Interview: 'Star Wars: Knight Errant' Comic/Novel Author Discusses Surviving in a World Dominated by Sith
In Star Wars literature and video games, the days of the Old Republic have been getting progressively more attention ever since the prequels were released. There's so much open space on this portion of the Star Wars timeline that it's easy to carve out a small part of the era if you're looking to tell a story that relies not on characters from the movies but on only the basic elements of the Star Wars universe. On October 13, we will see the beginning of another of these stories, this one focusing on a young and perhaps overly ambitious Jedi named Kerra Holt, in a Dark Horse comic called Star Wars: Knight Errant. Then, in January, fans of Kerra or of Star Wars novels in general will be getting a non-adaptation novel by the same title (published by Del Ray), featuring the same character but telling a different story. The Sci-Fi Block recently had the opportunity to talk with Knight Errant comic/novel author John Jackson Miller.
The Sci-Fi Block: John, why don't you start off by telling us what Knight Errant is about?
John Jackson Miller: Well, Knight Errant is a tale set in a period a thousand years before Star Wars: Episode I, and this is in what we would call the Dark Ages for the Republic. This is a period where the Republic has sort of pulled back from the Outer Rim because of plague and warfare, the fact that there are so many Sith Lords out there. They’ve actually cut off all communications with the Outer Rim. They’ve deactivated the beacons that update everybody as to where the hyperspace lanes are. They’ve really tried to set up a firewall between themselves and the rest of what used to be the Republic, the rest of the territory that’s out there that is now under the domination of these various Sith Lords. And, you know, the trick with the Sith Lords is there are just bunches and bunches of them. There are too many to name, and every one of them believes that they will be the one that will take on the Republic and finish it off, but the problem with the Sith is, of course, they really don’t do well as teammates. They all wanna rule the galaxy themselves. They all fight with each other, and they’ve kind of stalemated themselves at the same time that the Republic have sort of pulled back and the Jedi have withdrawn to guard the perimeter there.
Now, there is a group of Jedi led by a fellow name Vannar Treece, who -- they’re not satisfied with the state of affairs. They’re a group of sort of weekend warriors that go out and try to restore some little bit of hope in the Outer Rim. They do targeted raids. They don’t expect to actually defeat any Sith lords, but they’re trying to pour sand in the war machine, more or less, and keep things stalemated to protect the Republic. Vannar’s assistant is Kerra Holt. Kerra is eighteen years old. She is originally a refugee from this territory. She was rescued years ago and went to the Republic, pretty much spent the last several years becoming a Jedi, honing herself into this weapon to go back and hopefully liberate the people -- and if not liberate them at least provide some hope to them.
And that is where our story opens. The Knight Errant comic series, which starts October 13, is that first mission with Kerra and everybody going back to Sith space, and it’s a situation where they really don’t know what’s out there anymore because they have turned off the communications. They have sort of an idea of what they’re walking into, but, as often happens, these things can turn disastrous. And as a result of it, we end up with Kerra being the only person out there, and then she has to decide, Well, what do I do? Do I try to finish my mission? And how exactly can I try to make a difference out here when I’m just one person? So, Knight Errant, it really does focus on a single Knight, and it does sort of ask the question, What good is the work of a single Jedi? What should a single Jedi be doing in a realm where there is nobody to support you, in a realm where there is really no other hope?
SFB: Sort of like the Batman of the Star Wars universe it sounds like.
JJM: Well, I haven’t heard it described that way, but yeah, that might work. Again, she is very much a driven character. She is always in motion. We have not just the comic series, but we have the novel that follows the first comic series storyline. The novel comes out January 25th. That’s an original story. One of the things we find out is that she is sort of stymied or stalemated or can’t actually make any headway. I think that’s when she tends to be prone to depression and -- you know, as long as she’s moving she’s fine. So, this is really kind of an Odyssey, in the old Greek sense. I mean, she is going from place to place, trying to do good deeds as she can, so that’s the whole Knight Errant role from chivalry years and years ago.
SFB: So, you are writing the Knight Errant comic as well as the Knight Errant novel. To what extent are these stories separate, or is one sort of an adaptation of the other with a different slant?
JJM: They are completely different stories; they are both original. You do not have to read the comics to enjoy the novel. You do not have to read the novel after reading the comics. However, we have made it, I think, an attractive proposition to do so because by having me designing this sort of world here, there isn’t any other Star Wars fiction in this period. We’re a generation before the Darth Bane novels, so we’ve got a lot of room to spread out here, and things that you see in the comics are further developed in the novel. Things that you will read about in the novel, you might say, “Will I be interested in seeing what that looks like?” Well, they’re over in the comics. Again, we do give you all the information you need to find out what’s going on in the world, so it’s not something where you have to read one or the other. But I think we’ve tried to make it something where if you’re interested in the world here, right away you’ve got something else to read. Before the first comic storyline is even done, that novel will be out.
SFB: What is it about the two stories here that makes you feel like one is more fitting to be told in a comic book and the other is better for pure prose?
JJM: Well, you know, there’s certainly action in both. I will say that. And there’s definitely a lot of visual stuff that goes on in the comics and in the novel as well, so we don’t skimp on that sort of thing. However, certainly in the comics format you don’t like to spend a whole lot of time on introspection, on thinking about what the character is doing. We don’t really do thought balloons in comics anymore. We’ll have internal narration sometimes that will appear in captions, but as far as actually thinking more elaborately about a character or a character’s motivations, where it’s thinking out loud, you don’t get that so much. In Knight Errant the novel, we probably get a little bit more into her mind and what she thinks about what’s going on. We also were able to introduce a bit more background and history than we would in the comics page. Certainly there are a lot of ideas in the series. Each of these Sith lords has their own philosophy, their own take on the whole Sith code, their own version of how they should come to power. And we’re able to discuss those things a little bit more in-depth in the novel, simply because we don’t have to have an explosion every five pages. You know, we don’t have to do that.
On the other hand, there’s stuff as well in the novel that we can get into a little bit more detail on some things that -- I know that there are fans of the starships and how they’re built, and one of the things that we have in here is an artillery unit, a mercenary artillery unit, and I sat and worked out exactly how they would deploy and what their organization would be like. And that’s one of those things where I know I enjoy coming up with that kind of world-building stuff, and I got to do some of it when I wrote my portion of the Knights of the Old Republic campaign guide that we did for the Star Wars role-playing game. These are fun little tidbits that you can find a place for in prose, but in comics it’s something that -- it’s part of the world, but you get it as you’re going along. You see it rather than you actually get to discuss it.
SFB: About this Kerra Holt character, I’ve read the preview flipbook that Dark Horse gave out at Star Wars Celebration, and I gotta say I already find her to be a pretty interesting character. She’s a Jedi, but she clearly enjoys fighting, which is something that Jedi aren’t supposed to enjoy. But, there’s also a hint that some of the other Jedi in her company have their own possibly violent or at least showy tendencies themselves--
JJM: You might be thinking of Vannar Treece--
JJM: He’s the charismatic leader, the head of this organization. He represents one possible response to what’s going on out here in Sith territory. I think he’s realistic enough to know that when the Jedi go out here, they’re not going to be able to stay. They’re not going to be able to do a whole lot to change the overall scheme of things. But he’s definitely about making a statement, going out and being very showy whenever they appear. You know, making an impression, sort of saying, “We’re here.”
I liken his character to -- in some of the previous wars you had these people that were willing to go out and do the big flashy missions in order to sort of shock and awe. In World War II there was the Doolittle Raid. That was the first time that Japan was bombed from long range, and it was basically guys going on a mission where they had very little chance of returning from. I think that he comes from that sphere of “Lets’ do something that will really make an impression.” And I think that that is a slightly different take on things than maybe Kerra has, and then of course there are others who would be critical of him and would say, “Hey, you know, what the people out here are really needing right now is not some sort of grand gesture. They really need actual physical help.” Because the greatest agony for these people is that they’re stuck between these Sith lords that go back and forth, and if one Sith lord is defeated, well, the other comes in and takes over. It’s that old expression, “When the elephants battle, it’s the grass that suffers.” The people are really the pavement out here, and they’re getting stomped on.
So, yeah, I think that in the comic storyline, as we get into it, we will see that there really is a choice in strategy for the Jedi, and Kerra faces that. She has to decide how can she be the most helpful.
SFB: It occurred to me that, at least in this first issue, she’s sort of like Luke Skywalker when we see him in The Empire Strikes Back. They’re both a little too ambitious. They both seem a little too interested in action and fighting bad guys than in sitting back and assessing the situations that face them and try to solve things with the least amount of conflict. Is that a similarity that you’ve considered?
JJM: Well, I don’t know if I’ve thought about that so much. The thing with Kerra is she has kind of been Vannar Treece’s organizer. I hate to use the expression “Girl Friday,” but she’s been the person who -- we will find that up until now because she’s been so young she hasn’t been allowed to go out on these missions. When she goes out on this one she is just gung-ho. She’s, “This is my first time. I’m finally getting out here. This is what I’ve been training to do. This is what I came to do. Now I’m ready to do it.” But again, like I say, this is a place where it’s almost impossible to plan what you’re gonna do because even the Sith don’t know what is on the other side of each hyperspace corridor. Things are changing so quickly. So yeah, she does, like Luke, get hit in the face with reality a few times.
I think the other contrast we draw with her is she is much different from a character who is the same age, the main character of the Star Wars series that I did immediately before this, which was Knights of the Old Republic. The main character of that was Zayne Carrick, and he was not as skilled in combat, he was not as confident. He was also somebody who was a master of disguise and really used these softer Force skills of persuasion to try to advance his aims. He was always about misdirection. It was not a mistake that his book was one where he was traveling with a team of con artists. Well, Kerra is absolutely the opposite of that. She just doesn’t have time for costumes. She doesn’t like sneaking around. She understands the idea of ambush and surprise and all of that, but she really, like Han Solo says, she would rather prefer a straight up fight than all this sneaking around. Now, naturally, what do we do? We put her immediately in a position alone out here where she can’t just run around as herself all the time. Otherwise she’s gonna get herself killed or somebody else killed. We force her to go underground, and we see how she deals with that in the series.
SFB: The novel portion of the preview flipbook starts off focusing on this Bothan spy named Narsk Ka’hane. Is he going to have a significant role in the ongoing novel?
JJM: Yes he does. We have several key characters in the novel that we introduce. Kerra is there of course. Narsk represents one of two characters like that that we meet. The other is a mercenary leader in an artillery unit. One of the questions that we really delve into here is how various people deal with trying to maintain some little bit of control over their lives when the Sith are around. Depending on the Sith lord, everybody in their realm is just completely a slave, completely a drone. They have no power, no anything. In Narsk and also Rusher -- that’s the artillery brigadier -- we get to see two other possible responses or strategies to try to stay a little bit independent.
I think the thing that Narsk says is, in Sith space everyone is a slave, but if you’re special somehow you begin to be able to make a little bit better deal for yourself. If you have value to the Sith lords, then you have a commodity. If you have talent, if you have knowledge, then you have some way that allows you to escape being just completely under foot constantly and being ground up in the machine. And what we get into through the course of the novel is, Is that answer good enough? Is that too much of a compromise even then? They’re still both working for Sith lords because there’s no one else to work for. That’s one of the things the novel tries to do, is paint a picture of what it’s like to live out here and paint a picture of how various people have responded to the situation and kind of evaluate the responses and see which one is the right path.
SFB: The Knight Errant comic, if I’m not mistaken, is currently scheduled for a five-issue run. Is that the definitive length of the series or is there a chance that it may go beyond that?
JJM: Well as we’ve seen with other Star Wars series lately, the way we tend to do it is series of miniseries. So, we’ve seen other titles where you’ll be five issues on, and then you’ll be off for a few months, and you’ll be on for another five issues. Invasion’s just done that. We haven’t announced what we’ve got specifically planned in the future, but rest assured that this is a portion of the line that we’re going to continue to investigate and do more stuff in.
SFB: Cool, and can you tell us anything that you’re gonna try to take on after Knight Errant, Star Wars-related or otherwise?
JJM: Yeah, there are a couple things that are coming up here. One thing that is coming up will appear fairly soon before Knight Errant #1 comes out. There is a short story that I’m doing for StarWars.com, which is sort of a true issue #0 prequel story. That issue #0 that we did [for the preview flipbook], it just excerpted the first issue and excerpted the first chapter of the novel. We actually show Kerra’s first mission, or how that first mission begins, in the short story. That will be a free download on StarWars.com that’s coming fairly soon.
I’m also working with Daniel Wallace and Jason Fry, the guys that did the Star Wars atlas. We’re working on another piece for StarWars.com, which is a sort of a gazetteer, or a guide to what the Jedi know about these planets that are out here that [Kerra]’s going to. Now, of course, most of that information is out of date as we will soon find, but it will at least paint a picture of what the Jedi know at the time, so that’s a nice little supporting document.
I also have coming up the fifth episode of the ebook series that I’ve been doing for Del Ray, Lost Tribe of the Sith. They just yesterday [September 8] announced the titles of the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth stories. That’ll take us into 2011. These are these sort of short novella pieces, where we follow the Sith that have been stranded on a deserted planet for five thousand years. These are the stories that follow the lost tribe that appears in the Fate of the Jedi novels. And we’ve been releasing one of these ebooks about every three or four months. They are free downloads off of StarWars.com. They’re also linked from my website, which is FarawayPress.com. So, that’s exciting to get to do more of those.
And then myself, I have been working on doing a second miniseries for Mass Effect. Mass Effect: Redemption came out earlier this year, that was the first Mass Effect comic series. That did really well, sold out. We had to go back to press on it. And we’re going back again with Mass Effect: Evolution, and for people who are familiar with the video game, that’s gonna be very interesting because we have the origin story of the character called the Illusive Man, who is a major figure in the video games.
SFB: Well, John, it sounds like you have a lot on your plate. I won’t take up any more of your time, but best of luck with Knight Errant, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what you do with it.
JJM: Thanks very much. I appreciate it.