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

The light from those words fell upon the face of Leominster (Mass.) High School student Bob Salvatore as he sat in the front row of the crowded movie theater.

He never imagined that twenty years later, he'd be writing his own Star Wars adventures.

Vector Prime, a hardcover novel by R.A. Salvatore, is the first book in The New Jedi Order series of Star Wars novels. The entire saga will span twenty-five books, involving a variety of authors. Vector Prime was written for all Star Wars audiences; whether they've only seen the movies or have also read the many novels, they will be at home with familiar characters and places. Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Lando, and R2-D2 will explore a universe that still includes familiar sights, such as Coruscant, X-Wings, and – yes, the Millennium Falcon.

"The Millennium Falcon was as much a part of Han Solo's character as the motorcycle was to Fonzie," said Salvatore. "I tried to add a new bank of guns [to the Falcon]. LucasFilms said 'Do not mess with the Millennium Falcon! Use it, absolutely – do not change it!'"

Readers should not expect a continuation of the movies, though; the events in Lucas' original trilogy occurred twenty-one years ago in the Star Wars universe. "The characters shouldn't be going around as though those movies happened yesterday," Salvatore went on to say. The New Jedi Order introduces an entirely new threat for both the heroes who defeated the Empire and their progeny.

It was LucasFilm that approached Salvatore with the offer to begin The New Jedi Order. For the first arc, LucasFilm gave Salvatore specific events to include while writing his way from Point A to Point B. He referenced dictionaries, encyclopedias, and tapped the knowledge of other Star Wars novelists to ensure everything he wrote was appropriate for the Star Wars universe.

Writing Star Wars books had never occurred to Salvatore before LucasFilm's offer. "Star Wars pushed me in the direction of escapist fun. I had never made the connection between the writing and the movies." It was about the time Lucas' movies came out when Salvatore read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, which steered him in the direction of fantasy writing. "I felt like I wanted to recreate that experience for other people." And for the last decade, he's been doing just that.

Salvatore has repeatedly made the New York Times bestsellers list with his Dungeons & Dragons-type novels, set in places such as the Forgotten Realms, a post-apocalyptic Earth, and his latest creation, Corona. Yet writing a science fiction novel in the Star Wars universe proved to be a unique challenge for the fantasy author. Battles aren't fought with scimitars (or even light-scimitars). Salvatore took his famous battle choreography to a new plane with starship dogfights; and, being a Star Wars book, naturally there are light saber battles. "How could there not be?" Salvatore laughed.

Though he hinted at writing the novelization of Star Wars Episode II, Salvatore is unlikely to write future entries in The New Jedi Order. "Because it's the first book in a new series, there's no way I could be inconsistent," he explained. "I'd hate be the author of book twenty-five. That's when you're talking serious research."

Vector Prime, published by Del Rey Books, will be available Tuesday, October 5th, for $24.95.

(Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 4-Oct-99