It was a Miami summer like any other. In 1999, Miamians were reveling in the fact that Super Bowl XXXIII was played at Pro Player Stadium, the beaches were filled with tourists, and bucket hats were a fashion must-have.
College student Alex Segura and his friends excitedly gathered at Sunset Place for a historical moment: a new Star Wars movie. Phantom Menace was released 16 years after Return of the Jedi (1983) to an entirely new generation of fans. Segura had grown up exhaustively rewinding the copies of the original trilogy he owned on VHS. He was ready to experience a Star Wars movie in a theater setting.
Segura was seated in a dark theater when the sounds of an orchestra started up. The sight of the crawling golden text filling the screen was a moment he wouldn't forget.
Twenty-one years later and now an author of crime fiction, the Miami native is releasing his very own Star Wars novel, Poe Dameron: Free Fall.
The book deal came about organically. A Disney executive was a fan of Segura's Pete Fernandez series and phoned the writer with an offer you don't hear every day.
"The idea of going from writing this very gritty, noir Miami crime series to something like Star Wars felt like such a perfect game-changer," Segura tells New Times.
The novel is an origin story for Poe Dameron, a character portrayed on screen by another Miami native, actor Oscar Isaac.
"It feels like a very focused crime story dealing with Poe and his journey going from this kid on this small moon to leaving that home and discovering who he is and how he becomes the man we meet in Force Awakens," Segura explains. "It's a part of the Star Wars universe that people don't see as often. It's the shadowy corners, the more criminal side of the universe, versus the more fantastical elements."
At its core, Free Fall is a crime novel set in space, and fans of Segura's work will quickly be drawn into the character-driven, coming-of-age tale.
In addition to familiar characters like Zorii Bliss, Segura promises, "You'll meet a whole new crew of characters that have never appeared before in any Star Wars movie or book. All the questions [about Poe Dameron] you have coming out of Rise of Skywalker are kind of answered in this book."
After spending countless hours with his novel's protagonist, Segura can definitively say that Poe Dameron is a hero.
"When you meet this kid in this book, you can already tell he is going to grow up to be the Poe we know, this great hero," he assures.
Other characteristics of our handsome hero?
"He can be stubborn; he can be emotional," Segura offers. "But he's incredibly loyal and will always try to do the right thing."
He describes the process of working closely with LucasFilm and Disney as both fun and conversational.
"They were always receptive of my ideas," Segura says, adding that the entities opened up their library to him and offered references to strengthen the storyline.
"I was already in the weeds with Star Wars, but it was very much from a fan perspective," he admits.
Once he secured this new assignment, Segura's first order of business was to rewatch and reread everything Star Wars. Only this time, it was with a much more critical eye.
Despite all the note-taking involved, Segura had a blast.
"This story has to fit into a space that can't contradict things that came before, but you still have to tell a great story," he explains. "It was an interesting challenge to have, and it was fun."
Asked which is his favorite of the nine main Star Wars films, Segura doesn't hesitate.
"Empire Strikes Back. I'm a sucker for stories that leave the hero at their lowest, and they have to really pull themselves out," he explains, adding that Darth Vader's grand reveal was a moment that terrified him as a child.
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Segura left Miami for New York City in 2006, but he frequently visits his family in South Florida and weaves his hometown into his writing. Although he's best known for his Pete Fernandez mystery series, Segura also penned comic books and currently serves as co-president of Archie Comics.
Now in 2020, with the memory of Super Bowl LIV in Miami an all-too-recent memory, Segura sits in his New York apartment, anticipating the August 4 release of his first original Star Wars novel.
"It's really crazy that I get to tell this story," he says. "It's a huge honor."
Poe Dameron: Free Fall, by Alex Segura. Disney Books. 2020. 352 pages. Hardcover, $17.99.