While it arrives 10 days late for May 4 — an unofficial Star Wars holiday with a “May the Fourth be with you” tagline -- Star Wars fans in Flagstaff can enjoy a belated gift with the arrival of one of the best known authors of the franchise: Alan Dean Foster.
Foster is credited with assisting on the first novelization of the premiere 1977 “Star Wars” film. He also wrote “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye,” widely recognized as the first novel of what’s considered the Star Wars expanded universe — fiction beyond the movies.
A master of the science fiction genre, Foster wrote the latest novelization for “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” has written the novels for the first three “Alien” films and “Terminator: Salvation,” and is credited for creating the story for the first “Star Trek” film. He also has several dozen novels not related to film titles.
Visiting from his Prescott home, Foster will be joined by Sedona science fiction author Tony Taylor and Flagstaff sci-fi novelist G.K. Lamb. The event takes place at Lowell Observatory on Saturday, May 14 from 2 to 4 p.m. The event is sponsored by the Arizona Authors’ Association and is free and open to the public. Learn more at www.lowell.edu.
Foster has had a long and illustrious career in both the science fiction literary world and with his connections in the film industry. He’s known for his deft skills at taking something intended for the big screen and bringing it to the small page.
“For me, the key is to retain the original vision and feel of the screenwriters,” Foster said in a recent interview with the Daily Sun. “It’s similar to what a contractor does with an architect’s plans. I expand upon what has already been done. And I’m very concerned about trying to make the science in the book as believable as possible: something screenwriters have little time for.”
He added, “Obviously I can’t make radical changes to the characters. Those in the book have to correlate to those in the film. What I can do is show what they are thinking -- something you don’t have much time for in a two-hour film. I’m usually left alone to do this, although once in a while the studio or producers will get involved and become very restrictive.”
In a curious circumstance, Foster was allowed to write a kind of sequel to the original Star Wars film called “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.” This novel follows Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia to a special jungle planet to retrieve a crystal with special powers over the Force.
The novel is legend among avid Star Wars fans for being the first piece of fiction to exist outside of the movies. It also has some mythic qualities as a story that “might have been” the sequel to Star Wars had the original not succeeded financially. Instead, it became one of the top-grossing films of all-time.
“It was both enjoyable and extremely easy, because as long as I made the story ‘filmable on a low budget’ and did not use the characters of Han Solo or Chewbacca (Harrison Ford had not yet agreed to the use of his likeness in relational material) I was allowed pretty much free rein to create whatever Star Wars story I liked,” Foster said of “Splinter.” “I wrote the book, turned it in, it was approved with a couple of small changes, and that was that.”
Foster also remains one of those rare people who have a foot both in Star Wars and the other hugely popular sci-fi franchise, “Star Trek.” He is credited with the story that became the first film in that series.
“It’s a strange thing, being involved — albeit in a peripheral way — with so many important franchises and films,” he said. “To me, I’m simply a fan enjoying participating. Star Wars appeals because it’s pure fun and the parameters are easy to identify with: good guys versus bad guys, few complications. At least some ‘Star Trek’ envisions a future most of us would like to live in.”
Fans of science fiction also might have crossed paths with Foster’s numerous non-film-related novels and books. This includes his books related to a fictional world called “Commonwealth” and another series known as “Spellsinger.”
“I think my best work takes familiar tropes — space opera, fantasy such as ‘The Journeys of the Catechist’, near-future science fiction like ‘Sagramanda’ and the ‘Montezuma Strip’ stories — and tries to do something a little different with each one,” he said.
For fans of sci-fi, Foster and presenters Taylor and Lamb will transport them to distant galaxies, far-off planets and to strange parallel versions of their own world — bringing the fictional fun to the science-heavy Lowell Observatory.