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L. Neil Smith’s THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 976, June 3, 2018

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Writing The Lando Calrissian Adventures
by L. Neil Smith
lneil@netzero.com

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

It says here there’s a big legal hassle going on over who owns the intellectual property rights to sabacc, the game mentioned in Star Wars in which Han Solo won the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian. I make no such claim, myself. The game was only that single, naked word when I first ran across it, but I can tell you with absolute certainty who createdthe game, with a proper set of rules and everything.

I did—with the help of an assistant editor at Del Rey Books named Shelly Shapiro.

In 1983, I was chosen (or condemned—it depends how you look at these things), by Del Rey Books, a division of Random House, and Lucasfilm Ltd., to write three little ”exploitation” novels about the Star Wars character Lando Calrissian, specifically because I wasn’t Brian Daley, author of three similar books about another Star Wars character, Han Solo.

“Lando Calrissian, meet Londo Mollari. Lando, Londo. Londo, Lando … ”

The late Brian Daley was one of the kindest, gentlest, most generous men I’ve ever known, a colleague to be proud of, and it was bewildering trying to figure out why the movie company had told the book publisher, when arranging for the second set of books, “Anybody but Brian Daley!”

Brian loved Millennium Falcon. He was like a little kid when he got invited to go out to Hollywood and was most excited that he got to clamber around inside the set. But it turned out that he had accidentally and unknowingly allowed himself to become associated with the losing faction in some kind of petty internal corporate feud and found himself rendered persona non grata.

My editor at Del Rey obligingly brought my name up. I was extremely reluctant to write in anybody else’s corpus, but I needed the money very badly—around that time I’d spent two weeks with nothing in the house to eat but a bag of shredded coconut. When requested, my editor sent LucasFilm a “sample” of my work—a copy of my highly-political libertarian first novel, The Probability Broach. I’d love to have been there, a fly on the wall, when they saw it. Remember Beaker, from Muppet Labs, with a shock of bright red hair, a big red nose, great big eyes, whimpering and terrified of every known phenomenon? It must have been a lot like that.

In any case, LucasFilm freaked out, and, hypocritically asked that Brian be brought back into the project as my co-author, apparently to temper my politically incorrect passions. My editor told me later that he blew up dramatically, and told them “These are authors we’re dealing with here, not Hollywood writers, they don’t write by committee!” They backed down eventually, but I had to promise I would write no politics in the books—which, given the attitude they were displaying, I interpreted to mean as much politics as I could possibly squeeze in before they squealed.

I was told to write about Lando but leave all otherStar Wars characters and other things alone (I did end up using mynocks). I told them I would have the spaceship, or I would give the project a miss. Brian started calling us “the Brotherhood of the Falcon”. My editor advised me to politely decline any invitations to come to Hollywood, and stay out of company politics, which I gladly did. I invented a number of animals for the books but was told that only animals made up by George Lucas could be capitalized.

In the beginning, they gave me sixteen weeks to write three books which I regarded as tough, but doable. “But wait! We have to approve your outlines first!” And by the time they finished—altering my arch-villain Rokur Gepta to something other than a “Dark Lord of Sith” and making other insignificant changes, I had nine weeks left. For two and a half months, I got up each morning and wrote. My cute little fiancee came home for lunch and then I wrote. We had supper and I wrote. Then I collapsed and started the whole thing over the next day. Forget anything resembling a real life. This was just before word processors came along, and I did the whole thing in one draft, as Robert Heinlein advised, on a Sperry-Remington knock-off of an IBM Selectric II. It took a long, long time to recover my health.

I showed Lando as a young man, deciding to grow a mustache. He was a roving gambler and the game he played was sabacc. The only thing that saved what little sanity I had to begin with was the anagrams: I had recently written Their Majesties’ Bucketeers for which it was necessary to create an alien language. It was basically a simple letter substitution code, but with consonants and vowels arranged so it looked like a real, spoken language. The alien words and names in the Lando trilogy are a variation on that, except that they translate as comments on the conditions I was working under, the pittance (talk about “crumbs”, Nancy!) I was being paid, and the Hollywood idiots I was working with.

Another prank I intended to play was to write to my publisher, Judy-Lynn del Rey on fake letterhead, over a false name, thanking her for publishing the Lando books in the name of the National Association of Black Armenians, but I let my editor talk me out of it. Judy-Lynn, it seemed, had no sense of humor.

Pittance? Oh, yeah. A few years ago, at a convention in Albuquerque, I sat next to another, fairly famous author on a panel. He spent his time whimpering that one of the franchises had started limiting authors’ advances—why, he could never have bought his second, summer home in the Rockies at that rate! I sat there, doing a slow burn, not knowing who to be mad at. The figure he was complaining about was three times what I had received for all three Lando books, and the one and only time I ever received a decent royalty check was when I threatened to sue.

For those interested in trivia, one of the books has Lando and his faithful robotic companion, Vuffy Raa, wandering through a maze. That maze was a Parcheesi board and I miss Vuffy (who was based on a deep-sea brittle star) every day and would love to write about him again, but according to the terms of my “work for hire” contract (which also cut my normal royalty rate in half), he belongs to LucasFilm.

More trivia: even 35 years ago, I was known as a very gunny writer. I didn’t want this trilogy to be about that, but about the Millennium Falcon and young Lando living by his wits. But there are lots of nifty weapons in adventure stories and space operas, and Star Wars is no different. So I settled on Lando’s five-shot last resort “stingbeam”, based on the tiny North American Arms .22 that George H. W. Bush whined so plaintively about.

Finally, I’ve been hearing lately that some bucket-headed hack who scribbles for the franchise has trendily decided that Lando Calrissian is gay—or at least swings both ways—sometimes with robots! I don’t know who decides such things, and I don’t have anything against gays (or robots, for that matter), but as someone who lived inside his head for nine exhausting weeks in 1983, let me assure you that Lando likes girls.

People often want to know if I would do it again. Would I write again for LucasFilm or some other movie franchise? It’s not likely anybody would ask, but I’m a writer. I suppose I would. They would have to give me a lot more time and pay me a hell of a lot more money.

I could use a summer home in the Rockies.

 

 

L. Neil Smith


Publisher and Senior Columnist L. Neil Smith is the author of over thirty books, mostly science fiction novels, L. Neil Smith has been a libertarian activist since 1962. His many books and those of other pro-gun libertarians may be found (and ordered) at L. Neil Smith’s THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE “Free Radical Book Store” The preceding essays were originally prepared for and appeared in L. Neil Smith’s THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE. Use them to fight the continuing war against tyranny.

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