John Jackson Miller is one of the most versatile writers in the Star Wars universe. He’s written games and comics (including the fondly received “Knights of the Old Republic” series), and will soon launch a comic book series and publish a prose novel that both star a new Jedi character a thousand years before The Phantom Menace. He’s also a comics historian, and blogs at his own Faraway Press site. We talked to him about his early experiences with Star Wars, as well as his plans for the forthcoming “Knight Errant” series.
TECHLAND: What was your first exposure to Star Wars?
JOHN JACKSON MILLER: 1977–that’s when the movie came out. I was one of the rare kids who discovered Star Wars through the comics before I saw the movie. I read the Marvel Comics adaptation before I actually saw the movie. That was before the multiplexes, so we had theaters that only had one print of the film, and even in a reasonably big city, I was living in Memphis, it wasn’t until much later in the summer that I actually got to see it. At that point, I had read the entire adaptation! The comics adaptation came out two months before the movie did–it was a real leap of faith on Marvel’s part, and one that was really taken because Roy Thomas had faith in the project and was able to convince higher-ups to go in for it. It was actually possible to get the entire adaptation by the end of the summer. That’s what I saw first–they were doing reprints of all those issues in plastic bag that they were selling at Walgreens, and places like that. I was talking this spring to Jim Shooter, who was the editor-in-chief of Marvel, and he said that Star Wars actually saved Marvel Comics in the 1970s, because it was such a hit.
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Later on–I think it was in ’78–the first new novel based on Star Wars, Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, came out. That was the first grown-up novel I had ever read. At the time, word of mouth was that “this is the next Star Wars movie”–and of course it turned out to be nothing like that! But I got all the Star Wars comics and all the Star Wars novels after that. So the fact that I get to write not just Star Wars comics but a novel as well–that’s really cool.
As someone who’s written Star Wars comics, prose fiction and role-playing games, which elements of Star Wars do you think work particularly well in each of those media?
There are different strengths to each medium. In comics, I can pretty much make every scene a cantina scene! I can put as many aliens as possible anywhere I can find a place for them, because the artist is going to be there to populate that scene and put in as many ships as we please, or whatever. In a novel, I’m the director, I’m the cinematographer, and I have to be very careful. My inclination might be to make the cab driver over here an Ithorian–one of the hammerhead guys from the cantina. Unless I’m willing to explain who he is and everything, I need to stick to using the richness of the cast of aliens that are out there by picking and choosing my moments. Comics allow you to fill in a lot more background on the canvas when it comes to things like that. On the other hand, what prose allows me to do is get a little bit more into what the characters are thinking, historical perspective, discuss the philosophies of the characters a bit more.
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Are there parts of the overall Star Wars timeline that you’re particularly drawn to, even if they’re not necessarily the parts that you work in?
I like to have room to move around. With Knights of the Old Republic, we positioned ourselves seven years before some cataclysmic video game events. It was fine to do that, because what we were writing about had a lot to do with the overreaction by some fortune-telling Jedi to this horrible thing that they saw coming in the future. I liked the fact that some of our readers knew that “yeah, the horrible stuff is coming in the future,” but I was far enough back from it as well that I was not constantly running into too many events that had to happen. That said, there was always the question: when is this guy gonna show up, when is that guy gonna show up? And I really tend to not want to have a lot of cameo appearances, just to do it. I would much rather create our own tapestry and fill that in. So we only ended up using characters that we could add something to–I wasn’t going to bring these guys off the bench just to have them appear.
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Now, in the case of “Knight Errant,” I deliberately said “let’s put this an entire generation before the nearest thing,” and that’s exactly what we did. “Knight Errant” is set 32 years before what they call the Rule of Two was instituted: that’s when we go from having a whole bunch of Sith warring with each other to be the top guy or woman, we go down to just Darth Bane and his apprentice, so there’s always a master and always an apprentice, and that’s how it stays until we get up to the Emperor in the Star Wars movies. We are 32 years before that, and one of the reasons we picked that number is it’s exactly 1000 years before Phantom Menace. That’s the round-number thing.
But it’s right in the middle of a period when we’ve got heaping gobs of Sith, warring with each other; all you’ve got to do to become a Sith Lord is put a hat on your head and say “hey, I’m a Sith Lord!” They all have warring fiefdoms, and really, the feeling in the era in this time is like you’re living in the outskirts of the Roman Empire, for example in England, when the Roman Empire’s collapsing and they’re calling back their support, and suddenly there’s barbarian hordes coming from this direction and that, and they’re saying “sorry, we can’t help you.” That’s exactly what happens here to the outer rim of the galaxy; as I’ve said a couple of times, the Republic sort of curls up into a fetal position, recalls all the Jedi, and pretty much says to everybody who’s living out there “can’t help you, there’s nothing we can do.”
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Kerra Holt is the star of our series. She’s part of a group of Jedi who are pretty much weekend warriors, and they decide “we’re going to try to do some raids out in the territory and change some things; we know we can’t have a major effect, but we can at least do some targeted things and show the flag and show people that there is hope.” Problem is, when you cut off the rest of the galaxy like that, you don’t know what’s on the other side of the hyperspace corridor; you don’t know what you’re flying into. That’s the springboard for our whole series. The first mission goes horribly wrong, and Kerra, 18 years old, on her first mission, ends up alone out there, and in between these colliding icebergs that are the Sith Lords that are out there. She has to decide what she’s going to do: she can try to get back home, or she can try to knock off one of the Sith Lords, or she can actually try to help the people, and that’s yet another purpose of the Jedi: to help the victims and not worry so much about the strategic picture. We do hit her with a lot of choices in the comics series, which starts October 13. And, of course, then the novel, which is a completely separate story, comes out January 25.
Who’s drawing the comic?
Federico Dallocchio. He’s really come up with a visual that I think is very arresting here–it’s got that Dark Ages by way of Star Wars feel that we’re going for. And Michael Atiyeh, who’s our colorist, has brought in this new palette of colors. I’m looking through these pages, and it’s cool–it’s a totally different look from what we’ve seen before. Everything looks spooky. And just about everything is on fire in this series, so he’s got a lot of opportunity to show what these things look like. It’s a very strong contribution there.