Covering the Saga: Clayton Sandell, Part 2

From Lobot to London, reporting on Star Wars

With the cast of Rogue One…

Yesterday, in Part 1, we asked ABC News Clayton Sandell about his work, reporting hard news, the entertainment beat, and how he came to be a Star Wars fan. Today, we delve into Clayton’s fandom, determine what pieces of the Saga move him, and ask about his hopes for the future of the franchise. Enjoy Part 2 of the Q & A.

What is your favorite SW property (film, show, book, comic)? Why?

I am primarily a movie guy, and ESB and “Rogue One” rank up there as my favorites. I love watching “Rebels” and was sorry to see it end, although the animation folks have some great stuff planned. I try to read all the books (just finished “First Shot”) and loved the way “Catalyst” really gave me a deeper understanding of “Rogue One,” especially the relationship between Galen Erso and Orson Krennic. The comics have been a lot of fun.  (We did a limited live stream series on the Vader comics in partnership with Marvel last year.)

I do love the books, except for the times when they deal with things that are a little too analogous to real life.  I remember a brief mention in “Catalyst” for example, where the Ersos had to deal with subletting their apartment before moving off-planet. And in “Last Shot” you had a droid who kept going on about brewing “caf.” It’s a tiny peeve of mine and absolutely no reflection on the very talented authors. I just prefer not to be reminded of real-life stuff that sometimes infringes on the space opera fantasy vibe.

As for video games, I love Battlefront. I was spending a lot of time playing it up until a few weeks ago, usually at the end of the day to unwind after the kids went to bed. But then one night, my four-year-old threw a lightsaber hilt while playing, destroying the TV screen. So I essentially got a forced break from all video games for a while.

As for Battlefront II, I’m admittedly not a very good gamer, and I felt like I’d just gotten comfortably skilled at Battlefront when the new one was released, and I didn’t want to immediately abandon it. But then I ran into the lovely Janina Gavankar and felt kind of guilty that I didn’t have much to say about the game yet. The TV’s fixed now, so I’m sure I’ll be diving back into it soon!

What do you expect from Solo? 

You know, with Star Wars, or any film, really, my goal is to go into a theater without expectations, to the extent that’s possible in the age of social media, fear of missing out, et cetera.  Like Luke going into the cave on Dagobah, I hear a little Yoda-voice in my head as I walk into the theater: “Your expectations… you will not need them.”  I learned my lesson I think with the prequels. I don’t hate the prequels, but watching The Phantom Menace trailer over and over again, I had built it up so much in my head and knew exactly in MY mind what they were supposed to be. I think there was no way I wasn’t going to be let down, and so it was partially my own fault.  So when it comes to “Solo,” I try really hard not to have any expectations, other than wanting it to be fun, a great story, and true to the spirit of Star Wars. I will admit, however, that “Solo” has me the most nervous for a purely personal reason, which is, Harrison Ford. The man was (and still is, really) like a god to me. (I dressed up as Indiana Jones, like, three Halloweens in a row, circa 4-5-6th grade.) And this will be the first time we’ve seen a new actor give a new take on a Holy Trinity (Luke-Leia-Han) character, so it’s kind of a big deal. But look, I have a tremendous amount of faith in the filmmakers and actors and can’t wait to see what they’ve done. I think Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover are just fantastic. Thandie Newton? Spectacular. And how can you go wrong with Clint Howard, people!?! The more I watch the trailers and TV-spots, the more excited I get.

What is the central question you’d like answered in Solo?

Biggest question for Solo: “Is Qi’ra or Val Rey’s grandmother?” Just kidding. Just give me some popcorn and let’s go for a fun ride. I try never to go into a movie with questions like this because most of the time you’re not going to get a personally satisfactory answer. And if you get disappointed because a movie didn’t answer YOUR question, well, you can only blame yourself. I want to be surprised.

How well do you think Star Wars has integrated the various properties? Do you miss the EU?

I think the way that Lucasfilm and the Story Group have integrated the properties is brilliant, and in my case, it’s led me to be much more interested in things like, for example, the books and comics. Here’s why. As a diehard fan of the film chronology, I always wanted my Star Wars stories to have continuity. And the EU stuff didn’t. Nothing against any one of them individually, I just lost interest in keeping up with all of it.  I had my movie canon, and I was happy. But in the new canon, it’s really quite fun to see how storylines and various character threads get woven together on-screen, in books, comics, theme parks, and video games. One of my favorite examples is C-3PO’s red arm and how it never gets explained in “The Force Awakens.” I really dig the fact that the only way to find out what that red arm was about was to go to the comics for what is a really great and poignant story. So, sorry EU fans, I empathize with a lot of you, but I don’t miss the EU.

If you had a chance to pen a stand-alone Star Wars film what would the subject be?

“Lobot: A Star Wars Story.” Or maybe an all-bounty hunters film. Bossk and IG-88 out there tearing it up.

Do you harbor any concerns about JJ helming Episode IX? Howard on Han Solo? Rian Johnson’s new trilogy?

Nah. I mean, c’mon, they’re all experienced, proven filmmakers all capable of making great movies. And they’re working with a great, dedicated team at Lucasfilm including Kathleen Kennedy, the Story Group, and everyone in between.

Talk about recent Star Wars events/stories: What were your impressions? 

I’ve been lucky enough to go to a couple of Star Wars premieres now, and especially for someone who is not an entertainment reporter, there’s nothing like it. Full-sized X-Wings! Gorilla walkers! At one point during The Last Jedi premiere, my wife and I looked around and saw John Williams, Larry Kasdan, Kathleen Kennedy, Mark Hamill, Rian Johnson all within spitting distance. If you’re not having a surreal, out-of-body experience at these things, you may want to check your pulse and call paramedics.

Any negatives about covering Star Wars?

The fear that it will ever feel like work. So, far, it hasn’t come close! But I do bruise from all the times I get to do something fun and pinch myself to make sure it’s real.

I do think one big downside to paying close attention to all things Star Wars is the troll factor. People who, for whatever unhappy reasons are tainting their personal lives, feel compelled to crap all over other people and tell them why it’s wrong to love that certain thing they love. That bums me out, especially the way women seem to be targeted much more than men. Star Wars is for everybody. You can take what you want and leave what you don’t. I didn’t love the prequels, but I certainly can appreciate where they fit into the bigger picture and that a good number of fans think they are wonderful.  Like my son, who LOVES Jar Jar and everything about the prequels.) That you feel the need to bully someone over a MOVIE says a lot more about you than the fans who love those movies or the people who made them. Sorry pal, it wasn’t Rian Johnson who ruined your childhood.  For the real reason, you’ll need to talk to a therapist.

I’m glad when things like sexism and racism in fandom get called out. It has no place in Star Wars. I’m excited to get new voices and viewpoints telling stories in this universe, and I think it’s powerful to hear people say how much they appreciate seeing characters on screen who look like them. That’s something I always took for granted as a kid, but I’ve grown to appreciate just how important it is to have people feel included. If we want Star Wars to keep going and stay fresh (who doesn’t want THAT?), we’ve got to have some new creative blood, both on screen and behind the camera.

Tell me about interviews: What is it like to interview Mark Hamill, Rian Johnson, et al? 

Any interview with people at ILM or Skywalker Sound is always fun. The people are so smart and really good at helping translate what they do into plain English.

And there are still a lot of people at ILM who I read about in books growing up, which is surreal. When we did the Rogue One VFX special for Nightline, I was like a kid in a candy store. Interviewing people like Russell Paul, Mike Jutan, John Levin, Landis Fields, Nigel Sumner, Paul Giacoppo, Hal Hickel (who lived in my hometown of Riverside until he was 10) and John Knoll was beyond cool. But you ask me for a real geek-out moment; I’d have to go with Dennis Muren. I saw him standing with his wife by themselves at the Rogue One premiere, and I shot right toward him like a groupie. I’m sure I was a blubbering idiot, but man, that guy has a hand in a stupid-crazy amount of iconic images and innovations in so many films.  It was a real treat to meet him.

With Rian Johnson…

Interviewing the cast of Rogue One at Lucasfilm was a highlight. They are all such gracious and charming people. But yeah, Mark Hamill really ranks up there as one of the biggest, most nerve-racking interviews. I mean, he’s been Luke Skywalker to me since I was FOUR years old! I’d met him once before, but this was the first time I’d interviewed him. It’s tough. He’s a hero to me. But my journalist-instinct is to try to pull him off script a bit, away from the stories and anecdotes he’s told before in junkets and on the red carpet, and that can be really difficult. Sitting him down with his wife and daughter for an interview was really special, because he doesn’t do many (if any) TV interviews with them, and we didn’t really talk a lot of Star Wars. We talked about family, about traveling the world together, and about Carrie. I think the end result was a really sincere, unique conversation.

Rian is someone that I’m just completely in awe of as a storyteller, and he’s always just the nicest dude. I first met him in 2016, backstage at Star Wars Celebration London. I was so grateful he joined us for “The Force of Sound” interview, and for the supportive Tweets once it came out. He and I are about the same age and have a few common interests, like our mutual love for They Might Be Giants, so it’s always a treat to chat with him. But what so impresses me about Rian is how engaging he is with fans on Twitter, even ones who don’t have nice things to say. This guy could have made his film and ridden a dewback into the twin sunset to the sound of box office cash registers breaking from overuse, and ignored anyone with a crossword. But the fact that he seems to get (at least some) enjoyment out of the contentious fandom-back-and-forth, and never seems bitter about it, makes him worthy of sainthood. We’ve never had a Star Wars director who engages fans on this level, and it’s truly special. I hope he never gets burned out by it.

How do you maintain composure when you interview someone you really admire?

Breathe. Just… breathe.

Thank you Clayton! MTFBWY…. JB


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John Bishop

A graduate of Boston and Northeastern universities, John Bishop became the beat reporter for prior to the B’s 2006-07 hockey season. While with the Bruins, “Bish” traveled North America and Europe to cover the Black & Gold’s every move via laptop, blog, and smart phone. The co-author of two books, Bygone Boston and Full 60 to History: The Inside Story of the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins, John covered the XXI Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver in 2010 and the B’s 2011 championship run and banner raising before taking a faculty/communications position at a prep school outside Boston in 2013. He lives with his wife Andrea and sons Jack, Scott, and Luke in central Massachusetts.
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