John Jackson Miller is the author of the new Star Wars novel Knight Errant, as well as the Dark Horse comic of the same name. He recently spoke with us about the Sith and the Soviet Union, exotic alien life forms and what it’s like to make your mark in the greatest science fiction universe of all time.
Unbound Worlds: It’s a fan’s dream to be able to make their own mark on the Star Wars legacy, and you’ve been able to do it in a big way. What’s it like to have had an opportunity to do this?
John Jackson Miller: When you grow up seeing these characters in the movies, reading about them in the books and comics, and playing with the toys, you obviously never imagine that you could be creating stories for the universe yourself. Writing for Star Wars has been a fantastic opportunity and the fact that it’s in so many different media has allowed me to do a variety of things. I’ve written Knight Errant and Knights of the Old Republic comics for Dark Horse, wrote material for the Star Wars Roleplaying Game, written short fiction for the Star Wars website, and, of course, now there’s the Knight Errant novel and the Lost Tribe of the Sith short story series for Del Rey. George Lucas has created a fictional world rich with possibilities and I feel honored to be able to work in it.
Suvudu: I’ve always wondered what a society run by the Sith would be like, and your novel gives us several examples. How did you put yourself in a Sith mindset, and did you draw any inspiration from real world tyrannies?
John Jackson Miller: Most definitely, history came into play. In what seems like a lifetime ago, I was studying to be a Sovietologist, someone who studies the inner workings of the Soviet Union. Before I could finish my program, communism fell. That was great for the world, but it put the kibosh to my interest in continuing on to the doctorate.
But one thing I learned in my comparative politics studies was that every political system differs from country to country based in part on local culture, tradition, and personalities. No ideology is practiced in the same way anywhere. The Soviet Union was not China, which was not Vietnam, which was not North Korea. It struck me that in a period in which there are multiple Sith Lords battling to see whose scheme for controlling society was superior, we would have a lot of interesting variations, as well.
I think that in Knight Errant, we present some takes on Sith empires that people have never seen or considered before. Many will not seem like the Empire of Palpatine, and some aren’t necessarily very “Sithy” at all by comparison. But it’s important to remember that the novel takes place during what is still a battle of ideas for the Sith. They don’t have the perfect solution yet.
Unbound Worlds: Your book is so cosmopolitan. There are tons of alien species in this tale, and many of them are outside the usual range of sentients we see in Star Wars fiction. How did you choose which ones to include? Was it a question of not wanting to rely on the old standards, or were these particular favorites of yours, or what?
John Jackson Miller: I always try to employ a variety of aliens in my work. In comics it’s very easy to do so because we have the artists to populate crowd scenes. In prose I need to be a little more choosy, because you don’t always want to slow down to describe every random alien you encounter. When you do bring a lesser-known species in, it should get the appropriate attention. So while there are a number of familiar species in the novel, I also made sure there was space to get into what was special about the less familiar species I chose to spotlighted.
I rely a lot on the old Ultimate Alien Anthology which puts all alien species in a visual line-up next to each other; I frequently flip through in search of species that have unique talents that might be interesting to write about. A couple of the species we see in the novel previously appeared in the Tales of the Jedi comics: the Krevaaki and the floating-brain Celegians. The characters we met then were heroes: I thought it would be interesting to write about members of those species that were in the service of the Sith.
I very much like going against type whenever I can, whether that means violent Ithorians or Trandoshans who like to cook.
Unbound Worlds: I don’t want to give too much away about the relationship between the Sith lords in your novel, but I have to ask you about how you went about developing it. I was reminded continually of The Godfather. How did you conceptualize this framework? Should I ask about your own childhood? Did you get along with your own siblings? 🙂
John Jackson Miller: Actually, it was my sister, Kathy, who took me to the movies and bought a lot of the toys, so that wasn’t a problem!
But you’re reference to The Godfather is apt. I had read a lot of Mario Puzo, including his book on the Borgia family; and, of course, if we wanted to go further back into history in that part of the world, there’s I, Claudius. One of the things you see in those works is that when you already have complicated power relationships, the introduction of sibling rivalry just adds to it. How much of Damian and Odion’s war is over philosophy, and how much is psychological? This sector of space is clearly in need of the Sith version of Dr. Phil!
Unbound Worlds: What relationship does the book have with the comic book series? Do they complement each other? Can you read one without being familiar with the other? How do you even begin to work this kind of relationship between titles out?
John Jackson Miller: Both projects were developed at the same time and designed to integrate seamlessly. You don’t have to have read the comics to fully enjoy the novel and vice versa. If you’ve read both, you just get more: more chances to see the characters in action and more chances to see what this world is like.
For those who are interested, the events of the novel take place several weeks after the events of the last chapter of the first comics series, “Aflame”. (Part of the first issue of “Aflame” appears as a color insert in the novel, in fact.) However, the novel does not spoil the ending of “Aflame”. I made a deliberate effort to make the two works stand alone, but I’m hoping people be interested in learning more about Kerra Holt and will seek out the other material.
Unbound Worlds: What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
John Jackson Miller: The second Mass Effect comics series, Evolution, has just started. I’m scripting that based on the plots of Mac Walters from BioWare. The sixth Lost Tribe of the Sith story, Sentinel, is due to appear shortly. I’m writing more of those after that. I’m also working on some fiction of my own. There are other projects that have yet to be announced, but it’s safe to say that readers have not seen the last of Kerra Holt. Stay tuned! Readers can follow my updates on Twitter, on Facebook, or on my blog.