A Long, Looonng, Time Ago?

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With the release of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, 2005 saw the Star Wars cycle of films conclude. Fortunately, for Star Wars comic fans, one ending leads to a new beginning. As part of their 20th anniversary celebration, Dark Horse Comics is taking their Star Wars line back to the beginning… almost 4000 years back. Writer John Jackson Miller spoke to Broken Frontier about the debut of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, his new series loosely based on the video games of the same name.

Broken Frontier - Where does Knights of the Old Republic fit in relation to the larger Star Wars chronology?

John Jackson Miller - The first issue of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic takes place at a pivotal time for the Old Republic. It’s eight years before the events of the first Knights of the Old Republic video game — approximately 3,964 years before the Battle of Yavin — meaning we’ll be witness to some of the galaxy-shaking events that gamers only learn as backstory.

It’s about a generation after the Tales of the Jedi comics, which helped establish this era — and the Sith War that took place then. While that war is over, the Mandalorian Wars from that period never ended — and as our series begins, the Mandalorians and the Republic have been bogged down on the Outer Rim for a long time. Now, while the milieu and technology in this era look much as they do in the movie days, the hold of the Republic is far from absolute on the frontier. There, the Jedi are all that stand between civil order and chaos, especially as the war calls away more resources. Increasingly, it falls to Masters and their untried students to hold things together.

BF - Who is Zayne Carrick and what sets him apart from previous Star Wars protagonists?

JJM - Zayne is the poster child for “untried student.” We’ve been accustomed in the past to seeing the best of the best when it comes to Jedi — the ones who blew the curve for the other kids. Zayne is the “other kid.” He’s talented enough to have warranted training, but actually reaching competence with the Force has taken him a little longer. (It’s kind of like the feeling I get playing the video games. You know what’s possible for your character, but for the first little while you’re kind of flailing around!)

The problem for Zayne is he’s stationed on Taris, a frontier planet (and a setting for the first video game) where every Jedi has to pull his own weight — and more. He’s got a heavy burden, and he’s not exactly dealing with it very well. Of course, he only THINKS he has problems compared with what we’ve got in store for him. He’s about to be blamed for a horrible crime against the Order, which will turn both the Republic and the Jedi against him. Now, he’s really got to learn — if he’s going to survive!

BF - Star Wars fans have a long history of attaching themselves to supporting or minor characters – Boba Fett, Wedge Antilles, Commander Cody as examples. Is there any of your supporting characters that you’ve have grown fond of? 

JJM - All of us on the series has fallen in love with “The Gryph,” which is the gangster name for an underworld lowlife that Zayne Carrick’s charged with bringing in. He talks a big game, but he’s not very big himself — he’s a member of Snaggletooth’s species, if you remember the character from the scene. But as Yoda says, you shouldn’t judge him by his size, because he’s certainly a crafty adversary. His and Zayne’s fates are linked by the events of the first issue, and the dynamic between the two of them has been really fun to write and for [series artist] Brian Ching to draw. Brian’s Christmas present to me was a Gryph sketch, in fact — he’s definitely a favorite of us both.

There’s a solid ensemble cast beyond that, and we’ll learn more about everyone as the series progresses. What I’m really enjoying as I’m working into later arcs now is how all the characters really pull their story weight. Everyone has an important role and contribution — and it’s interesting to get different combinations of the characters into scenes to see how they interact. One of the things my editor Jeremy Barlow and I wanted to get back to with this series was more camaraderie and character tension — which really was something you saw in the movies. The characters would be in the middle of a firefight and an argument at the same time. There’s a lot of that going on in KOTOR!

BF - What is the predominant theme of the first Knights of the Old Republic arc?

JJM - When Randy Stradley approached me about doing a series in this time frame after I did Star Wars: Empire #35, we discussed how the Jedis’ failure to really see what was going on around them was a major theme of the first (I-III) trilogy, and how we were interested in exploring this in some different ways. With a mystery for the first storyline, I’m able to localize that failure onto the main character: Only by finding the truth is there any chance of survival, much less vindication.

And then that’s at work on the larger level, too. Gamers know that many big things are happening, or about to happen — but they don’t know exactly how they came about or who was involved. Many of the major figures in the games are only known by their Sith names, for example; we don’t know that much about who they were. That mystery’s part of the fun of the series. Imagine Episodes I-III if you didn’t know, for example, who would turn out to be the Emperor or Darth Vader — just that somebody would. Those are the kind of possibilities that are open to us here. You don’t have to have played the game or read the previous comics to enjoy Knights of the Old Republic series — and for those who have, there’s a little extra subtext.

BF - How is the story laid out? Larger arcs? Stand-alone stories? A mixture?

JJM - It’s a mixture. I take as my model the early years of the [Marvel] Star Wars series I read as a kid, where Archie Goodwin would have longer stories like “The Wheel” intermixed with pieces that are more instant gratification.

While I obviously have thematic beginnings and endings to stories, there’s also a lot in my story that lends itself to serialization. There’s a lot going on in the galaxy, with various characters’ stories moving forward on parallel tracks. That was something I really wanted to achieve — a constant sense of forward movement with the stories. Even in those issues where characterization takes center stage over action, it’s always toward something.

BF - I’ve read previously that you have the first year of KOTOR plotted and know where your overall story ends. Assuming that the comic fares as well as many are hoping, how long can you see yourself writing this book?

JJM - As long as they’ll let me! Seriously, I positioned the series where I did so that I would have the flexibility to explore certain characters and subjects more deeply if the situation warrants. For example, I have said all along that, while this series is set eight years before the first video game, that doesn’t necessarily mean I intend to move the story in real-time. Here again the films are an example. They don’t immediately follow the events of the previous story; there are gaps, ranging from short (between Empire and Jedi) to long (between Sith and A New Hope). Obviously, a story that’s told one way with six film installments might be told a different way with twice as many. I’m always going to be looking at pacing with an eye to making sure that the subplots are resolved no matter what, but how we get there may evolve as we go.

BF - When the original trilogy was completed, the Marvel comic series eventually lost momentum and was cancelled. Why do you think the current comic line will be able to survive the ending of the Star Wars motion pictures?

JJM - Because there’s “more”, basically. More kinds of products (comics, novels, games) to support the Expanded Universe, on the one hand — but also more story threads to follow, both going forward and backwards.

Jo Duffy and the Marvel folks did their best to keep things going after 1983 — and pretty much had the storytelling stage to themselves, which is kind of appropriate considering the comics were among the first licensed Star Wars items to begin with. But obviously there wasn’t the kind of institution in place then that there is now for managing the direction of and proliferation within this universe — and since Return wrapped up so many of the loose ends, I think there was probably a “what do you do the day after you save the universe” vibe to contend with.

Now, of course, the institution is there and there are several “tracks,” if you will, that have opened up, suggested by the events of or the backstory from the films. The whole KOTOR era has its genesis in the “thousands of generations” line from A New Hope, but the events in the prequels have given us a lot more details and possible threads to follow upon. And then there’s the Empire-era track, and the New Jedi Order, etc. I think between all of that, you can be sure things will be different this time around.

BF - What is the ongoing appeal of Star Wars to you?

JJM - I like working with interesting characters in a strong, well-developed milieu, and this certainly qualifies. While I’m certainly aware of and appreciate the big mythological themes and aspects, the real fun for me is watching the characters interact. Again, the camaraderie was something we were looking to generate for ourselves in Knights of the Old Republic, for this very reason.

It’s also interesting because while I’ve always been more of a “hard science fiction” fan and have pursued those threads in some of my own writing (I had Iron Man stories where I was digging into engineering, chemistry, and relativity), pure space opera allows me to free myself from that a bit and focus more on the characters and the stories. So I feel very strongly that what I’ve turned in and what Brian has drawn is very close to what we really wanted to do here, which is capture the camaraderie and sense of forward motion from the films.

BF - And a question I feel absolutely obligated to ask - What’s your favorite Star Wars movie?

JJM - That would be The Empire Strikes Back, for several of the reasons suggested above. And there’s an awful lot of talent up there on the screen — I mean, just with screenwriter Leigh Brackett alone, who was influential not just in Hollywood but in science fiction and fantasy. It’s interesting to think how someone who wrote for Han Solo who also wrote for Bogart!

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic #1 ($2.99 US), by John Jackson Miller and artist Brian Ching, is due in comic shops January 25th. The “primer” issue, part of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic/Rebellion Flip Book (only 25-cents) follows on March 1st.

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