Following many setbacks and a seemingly exceptionally long waiting period, the What's the Story feature returned to StarWars.com with the winners of Round 6. Having been very frustrated with the waiting process (and griping quite a bit about it, I'm a bit embarrassed to say :p) I was just happy and relieved to see that an update had been posted at all. When I saw that the first entry was dubbed "Dusty Duck", I looked to my wife and said, "Oh, they used my name for the ship". Imagine my shock when I realized that the judges had, in fact, used my entire entry!
I was really excited to see that 99% of my entry was used, word for word. There was only one "story change", but we'll get to that later.
Here's the breakdown--excerpts are taken from the original Dusty Duck databank entry:
Aneesa Dym was a Pa'lowick born and raised by her smuggler father on Nar Shaddaa.
Although I wasn't the most well-versed guy when it came to the Expanded Universe that encompassed all the games, novels, movies, cartoons, trading cards, comics, etc--I hadn't really heard of a lot of Pa'lowick characters. Pa'lowicks, as you may or may not recall, first appeared in Return of the Jedi in the form of Sy Snootles, a space-y lounge singer for Jabba the Hutt. I can count the number of Pa'lowick characters that exist in Star Wars on one hand--and most of those followed in Sy's footsteps of being singers. I hadn't discovered any Pa'lowicks who were smugglers, so I thought it would be a nice change and break the species stereotype.
Nar Shaddaa originated in the pages of the Dark Empire comics and is a rough place for a kid to grow up--a far cry from the small agricultural community of Lowick (where most of the other Pa'lowicks in the galaxy are born and raised).
She helped him pilot a ship of his own design that he had dubbed the Dusty Duck, named partly for the waterfowl of Naboo and for the ship's penchant for coughing to a halt in space and coming in for a rough landing on many barren worlds. "Duck's not meant for flying," he'd often say. "At least, not for too long."
The idea of naming a ship "Dusty Duck" was hilarious to me. I guess that's just a throwback to pirates having ridiculous names for their ships in movies or something. I wanted a name that was personal and warm and not a typical ship name like "the 85LZ-Whatever". Also, I noticed a trend. There was the Millenium Falcon. The Moldy Crow. The Ebon Hawk. So, I wanted something that had the same structure as these names, just...well, silly. And, since ducks are kind of a running gag throughout anything George Lucas touches, I thought "Eh, why not?" The only problem was coming up with a reason to name a ship after a duck. I came up with this little quote to, not only (hopefully) deliver a laugh, but show that the father loved this ship, despite its flaws, which is a recurring theme in this story...
When Aneesa's father was stabbed in the back by an angry customer, Aneesa became the sole crewer for her late father's gigantic jalopy and scoured the galaxy for the scum that left her an orphan. Her search led her to many backwater planets but time and again her hunt would come up empty.
So the father dies and Aneesa is left with the family business. It's a scary position to be in, but she tries her best. Though...she could use a little help.
Then bounty hunter Rango Tel entered the picture. Tel heroically cornered the murderer of Aneesa's father in a cantina and bested the villain in combat, collecting the bounty. With this act of bravery, Tel stole the heart of Aneesa Dym. She offered him her piloting skills and the Dusty Duck and, together, the duo set off across the galaxy in search of Tel's next bounty, Kam Nale.
When I decided on the silly name for this ship, I knew I had to have something equally silly to go along with it. Enter: Rango Tel. Many Whatsthestoryists try to tie into each other's creations, building a mythos within a mythos, as it were, and I'm certainly no different. Rango Tel was actually one of the earliest entries picked for What's the Story and was instantly likeable. The tale of the bounty hunter wannabe was personable, funny, but ultimately tragic and I remember his creator Aaron Sinner upset that he had created this great character but killed him off his first time out, thereby ending any hope he had of any further EU adventures.
Well, this one was for you, Aaron.
I talked about the theme of this entry before and here's where it really kicks in:
Everybody needs somebody. No matter how much of a dork you really are, you need a friend who will love you in spite of that. Luckily, I have an amazing wife, two beautiful daughters, and great, loyal friends who all love and support me, despite my craziness. Rango Tel was a bumbling kid who got a lucky shot and had ill-fated delusions of grandeur because of it. However, to Aneesa, he was brave. To her, he was a hero. As you can guess, the "villain he bested in combat" in this entry is the same guy he "inadvertently score[d] a bounty on" in Aaron's original entry. I saw Aaron's entry as the true version of the facts, but wanted to write my entry through Aneesa's rose-colored view of this man who avenged her father (however accidentally), which accounts for Rango sounding a lot tougher in this entry than he really, probably, was.
Rango and Aneesa are kind of in the same boat. They're both young and lost, looking for something to do with their lives. Now, they've found each other and have decided to take that journey together. So, Rango's got a faithful friend who adores him and a rickety ship, ready to begin his life as a "daring" bounty hunter.
Their search led them to Tatooine. Aneesa drop-landed the Duck just outside Mos Espa and waited onboard for her valiant defender to collect the head of Nale, as her newly purchased DUM pit droids tended to much-needed repairs on the ship.
However, while Tel was away, an image of the Dusty Duck was captured in the dying camera eye of a Sith probe droid destroyed by a fleeing Qui-Gon Jinn and Anakin Skywalker. Darth Maul, the probe's owner, followed the trail to the Dusty Duck and boarded, demanding a very startled Aneesa to tell him where the Jedi was. A confused Aneesa had no answer for the fierce Sith Lord.
This is where we get to the Dusty Duck's appearance in The Phantom Menace deleted scene. Rango Tel heads out for his big job (from which he'll never return) and Aneesa stays behind to watch the ship.
I love Darth Maul. I think he's one of the most underused baddies in all of Star Wars, so racking up one more kill for him was a great thrill for me. In the deleted scene, Qui-Gon strikes down the probe droid following he and Anakin back to the Queen's ship. Darth Maul only sees them fleeing and thinks they are headed for the Dusty Duck, which accounts for why he's a bit behind the duo and almost misses his opportunity to make a good first impression when we see him in the movie.
This is also the only part of my story that was actually changed. Originally, Maul enters the ship and demands to know where "the boy" is, meaning Anakin. Aneesa thinks he's referring to her friend - the brave and dangerous bounty hunter - and refuses to give up that information in order to protect Rango. Maul cuts her down for her insolence. The changes were made and, yeah, Aneesa might not have gotten her heroic death but I can see that my claiming Maul was really on Tatooine looking for Anakin was overstepping my boundaries so I can live with the decision to change it to Maul just looking for "the Jedi" (though, now that I think of it, I think I nicked that idea from the New Essential Guide to Chronology written by Dan Wallace to begin with).
Darth Maul cut her down. The Duck remained abandoned and became the talk of local ghost stories. The pit droids remained, operating on their last command and rebuilding the ship to perfection. However, sadly, it never flew again.
It's a sad ending. But Rango got a sad ending, too, so it's sort of poetic, if not grim. I actually thought it might be harder for Aneesa to have lived without Rango, so, in the end, their friendship was not broken. They entered death together.
Having the Duck being a local ghost story is a real treat for me, as a horror writer and fan. I love a good urban legend and being able to add one to the Star Wars galaxy was pretty cool. I can almost hear all the little Tatooine kids daring each other to sneak up and touch the underside of the Dusty Duck.
Most recently, the Duck popped up in Ryder Windham's outstanding The Wrath of Darth Maul book. Will we see the old bird again one day? I hope so. For now, I did write up a completely UN-official short story for the Star Wars Outsider fanzine :)
UPDATE: The Dusty Duck and her crew are featured in "The Not-So Magnificent Seven"--my first published article for the Official Star Wars Blog!