By Jeremy Konrad
Look out Star Wars fans: the new books are going to be canon from here on out, and they are celebrating in style for the release of the first book in that new canon A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller. The book will serve as a beginning not only for two of the characters from Star Wars: Rebels, but as a new jumping off point for Star Wars fiction as a whole. I was lucky enough to sit down with Miller at SDCC for a little chat about the book, some of his previous work, and the story group going forward:
BC: So tell me what it was like when you got the call that you were going to be the one to launch the new canon of Star Wars novels?
John Jackson Miller: Well, it was a bit of a surprise because I was already writing a novel. Whenever the decision was made, I had been writing a prequel book to the Rebels TV series since late in the fall, so when I got the actual word that it would be likely to be early or the first book, I was already 2/3 of the way done with the book. They also asked me to fly out to Lucasfilm secretly to make a video to talk about the history of the EU in the past, and I made some revisions to rest of the book to adapt to the fact that it would be situated early. But no, in the beginning it was never a case where I set out to write the first chapter of anything. In fact I was not even sure I would get it done in time to be the first chapter of anything. So, it takes some of the pressure off. It makes it what it ought to be, a book that stands on its own as a fun adventure.
Yes, I did tweak it a bit to be a little more introductory for the readers who have not seen anything but the movies, or even never seen the movies. And we should be doing that anyway. These books should be approachable and be able to be picked up by anybody in any storyline, in any sequence. And they selected the name A New Dawn to tie into a number of things, reflected on what’s going on in the book. But also, there is that allusion to it being the first sentence on a new page.
BC: How much input did you have with the story group as far as the direction the story was going to go? Did they kind of guide you along the path?
JJM: I was alerted to what was going to be in the Rebels TV Series in the first season. I was alerted to who the characters were going to be. I was given a wide latitude to choose a sort of story that I wanted to. And I settled on a particular story that would highlight what I think is interesting about this era. We are in a period that is several years after Order 66 and the Imperial takeover. The thing that always interested me was: How did the Empire turn the Republic into what we later see in such a short span of time. It would be logistically very challenging. But it is something that has a precedent in world history. I have joked about this before, but I have a masters degree in Soviet studies, and the only reason I do not have a doctorate is because the Soviet Union collapsed on my dissertation before I could finish!
But one of the things that that people that are familiar with history will know is that over the course of 20 years, which is about the life span of Luke Skywalker from when he was born, Russia went from being an agrarian country to an industrial powerhouse, but at the cost of millions of lives. Clearly it required a totalitarian state controlling things. It struck me that whatever happened in the Empire would have been somewhat similar, not exactly like it. The Emperor would have taken some of the structures that already existed in the Republic and he would have corrupted them, to his purposes. He also would have taken a planet like Gorse in this book and he would have paid special attention to it. It is the manufacturing center for a particular compound that is necessary to grow the Imperial fleet to an enormous size. And we make it very plain that it is just one of thousands of planets like this, because Star Destroyers have thousands of parts, and so this allows us to look at this planet Gorse and say: ok, this is representative of some many other places and what’s going on. We get to touch on a whole lot of ways that the Empire assets its control. They use the old surveillance systems that date back to the Republic, things that were designed to be commercial in nature and not about control. We see how those things have been corrupted and twisted and used for the Emperor’s purposes. We see how the Emperor has taken all the existing manufacturing guilds and twisted them to be a part of his effort.
These are the bigger issues within it, there is a very human story, a real story that ties into Kanan’s character from Rebels, and Kanan is really in line with many of the other heroes I have written in Star Wars. An ongoing theme in my work in the past with comics, short stories, and everything else is What does it mean to be a Jedi alone? And we saw it in the comics with Zayne Carrick, the comics and novel with Kerra Holt, and we even touched on it in the short stories in Lost Tribe of The Sith. Of course Kenobi is the big example. And all of it is only an allusion to the most famous Jedi of all, which is Luke Skywalker. Kanan is almost a different chapter of that story. Where Kenobi has a mission, Kanan has no mission. He doesn’t know what to do, he is cut off. And so this story finds him living in this new situation, this new world. We get to find out how things develop when we introduce this one rebel element, this Hera character into his life.
Things kind of go from there, it really is a lot of fun. I enjoyed writing in this time frame, and also showing what life is like for an Imperial. We have an Imperial Captain here, Captain Sloan who is very new to the service, and we get to see thru her what kind of dog eat dog world it can be living in the Emperor’s service. There is a manufacturing guru named Count Vidian who is sort of like the Emperor’s efficiency expert. He is someone who in the Republic days, he was one of those celebrity finance guys who was a turnaround guy: he fixed things. Now he runs around fixing entire planets; he is fixing industries. He himself is a cyborg who has reinvented himself as well. We have these fun elements, and I enjoy them, and hope people enjoy them too.
BC: Did you have complete access to the first season’s worth of scripts?
JJM: I had enough information. Obviously these things are always changing in time. But the purpose of the story group is to get talking early enough that conflicts will be headed off.
BC: As far as the tone of A New Dawn, it seem like a time of discovery and fun, but also a bit more serious. Did you aim specifically for that?
JJM: Well, it is serious in tone in the fact that this is a miserable place these people are living. This is a place where the sun cannot rise or everyone will die. Gorse is a planet that is tidily locked to its sun so it doesn’t turn and the only place people live is the dark side. No metaphor there! It is a depressing, miserable place, Kanan is living a miserable life and he is trying to make his own way through the galaxy. Even when things are dark I put in some black humor, there’s fun bits in there, but it is not something that is laugh a minute. Star Wars, if you watch Episode 4, there is a lot of wisecracking, lots of joking. These are characters who did not want to be together. That is a definite feature of this book. These are characters who did not want to be together to do this thing they have to do. They are definitely worried about their own problems and their own lives. And this was never something they planned to go do.
BC: Did you have any input into creating the Kanan character?
JJM: Well, certainly I talked with the others on the story group about what he would be thinking at this time. What was going to be on his mind, what he might be doing. One of my major things I put in there is that I thought he had to have a job. The Empire would not just let somebody sit around. In fact he is hauling around explosives. It is very much like one of those shows like Ice Road truckers where he is doing this crazy thing and he is doing it for the money so he can go drink (laughs). It all ends up tying into this bigger adventure that we have in the book.
BC: Did you have any worries that since they are entering the new canon that it may start to eat away at itself further down the line?
JJM: I didn’t have any thought about that when I was writing, I tend to focus on one book at a time.
BC: If they ever go back to The Old Republic in the new canon timeline, would you be interested in doing work in that time period?
JJM: Well sure, I had fun with it. The thing about this, and I believe Pablo Hidalgo has mentioned this, the “Legends” banner, part of those stories may be true. It’s just not going to be the case where we mention a planet, or a weapon here, that does not canonize every story associated with it. That way lies madness. I certainly think there are earlier periods where there are interesting stories to tell. I am interested to see what the future and the past both hold.
BC: Last question: What is your favorite episode of the Clone Wars and why?
JJM: Oh gosh, there is a lot. When we got to the Obi-Wan episodes with Satine that was fun because I got to do the Kenobi novel that tied into that, so that has a special connection to my own work so I like those.
Jeremy Konrad is the Senior Star Wars Correspondent for Bleeding Cool. Talk Star Wars novels, toys, and anything else with him on Twitter @jeremyohio