Faraway Galaxies: John Jackson Miller on Star Wars and More
Author John Jackson Miller has turned his lifelong love of comics into a treasure trove of writing and creativity. Now, he’s doing what many have dreamed of: writing comics that continue to craft the legendary Star Wars universe. Here’s his take on what it’s like to hold a universe in his hands.
When I was researching your work, I was impressed with the diversity of your comic book writing experiences. I kept thinking, “Wow! This is every comic book kid’s dream job!”So here’s my first question: What advice do you have for kids and adults who are interested in becoming comic book writers of such legendary stories as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and The Simpsons?
I think it’s to write, write, write, all the time. I started collecting comics at age 6, and I started writing and drawing my own comics at the same time. I still have every comic book I ever bought, and I still have a file cabinet with all the comics I wrote, too, from grade school through high school and then college as part of the small-press movement. (Today’s equivalent would be webcomics.) So many of the skills I use today I developed at an early age, and kept developing.
So, always be learning. And the important thing is to not just be a consumer of culture, but to always be adding to it.
In the new Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic: War, the theme of what it means to be a “real” Jedi is key. The storyline really focuses on many Jedis and their various interpretations of what it means to be a Jedi. What do you hope readers will gain from reading about these various characters and their thoughts on being a Jedi?
War is the latest installment of my Knights of the Old Republic series, which is available in nine collected editions—and that story told of Zayne Carrick, a Jedi student wrongly accused of murder. Through a series of adventures, he cleared his name and decided that he could help others not as a Jedi, but on his own as a free agent. So many of our stories do delve into what the Jedi are and should be; Zayne certainly believes that the Jedi have not always been as good as their image. But he tries to be true to their beliefs, anyway.
The series pits Zayne against Dorjander Kace, a Jedi Master who himself has had serious differences with the Jedi Order. But Kace goes off in a completely different direction, and it sets Kace and Zayne up for a collision.
Zayne Carrick is my favorite character. He is noble, like a Jedi. He is a keeper of the peace, like a Jedi. He protects the innocent, like a Jedi. But in this comic book, he is criticized—perhaps even vilified—by other Jedi. What are your thoughts on Zayne Carrick? And what might the future hold for him in upcoming issues of Star Wars Knight of the Old Republic?
Zayne has always been the underdog. No one ever expected him to graduate and become a Jedi; and when he was framed for murder, no one ever expected him to escape and find justice. Zayne’s done well because he’s no longer ruled by the expectations of others—he knows that he makes his own destiny. And Zayne is also one of the friendliest characters around—his friends have gotten him out of many jams.
In Knights of the Old Republic: War, however, Zayne has been drafted into the infantry—and so he’s alone and far from his friends’ help. He has to rely solely on himself. It’s a much greater challenge for him.
What do you hope this particular Star Wars comic will add to the greater conversation about the Star Wars legacy, especially in terms of modern world politics and current events? In other words, as I read this comic book, I found myself thinking about various current events and struggles over war and peace. Did any current events influence your writing?
My master’s degree was in Soviet Studies—back when there was a Soviet Union—and so I have always drawn from history both here, in titles like my Star Wars: Knight Errant comics and novel, and in my Iron Man work. Zayne is against killing, and that puts him in the tradition of a lot of conscientious objectors on the battlefield; seeing that interpreted in a Star Wars setting is interesting.
More generally, the events of the War storyline have some similarities to the “island-hopping” invasions in the Pacific, where the Navy was storming a different location every battle. Since the Mandalorians are trying to take over the galaxy one planet at a time, there is a similar dynamic. We show a lot of different locations in this series.
One of the most poignant moments in the story comes when Carrick states: “So you can draft me, but you can’t make me fight. I don’t trust myself to decide who should live or die. I’m sure not going to trust you. I don’t even think the Jedi are smart enough.” In this story, the primary tension revolves around who—if anyone—is right and who is wrong. Who is a villain? Who is a hero? Do you see any similarities between Carrick’s struggle and that of Anakin Skywalker’s?
I think that Zayne isn’t really ever tempted by the Dark Side—he’s just too decent a kid for that—and he also knows, from his own experience, that there are two sides to every conflict. The Mandalorians, the armored nomads who his troops are fighting against, have done some very brutal things. But over the course of this story, Zayne will learn their point of view up close.
I think Zayne very much would like to see everything resolved neatly in a situation where nobody gets hurt. But in war, sometimes we have to make decisions. Therein lies the drama.
Knights of the Old Republic is extremely popular on social networking sites, both in terms of comic books and video games. Why do you think this unique Star Wars storyline is so popular?
This period, nearly four thousand years before the movies, is visually very similar to the Star Wars movies and has a lot of familiar concepts—but it’s also a wide open frontier, because so little is known about the period. There’s a lot to explore. And this is a period where Jedi Knights are plentiful, so there are a lot of adventurers to follow. Even almost-Jedi like Zayne!
What can we look forward to reading from you in the near future?
After Knights of the Old Republic: War, I have another batch of Star Wars: Knight Errant comics releasing in June. Knight Errant: Escape is probably the darkest storyline we’ve done, as Kerra Holt, the lone Jedi in Sith space, takes on her greatest enemy. On the prose side I have a story in Baen Books’ Armored anthology releasing in April, and then in late July I have another prose book, Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith—The Collected Stories coming from Del Rey.
And I continue my research into comic book circulation history on my Comics Chronicles website (http://www.comichron.com), where I keep tabs on how many copies the industry sells both of periodicals and graphic novels. Some of the data goes all the way back to the 1930s—I’m always adding to it.
Readers can follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jjmfaraway