Influences: Star Wars

  • Written by Beth Woodward
    Category: Influences
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Written by Beth Woodward

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Okay, not really. It was the spring of 1997, and I was living in Louisville, Kentucky at the time. That was when I watched the original Star Wars trilogy on VHS. I can’t remember what prompted me to watch it, or why, but I immediately fell in love with them. I was a 13-year-old girl then, and my father had just passed away a few months before. We’d always had a difficult relationship—mostly the usual angsty teen BS, but it didn’t seem so at the time—so the story of Luke and his troubled (to say the least) relationship with his father resonated with me, particularly their reconciliation at the end.

(And no, my father was not a Sith Lord. He was an actuary. Though, to be honest, I’m still not sure what an actuary does. So maybe he was a Sith Lord after all.)

With The Force Awakens coming out next month, I think it’s a good time to confess that, had I not watched them, The Demon Within would not be the book that it became.

My initial self-identification with Luke and Vader has long passed, but my love of the movies has always remained constant in the face of adulthood, special editions, and prequels (shudder). Truth is, I didn’t realize just how much I’d been influenced by Star Wars until after I was finished with the book and looked back. On the surface, the story of a half-demon woman with an unfortunate tendency to black out and kill people doesn’t have much in common with George Lucas’s space saga. But I think we all tend to be magpies when we’re writing, picking up bits and pieces here and there that manifest in our later work. And I can’t deny that Star Wars had a tremendous amount of influence on my teen years. (There may, in fact, be a picture of me superimposed on top of Princess Leia’s body, but I can neither confirm nor deny that.)

Breaking down the similarities:

• Both Luke and my heroine, Dale, have issues with presumed-dead parents. In Star Wars, Luke believes his father is dead until Obi-Wan tells him otherwise. Dale doesn’t know anything about her demonic heritage until a mysterious guy named John crashes into her life and tells her that she’s half demon, and that her mother is basically the leader of the demon world. It’s a lot to take in.

• Both Luke and Dale are reluctant heroes. Luke might bitch and moan about wanting more adventure, but his knee-jerk reaction when Obi-Wan comes a-callin’ is to run back to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru on the farm. Dale has run away from everything for the last 10 years, so her inclination when the demon world starts creeping in is just to run again.

• Mind-control powers. Well, we all know that “these are not the droids you’re looking for.” Dale also has mind-control abilities, and even refers to them once or twice as “pulling an Obi-Wan.”

But these are kind of gimmies. Parental issues, reluctant heroism, and mind-control powers are common tropes in sci-fi and fantasy, not just Lucas’s universe. But what really resonated with me when I watched the original trilogy was the emotional story. Luke insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that there must be some good left in his father. After the revelation in The Empire Strikes Back, he spends the next movie trying, desperately, to save Vader. And Luke was right: in the end, Vader kills the Emperor, sacrificing himself to save his son. Good triumphs over evil in the end.

The original trilogy paints the battle of good vs. evil in very broad strokes: the Emperor is bad, Obi-Wan and Yoda are good, and we know instantly which side is which because they wear handy-dandy color-coded outfits. But there’s an ambiguity there that the original trilogy never explores too deeply. Clearly, Darth Vader wasn’t all bad, since he saved Luke. But does that one act of goodness negate all the horrific things Vader did during his life? What about someone like Han Solo, a rogue and a smuggler (who definitely shot Greedo first, much as Lucas still struggles with that decision) who ends up becoming one of the Rebellion’s biggest heroes and Princess Leia’s love interest?

Those are the things I wanted to explore in The Demon Within. Dale might be my heroine, but she’s also spent the last decade running away from prosecution for all the people she’s killed. John may have all the sexiness and swagger of a romance novel protagonist, but he’s hiding things that could get Dale killed.

Most of all, I wanted to explore the idea of whether the bad guy could really be the good guy, and vice versa? Could the guy you think is good really be bad? Or maybe nobody is really bad or good at all, but all these shades in between that make things more complicated and interesting.


About Beth Woodward

Beth Woodward enjoys traveling, going to sci-fi/fantasy conventions, watching movies, and reading voraciously. She is a rabid Doctor Who fan and spends a lot of time with her two cats. She currently lives in the Washington D.C. area.

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