who she is by nature.

[Panel discussion then veers onto romance, villains, and getting to write Force-users.]

E.K. Johnston: I got into Star Wars through my older brother. I love Bloodline so much, and he felt there were no Force powers, but I saw that there was so much politics – I think we read very differently. That’s one of the great things about Star Wars: the universe keeps getting bigger. You can have characters that don’t have Force abilities and throw them into adventures and the Force still affects them.

Watch for my review of Star Wars: Ahsoka coming soon!

Last two photo credit: James Floyd.

2 Replies to “Behind the scenes with E.K. Johnston on writing Ahsoka”

Comments are closed.