Shaun Harris grew up as the son of a homicide detective in Southern New England. He has a degree in American Studies and Film and Television from the University of Notre Dame. As such he has a crippling obsession with college football. He now lives in rural Wisconsin with his wife and two kids. Jim Rockford is his spirit guide.
Recently, Shaun was given the task of writing for IDW’s Star Wars Adventures comic series and Mark Alders caught up with him to discuss his career so far and his Tales from Wild Space!
Hi Shaun, Star Wars finds us all at different times and at different ages. What was your experience of Star Wars growing up?
The Empire Strikes Back came out the same year I was born so I don’t remember a time without Star Wars. We had basic cable, but back then HBO would be free for a week or two and my parents would tape every movie that came on. We had a bunch of these tapes with two or three movies on them. Empire was on a tape with Back to the Future and The Last Starfighter. Return of the Jedi was on a tape with The Ewok Adventure. I watched these constantly. When I was around seven, we were buying a new TV and we went to this place, Bernie’s (which isn’t around anymore,) and I saw C-3PO and R2-D2 wandering in the Tatooine desert on a wall of about fifty TVs. There was no sound, so I was expecting them to go to Jabba’s palace, but instead they got picked up by these little guys with light up eyes and hoods. It freaked me out. I’d seen Empire and Jedi a billion times, and my parents had even taken me to see Spaceballs that summer, but I’d never seen A New Hope. I didn’t even know it existed. I thought Empire was the first movie. We bought our TV and went home. My parents weren’t into movies and so they didn’t know there were three movies (this was before you were bombarded with all media all the time) so they couldn’t help me figure out why I’d never seen that scene before. It wasn’t until months later at a friend’s sleep-over that I got to see all of Episode IV. So, my first experience with Star Wars was watching them out of order and backwards.
What do you think it is about Star Wars that sets it apart from other films?
When Star Wars came out sci-fi adventure stories weren’t taken very seriously. You had hard sci-fi like 2001 and then you had B-movie stuff. George Lucas was the first to take fun material like this and look at it seriously. He wanted the special effects to look real. He wanted the actors to be good actors, not just ones who would work cheaply. Love and respect in making the movie was rewarded with love and respect by the audience. When you see something like Star Wars you can allow your self to get swept away in it. Part of that is because you get that the storytellers aren’t trying to trick you. They believe too. I think this is the secret to Star Wars.
What was your first writing job?
I was working on a novel and I got a job writing for Irish Eyes an online magazine that covered Notre Dame Football. It was pretty cool because I got a press pass and got to watch the games from the press box. There’s free food in the press box. It was a terrible season for Notre Dame, and I got fired after a few too many negative articles. The pay wasn’t great, but I think I made up for it with the free food.
When were you first approached by IDW about doing a Star Wars story?
I was writing a comic called Las Vegas Repo for IDW when I saw they were starting the Star Wars Adventures series. I asked my editor how I could get in on that. He hooked me up with Denton Tipton and I pitched him a couple of things until we got to the Tales from Wild Space story.
In Star Wars Adventures 24, we get to see your first foray into a galaxy far far away with ‘Win/Lose’. How did you come up with the idea for the story?
The twist at the end comes from an old joke, but the story is pretty much based on the last twenty minutes of The Color of Money with Maz in the Paul Newman role and Bilk Plessey in the Tom Cruise role. Star Wars is a movie made by people who love movies. Han Solo coming back to help Luke at the end of ANH is Brad Dexter coming back to help Yul Brenner at the end of The Magnificent Seven, except Brad Dexter is killed (sorry to spoil a sixty-year-old movie). I love the idea of dropping another genre into the Star Wars universe. They did this with Canto Bight, giving us a bit of a heist/espionage film. I had the idea of doing something with Dejarik and the big pool tournament at the end of The Color of Money just popped into my head.
As fans, we don’t know a lot about Maz Kanata. How much freedom were you given in terms of the character?
The basic rule I was given was don’t mess with canon, but to be honest it didn’t really come up. The facts of Maz’s life are few, but we know everything we need to know about her character. It’s the same as if Han Solo’s only scene was the shootout with Greedo. Everything is right there. Maz has been around for a long time and she’s comfortable around shady characters. You can tell in The Force Awakens that Han has not only great respect, but great affection for her. So, the guidance for me was what sort of person would earn the respect and affection of the smuggler side of Han. Once you’re there it’s pretty easy to stay inside the guardrails. Also, it’s an eight-page story so there’s not a lot of wriggle room outside of the story itself.
Manuel Bracchi added the artwork to your story, how closely did you two work together to bring the entire tale to life?
I’m sorry to say I had no contact with him until the art was complete. I love his work though. He did such a great job with Bilk Plessey. Just got him perfectly right down to the Dejarik medallion.
Which time period of Star Wars is your favourite?
I’m an original trilogy guy.
Do you have a favourite character within the Star Wars Universe?
If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have said Lando Calrissian. There’s just something about a guy that can out swagger Han Solo. Now, though, I’d have to say it’s Hondo Ohnaka. The guy just tickles me. I smile whenever he shows up and I love the idea of the bad guy who’s not so bad and has a sense of humor about everything.
Moving away for a moment from Star Wars, you’ve written a book called The Hemingway Thief. Being a big fan of Hemingway, this has me really intrigued. What can you tell us about this novel?
The story is about Henry Cooper who writes a very popular series of romance novels under a pen name. He’s going through a bit of an identity crisis in a run-down hotel in Mexico when he meets a charming criminal claiming to know the whereabouts of Hemingway’s famous lost suitcase. It’s more Indiana Jones than Star Wars, but it’s got a lot of humor and fun in it.
You also write a comic series for IDW, Las Vegas Repo. Is it more enjoyable to work on an entire series as opposed to a single tale, or is it a lot more stressful?
There’s not a lot of stress involved in the actual writing, especially when working with IDW. If I’ve got a problem or a question, they’re just an email away. The stress comes later, after it’s done. With Las Vegas Repo I wasn’t worried at all because they were my characters and if it was bad, I wasn’t hurting anybody. With Star Wars I was a wreck after I submitted the script. Star Wars is a huge part of who I am, and I didn’t want to screw it up. My wife was a big help. She said, “Honey, if it’s bad, they won’t publish it.” Which helped until I started worrying about whether they’d publish it. Spoiler: They did.
How different is it writing a comic compared to a novel?
I studied film in school, so I have a very cinematic way of writing. Writing a comic is pretty much the perfect marriage of my love for books and movies. There are a lot of things you have to worry about when writing a novel that you don’t have to worry about with a comic. Not to say that one is easier than the other. What I mean is that comics are a collaborative process. There’s another person or persons carrying the load. You’re getting feed back and when you see your ideas filtered through someone else you get a better sense of how it will look to others.
I enjoy writing both, but the first time I wrote a comic it felt like coming home. It just felt good.
If you could tell another Star Wars story (possibly a series), using any characters, what do you think it would be about?
I have an idea for a Lando and Hondo story. I like the idea of them playing off of each other like DeNiro and Grodin in Midnight Run. Maybe pre-Episode V Lando catches Hondo on Bespin and decides to bring Hondo in for the bounty. As they try to evade other bounty hunters, they annoy each other, Hondo always trying to give Lando the slip. Then they become friends. I’m a sucker for buddy and road movies. I think Han and Lando in a Smokey and the Bandit type thing would be fun too.
What upcoming projects can we look forward from you in the future, Star Wars or otherwise?
I’m working on something with Clover Press right now that is very preliminary and I’m working on a new novel. Of course, I’d love to do more Star Wars in the future.
Thank you so much Shaun for taking the time to speak to me and Jedi News, it has been a pleasure. I hope we get to see more of your work in Star Wars Adventures very soon….