Star Wars Knight: John Jackson Miller

A comics interview article by: Matthew McLean

Beginning at the end of this January, Dark Horse is launching one of its boldest cross-overs through the Star Wars line of books. Crossing over super-hero teams? Crossing over interplanetary space?

That stuff's for wussies.

The Star Wars "Vector" storyline will cross over several millennia, bringing together characters from Knights of the Old Republic (#25-#28), Dark Times (#11-#12), Rebellion (#15-#16) and Legacy #29-#32. John Jackson Miller, principal writer of KotOR sits down with Comics Bulletin to discuss his end of this epic project.

Matthew McLean (MM): Zayne Carrick, the protagonist of Knights of the Old Republic, has had a pretty tough time. Framed for murder and caught in the Mandalorian invasion of Taris, he finally caught a break in issue #24, being vindicated in the eyes of many friends and escaping from the obsessed Jedi bent on killing him.

John Jackson Miller (JJM): One of them, anyway!

MM: But now he's only been left in his quest with the name "Krynda." How does this all tie into where the "Vector" story begins?

JJM: The "Vector" storyline begins in the Old Republic era, which is 4000 years, give or take a decade, before the time of the movies. This is a period where there are lots of Jedi and, periodically, lots of Sith, so it's a little bit of a different dynamic than the movies. We also have another element in that, in addition to the battles between the Jedi and the Sith, there are also battles between the Republic, which the Jedi serve, and the Mandalorians, the armored warriors similar to Boba Fett. They're nomads who love a good fight and who now have, for mysterious reasons, picked this particular time to invade the Republic in force.

This is where "Vector" begins - and ties into the attempts of our hero, Zayne Carrick, to clear his name. Zayne is a Jedi student of less than stellar capabilities - and yet, he finds himself suddenly the object of a manhunt orchestrated by his own former teachers!

The group that has both framed Zayne and targeted him for removal is known as the Covenant. It's a secret society within the Jedi Order: a cabal of seers, Jedi that specialize in prognostication, in telling the future. They're trying to anticipate when the Sith will show up again - and they're surprised when they foretell that one of their own students, Zayne, may one day be a party to bringing down the Jedi order. Lucien, Zayne's master, is a member of the Covenant and the leader of the effort to try to rub him out; Krynda, readers of the series already know, is Lucien's mother - a very powerful Jedi and the founder of the Covenant movement. For the Covenant members, they don't feel they're falling to the Dark Side of the Force; they feel like they are doing the right thing by willing to act to prevent the Sith from rising and destroying the Jedi.

This brings us to where we are when “Vector” begins. As "Vector" opens, the ringleaders of the Covenant have a new vision, every bit as dark as the first. This vision is of the thing they fear the most: the Sith have returned, and have enslaved all the worlds of the Republic. One of the figures in the vision is their nemesis Zayne - but there are also figures they haven't seen before. Darth Vader. Luke Skywalker. Cade Skywalker, from "Legacy." And when the Covenant seers ask whether the vision is happening now or in the future, each figure from different times says it's happening in their time. But the problem is there are four different "Nows"!

They also recognize in the vision something we have alluded to before: the Muur Talisman, a Sith artifact. Which gives them more cause to worry - since they've already prophecied ruin in association with Zayne!

MM: How do you write a crossover that spans several millennia?

JJM: You take about a year and a half to come up with it. [Laughter]

Randy Stradley, the editor of the line, came up with the idea for a crossover in the Fall of 2006. Really, he suggested it as a thought experiment to me and John Ostrander, who writes Legacy and to Jan Duursema, the artist on Legacy. Was there a story we could do that would involve all four different eras -- that would have a meaningful impact on all four eras -- and also be a good story in and of itself? That was the goal. The installments in each series had to be good, but it also had to work well as an over-arching mega-story.

But if you think about, it's a similar challenge to what they faced in the movies. The movies take place in six different time periods, separated by anywhere from a year to almost two decades. And it's one big story, but it's also six individual stories that have a beginning, middle and end on their own.

MM: In fact, the Knights of the Old Republic portion of "Vector" has the most chronological distance between it and the other stories, doesn't it?

JJM: Close to four thousand years. We looked at probably a dozen different possibilities for the mechanism for involving all the stories together. There is no time travel in this universe in the Back to the Future get-in-the-car-and-fly sense. But there are other ways. Since we began talking about it, the fans have certainly added their own theories for how to do it. Fans have discussed that maybe it's the same place that they visit over time, maybe it's an object that time travels, maybe it's a person, maybe it's a movement that gets followed over time, maybe it's a droid. There's all sorts of different possibilities that people have come up with, but nobody has been exactly right. That's part of the fun of this.

But in the end the important thing to all of us was to come up with something that added something to each of the series it was in, that introduced new readers to those series, and that felt like a natural part of what was going on. We didn't want it to seem like "We interrupted this series for this crossover!" But I think many of the things happening flow naturally from what's been going on in each of the series, from their basic themes - and so it's all put together pretty seamlessly.

MM: That's good to hear. Out of curiousity, I've never heard of the Muur Talisman. What is that?

JJM: According to the "Knights of the Old Republic Handbook"--where we first mentioned it--it is a powerful object that is described in certain Sith holocrons as something that was desired by many different people in what was the Golden Age of the Sith. It is partially why the Covenant was on Taris in the first place; because they suspected the object was there.

MM: Does the Covenant know what it is?

JJM: Uhmmm… you know, we'll find out.

MM: [Laughter] Okay. Well, I don't know if this has been talked about then, but "Vector" is a word that can often be used to describe how a disease is transmitted. Taris, the city where KoTOR is currently taking place has an Undercity that is inhabited, by among other things, the rakghouls, a mutated breed of creatures that spread disease through their bites. Will these creatures play a role in "Vector"?

JJM: [Laughter] They are in the vision, so I can't deny that...

MM: So that implies that they are involved.

JJM: And that's another element that points towards Taris. They see Zayne in the vision, they see the Talisman in the vision, they see rakghouls in the vision and they think that all of these things are connected.

MM: Well, since I seem to have asked you a long series of questions you can't comment on, I might as well throw one more out there: With the prophecy that Zayne is to be the downfall of the Jedi? There's some speculation that he might be one of the Darths from the video games, and that "Vector" is the story that breaks him. Care to comment?

JJM: There are a number of connections and the history that is established in the video games and elsewhere. We'll be elaborating on that throughout the year, but I won't go into what "Vector" says about that. But the main thrust of the Knights series isn't about the video games, but rather, telling stories about the original characters and situations that we've set in this time period.

MM: Well, speaking of that; Taris, where Zayne currently is, is essentially a gigantic war-zone following the Mandalorian invasion. There's orbital bombing, house-to-house fighting and a resistance that's been pushed into the Undercity. What types of opportunities does writing in such an environment provide you? How does it limit you?

JJM: There are almost too many opportunities, so many stories that could be told here. We spent a long time working on this. Over the year, there were so many possibilities based on where I knew our characters would be when "Vector" began. There's a whole host of locations and situations on Taris that the video game established to draw from, for example.

But you always want to be careful, though, to make sure that when you involve something that already exists in the continuity, that you are doing it for the right reasons--because it enhances the story, not because it is fanservice: a cameo for the sake of a cameo. We're telling a story, not filming a travelogue. So we've been careful all along, to make sure that when we do bring in existing elements, they add something to our story - and add something to our understanding of the elements we've brought in. We began the series on Taris, for example, but almost everyone we met was new until issue #22, nearly two years in, when we met Gadon Thek, a gangleader who used to work with Gryph. And even then, we planted the relationship a year in advance - and we made sure that our story added something to Gadon's. We know him better, now.

In general, if it doesn't fit, it doesn't belong!

MM: So you've been writing Star Wars for nearly three years now. Is that right?

JJM: It was almost exactly three years ago, in January 2005, when Randy Stradley and I started talking about Knights of the Old Republic. I had previously done an issue of Empire, Iron Man before that.

MM: So on one hand, you're getting to live some kind of geek dream. On the other hand, don't you have to navigate a minefield of canon? There are certain things you cannot do.

JJM: Sure, but it's no different than working with any other franchise. You're playing in someone else's sandbox, so you want to respect their toys.

MM: And how do you like it?

JJM: It's a lot of fun. Is it work? Absolutely, it's hard work. I spend way too many hours in front of a computer screen, but if I compare that to anything else I might be doing, I would probably still be sitting in front of a computer.


JJM: Imagining things for a living is a lot of fun. And I've been really gratified to hear from so many fans that read this stuff and take away from it the same stuff I took away from it when I was younger. I feel fortunate and blessed to have gotten to do it.

MM: Thanks for taking the time.

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