We had the chance to chat with John Jackson Miller, writer of the newest Star Wars comic book series, Knight Errant. His passion for the series really came through during the interview and got me really excited for the series.
John Jackson Miller: Well, I’m a comics collector from way back, and I really started working in the industry on the magazine side. I was editor of a trade magazine for the business for many years. I was also editorial director for Comics Buyers Guide for many years. I wrote a number of price guides; I’m still an Overstreet advisor even now. And actually I run a comics history site, Comichron.com, that still allows me to keep my toe in the water there and write about things that happened in the past and interesting things that have come out.
I broke into the other side of it back in 2003. That was at Marvel. I wrote Crimson Dynamo; I wrote Iron Man for a year. After that I did an issue of one of the Simpsons comics at Bongo. And really I just inquired at Dark Horse and said, “Is there a need for a fill-in issue writer on anything?” and it just happened that they had an opening on Star Wars: Empire for a single issue. That ended up being the next-to-last story that they ran in the entire series, because they were getting ready for the 20th anniversary for Dark Horse to re-launch the whole line, and Randy Stradley [Senior Editor at Dark Horse] asked if I was interested in developing a series based on the era of the Old Republic, as seen in the Knights of the Old Republic video game and previously in the Tales of the Jedi comics.
TFAW.com: How did you come develop the idea for the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series?
JJM: Really what we did is we came up with the idea for that storyline–Zayne Carrick as this Jedi student of below-average abilities–and after we knew what we wanted to do, then we figured out precisely where we wanted to put it time-wise and we set it in-between the old comics and the games. That ran for a little over four years and went for 50 issues–51 if you count the zero issue, or 52 if you count the handbook that we did, all of which, or most anyway, are available at Things From Another World.
TFAW.com: Knights of the Old Republic was a really popular series. Where did you go from there?
JJM: The interesting thing is that the comics spun off opportunities in other media. I co-wrote the Knights of the Old Republic Campaign Guide for Wizards of the Coast when they were doing the role playing game, and I also wrote some Knights of the Old Republic fiction for Starwars.com. All of this sort of led to me being able to write prose for Del Rey. That developed last year at the same time that we were deciding what we were going to do after the Knights of the Old Republic comic book. The idea for Knight Errant actually probably started, well, it definitely started at Dark Horse first. Randy just had the basic notion of, “Let’s put a series a generation before the Darth Bane novels where there’s all sorts of Sith, and we’ll just take one lone female Jedi and we’ll abandon her out there and see what she does against all these different Sith Lords.”
TFAW.com: How did you prepare to embark on the Knight Errant journey?
JJM: I got into studying the timeline and studying what was going on in the era. And with David Marshall, who’s my editor, we worked together and came up with what is debuting in October, the Knight Errant comic series. Around the same time I had been . . . actually, before we started even thinking about Knight Errant, I had been asked to write “The Lost Tribe of the Sith” short stories for Del Rey, and those are free downloads that are on Starwars.com. Those are stories that go in between each of the Fate of the Jedi novels. I wrote those, and they looked at them and said, “You know, we’re also doing a new comic series, why don’t we do a novel as well,” and I could write both of them and see what kind of synergies we can get out of there, and so that’s exactly what we have done.
TFAW.com: Can you tell us a little more about Knight Errant?
JJM: The first issue is out October 13th, and that first storyline is called “Aflame.” That’s where we send Kerra Holt, who is our main character, out into this vast area that is controlled by battling Sith fiefdoms, if you want to call them that. It’s all sorts of different Sith Lords. All you have to do to become a Sith Lord is declare yourself one and they all think that they have the secret path to, “I’ll be the one that will defeat the Republic once and for all.”
Meanwhile the Republic is just sort of curled up in a fetal position hiding from all of this. Kerra is out there, and once she gets out there she finds there’s just an overwhelming number of things that she has facing her. You know, should she battle the Sith Lords? Should she try to help the people escape? What should she do? It’s just so difficult, and that’s what we really wanted to confront her with. She is somebody who wants to do everything; she can’t possibly do everything.
TFAW.com: How will the Star Wars: Knight Errant novel fit in with the comic book series? Will readers be lost if they choose one medium over the other?
JJM: The first issue of “Aflame” comes out on October 13. Then the Knight Errant novel hits on January 25th, which is entirely coincidentally five years to the day after Knights of the Old Republic #1 came out. You know, I saw that date and I said, “Wow, that’s bizarre.” But anyway, you do not have to read the comics to enjoy the novel. You also don’t have to read the novel to enjoy the comics that are out there, but I think we have made it an attractive thing to do, because in the comics you can only tell so much back-story; you can only get into the characters’ minds a certain amount, whereas in the novels you can describe what the characters look like, but you can’t see them in action.
TFAW.com: Right, so they should complement each other really well.
JJM: Yeah, I’m hoping to, and as far as conflicts between the two, it really ought to be bulletproof because I’m writing both of them. There are cases where I had to go back and say, “Wait, what did I call that place?” or whatever, but if there is any mistakes it’s entirely my fault.
TFAW.com: Did you write the comic book series first or did you start out with the novel?
JJM: I didn’t do the final issue of the first storyline of the comic book series until after I wrote the novel. I wanted to script all the comics first or most of the comics first so that I would have a feel for everybody, but I didn’t want to finish that first story until I had written the novel and knew, “Here’s where I’m leaving everything as we’re getting up to the novel. Here’s a couple of characters or you know, locations or whatever that are going to be relevant.” And of course there’s still time that if I were to do anything in the novel and want to make a change in the comics, we’re working well enough in advance that we’ve been able to look at that.
TFAW.com: So, Knight Errant is set 1,032 years before The Battle of Yavin, is that right? Why did you choose to set the story during that time?
JJM: The real round number there is it’s 1,000 years before Episode I. So that puts it a generation before Jedi vs. Sith. It’s 1,000 years before that, so we’re not going to run into any of these people. It’s just far enough in advance. I did that on purpose. I moved it as far back as I could without going too far back and wasting space. Not use any years that somebody might want to use later on, but I think it’s at a point in time where people who are familiar with either the Darth Bane novels or the Jedi vs. Sith trade paperback will know that this era opens with heaping gobs of Sith Lords who have been battling each other into submission. They can’t get anywhere because they’re fighting with each other, and so those are some of the themes of the story.
Kerra faces all these different questions. Can she team with one Sith against another, or is that bad? That’s almost certainly bad; you can’t trust these guys. They would like to play people off against each other. That’s what the Sith do. And you know, something else she ends up dealing with is if she were to take one of these Sith Lords out. Well, that might help the people for a little while, but now remember where we are. If it’s out here in Sith space and you’re surrounded by all these competing Sith Lords . . .
TFAW.com: There’s going to be a power vacuum.
JJM: You’re going to be in a power vacuum and you know, anything that she does is likely to set off other things and set off chain reactions. It’s a heck of a lot to drop on this kid, and she really is a kid. She’s 18. She’s the age Zayne Carrick was when Knights of the Old Republic started, but she couldn’t be any more different from Zayne.
TFAW.com: How was the Star Wars Celebration this year?
JJM: It was exhausting. It was fun to get out and see everybody.
TFAW.com: What are some of the best stories you have from this year?
JJM: Well, we did something really cool with that. Dark Horse enlisted a volunteer to dress up as Kerra Holt, the main character from Knight Errant, and she was a really good likeness. They had a contest where she was running around the convention in costume all four days, and if you took her photograph and posted it to Twitter you got a chance to win an entire bookcase full of graphic novels and non-graphic novels from Del Rey and from Dark Horse; bookcase included. That was really cool.
I think it was really funny–we were at the convention because we had our Kerra Holt, and we had this guy who had this just spectacular Zayne Carrick outfit and they were hanging out together, and appearing at the panels and everything!
TFAW.com: It sounds like a good time.
JJM: Everybody had a good time, and then we had a panel. Dark Horse had a panel Thursday and I had a panel for both the comic book and the novel on Saturday. That was really fun.
TFAW.com: It sounds like Kerra Holt is pretty much the opposite of Zayne Carrick.
JJM: Yeah, and it’s funny because you know, I can tell you, these two characters would probably not get along real well in comic book life. Certainly Kerra is far more competent than Zayne was. She definitely operates much differently. She doesn’t like sneaking around. She doesn’t like costumes. She doesn’t like subterfuge, and you know, Knights of the Old Republic was–the whole book was about con artists. That whole book was about sneaking around, and I think I counted over the course of the nine TPBs, the 50 issues, I think Zayne wears 10 different costumes; Gryph wears 10 different costumes. Jarael wears nine different costumes . . . they impersonate that many different people.
Kerra can’t stand that at all, and of course we naturally force her into situations where if she follows her impulses she’s going to get people killed.
I think it’s going to be a lot of fun and that’s our big October launch. And we’re really thrilled with all the support we’ve gotten from Dark Horse. You know, we’re on the cover of Previews this month; that’s spectacular. That’s just really cool to see.
TFAW.com: You already told us that there will be a lot of Sith in Knight Errant. Are we going to see a lot of Sith vs. Sith battles?
JJM: Oh yeah! The main conflict that the comic series opens on is a battle between two brothers. The Sith are about the glorification of self and the subjugation of others. Daiman and Odion have both taken it to the extreme. Daiman believes that he’s all that exists. He believes he created the universe, and all the rest of the people walking around are just in his mind. They’re delusions. The universe is a game that he created in his mind, so life is cheap to him because he doesn’t think anybody else exists.
While Daiman thinks he’s the only one that truly exists, Odion believes he’s the only one that should exist and he’s trying to put that right. If Daiman thinks he’s the creator of the universe, Odion thinks he’s going to be its destroyer. He relishes death. He’s surrounded by characters that are suicidal and more than happy to check out in his service because that’s what they think their role is in life. He’s got this hold over these people, that they are looking forward to a glorious death in his service. This is bad news when two guys like this fight, and it’s bad news if you’re in between the two, and there are more Sith Lords, so it’s a busy place.
TFAW.com: Are we going to see Kerra Holt go all over the Galaxy?
JJM: All over this region for sure. I’m not going to give away really all of where her travels are going to be. We’re not sure, but we are doing a couple of things that will help people on this. I am doing a piece for Starwars.com with Daniel Wallace and Jason Fry (Star Wars Atlas). Basically I’ve given them a map of where everything is, and we’re going to do a little thing for the website before the book comes out, showing where the planets are and what’s on them. Now, nobody knows who controls what.
What’s kind of cool about this is there’s really a Dark Ages feel to this. Because the Sith are all out here fighting with each other, their technology has collapsed; there’s no mass media; there’s nobody keeping the records of what’s on the other side of the hyperspace lane, and for the Republic’s part, they’ve turned off the Internet. They’ve turned off everything that permitted communications with that part of the galaxy, and that includes the big computer that tells everybody where the hyperspace lanes are. They’ve set up a firewall, and so that’s what ends up biting Kerra and her allies in the beginning, that they don’t know what’s out here.
TFAW.com: Yeah. It could be anything!
JJM: It could be anything, and it is, and what’s out there is worse than she imagines, but at the same time it acts as a check against the Sith themselves, because the borders are always in motion and everything. This is going to be something we’re doing for the website. I’m also writing a little preview short story that will be for Starwars.com before issue #1 comes out, and that will be free.
TFAW.com: Is Knight Errant written specifically for hardcore fans, or will new readers be able to follow along pretty well?
JJM: There’s nothing else out here continuity wise. I mean we’re alone, so we’re going to tell you everything you need to know, and I’ve been very, very diligent about trying to make sure we’re not doing something that is just here to connect the dots. It’s the same galaxy, but with 30 years, 32 years between this and the later novels and comics. That’s an enormous amount of time for things to change. Are there little connections here and there? Yep, sure. There’s a lot of I would call “continuity Easter eggs.” Probably more in the novel than in the comics. It’s one of those things where if you haven’t read it before, you’re just going to blow past it. You’re just going think it’s colorful, you know, that sort of thing. It’s not going to be something so overt like, “This is Gryph’s restaurant over here from the chain that was started 3,000 years ago.” With that many years between some of these things, it’s really hard to look stuff up anyway.
TFAW.com: So it’ll be really entertaining even to the casual fans that are out there?
JJM: I think it should be.
TFAW.com: What’s your earliest memory of Star Wars?
JJM: Well, I read the comics before I saw the movie. My folks bought this three-pack of Marvel’s Star Wars comics: #1, #2, and #3. They would reprint the comics and put them into these poly-bags and sell them in Walgreens and places like that, so I read Marvel’s adaptation of the first movie before I saw the movie. Then I read the novel adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back before I actually saw that movie. I don’t know why I ran around spoiling myself on these things, but that’s what I did.
Back in those days it was so hard to actually get in to see the movie because it was in the days before multiplexes, and so a movie theater would get one print of a film. And there were people literally waiting weeks to see Star Wars and I was one of them. We went and we couldn’t get in and I had to go see some awful Disney movie. So comics have always been part of it, and of course I collected the Marvel series as it went along and then I actually went through all the different incarnations. Blackthorne put out the 3D comics in the ’80s, and then I got Dark Empire when it came out from Dark Horse.
TFAW.com: And that’s where our journey starts.
TFAW.com: Thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it. It was really good talking with you.
What do you think about Star Wars: Knight Errant? Are you planning to read the comic book series and the novel? Let us know below.
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