Disney Publishing Worldwide has announced that Alexandra Bracken, the author of the bestselling The Darkest Minds series, has signed on to write Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope: Being the Story of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and the Rise of the Rebellion. Due on June 9, 2015 from Disney-Lucasfilm Press, the book launches the Star Wars Saga, a middle-grade series of illustrated novels based on the original Star Wars trilogy. The deal for world rights was negotiatied by Bracken’s editor, Disney-Hyperion editorial director Emily Meehan, and the author’s agent, Merrilee Heifetz of Writers House. Disney executive editor Michael Siglain will co-edit.

Bracken’s fellow contributors to the series are well known to kids and booksellers. Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark and Grimm) will pen the second installment, The Empire Strikes Back, a July 2015 release; and Tom Angleberger of Origami Yoda fame is on board to write the third, Return of the Jedi, which will follow in August. Star Wars concept artist Iain McCaig will illustrate each book in the series, which is timed to wrap up before the December 2015 release of Lucasfilm’s all-new feature film, Star Wars: Episode VII, The Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams.

When the previously announced author of the Star Wars Saga’s launch title, R.J. Palacio (Wonder), had to withdraw from the project due to scheduling conflicts, Meehan had a well-founded hunch that Bracken might be the ideal writer to take on the task. The editor recalled a photo Bracken had sent her in 2012, showing her at a Star Wars Celebration event with her father, a devoted Star Wars fan and memorabilia collector.

“Alex had sent me the photo just after her father passed away, and it stuck with me because I knew she was going through a hard time after his death,” said Meehan. “I knew that she, like her father, was a huge Star Wars fan, and I also knew from editing The Darkest Minds that she is a great writer of character, and the Star Wars films are very character-driven. So I had a moment of realization that she should write one of the Star Wars Saga books. The team could not have been more enthusiastic, and I immediately called her agent, Merrilee Heifetz.”

Bracken, who was visiting Paris with her mother when Heifetz phoned her last summer, explained that receiving the call “was a heart-stopping, ‘Oh-my-God!’ moment.” Hearing the offer to write a Star Wars Saga debut book, the 27-year-old author immediately thought of her father. “From the time I was in first grade or so, my dad collected Star Wars toy figures from the 1970s and ’80s, and we’d take weekend family trips to antique shops and to toy stores,” she said. “My father collected a crazy amount of Star Wars stuff over the years, and he and I traveled to many conventions. And from the age of 13 or so I read nothing but Star Wars books – it was a huge part of my life.”

Finding the Force within Her

Making the leap from Star Wars movie fan and reader to author was a challenge Bracken embraced – if gradually. “The biggest challenge was being told that I could write my version of the story, create new scenes, and explore new aspects – but that the most important thing I had to do is have fun with it,” she said. “I wanted to do so right by the story that I put a lot of pressure on myself, and was initially not having fun with it.”

Finally, after she met with the Lucasfilm Story Group in San Francisco, “things began to click,” she explained. “I began to have fun getting closer to the characters as individuals, especially Princess Leia, since much of her story takes place off-camera. It always bothered me that she didn’t show much reaction when her entire planet gets destroyed and she’s lost everything. So it was very exciting to delve into her mind and discover where she got the strength to deal with that.”

Writing the text for an illustrated novel was also a new experience for Bracken, who had the chance to meet with McCaig in California. Though she noted she was “first and foremost focused on telling a good story,” she was conscious of creating moments “where the text could play with an image. I tried to imagine different angles that Ian could capture in his illustrations. It was great to meet him to get his perspective on the project, and to learn that he really likes to create human moments, as do I.”

A speedy writer, Bracken found that the month it took her to write her manuscript was an extremely rewarding one. “It was such an honor to write this Star Wars story, and I still can’t believe I got to do it,” she said. “It was a welcome change from The Darkest Minds novels, since this was so much more lighthearted and humorous. But more importantly, writing this novel let me reconnect with my childhood self and to revisit the Star Wars universe that I so closely associate with my dad. It made me feel very close to him. It was as though he had somehow reached out and given me a high-five moment through the Force.”