Transmedia Synergy Optimized in Brand-Aligned Trilogy
For years, Del Rey has been working to bring the fun and excitement that is Star Wars to prose. That’s included adaptations of the films, of course – and also, new material expanding upon the characters and events depicted in the films.
But Del Rey has also produced many stories elaborating on characters and situations introduced by Lucasfilm’s other licensing partners. Star Wars: Knight Errant and Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void built upon parts of the Star Wars universe introduced in comics – and there have been several novels over the years connected to Star Wars video games, from Galaxies to The Old Republic. It’s a natural fit: as fans know, in the Expanded Universe, story content developed in one medium is often reflected in others, whether the source is a comic book, a role-playing game module, or a cartoon.
In late 2013, Del Rey takes that synergistic approach to a new level with its trilogy novelizing Star Wars: Pinball: Boba Fett, a new downloadable game developed by Zen Studios in partnership with LucasArts. First in the series Star Wars: Pinball: Boba Fett-The Novel adapting the game’s table starring the galaxy’s greatest bounty hunter.
To help blaze this new trail in cross-media licensing, Del Rey turned to pinball maven John Jackson Miller, the author of Star Wars: Knight Errant, Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith: The Collected Stories, and the upcoming Star Wars: Kenobi.
“Pinball is long overdue for an adaptation,” Miller said. “A pinball machine really is a story, when you think about it: it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. There’s even a story structure implied: in those three metal balls are three dramatic acts, accompanied by a rising crescendo of sounds. It’s an exciting thrill ride, and we’re going to try to capture some of that feeling in prose.”
From the opening pull of the plunger – or turn of the page – readers will be see Boba Fett in action as never before. Here, in an exciting sequence, Miller depicts for the first time a moment not previously seen from Boba Fett’s escape from Bespin during The Empire Strikes Back with Han Solo’s body:
The silver sphere was loose again in the hold of the Slave I. It struck the carbonite-encased smuggler, causing his body to spin rapidly and noisily around a central axis.
Desperate to secure his precious cargo before the mammoth marble returned, Fett dove into the hold, cursing himself for ever bringing the giant ball on board. If it weren’t for those people shooting at him on the platform, he would have had time to secure Solo better.
“He’s no good to me spinning around like that,” Boba said.
The silver sphere, Miller said, pops up a number of times in the narrative. “Actually, it’s kind of multi-purpose. Sometimes, it’s a literal threat, as seen in the cargo hold scene. Other times, it’s more metaphorical, representing in one silvery globe the efforts of the Mandalorian-armored hunter to knock down those who oppose him. But even when he tries his best, there’s always a chance that things could go down the drain. That’s the jeopardy the story feeds upon.”
Some elements of the game have posed interesting challenges, Miller said.
“One of Boba’s goals in the game is to spell his own name, a letter at a time,” he said. “We’ve turned that into the narrative spine of the whole story – and come up with some really clever in-universe ways for Boba to get these letters.” Miller paused. “Of course, the letters in the game are in English, not Aurebesh. We’re still working on a continuity fix for that.”
Miller was a natural choice for the adaptation. “My entire junior year in college was devoted to defeating a Williams Taxi pinball table,” Miller said. “There was one month where I was actually hiding in the arcade after closing, and sleeping under the machine. But it really helped with my game, and my writing, too.” Miller was part of Usenet’s pioneering alt.fanfiction.pinball community, where he wrote more than 100 fics about his favorite game. “I’d like to think that I really gave Santa, Mikhail Gorbachev, Dracula, Pinbot, and Marilyn Monroe a good reason to be in that taxicab going to the airport. Motivation is everything to a writer.”
Miller, who left the pinball fiction scene after the infamous Cue Ball Wizard/Addams Family fan war of 1992, said he was especially excited to return to it now in the new digital age. “Technology has made so many more things possible. We’ve added a feature to the e-book where if you shake the reader too hard, the file sends you back to the beginning to start over again. And if you pay us an extra $0.75, you get additional bonus chapters at the end,” he said. “That’ll mean a lot more work for us, actually. But we’re up to it.”
Following Fett, Del Rey next plans to begin adapting classic Kenner action playsets, bringing them into continuity. Miller said he has some ideas about that as well. In the tradition of the hit Star Wars: Death Star, comes Star Wars: Death Star Space Station Action Playset – The Novel.
“For years, the Death Star playset has been out there in limbo, because we never saw a moment in the film where the characters fell into a trash compactor filled with little colored sponge pieces. In fact, as we’d show, they actually did fall into such a place: it was just in between the other stuff, and they didn’t film it because it seemed repetitive. But we’d depict it all. There’s a fluorescent green dianoga and everything.”
As with Pinball: Boba Fett, there are storytelling challenges to consider in expanding A New Hope to reflect the existence of the playset. “There’s just one elevator, for everyone. How did Obi-Wan, Vader, Luke and everyone not run into each other? That would pose some uncomfortable moments, you’d assume – presuming you could get them all into the same car without the thing getting stuck. I still can’t get the door open on mine. Poor Greedo’s been stuck in the thing since 1979, and he never went to the Death Star in real life. And what’s with that open-air room with the gun that snaps off? What’s the physics for that?” But it could be worse, he said. “I’m just glad I don’t have to explain the Millennium Falcon. The whole roof of the thing comes off!”
In 2014, Del Rey is seeking to further expand its adaptations into different areas of the licensing universe. A novelization of the C-3POs cereal box from Kellogg’s is in the works, followed by an as-yet-unnamed trilogy based on a series of T-shirt designs. “Darth Vadar Lives,” apparently…
While John Jackson Miller did write the upcoming Star Wars: Kenobi – and the above April Foolery – the novelization of Star Wars: Pinball: Boba Fett is not to be. But be sure to share your thoughts on the Star Wars licensed products you’ve wanted to see immortalized in prose: the sillier the better! And follow John on Twitter at @jjmfaraway.