Fantasy author Django Wexler is a lifelong Star Wars fan and has always wanted to write a story set in that universe. He got his wish last year when his short story “Amara Kel’s Rules for TIE Fighter Pilot Survival (Probably)” appeared in the anthology The Empire Strikes Back: From a Certain Point of View.
“The idea is to show the points of view of characters in these movies who are not the main characters,” Wexler says in Episode 474 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I was really glad to be a part of it. It was a really fun challenge.”
Wexler’s story focuses on the lives of TIE fighter pilots, who are generally treated as faceless cannon fodder in the Star Wars films. “I had gotten really into the X-Wing Miniatures Game—which is just an X-wings vs. TIE fighters game you play on a tabletop—and that had expanded on the lore a little bit, so I wanted to dive into that in a short story,” Wexler says. “So when they told me to do one from Empire Strikes Back, this is what I came up with as a TIE fighter pilot story.”
The films depict TIE fighters as incredibly reckless, frequently diving into narrow spaces and colliding with asteroids, cruisers, and each other, which makes Wexler think that TIE fighter pilots must be subject to intense propaganda. “I really wanted to do the perspective of someone who had kind of seen through that and was done with this bullshit,” he says. “And so her rules are all very much about, ‘Let the other guys be the ones who fly into the asteroids, if you want to live through a tour of duty.’”
Wexler hopes his story makes viewers think about the fact that most TIE fighter pilots are probably unfortunate conscripts with families who love them. “Nobody really wants to be reminded that all the guys who get shot or punched or thrown off a bridge during these action movies are people,” he says. “That’s the reason that when the rebels are attacking the Death Star, we can see all the rebels’ faces, and the TIE fighter guys are all wearing masks. It’s so that we can have this fantasy of consequence-free violence.”
Listen to the complete interview with Django Wexler in Episode 474 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Django Wexler on novellas:
“Tor.com has done amazing work in the novella space, and it’s really been one of my ambitions to write a novella for them someday, because there have just been so many—Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries and Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series; there’s a great one called Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday, which I love—and just on and on. There are all these great novellas that they’ve done. … It’s ebooks, basically. The problem is that you can’t price a real book at $2.99 and have bookstores stock it—it’s just not worth their time. And conversely you can’t price a novella at $12 and expect to sell all that many copies. And so the availability of ebooks has just sort of changed the basic economics of it to make this possible.”
Django Wexler on magic:
“A lot of the magic systems in the harder fantasy stuff—and most of what I write is a ‘hard’ magic system type of thing—does have a kind of computer-y bent, sometimes more explicitly than others. … In my first fantasy series, The Shadow Campaigns, one of the things that it explores is that there’s the underlying truth of the magic system, which I worked out in a kind of vague way, but then all the different cultures who are exposed to it, and learn to manipulate it, do so with different ideas about what it actually is and how it works. And for whatever reason, that feels like a very computer-y concept to me, that you have this underlying reality, but reality is also defined by how people use it.”
Django Wexler on Asimov’s magazine:
“The first story I ever wrote—which I wrote when I was 15—I wrote it and I showed it to my dad, and he thought it was really good. What he said to me was, ‘You know how when you do something, we often tell you that it’s good because we love you and we want to support you?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I understand that.’ And he’s like, ‘Well, this isn’t that. I think this is really good.’ Anyway, we sent it to Asimov’s but they didn’t take it, which in retrospect is probably for the best. But it cemented Asimov’s as the market for science fiction for me—no slight to the other magazines, but that was the one I read. So finally getting to sell something to them was definitely an achievement.”
Django Wexler on his short story “REAL”:
“That one began life as Sailor Moon fan fiction. It was a story that I wrote back in my fan fiction days, and I should say none of the actual words in the fan fiction turned into this story, because I just sat down and wrote it again. … It was about a person in the real world who sees what he thinks is a game/TV show bleeding into the real world. But the basic concept and the ending stinger is all from that old story. I kind of genericized it a little bit, so it’s not actually based on any particular work of fiction anymore. So that was a good example of repurposing an old story, and not even copying any of the words from one document to another but just taking another crack at a concept and doing it better, I hope.”