The Star Wars Universe has captured the imaginations of millions. The story that began with the original blockbuster films has spread to books, graphic novels, television series, toys, and more. Star Wars audiobooks have always been a special production. Featuring sound effects straight from the movies combined with the compelling intergalactic adventure of the Star Wars novels, our Star Wars Audiobooks allow fans to enjoy their favorite Star Wars sounds and stories. Because these productions are so specialized, we interviewed Kevin Thomsen, who has directed and produced Star Wars audiobooks for Random House for twenty years.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What first attracted you to work in Audio Production? How long have you been directing audiobook productions?
I’ve been producing and directing audiobooks for the past 20 years. Right from the beginning, audiobooks have been a perfect fit for me, combining my love of books, performance, and sound.
How long have you been directing Star Wars audiobooks?
Wow, I’ve been producing Star Wars audiobooks from the very beginning of my career. One of my first jobs was producing, as a boxed set, abridged versions of the novelizations of Episodes IV, V, and VI, sometime back in the mid-1990s. Tony Roberts was the reader. He was great with many of the voices, though his Han was maybe a tad too Humphrey Bogart. Shortly after that I produced a mammoth, multi-voiced production of Tales of the Jedi, adapted from the Dark Horse graphic novel. It was something like 26 actors in over 50 roles. Mark Feurstein (from Royal Pains) played one of the leads, before he broke out and became famous.
When did you first see the Star Wars movies? What did the movies mean to you?
The summer of 1977. I was living in Berkeley, CA. Me and some friends were making a super-8 sci-fi film, utilizing Ray Harryhausen’s rear screen projection technique’s. We came down out of the hills, after we shot some scene or other, to watch The Man Who Fell To Earth at the Elmwood Cinema. The trailer for Star Wars played before the film. HOLY S**T. The feature film was okay. But you can bet we all stayed to watch the Star Wars trailer again. We had never seen anything like it. I can’t impress upon you the effect this had on us. A few minutes ago were figuring out how to have an alien death ray kill a teenage kid. And now, here we were, watching Dystraflex. It was life changing. I went on to see each film on opening day. And then repeat visits.
What makes a Star Wars audiobook different from other audiobooks you’ve worked on previously?
Over the years I’ve produced/directed over a thousand audiobooks. I would guess that something like 80 of those have been in the Star Wars universe. What makes them different, and special, is both the quality of the performances, and the quality of the wall-to-wall music and sound effects production. The main two SW narrators I’ve had the good fortune of working with, Marc Thompson and Jonathan Davis, have each narrated dozens of Star Wars books. I can’t tell you what a treat it is to watch both Marc and Jonathan slip into the old, familiar characters like putting on a pair of treasured, well-worn gloves. And there’s nothing I can say about John William’s music and the sound effects created by Skywalker Sound that hasn’t been said before—it’s simply the best. All of this combines for the fullest, most complete, most fully-realized science fiction spoken word entertainment on the planet. (Sorry for the hyperbole.)
When casting for a Star Wars audiobook, do you look for any specific qualities in a narrator?
The most important thing for any audiobook narrator is a strong story-telling ability. The trick for Star Wars narrators is finding someone with the story-telling chops who can also voice Yoda, Han, Luke, Leia, Lando, C-3PO, Jabba, Vader, Obi-wan, etc. There are plenty of mimics running around who can pull off a good Yoda. But can they act? And drive a story? There aren’t many folks out there who can do all that. It’s a rare mixture of talent, craft, and nerd.
What has been your favorite Star Wars audiobook to work on, and why?
This is a tough question. I’ve been thinking about it for a few hours, and if I had to pick (and I don’t want to pick) is the Heir to the Empire anniversary release, with annotation. Why? Not because the narration was any better than Marc Thompson’s usual out-of-the-park blockbuster work. And also not because my production was especially amazing (as it usually is, he said, pretending to be modest). No, what made it great for me were Timothy Zahn’s words. Seeing the first muscle stretching and expanding of George Lucas’s universe. Taking note of the all the many things that Zahn introduced that worked, and kept going in all the future SW books, and the things that either worked or not, but didn’t catch on. FASCINATING. In a totally nerdilicious way.