A Chat With Sue Rostoni
As most of you know, Sue Rostoni, Executive Editor for Lucas Licensing, recently retired after a long and prosperous career. I’m sure she’s been enjoying retirement, but she recently journeyed back to the world of Star Wars and granted us an interview. To say that we were thrilled is an understatement!
Sue was born and raised in Northern California and has held a variety of jobs from motorcycle mechanic to carpenter, meter reader to editor. She graduated from San Francisco State University and for the past 20+ years worked for Lucas Licensing, one of the of Lucasfilm Ltd companies, retiring in July 2011 as executive editor. She lives with her dog and cat, Tiki and Butters, in the home her grandpa built.
So how does it feel to be away from the editor’s desk after so many years?
For the first month of retirement, I felt a bit adrift. Happy but not settled. I missed Monday morning talks with Jonathan Rinzler, the coffee walk to Javva the Hutt, updates from Shelly Shapiro and author email discussions, listening to Randy Stradley’s morning voicemail, and one Wednesday I was desperate for a Dark Horse script to edit. Then I went into the office for a going-away party for a co-worker and I felt so at home there – my office was still unoccupied so I was able to sit in “my” chair and soak in the feelings of being there. I must say, though, that it was awfully nice to be able to walk away from the drama and deadlines of a workplace.
Is there a particular moment on the job that, looking back, you would consider to be your favorite?
Not just one particular moment, no. I’m very fortunate to have many, many favorite moments, hours, days… The one that first comes to mind is this:
In late 1995, early 1996, I was able to work with Brian Daley as he wrote the radio dramatization for Return of the Jedi. As you might know, Brian was dying at the time and wanted so badly to complete this project. We talked by phone many, many times and although we never discussed his health, we both knew what was up and what he wanted to accomplish. I feel so honored to have been able to help Brian achieve this. Brian passed away shortly after the recording sessions ended and the cast made a thank-you cassette recording for him and sent me a copy. These are the things that give my life meaning.
Another favorite – the Fate of the Jedi author conferences – just picture Aaron Allston, Troy Denning, and Christie Golden sitting around a table with Shelly Shapiro, Leland Chee, Pablo Hidalgo, me (and others) brainstorming story ideas, character arcs, peak and low moments. The invariable questions: What should we do with Han? Leia can’t still be a diplomat! Is Jaina ready to be a Jedi Master? Doesn’t Ben need a girlfriend? And what about Zekk and Jag?? Four hours and many starts, side-tracks, and wild ideas later, fatigue-caused-hilarity would add the icing to the plot and we’d construct an overview outline. What a great way to do business.
All of us deal with challenges at work. What was your greatest challenge?
I’d have to say it was the enormity of The New Jedi Order book series. Helping twelve different authors develop 19 stories, all continuous, was a brave undertaking. History shows that series lose readers along the way, often ending with dismal sales for the last books. And those numbers were for shorter series; trilogies and the like.
So to even consider a 19-book series was bold – perhaps even foolhardy. And then to task the first author, R.A. Salvatore, with killing Chewbacca in the first book (Vector Prime) well, that was just nuts. The challenge was worth it as the story stayed strong and all nineteen books debuted on the New York Times bestseller’s list. The books certainly got fans involved – so many opinions, so much passion.
Most Expanded Universe novel “acknowledgments” mention you, thanking you for your expertise and guidance. What does that mean to you?
I remember the first time I saw my name in the acknowledgment section – I was stunned, excited, proud, thankful; a flurry of emotions. While I’m more used to it now, it’s still amazing to think that I had a part in motivating writers to do their best, and to work with Shelly and the authors in such a fabulous setting. It’s an acknowledgment that I’ve never taken lightly and that I fully appreciate.
When you sit back and look at the direction and content of the Expanded Universe timeline, how the events in the Star Wars Universe have played out, are you satisfied? Are there any regrets?
I am satisfied – many people (including Bothans) were involved in developing the Expanded Universe and I think we’ve all done an awesome job. We’ve enlarged the Solo/Skywalker family with memorable and complex characters who can take over when the older heroes “retire.” We skipped to the future in the comics with Cade Skywalker, instilling hope that Ben might live! The stories have gone beyond “the baddest weapon in the galaxy” to more personal stories of inner conflicts and relationship dilemmas. My feeling is that the line has gone well beyond the simplicity of Science Fiction/Fantasy Media Tie-ins.
Regrets – One that comes to mind is when Anakin Solo was killed in Star by Star there were some fan complaints that we didn’t adequately show character grief – we didn’t bring the readers fully into the emotional trauma of Anakin’s death, emotions the fans felt but didn’t see reflected in the characters themselves. The New Jedi Order series was pretty dark, over-all, and we’d already felt Chewie’s loss and witnessed Han sinking into despair – the thought was that we’d tone it down a bit this time and spare readers witnessing another emotional upheaval. Looking back now, we probably toned it down a bit too much.
I think it’s fair to say that most Expanded Universe fans approve of what you’ve done, and applaud your years of fan-friendliness. But you’ve certainly had your share of complaints. How do these kinds of reactions affect you?
Yes, there have certainly been some complaints! But these are complaints from people who are avid fans who feel passionate about Star Wars and the characters and who are so caught up with the galaxy they have to complain when things don’t seem right to them. Complaints can also be motivating and thought-provoking and they pushed me to look at things harder and longer. I have no issues with the passion of disagreement.
For so long, it was your job to keep up with the Expanded Universe. Do you plan to continue that, as a customer, or is it time to focus completely on other things?
I want very much to continue as both a customer and a contributor. I’ve accepted a freelance opportunity with Random House/Del Rey to edit the upcoming Star Wars: The Essential Reader’s Companion – I am very happy to be able to work with author Pablo Hidalgo, who is a good friend. This book comes out in August of next year and will have original art by Jeff Carlisle and Chris Trevas. I hope other freelance editorial opportunities will come my way and I certainly plan to read Apocalypse.
And I’m not going to stop reading the Dark Horse comics!
What will you miss most about working for Lucasfilm?
The people. Co-workers and publishers, marketing folks – the best people ever. I miss conversations with Thierry Mornet (Delcourt/France), Anne-Laure Gueganic (Editions Atlas/France), Tim Ehrhardt (Panini/Germany), and Andrew James (Titan/UK) just for a start. Shelly and Randy; Dave Marshall and Freddye Lins at Dark Horse; David Pomerico, Keith Clayton, and Erich Schoeneweiss at Random House; LFL co-workers Jonathan Rinzler, Leland Chee, Troy Alders, and so many others. I miss getting so deeply involved with something that it seeps out my pores and takes over my dreams. I miss working with a team of incredibly talented people with integrity, putting egos and ownership aside to focus on a common goal. I miss seeing artwork from start to finish and being involved with projects from that first thought through to the final book. It’s been a most amazing and rewarding career. I can’t begin to express my gratitude for these years – to be able to give the best I have and actually have it mean something. I am so lucky.
Sue, you’ve no doubt seen many messages of ‘thanks’ and ‘good-byes’, including my own. Well, I wanted to provide you with a few more. Several authors have sent us their thoughts…
[Sue's responses are in green]
“When I got started writing for Star Wars in the ’90s, Sue was the person charged with the responsibility of transitioning me from “overenthusiastic fan” to “writer that can actually turn around something we can publish.” She was exactly the person I needed, and every book I’ve had the opportunity to work on since then is a direct result of her guidance. I owe you, Sue. Best of luck”
- Daniel Wallace
Dan, only you could describe 100 planets and make each of them unique. I loved working with you, enjoyed stories of your family and dog, and those wonderful cookies you sent every year. I owe you.
“Thanks for all your ideas, input, energy and enthusiasm. It’s been a joy working with you. You will be greatly missed!”
- Sean Williams
Sean, I missed being your editor on The Force Unleashed and The Old Republic novels – I’m glad we had the Force Heretic trilogy and have enjoyed your contributions to Star Wars, and appreciate your charitable work on behalf of the Australian fire damage.
“Hey Sue! It has indeed been an honor and privilege to work with you over the past couple of decades. I’ll always remember your expertise, your passion for getting things right, and above all your willingness to listen to my side of our occasional disagreements and to work with me to find common ground. Though we authors never like having our deathless prose (grins) challenged, I know that that my books were changed for the better because you were there to help guide them along. I wish you all the best, and will look forward to seeing whatever new projects your future brings.”
- Timothy Zahn
Tim, you initiated me into the world of Star Wars fiction, apostrophes, and difficult-to-pronounce names! I will never be the same!!! Thanks so much for your excellent writing and your good nature (I know we stretched it a bit, what with killing Mara and all…..). And congratulations on the 20th Anniversary issue of Heir to the Empire. It’s fantastic!
“Sue, I hope you remember that Michael Jordan and Brett Favre both came out of retirement twice. Just saying . . .
All the best!”
- Troy Denning
Troy, what can I say? Better to leave at the top of ones game and stay gone! However, I’ll always be just an email away.
“I’m relatively new to the Galaxy Far, Far Away but straight out of the starting gate Sue welcomed me warmly and made me feel right at home. I’m going to miss her insightful editing, sure, but I think I’m going to miss her quick wit and sense of humor even more.”
- Paul S. Kemp
Paul, I so enjoyed working with you, and creating successful hyperspace collisions! Good luck with your upcoming duology – maybe I could be your early reader???
“Sue – thanks for slogging through the early drafts (that often came late) of my novels, and for your tireless work keeping the fans up to date on everything going on with the crazy publishing schedule of the SWEU. You will be missed.”
- Drew Karpyshyn
Drew, thanks for bringing Darth Bane to life in a way no one else could have. Wonderful slogging!
“Sue, my only regret about working with you is that I feel that three books are not enough. Your passion for the universe is evident and your support of your authors is utter. I am glad to have known you, and I look forward to hearing about the fun you will have in retirement!”
- Christie Golden
Christie, I’ve enjoyed our friendship as much as your books, and yes, three were not enough. You’ve are a joy to work with and a wonderful “human female.”
“Sue Rostoni was a part of our lives for many years (and a grand total of 54 Star Wars projects). She journeyed with us to galaxies far, far away, and she also always answered her phone. Thanks for adding so much magic into our careers. We couldn’t have done it without you!”
- Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta
Kevin and Rebecca, we’ve worked on so many books together – fiction and non-fiction alike. I have to admit that the Young Jedi Knights books were my favorites – thanks for making the Solo kids real and giving Star Wars a new group of heroes. Oh, and I no longer always answer my phone.
“Sue: You answered our questions, took more flak from fans than was usually warranted, and you handled yourself with grace and kindness toward fandom even when fandom sometimes morphed into an unruly mob. Your stamp on the Star Wars saga, and upon the spirit of community that fans feel with those behind the scenes will not be forgotten, and you will be sorely missed. Enjoy retirement.”
- Nathan P. Butler
Nathan, I can’t begin to explain what it meant to me to be able to interact with the fans. What other editor gets to talk directly with readers? I so loved joking, giving spoilers, responding cryptically, and referring to my 8-Ball for those tough questions. Thanks so much to you and the rest of the folks for inviting me into your arena and letting me be a part your family as you all were of mine.
Sue, thank you so much for talking with us, and we wish you all the best!
We also wish to extend a very special thanks to the authors who contributed to this article!
Sue Rostoni To Retire