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Since joining MSW earlier this year, I have been buoyed by my compatriots on the site. High on that support list has been reporter/podcaster Steele Saunders, whose lead by example approach to his craft and behind the scenes backing of all of us here on MakingStarWars.net has been instrumental in my efforts to learn the trade. As you’ve heard described elsewhere, his enthusiasm for covering (and loving) Star Wars is legendary, and I was thrilled to be able to ask him some questions about his work. Please pursue the links throughout the piece, as well as the photo gallery at the end, as they’ will give a little more complete a picture of the breadth of his expertise than any Q & A could…
I’d describe you as a Star Wars/Podcasting guru. Is that accurate? How would you describe yourself?
I’d be pretty hesitant to go with the guru tag, but I appreciate the sentiment. My card says comedian, presenter, podcaster & writer. It depends on the day.
What’s your schedule? How many days do you work?
My schedule is pretty much TRY AND GET EVERYTHING DONE. I’m not the most organized person, but I’m pretty good at juggling many things at once. I have a home office in West Hollywood, so I start work around 8:30 AM and go through to around 6:30 PM, then, if I can squeeze it in, I’ll do a few more hours work. This ranges from the actual fun part of recording shows to the less fun parts like show notes and prepping the audio files. Over a week, I try to get out four Star Wars podcasts consisting of an interview “Steele Wars” episode, the “Call-In Show” and two Patreon bonus shows; all that plus one episode of my comedy podcast, “I Love Green Guide Letters.” Also, right now, we’re developing a secret pop culture TV/digital show, so that’s been taking up a little time too.
What type of stories do you like to cover/tell?
I like personal stories the most. One of a kind memories…
From Fan to Family
Describe how you progressed from being a fan into your current position…
While I’m still very much a fan, I got “here” by having a clear view of how I thought Star Wars should be reported on and talked about; honest, objective, accessible and fun. The initial concept of the podcast was a Star Wars podcast for people who don’t normally listen to Star Wars podcasts.
What is your earliest memory of Star Wars? What do you think drew you to the franchise?
My earliest memory is going into a toy shop in the early 80’s and seeing a wall of figures. From my perspective, the rows of pegs went forever. I think what initially drew me in was simply aliens and lasers, but as you grow older, you realize there is so much more in the mythology. I remember Luke’s internal struggle in the Emperor’s throne room being so confusing when I was little: “JUST CUT HIS HEAD OFF LUKE.” But as you get older you begin to take in the wisdom of not using your power in fits of anger.
In what ways did it open up your imagination for other things you’ve encountered professionally (and personally)?
I think, professionally, it’s changed me in just realizing that power of enthusiasm. People enjoy seeing people really excited about something. Particularly when The Force Awakens came out, I received a lot of “non-hardcore” Star Wars fan feedback from people in the media saying that they were just enjoying how bursting with joy I was during TV crosses covering the release.
Has Star Wars made your family/friends closer?
It’s given me family worldwide. I’m very grateful for all the cool friends it’s given me. An eclectic bunch for sure…
On the IP
What’s your favorite SW property (film, show, book, comic)? Why?
Return Of The Jedi is the greatest thing to ever to projected on a giant white wall. The Sarlacc battle is what Star Wars is about: fulfilling your destiny, helping out your friends, and, of course, lightsabers.
Do you read Star Wars books? What makes for a good one? What is your favorite? What’s your preferred medium?
Due to time constraints I normally hit the audiobooks, which I think are really well produced. I wonder if Mr. Bones is as fun without the voice they do in the recordings? I did read Lost Stars, which is perhaps my favorite book thus far. Things got pretty steamy!
What about the comics?
I have a very conflicted relationship with the comics. I don’t think the writers are pushing themselves far enough. And, for example, Luke is blind while fighting Boba Fett; that’s some Star Wars Ring Theory.
Are you a Battlefront fan? Looking forward to BF2?
I’d be too paranoid about getting podcasts out to dedicate time to Battlefront. Although it looks amazing. I kind of think the whole process of booking a guest, recording, editing, cover art, show notes are my own little video game that I play too much on the internet.
How well do you think Star Wars has integrated the various properties? Do you miss the EU?
I don’t miss the EU at all. There were some good stories in there and, at the time, I loved the Zahn stuff; the Bounty Hunter Trilogy was always a fav, but it all got a little bogged down for me when it was too far removed from the films.
Talk about SW Celebration/D23/SDCC: What were your impressions? Were they fun? Stressful? Do you enjoy conventions in general?
“Celebration” is the best to cover as the place is just chock full of friends. I like to do an episode a day at conventions, and it’s so easy to get content at Celebration. You just walk 10 meters, and you bump into a good guest for the show. Plus the constant feedback you get from listeners there is good for the soul. It’s a little overwhelming to meet all the happy people behind the download numbers, but it’s super cool. SDCC this year was a little soft with a lack of Star Wars film panel and D23 combining all the Disney owned film studios into one presentation wasn’t to my taste – I didn’t find D23 to be that satisfying if you were just there for Star Wars. However, the conventions are always fun and nowadays a little less stressful, as I can hit up Eric Strothers or Paul Jones to help prep the episodes. I used to end each day by trying to edit that day’s podcast, which was just brutal.
Any negatives about covering Star Wars?
I guess the misconception of some fans that if you’re critical of something that you’re some type of “hater.” To me, if everything is good, nothing is good. I cringe a little at the compliment of “you’re so positive.” I’d much rather be recognized for being honest. Getting props for positivity sounds like “thanks for telling us everything is great all the time.” Being described as “enthusiastic” is a little more to my taste. I actually love hearing well thought out differing opinions of Star Wars, that’s what keeps it interesting, in terms of how people interpreted Star Wars differently.
What is it like to interview Kathleen Kennedy? Star Wars actors? What is your biggest interview? Your favorite interview? Audio or video?
The Kathleen Kennedy interview was a whirlwind, as I had no idea she would be doing interviews as part of the press row at Celebration. I have been told it was just going to be the cast and Rian, so it was a pleasant surprise, but I remember desperately trying to come up with some questions worthy of the opportunity.
It was strange that the Kathleen interview got a little heat online about the perceived vagueness of her reply to the re-release of the Original Trilogy. I think she answered the question pretty clearly, but some people were furious that I didn’t press her harder on it. To me, she answered it; she laughed off the thought. I tell you something though that Kathleen video opened my eyes to just the belligerent sexism in online fandom. Some of the comments about her on that video – what is wrong with these people? So much anger. So much hostility. It’s super fun to be caught up and enthusiastic about what you like and don’t like in the space film, but genuine hate is just baffling. I know any woman reading this is thinking “yeah, you don’t say…”
I guess the biggest interview was with Harrison Ford, which appeared on Studio 10 in Australia. It was peak The Force Awakens hype with one of the biggest movie stars of all time. I wish I were a little more concise with my questions, but we had a good rapport, and it was a fun interaction for the segment.
Both audio and video have their benefits. Normally audio is a long-form interview, a real deep dive, which I really enjoy. Conversely, video is normally for TV and with big names, so that’s, of course, exciting. I actually love the challenge of coming up with TV questions that fans like us will enjoy, but will also be of interest to the average morning television viewer. Also, I really try to hit questions that the guest hasn’t been asked 12 times that day. I really enjoy the challenge of planning that stuff out.
It’s really hard to pinpoint my favorite podcast interview, most of them are a recording of my friendship with that person, and so I hold many of them, dear. I guess the Leonard Maltin one was extra special as I grew up watching him on Entertainment Tonight and studied those George Lucas interviews he did so hard. My mother was also good…
My favorite episode is probably The Force Awakens reaction podcast that we recorded live to 250 or so people at 2:30 AM after the midnight première. It was just a celebration. And the group experiences are my favorites.
How do you keep up composure when you interview someone you really admire?
Once I get them to laugh, I’m fine. I’m like a needy clown.
Always in Motion is the Future
What would you like to see next on the big screen? Small screen?
To me, Star Wars needs to push itself into a different era. I’d love to see Lucasfilm take on the challenge of developing a new aesthetic in a different time period. I don’t want an endless stream of “fill in the gap” movies; let what happened on Ord Mantell stay on Ord Mantell. Let’s go 500 years in the past for a new Star Wars franchise or go into the underworld. If they could get that to work that’s the most profitable route as you’d have an all-new galaxy of characters, ships, and stories to market.
If you had to boil the Star Wars universe down to one line, conversation, or scene in SW what would it be?
I think Star Wars is about coming through for your friends. Being true when it counts. “Great shot kid, that was one in a million…”
If you had to do the same for your career, what would it be?
Finally, does Star Wars still set the standard for storytelling? How will Lucas be remembered?
I think TV sets the standard for storytelling. Shows like Better Call Saul and Westworld. It’s too hard to judge the current era of Star Wars yet, let’s see how this trilogy pans out. It’s going to be interesting to see what threads are tidied up. I’d love to be able to watch TFA’s “Force Back” in 3 years and know what’s up in each cut.
Finally, George Lucas will be known as one of history’s greatest nerds.
As will you, Mr. Saunders. As will you… JB