HEAT VISION

How 'Force Collector' Re-Creates the Past of 'Star Wars'

Author Kevin Shinick's new YA novel shows the history of a galaxy far, far away from a new perspective.
Tony Foti/Disney-Lucasfilm Press
Author Kevin Shinick's new YA novel shows the history of a galaxy far, far away from a new perspective.

Ahead of next month’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, fans have been revisiting the past of the franchise in the hopes of finding new clues to the finale of the Skywalker Saga. A new YA novel offers a different way to rediscover what happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away — by telling the story of a young character trying to do the same for themselves.

Released as part of the wider Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker publishing program, Kevin Shinick's Star Wars: Force Collector centers around Karr, a teenager who believes that he has a connection to the Force — but it’s unlike any connection fans have seen before, as he gets visions of the past when he touches certain objects. His ability leads him on a search to discover as many objects rumored to have Jedi ties as possible, which takes the reader on a tour of Star Wars history in an unexpected, and ultimately surprising, manner.

Shinick will be touring to support the book’s release, with upcoming appearances at Barnes and Noble in the Glendale Americana on Nov. 19 (where he’ll be joined by Jar Jar Binks himself, Ahmed Best), San Diego’s Mysterious Galaxy bookstore on Dec. 15, Barnes and Noble in the Country Glen Center in Carle Place, New York on Dec. 19. He will also have three appearances on “Force Collector Day” in Merrick, New York on Dec. 20 (Calhoun High School, his alma mater; N. Merrick Public Library and the Merrick Cinemas).

The Hollywood Reporter talked to Shinick about the book, its creation and the reason why a certain part of its original storyline didn’t make it into print.

Force Collector feels, in many ways, like an alternate version of Star Wars — the movies, at least, the “Skywalker Saga” — in some way, the themes and stories of it are in miniature. Was this your intent when you first pitched the book? There’s almost a meta story on top of the narrative that makes it feel like a great way to revisit the series as a whole as it heads into its final chapter.

You’re absolutely right. I was basically trying to capture the simplicity and joy of the original Star Wars films while also addressing the enormity of its current reach. It’s hard now to think of a world without Star Wars, but when I was seven and that first trailer came on TV in 1977, it blew mind, but it also left me with a lot of gaps to fill in regard to how the pieces fit together. In writing this book, I wanted to somehow re-capture that excitement of not knowing everything in a world we’re now so familiar with.

Fortunately, it dawned on me that I could probably relive those experiences through someone who lived in that galaxy far, far away, because they most likely don’t know the Skywalker Saga as well as we do. But my challenge was to make sure Karr didn’t come off as dumb, so much as lacking access to the answers. And for me, it made sense if he was living on the outer rim of the galaxy where, almost like an inner city, there might not be the best resources. That being said, I asked myself honestly how much I thought most people in our galaxy know about our own history. For instance, take any world war. Most of us know who the players were and who won, but then we read a story or see a movie about some important battle or a key figure we didn’t know about and we realize just how much gets lost to history. And that’s where I feel the Jedi wound up.

If this story was a movie, the tagline might be, “History is NOT written by the winners,” because even though the opposite is usually believed, we have a situation where the Alliance won, they toppled the Empire and yet because of Emperor Palpatine’s handiwork with Order 66, the reputation of the Jedi, for some, has been smeared forever. Unfortunately, there was no Jedi PR person to correct that misinformation once the good guys won years later, so the galaxy is left with either incorrect, conflicting or even mythological info about the Jedi.

And so it made sense to me that a young man, much like Luke, would be the perfect person to not only head out on a journey of self-discovery, but also Star Wars discoveries. And yes, I was profoundly aware that the final chapter in the Skywalker saga was fast approaching, but writing this book was very cathartic for me, because I tried to funnel those mixed feelings into what I hoped would be a celebration of the entire series. Now that we’re here and people are telling me that Force Collector makes them view all the movies in a whole new light, I can’t help but feel thankful that maybe, in some small way, I was able to give back to the series that has given to me for so many years.  

The book’s main character, Karr, is an alternate Luke Skywalker, it feels like; someone from humble beginnings who may be adept in the Force but who doesn’t have the destiny — or, at least, doesn’t get the training and attention — that Luke does. He does, at least, have a droid companion, although there, he’s much more of an Anakin-alike, building his own droids. Is there something in that setup that feels necessary for a Star Wars story, to you? Each trilogy has a character like that: Anakin, Luke, Rey. 

I think we gravitate toward those types of characters because they have the most room to grow. Plus, their ages are similar because that’s an important time in our lives. We’re open to new things, but not necessarily wise enough to always make the right decisions. It’s an exciting juncture from a writer’s point of view because it innately creates conflict.

As for the droids, I feel that’s just part of that galaxy’s culture. It’s been established how heavily society relies on them, but I find it interesting to see how each author or screenwriter makes it their own. I love RZ-7 for a number of reasons. First, he’s the embodiment of a lie, because he was put together in a casing that suggests he’s something he’s not, which I find funny, because deep down he’s always worried. Second, I try and use him to convey just how socially isolated Karr is. To the point that Karr basically needed to build his own friend.

I guess you can say Anakin did something similar, but really we see that Anakin does have a supportive bunch of friends at the podrace, and in fact, Anakin states he built him to help out around the house. But really, I just wanted Karr to have someone he could rely on when he felt the world was against him. 

You say that, but Karr also has Maize pretty early on in the book. By bringing her in, you get to play with a moral complexity that feels true to the franchise: She’s beholden to the First Order in familial aspects, at least, but not evil. The two of them working together makes the idea of “balance” feel more practical and concrete. Again, to what extent was there a sense of the story following theological, or theoretical, lines, as opposed to themes being reflected in, and being represented by, the story you happened to be writing?

I looked upon the Force as if it was a fading religion — which in this part of the saga, it was. Times and cultures change quickly in life, and I grew up with a lot of friends who came from households where their grandparents lived with them, and sometimes those grandparents were devoted to a religion that the younger generation wasn’t as faithful to, which inevitably brought about some conflict.

I remember being a kid in 8th grade and learning about the Iroquois and how they believed that their god created humans in a clay oven. Those who were taken out too soon were Caucasian, those who were left in too long were black and the ones who were baked perfectly were the Iroquois. And as fantastical as that sounds, it got me thinking that it was really no more curious than some of the tales I had heard about Moses living to 500 or parting the seas or any of those events where the specifics are still being debated. I’m not discounting anyone’s beliefs, I’m just remembering back to a time when I suddenly had a lot of questions.

And as a result, Karr has a lot of questions: Were the Jedi real? Were they magical? Were they good? Bad? We the fans know the Jedi existed, but even in the canon itself there are some discrepancies and plot holes. So I could imagine a teen, especially when he gets to the age when he sees his parents more as peers than parents, beginning to question the validity of the stories. Karr starts to question whether his grandmother’s words, which he always took as gospel, might be more in keeping with myths than history.

Having Maize come along was a great way to show a difference of opinion that wasn’t necessarily right or wrong, but rather based on a different geological, economical or even philosophical upbringing.

I’m curious about what kind of research process you had for this book, because it feels like you went deep at points. Was there obsessive rewatching of the movies and The Clone Wars animated series before diving into this, or are you just great at Wikipedia and faking it?

Ha! I am a huge Star Wars fan! I have watched and read almost everything that has ever been done about this galaxy, not to mention I’ve written for Star Wars fans of all ages — the Robot Chicken Star Wars specials for adults, the children's book Chewie and the Porgs for kids and the animated sitcom Star Wars: Detours for families — so I certainly started from a point of knowing more than most.

But yes, I did rewatch a lot of stuff. This is a very large universe, so while I did know the areas I wanted to go, I always checked my facts with Wikipedia or Story Group to make sure I was accurate or up-to-date. You do not want to get facts wrong with Star Wars fans! I had to be careful though, because you can easily go down a rabbit hole on any particular Star Wars topic, as I did, only to realize you're reading something that is now considered “legends" instead of canon. So many a times I made that discovery late in the article and was like, “D’oh!”

What I wanted to be particularly careful about was not writing a novel for myself, but rather for a universal audience. I can talk shop with the best of them, and yet as fans of any subject will quickly learn, that’s not entertaining for everyone. And so I wanted to fight the impulse to go too deep or too insider so that I could reach a broader audience. It’s hard to believe, but on Robot Chicken one of our writers knows nothing about Star Wars! He kept asking what the name of the black robot was, meaning Darth Vader, and yet some of his stuff is the funniest because he’s approaching it from a universal point of view.  

As you said before, there are two things going on in my novel: An original tale with original characters who follow their own arcs, and also moments where we flashback to some of the great or overlooked moments in the Star Wars saga. So I always say Force Collector is perfect for both the person who knows everything about Star Wars and for the person who knows nothing about Star Wars.

There’s a really nice cynicism in this book towards the Force that reflects the Force Awakens attitude towards the Jedi in general; why set the book in the period before that movie, as opposed to between Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker, the “now” of the franchise? Were there Lucasfilm signals to stay away from particular events? 

The thing Story Group and I wanted to do, was to be faithful to my own particular story, which in this case meant that there were no known Jedi in the galaxy at the time, so that placed it a few years before TFA. A big part of Karr’s journey is finding out about the Jedi and if there was one available to seek out — such as Luke, who at the time was cut off from the Force — the story might end before it began. So, by placing it in this current time slot, I was able to not only accurately depict the status of the Jedi, but also play into the rise of the First Order and their search for Luke Skywalker.

As you get into it, there are also hints to things like the Knights of Ren as Karr begins to intuitively wonder if his fate is tied to some sort of anti-Jedi, but really this story connects to the past, the present, and the upcoming movie through characters, foreshadowing and [cough] things to be revealed later

I don’t want to give away the ending of the book, but it feels as if you pull off a couple of big moments in there — were you writing towards those moments from the start? Did you have this feeling throughout the whole thing of, “Oh, just wait, this will get them”?

Before I actually write, I like to have an outline of the entire story so that I know where I’m going. For the most part, that journey remains the same, so yes, those two things were always in my mind and in the outline from the beginning. Okay, maybe the second outline.

The question was, as is always the case with Star Wars, would I be allowed to do it? So I am thrilled that I got permission to retain those elements because, yeah, when I came up them I did think, “Oh man, how great would this be?” But there were also elements that, for whatever reason, I did not get to keep.

In fact, a story that’s bittersweet is that when I turned in the first draft of Force Collector, JJ [Abrams] had not yet finished his draft of the upcoming movie, so when he did I got a call from the publisher saying, “Well, I don’t know how you did it, but somehow you inadvertently wrote a big section of Episode IX.” It was a setback for sure, but also kind of a fun coincidence that confirmed that my mind was in the right place. 

It’s a book that feels like a primer of what’s gone before for the Jedi, but also a signpost to a potential future. Can you see yourself revisiting Karr in the future? Would you even want to?

Absolutely. I definitely have more ideas for Karr and Maize. Especially when you consider we’ve barely scratched the surface of their relationship or of Maize’s heritage. Plus, I’d like to visit some of the areas I couldn’t go to in this book because of its placement to Episode IX. Since this is sort of a “road trip” story, I had originally planned for this to be a longer tale with more excursions, but as I said before, there’s something called “too much of a good thing,” so I didn’t want to overdo it.

That being said, if I get the chance to do more with these characters, as I hope to do, I can still go back and visit some of the people and places that didn’t make it into this book. But right now I’m just happy that people are going to get to meet Karr, Maize and RZ-7. 

Star Wars: Force Collector will be released Nov. 19.

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