Three years in, and Marvel's Star Wars line is growing by leaps and bounds - or would that be jumps into hyperspace. Heading it all up is editor Jordan D. White, who oversees the creators of the various comic book titles and negotiates with its Disney sister company Lucasfilm - including regular visits to Skywalker Ranch.
As Marvel's Star Wars line enters its third year, it's doubled in size with four ongoings and roughly three miniseries all going at the same time. So with The Last Jedi still in our memory banks and Solo: A Star Wars Story coming up on our scanners, Newsarama spoke with White about the growth of the line, how the recent movie (and its polarizing reaction) affects the comic books, and his own thoughts on fandom and shipping.
Newsarama: Jordan, let's start off slow - without giving away spoilers, can you reveal an interesting piece of Star Wars research you've done lately for your job here? Maybe bring up your search history on Wookiepedia?
Jordan D. White: Geez, I don’t know. Not that I can think of. Wookiepedia is very fun site, but don’t use it a ton; it’s not official, but fan-run. For the official stuff, I go more what Lucasfilm has published and direct to the story group. We do get PDFs of the art books, art dictionaries, guides, etc.
Found one – Zev Senesca – it’s the name of a character. I looked them up for research for something.
Nrama: The Star Wars line has really expanded, with four ongoing series, one-shots and then miniseries like this week’s Thrawn adaptation. You were there day 1 when this launched - how does it match up with the plans Marvel had?
White: I would say pretty good from what we expected. We probably did a few more than we did in the beginning; we started with three series (including one mini), so what we have now is more than we expected. We knew a main Star Wars book was warranted, and we were quick to do Darth Vader with Kieron Gillen. When that ran its course, we brought Vader back in a new volume in a different era – which is what we have now.
Then at the time, we had rotating miniseries ranging from Leia to Lando, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Obi-Wan and Anakin, Mace Windu, Captain Phasma, and Shattered Empire.
Overall, I’m really excited at how much Star Wars fans have embraced what we’re doing. You can never be sure if these are Star Wars fans coming to read these comics specifically, or Marvel readers expanding to read our Star Wars comic books. We definitely hear from people who write into us and say how exciting the line is for them and how much it adds to the overall Star Wars experience.
Nrama: What has been the biggest surprise coming out of Marvel’s Star Wars line?
White: I didn’t expect Sana Solo to be as big as it got. The same with Aphra – I loved her in Kieron’s Darth Vader.
When he started writing her, it was out of necessity; the title needed someone who could talk more, say things, be humorous, and challenge Vader about things. She needed to be someone readers would hopefully like but is threatened not to live through the series. When the series began wrapping up, we all thought – Kieron included – “she’s going to die – that’s all there is to it.”
That sat there for months, but then Kieron sent us an email – “I figured out how to save Aphra.”
It worked out great. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read it yet, but he nailed it perfectly. Now she’s got her own book – a first for a Marvel-originated Star Wars character. I’m very proud of Kieron and Si Spurrier doing that book – it’s so clever and smart.
Nrama: We’re here talking just over two months since Star Wars: The Last Jedi came out – two comic book one-shots have touched on events of the movie so far, and I'm sure there's more to come. But I have to ask, given critical reception to Last Jedi as being much more than "just" a Star Wars movie, how does it embolden/guide you and your authors with what the comic books are?
White: Absolutely. I absolutely loved the movie. I think it was a really great direction after what had come before
I know the prequels are very contentious, in that a lot of people don’t like them that much. They’re not my favorite part of all the Star Wars movies, but those – and Clone Wars as well – are incredibly rich with a lot of world-building. Some of the most impressive stuff now is being able to build on the entire saga, drawing from the prequels, the original trilogy, and the new films. This is all one shared universe, and Last Jedi took advantage of that.
I like the fact that The Last Jedi, in a way movies before hadn’t, grapples with what the Jedi are/were in the prequels. When we watch the original trilogy, the Jedi are presented in an idealized form. We saw how Luke struggles to become one – doing his best, and being a great hero. In the prequels, I wouldn’t say they’re not heroes – but they’ve got bogged down in a lot of stuff. Luke is wrestling with that, decades later, in Last Jedi – the idea that a lot of what went wrong was their fault. The Jedi aren’t perfect, but he thinks they should end in that moment.
But Rey came along – Rey wants the original trilogy back. She wants the dream of the Jedi from when they were children. Luke explains that that idea isn’t real – but she shows that’s what the universe needs. And then in the end, he gave that to her. And I think that’s really awesome. [Laughs]
I very much look forward to the day we tell stories that go beyond that, and goes into how that changes things.
I can’t say anything about when that will be, but we’re in a very exciting world as writers, artists, and editors, doing more stories set before The Last Jedi. There’s a lot we can play with, even more so knowing what happens in future movies ahead of time.
Nrama: I was excited to see so many comic artists doing concept art for The Last Jedi, including Tonci Zonjic's amazing Elite Praetorian Guards. Any chance we could see some of their talents enlisted in the Marvel line?
White: Absolutely. No plans currently, but that’s a very talented group. At the very least, it would be cool for them to do covers.
Nrama: A couple years in, how would you frame how close you counsel Lucasfilm and the Star Wars Story Group on big decisions within the Marvel/Star Wars line? Are you just co-workers, or friends? Do you know their children’s names? Do you exchange gifts over the holidays? [Laughs]
White: I don’t think I know their kids’ names. [Laughs]
I know all their names, and I’ve met at least one of their spouses. We work really closely with Lucasfilm.
We’ve got a thematic crossover between Star Wars and Darth Vader coming up; they each place in different times, but are both set on the same planet – Mon Cala. So that became an interesting one, where we need to map out the history of the planet, which meant pulling from the Clone Wars cartoon, the prose novels, and even some unreleased Clone Wars stuff that’s still canon. Charting what happened there after the rise of the Empire, after the first Death Star blew up, etc. – we created that timeline for Mon Cala.
It's a very neat crossover that Charles Soule on Darth Vader and Kieron Gillen on Star Wars is doing. It’s a novel way to share space.
Nrama: Shifting gears, here’s a question from the Newsarama news room. Romance has been a big part of Star Wars from the outset, from what happens on screen to what fans see happening or want to see happen. How do you feel about the idea of 'shipping' within the Star Wars mythos? Are there certain characters you'd like to see pair up, or those people within your office would like to see?
White: I’m a fan as a well as an editor. That said, I don’t do a ton of shipping myself… most of the time. I don’t tend to read a lot of extra relationships into things; I tend to stick to those that are heavily implied. So for Force Awakens, I was super into Rey and Finn and hoped they would get together. Now with The Last Jedi, that seems crushed. I hope they still get together though.
Nrama: Any others? Speaking of The Force Awakens, the Chewbacca/Doctor Harter Kalonia scene was something … and I just can’t forget Finn and Poe.
Nrama: moving on then, let's talk about the main Star Wars title, which your Darth Vader team of Kieron and Salvador have seamlessly taken over following Jason and other artists' work. You're nearing on issue #50, what are you goals for the series as a whole? How big should a Star Wars #50 be?
White: We are definitely aware of #50. The plans for that were actually in Kieron Gillen’s initial pitch to join Star Wars. He plotted it out to be a big, big story and a turning point for the series. I don’t want to say anything much yet…but it’s probably the biggest story in scope that we’ve done since the start of the flagship.
Nrama: Okay… Let me poke around: do you have plans to stay in the time period between Episodes 4 and 5 indefinitely? Could readers see a jump at some point?
White: There’s a good chance we could move out of that time period. It’s a matter of where we feel the best stories lie.
The reason we set it post A New Hope originally is because that’s “peak Star Wars” as far as many of the main characters go. Luke, in some ways is more interesting between episodes five and six, but if you go that far ahead then you lose out on Han Solo – and having Han Solo’s pretty great. Here you have Han, Luke, Leia, the droids, Darth Vader (if you need him)… that’s why we picked this era.
We do deviate from time to time, in various series including the Poe Dameron ongoing. But the idea of jumping around in time is very different from typical Marvel Comics. If you’re reading X-Men, you’re generally expecting it to all take place “now.” You pick it up, it takes place now; the next issue you read takes place in the new “now”. On some level, we want to encourage that in the Star Wars books – the main book is set at this one point in time, as are Darth Vader and most of the others. But we’ve expanded into other eras, from Rebels to the Clone Wars era to pre-The Force Awakens with Poe Dameron.
Nrama: Speaking of jumps, Solo: A Star Wars Story comes out in a few months. I know you can't make any announcements here, but you already have a Han Solo collection of older material coming out. How much Han Solo talk is there these days in Marvel HQ?
White: I’ve seen lots of stuff – but I can’t say anything about it. That said, I’m so excited. The last time we were at Lucasfilm, we were shown stuff that made us very pumped for the movie.
Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals for Star Wars in 2018?
White: My big goal is to tell the biggest Star Wars stories we can; to make people feel like they’re watching a new movie. I think we’ve got the right people to make that happen.
Kieron Gillen is a planner. Everything he’s doing builds upon itself, and is building to something bigger. I’m so excited for what he’s got cooking.
Charles also loves to plan ahead, and he loves big arcs. He’s getting to so into Darth Vader that it’s a little scary. He’s got big plans for that guy, and I hope people dig what they are when its released.
Over on Poe Dameron, we’ve just revealed that with issue #26, we’re finally arriving at The Force Awakens! We get to tell the story of The Force Awakens from the point of view of our book’s main characters. After that…who knows what will happen?