In 1977, Gary Schmidt was a camp counselor in the Catskills of New York. All summer long, he and his fellow counselors had heard campers tell stories of an amazing movie that they’d seen. But these counselors were up in the mountains, with no movie theaters nearby. So when the summer camp season came to a close, they headed together to Long Island to see what was all the rage. In fact, they saw the movie twice that day.
“In some ways, we saw it twice because of how wonderful the movie was,” Schmidt said about their decision to stick around for back-to-back showings. “But we also knew that once it was over, that community was over, too. The summer camp was over; we were all going different ways … so whenever I think about [the movie], I think about that group of people.”
The movie was Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope—the first movie released in the epic series.
Now 40 years later, Schmidt is an accomplished author and a professor of English at Calvin College. He wouldn’t say he’s a Star Wars fanatic, but like many viewers of the films, he has lingering questions that have gone unanswered; unlike many viewers, he’s been given an opportunity to discover those answers and write a new chapter in the epic series.
“I mean, dang, who wouldn’t want to write himself or herself into the Star Wars world; it is such a great honor,” Schmidt said.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of the first Star Wars film, Lucasfilm had the idea of having 40 stories developed about events that happened in the original film (Episode IV), but weren’t ever fully told. And then, each of those stories would be told from the point of view of a Star Wars character. The 40 stories, written by 40 different authors, have been compiled into the anthology Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View.
One of the selected authors? Gary Schmidt. The question he needed to answer? “How was it that Yoda discovers that Obi-Wan Kenobi has been killed by Darth Vader?”
“To be the guy that’s been given the opportunity to write the Yoda story—the only Yoda story in this volume—that’s amazing. I was a little bit panicky when they gave it to me because this is going to be examined thoroughly and critiqued thoroughly,” Schmidt said, laughing. “It’s a 40-year tradition and so many brilliant people have worked on it, and so many people care so much about this. And so much has shifted since Lucasfilm was purchased by Disney, all the hundreds of books written are now called legends, so you feel like, ‘OK, get it right.’”
'Luminous beings we are.' That's pretty impressive. ... I thought that was so powerful and something that is so easy to miss in our own humanity. Gary Schmidt
So, with a healthy respect for the long history of the series, Schmidt began digging for answers and developing a story. He started at the end of Episode III, when Yoda is going into isolation in Dagobah.
“Flannery O’Connor said that with any story you have to begin with the eye, so your reader sees stuff. You have to be concrete. So what would Yoda bring [with him to Dagobah]? I made him a little nostalgic: He has one thing from Obi-Wan, a pot, and he has Qui-Gon’s blanket, made of Qui-Gon’s cloak. Those are his connections back to his earlier disciples, because he’s all alone, in some ways desperately alone.
“So you start with Yoda having those two things, and in a hut. Then I had to make up the planet’s seasons. When we see Dagobah it’s always wet and swampy in the second film, but suppose there’s another, a dry season, and he has to move from one [location] to another? If I have that, then I give him a reason for moving on a journey.
“That was my way of getting him moving with his pot and cloak. But then I needed for something to happen on the journey. Well, suppose the emperor is still working for him? That gives me some conflict along the journey, so that all seemed to make sense. And then I needed some humor in it, so what if he loses Obi-Wan’s pot or it’s broken during that journey and Obi- Wan, when he appears, notices it. That gives the opportunity for some funny dialogue.”
Fun with dialogue
And as Schmidt develops that dialogue in this story, he uses humor to carry some really serious stuff. When Obi-Wan and Yoda meet in the story, Yoda is pushing 900 years old, and in Schmidt’s mind, Yoda’s reluctance to train Luke in the next film points to his desire to instead train Luke’s twin, Princess Leia.
“Yoda thinks sort of like his life is over; he’s 900 years old. What’s the next thing? For him, there really isn’t any? He doesn’t perceive that there’s this next thing. And he’s wanted to train Leia and that’s not going to happen. So when Obi-Wan comes and gives him this kind of order, like ‘You are going to train Luke now!,’ at first, he responds petulantly: ‘Are YOU the master?’ But that allows me to have a lot of fun with the dialogue and, I hope, to make it really, really funny.
“But, on the other hand, there’s a poignancy to this. I mean he’s 900 years old. He’s been alone for who knows how long. He’s unhappy on so many levels. So when Obi-Wan comes, he can take on this role of comforter: ‘I can’t tell you what’s going to come, but you’ll be surprised,’ he says. When Yoda responds, ‘No, there’s no more surprises for me. I’m 900 years old,’ Obi Wan promises, ‘Master, you will be surprised.’ And that’s how I see it. Who knows what will happen after we leave this life. But we will be surprised, I suspect. So, I can be serious at the same time I’m trying to be funny.”
A complex character
And within the context of humor and heaviness, Schmidt develops a character with complexity.
“I wanted him to have complex emotions that are conflicting. So at the end of the story, for example, he’s about to go to sleep and he’s resigned himself to training Luke instead of Leia. But then he can’t go to sleep, because for the first time in a very long time, he’s eager for the next day … I wanted him to have purpose again; he’s no longer just a hermit that’s hiding out from the Empire, useless. He knows he has amazing purpose. I mean we all need that, right? We all need this sense that we have purpose, we are doing something that’s important, we are doing something that matters.
“At one point he says, ‘Luminous beings we are.’ I mean there’s this amazing optimism: ‘luminous beings we are.’ That’s pretty impressive. So that’s a line I used because I thought that was so powerful and something that is so easy to miss in our own humanity.”
It’s clear in listening to Schmidt that he enjoyed this unique project, and while he said that none of the co-authors of the anthology knew what one another was writing, they did have one thing that united them. None of the writers are getting paid, and all of the proceeds are going to First Book, an organization that provides “new books, learning materials, and other essentials to children in need”— something near and dear to Schmidt’s heart.
“I go to about 50 schools a year, many of which are those inner-city schools and libraries that have hardly any resources at all. To know that both the publishers and Lucasfilm and everyone involved in this project is aiming at supporting that—well, I’m so glad to be a part of that.”
The book is available at amazon.com and at local retailers.