STAR WARS: A NEW DAWN Writer's First Interview Reveals New Star Wars Status Quo

Star Wars: A New Dawn cover
Credit: Random House

After Disney bought Lucasfilm, it was clear a new era of Star Wars was on the horizon. Now, with the special release of the Early Readers copies of Star Wars: A New Dawn, that era is here.

At Comic-Con International: San Diego 2014, the Star Wars books side of things actually launched the new world of Star Wars. Now, all the books, movies, TV series, comic books, and even the games come from one official canon. Thanks to the coordination of the Star Wars Story Group at Lucasfilm, gone are the days of guessing and speculating (and arguing) about which stories are in-continuity.

So who was up to the daunting task of launching a new era of stores? Seasoned veteran John Jackson Miller, whose prequel to the animated series Star Wars Rebels sees its official launch on September 2, 2014 from Random House. Lucky fans at Comic-Con got their hands on an exclusive early version in paperback however, with Miller on-hand to sign; and sign he did, with around 4,000 copies put in fans’ hands over the four days of the convention.

We talked with Miller in the exclusive first interview about A New Dawn, including some specific teases, what it’s like launching the new Disney-led Star Wars, and the somewhat surprising other franchise he’s diving into next.

Newsarama: So, John, what’s it like to have the first officially released piece of Disney Star Wars?

John Jackson Miller: Well, it’s important to clarify what we’re doing here. Star Wars: A New Dawn is the first work to come out as a product of the Lucasfilm Story Group. This is a collaboration between the people working on the movies, on the TV series like Rebels, the fiction people, and the comics people as well, with the licensees. The intention is that we head off any conflicts well before they would become a problem.

For example, my novel is set several years before the beginning of Star Wars Rebels the TV series. I worked with Dave Filoni and Greg Weismann and Simon Kinberg – conference calls with Dave and email exchanges with the others – to make sure that my portrayal of both the two characters that appear in the novel and the series, Kanan and Hera, match up with what it should be at this point in time, but also I wanted to get a sense of what they thought the galaxy was like at this point. Because we’re doing it the way we are with them getting to look at these things, we head off any possible problems. Like if I decided to say, “hey I’m putting an eyepatch on Kanan for the rest of the series,” they would be able to say, “no, don’t do that. He has no eyepatch in our TV Show.” So that really is what we’re trying to accomplish here.

We did all these books and comics and things in the previous years, but the production period, the way that things worked for comics is different from novels is different from television is different from movies. What we need to do with tie-in fiction is make sure it supports the larger enterprise. We don’t want to write anybody into a corner. We tie-in, we don’t tie-down. I would certainly hate for any story of mine to prevent someone else from making the best Movie or TV episode or Comic or Novel that they could.

Star Wars: A New Dawn cover
Star Wars: A New Dawn cover
Credit: Random House

Nrama: You worked in the world previously known as the Expanded Universe for many years in both comics and novels. What has this shift meant for you, and how is it different compared to when you were working in the EU and canon wasn’t a primary concern?

JJ Miller: Well, we still tried to make sure that everything interacted. I’ve always treated any license that I worked on, whether it be Star Wars, or Star Trek that I’m going to be working on now, or Mass Effect or even Conan… I’ve always tried to keep the footprint of what I’m working on limited. I treat licenses as though they’re national parks – I try not to leave any garbage in it that makes it difficult for someone who’s going to come in later (laughs). I don’t want to spoil it for them.

So for me it’s not that different. The thing is, the themes of the Star Wars books and comics that I’ve done. There’s a continuity just within those as far as I’m concerned. Star Wars: A New Dawn is about a Jedi student who is cut loose after Order 66 comes down. He has no master, he has no purpose, he doesn’t know what to do. Stories of Jedi being cut off from the order is what I’ve been writing for years: Knights of the Old Republic with Zayne in the graphic novels, Knight Errant with Kerra Holt in the comics and the novel. Even Lost Tribe of the Sith had a segment in it with a Jedi that had been cut loose. Then of course Kenobi, which was absolutely about the main Jedi who had been cut off from the order, in a way.

So A New Dawn fits in with that. I’ve always felt that was one of the more interesting areas that I would like to pursue. Even though, yes, there’s a distinction between what came before and what is going to exist now… the last line of Kenobi is the first line of A New Dawn. It’s something that I wanted to underline for readers; as far as I’m concerned, it’s all still Star Wars, it’s all still part of a piece.

I really think it’s a mistake for people to play the canon/not-canon parlor game. What they said when they made the announcement is that the previous material wasn’t being discarded, it would be drawn from – inspirations and ideas would come from it. The planets are the same; the species are the same. You know, the Rebels series uses the same manufacturer of the TIE fighters that was introduced in the Role Playing Games years ago. My book revolves around a strategic compound that I introduced back in KOTOR years ago! The universe is the same.

The thing about “Legends,” and that’s the word on the cover of the previous material: Legends can be true, in part or in whole. They inspire, they are sort of like the King Arthur story – parts of that, little bits of that here and there are true.

Nrama: And that’s what I felt when I was reading Kenobi, like it was a folk tale; there wasn’t any continuity to fit into, because it could exist, it could not, it could have been passed down over the years…

Kenobi softcover edition (with LEGENDS Banner)
Kenobi softcover edition (with LEGENDS Banner)
Credit: Del Rey / Random House

JJ Miller: Yeah, yeah, as far as I’m concerned, the only differences between the Kenobi hardcover and the Kenobi softcover is that one word, “Legends” and that the softcover is physically smaller. (laughs)

Nrama: So let’s talk a little bit about A New Dawn and jumping into the Rebels universe here. I did get to see the Rebels pilot this week, and it struck me as very interesting that the pilot starts off right away with the main team, aside from Ezra the new recruit, the main team has clearly been together for awhile and works really well as this cohesive unit. So this is rewinding a bit – what is interesting about looking into that past, and what can it illuminate about the “present” day of the series?

JJ Miller: Well, what we’ll see here is quite the opposite of the well-oiled machine. This is several years before Rebels, and it does show the first meeting of Kanan and Hera. But at this point, Kanan wants absolutely nothing to do with rebellions or uprisings or anything like that. And Hera doesn’t think that he’s ready for prime time!

The same is true for the other characters that get drawn into the predicament that we have here. I’ve said many times that the touchstone line from the adaptation that Alan Dean Foster did of Star Wars years and years ago is in the prologue, with Princess Leia saying “they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and naturally they became heroes.” These characters are all in the wrong place at the wrong time – they want nothing to do with each other. Hera does not want these people attached to her in this situation. Kanan absolutely – his instruction from Obi-Wan, the little bit of instruction that he has, is to lay low and avoid being detected! So he has moved on. He wants to do his work, get his money, and have fun. His only hope is to make happy hour.

Nrama: You brought up the fact that many of your stories have been this Ronin idea, the master-less Samurai, the wandering Warrior. What is so appealing about that idea that makes you go back to it?

JJ Miller: Well here in Star Wars, it makes it a singular, human story, and focuses everything on one person. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with the colossal world out there, the overall galaxy. I think that’s where some people doing their own fiction kind of run afoul or run aground. They focus so much on the world building, on the chrome, on the detail of their massive universe, that they fail to focus on the individual.

Here in A New Dawn, yes we focus on this archetypical figure Kanan that is a man without a purpose, but we also have some other figures as well, who are just regular folks trapped in the Imperial machine.

That’s another one of the big attractions of this book for me, is that I got to write about the Imperial machine as it’s really getting revved up. I got to deal with the logistical matters that they have to tackle. How did the Empire grow from being a republic that was really a trade organization, and how did it turn into this monstrosity that is turning out Star Destroyers and other warships by the thousands? How is it that it can get control of the necessary labor and industry? What does that do to the individuals?

We definitely see a ground-level view of this happening. We get to see it from the point of view of the workers; Kanan is one among them. We also get to see it from the point of view of an Imperial Captain and one of the Emperor’s minions whose job it is to sort everything out. Our villain in the story is Count Vidian, who is the Emperor’s efficiency expert. You can imagine having that guy come to your town.

Nrama: What in this book have you done that’s new for you in the Star Wars world in particular?

JJ Miller: Well this is the latest in the timeline that I’ve ever done, with the exception of the very first comic book I did for Dark Horse, which was a Darth Vader story set between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. This is the latest thing I’ve done. So like I said I get to really look at the Empire. It allows me to use my Soviet Studies degree that I never get to use, and look at how they transformed things so quickly.

The fact that most of the people that are involved in the Empire – many of them are not themselves evil. The Emperor has come up with a really cool way of deceiving everyone and getting them to join his little party. A lot of these people don’t consider themselves villains.

It’s also fun that this book is coming out right after the paperback of Kenobi releases. I’m delighted by the response that book got. It just won the Scribe award for best original tie-in novel from the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers here at Comic-Con, and that was kinda neat. I’m really excited for how that book was received.

Nrama: What about your own near future?

JJ Miller: Well I have my first Star Trek novel being released, that’s coming out in January 2015. It’s called Star Trek: The Next Generation: Takedown. There should be cover art fairly soon on that. It’s a Picard-Riker novel that was really fun to write.

Nrama: Awesome! But I imagine you’re not leaving the Star Wars universe behind anytime soon.

JJ Miller: No, no. I guess we seem to have a thing about guys named JJ working in both universes at the same time!

It was a story I just have been really thinking about for many years. I’m delighted I got to do with the folks involved over there. It’s also fun to have the transporter to play with, because you don’t have to worry about shuttles and things like that!

Nrama: I bet! All right, close us out with one specific tease, something you’re really excited for readers to see in Star Wars: A New Dawn.

JJ Miller: I really love the world that we have built for Kanan to live on. It’s one of many thousands of worlds like that… but this is a world that literally has no dawn. It’s a world that is tidally locked to its sun, and the only place to live is on the dark side. So there will never be a sunrise, or everyone will die!

I was able to develop this fun little community for Kanan. He lives in the back of a Cantina, so he can stay close to the bar. (laughs) He has these odd jobs. He flies explosives back and forth to the moon, and at night he drives the drunks back and forth to the cantina. It is – he has his little world, and all these other people are living in it. And we get to see how all these worlds get ripped up by the Empire pretty frequently, just be being around.

Nrama: It sounds like your world is a bit of a metaphor there, too: it’s only safe to live in the “dark side,” if you go into the light there’s danger?

JJ Miller: (laughs) Well, I don’t object to anyone finding symbolism where they want.

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