Lucasfilm’s bold new transmedia initiative, Star Wars: The High Republic, promises to give us a look back into the galaxy, far, far away at the peak of the Jedi Order’s luminescence. Champions of an expansionist Republic, masters of the Force, they are a vision for the galaxy. But how heavy does that image hang on its youngest members in a time of crisis?
Early next year, The High Republic will kick off across new books — adult novels and adventures aimed at younger readers — and comics. For Marvel specifically, it means the launch of a brand new Star Wars ongoing, joining its main title, Darth Vader, and Doctor Aphra as the publisher’s window into the Star Wars universe. Penned by Cavan Scott and featuring art by Ario Anindito and Mark Morales, the series, simply titled Star Wars: The High Republic, will frame the wider narrative’s reckoning over the disaster surrounding the mid-lightspeed destruction of the transport ship Legacy Run and the relationship between two unconventional Jedi aboard the Republic fringe outpost called Starlight Beacon: Keeve Trennis and her master, Sskeer.
But they are not master and apprentice for long. Sskeer, a Trandoshan — not a common sight in what we’ve come to expect from Star Wars’ idea of a Jedi — is on the precipice of leaving Keeve behind. She’ll undergo trials to ascend from being a padawan and stand alone for the first time in her life in the Order as a Jedi Knight and do it all as one of the youngest knights in the Order, at an unprecedented moment of galactic crisis.
“We’ve had stories of Jedi who were confident. We’ve had stories of Jedi who search, who want to know more, who want to be better,” Cavan Scott, the comics writer and Star Wars author who will write the ongoing story, recently told Gizmodo over a video call. “I want to tell the story of a Jedi who is good, but doesn’t know how good she is — and doesn’t know why she’s been chosen for this and struggles with that question and what that would mean to her character. How would she respond to people? She has a relationship with Sskeer she’s had for years, as his apprentice. And he’s there. But now he’s not there. She’s equal to him. And perhaps he’s going off with other people, and she’s going off on her own. That was fascinating.”
It was an idea that had driven Scott since the first time he became involved in what was referred to in hushed tones as “Project Luminous” — the coming together of luminaries from across the Disney era of Star Wars’ publishing initiatives to forge a brand new chapter of the franchise, in a timeline we’ve never seen before. Standing in Skywalker ranch as his fellow authors discussed what Star Wars meant to them and what they would do with the blank canvas of this new era, the author found himself both in awe and feeling out of his depth: much like the protagonist of his new Marvel comic.
“Something I suffer with sometimes is imposter syndrome, and it’s something I was struggling with that week [at Skywalker Ranch],” Scott told us. “And the more we talked about what the Jedi could be — and it was the second week we’d [been] out there, that we really established what the era would be — the more I kept thinking back to that moment where it was scary enough, for me, to be in this situation, to think, ‘Have I got a place to be a this table? Do I deserve a place at this table? Have I got a story to tell?’”
Scott and the rest of his team do, in fact. As does Keeve Trennis, Jedi Knight. Find out more about the writer’s first steps in The High Republic, fleshing out the lives of Keeve and Sskeer, and what readers can expect out of this next phase of Star Wars storytelling in our full interview below: as well as an exclusive look inside some of the unfinished interior pages of Star Wars: The High Republic #1!
James Whitbrook: It feels like a lifetime ago when this was the mysterious “Project Luminous” — what was it like, back when this project was coming together, not just to work on this shared project but essentially carving out an entire new chapter of Star Wars?
Cavan Scott: Very exciting. So, I think Mike [Siglain, Lucasfilm Publishing creative director] and I’s first talks at San Diego Comic-Con — back when we could have a San Diego Comic-Con — was a few years ago now, he asked me if I’d like to come on board. I thought about it for at least a second before saying yes. But then he threw into the mix I wouldn’t know who the other people were — because he was in the process of asking them, as well. So, I agreed to do it. We knew there was going to be a trip to [Skywalker] ranch which, obviously, was exciting in itself. But yeah — the five of us didn’t know who the others were, at first. And so there was this day when someone sent me an email and the names were there — there was a sense of, like, ‘oh, thank heavens — I can work with them’ — because you don’t know, really how you work with someone, the first time.
But the good thing that happened in Star Wars, from a writing point of view, was From a Certain Point of View, the writing anthology that came out for the 40th anniversary [of A New Hope]. That book, I think, brought us all together — mainly because the event we did at New York Comic Con when it launched, we signed what seemed like hundreds of copies. We set up in this tiny room and passed from one to another, and we did this massive panel where there were fifteen of us there on the panel — because it was a joint project, there were so many people. The writing community of Star Wars fiction became a lot closer because of that book. And it was something we were doing together, and it was exciting.
So yes, I’ve known all the other guys on the team but have never worked with them — but we all knew each other. I think we all felt the same. And then the build-up started, we didn’t really know what was waiting for us when we did that first trip to the ranch — and spent those days discussing what we love about Star Wars. And that’s where it all started. ‘What do we love about Star Wars?’ What do we love about storytelling? We watched Star Wars: A New Hope, the new 4K cut, in the theatre on the ranch, which was just incredible. With the statues from [Palpatine’s] office, in front of us! Everything about it is surreal. Daniel [José Older, writer on IDW’s High Republic Adventures comic] and I spent the entire week walking around the ranch just going, “What?!.” That feeling hasn’t gone away.
We’ve been back there since, working with Rob [Simpson, Lucasfilm Publishing senior editor], and Mike, and the entire story group team, and the editors, everyone involved. But we still had those moments — and we still talk regularly, the five of us, about those moments — walking through the ranch the first time and going, “This is insane!.” It has to continue. It has to feel exciting. It has to feel fresh, for us to get that freshness across. It’s all based on our love for the franchise. So, the wait to let people know what Project Luminous was was insane, and infuriating, and necessary. Then we had a period of time where we thought it was going to be out, but, because of things that have been going on in the world, it’s been a bit delayed. But, you know, that’s only just made it more exciting for us. Now we’re very excited. We’re within a couple of months of people holding it.
Whitbrook: You love the hell out of Star Wars. You have written a lot of Star Wars at this point. With the Marvel book, you’re coming to what I think is a slightly different audience — did it feel different to you?
Scott: I think it’s all about seeing Star Wars through a different lens. A Star Wars story is a Star Wars story. There are elements there no matter what audience you’re writing for. You’re always going to include things. Now, obviously, when you’re writing for an all-age audience — not a kid’s audience, anyone can pick it up from an adult to a child — and can hopefully read them together. That was the reason behind Star Wars Adventures, at the beginning. So, I don’t approach the stories in any different way from a creation point of view — obviously, when you’re telling them, it’s going through a different lens. You have to be responsible when you’re writing for an all-age audience, you have to be careful about what you put into it.
But there’s the old adage: sometimes the 12-year-old likes it to feel realer or scarier, and for me, personally, the 12-year-old always likes it when it’s scary. And so, you’re able to grant things more depth, more space as well. You can delve more into the dimensions of the characters and you can be a little more… not too explicit because it’s still Star Wars — the action has to feel like it’s part of the Star Wars universe as a whole — but you can explore the reality of what being in space, and in the Republic at that time, really is. For me, personally, writing for Marvel is almost bringing the circle back to the beginning, because I started my Star Wars fandom not with the film, but the Marvel UK weekly. The first issue, I still have, of Star Wars Weekly — it’s been comics first, forever. Marvel comics, especially! I’m thrilled to be writing the new Marvel comic for this new era. It’s like coming home.
Whitbrook: High Republic is telling a wider story now that there’s this hyperspace accident that rallies the Jedi together. But you’re telling the story of two very specific members of the order that we briefly met and want to talk about in a bit, because they’re both very interesting characters. When you’re telling these big, interconnected shared universe stories, when you’re plotting the arcs, how often are you thinking “Oh, this is tying to this book” or, “Now someone’s telling this story with the Jedi or character” — how much of that is sitting in your mind constantly as you’re fleshing out the characters?
Scott: It’s there all the time. The joy of this is, we have the five of us working on it, largely — we meet once a week, virtually. We’re talking every day, as I said, so, we’re constantly throwing things back and forth. We’re reading each other’s stuff, and each of those characters we focus on can come in and out of the different books and comics. It’s definitely always there. The way I work anyway, and the way I write Star Wars, I like those little connections to everything else. I like the Easter Eggs, as long as they’re not going to trip up any reader. That’s the one thing we’re all trying to be very careful about: even though every part of the initiative tells a different part of the larger story, you should be able to tell what’s going on. Then, if you’re reading everything, a great Easter Egg is something that will reward people, and not take away from someone. So, if you’re reading something and you see something and go “Oh, hang on, that was in Claudia [Grey]’s book” or, “That was in IDW!” or “That was in Light of the Jedi,” then you get the thrill of being part of the story. If you don’t know that, it feels like it’s part of the natural narrative — and then hopefully, you’ll find out, “Hang on, there’s more to go and discover.” So, it’s always there. We do want it to feel like a joined-up universe.
Keeve and Sskeer [the main characters in Marvel’s series] are stationed on Starlight Beacon, which is the heart of Star Wars: The High Republic. This massive space station that’s been launched in the dark zones, an area of space with not a lot of planets or anything. It’s a beacon for travellers pushing out to the frontier, there’s a Jedi temple onboard the station. The two Jedi we focus on — it’s Keeve’s story, and Sskeer’s her master — they’re part of a team, as well. That’s what’s been exciting for me. We’ve been very used to seeing masters and apprentices, but here, we see a master/apprentice right at the point where the apprentice becomes a Knight. You see them having to pull away and become independent. They become independent in this huge space station right away where there are all these other Jedi who suddenly come in, and we’re introduced to more Jedi over the first issues. They then have to figure out how to work as a team, as a unit — just like the five of us who are writing The High Republic! That’s the exciting thing, you’ve got all these Jedi in varied stages of their careers — masters, new Jedi, people who have found themselves in a position they didn’t know they were going to take — and they’re out of their comfort zone, right out on the edge of the Republic, and they have to be a beacon. That’s something they take very seriously, it weighs heavy on them: They are the light for this space. It’s been something that has a bearing on just about every other story, and you will see these characters coming in and out of the other stories, as well.
One thing I’m doing we’ve yet to announce more details about is that I’m writing the second High Republic Del Rey novel, so I’ve been able to work out at which points that novel fits into what we’re doing with the comics. Again, it’s not a case where every five minutes they’re going to be popping up and bleed into each other’s stories, but you know, they’re in the same area, they’re in the same part of space. You know that things are happening at the same time and if you pay attention, there are deeper secrets to be found — clues to the future, as well.
Whitbrook: You’ve touched a bit on Keeve and Sskeer’s relationship a bit, but I wanted to ask about Keeve — when you and the team were crafting this version of the Jedi Order, why were you interested in focusing on Keeve? She’s in this interesting moment we’ve seen in the preview pages, on the brink of this tumultuous point in a Jedi’s life…
Scott: I honestly think that, for me, it’s a very personal thing. It all went back to that first week at Skywalker Ranch. I was walking up to the building we were having our first meeting in, I was feeling comfortable. Yet, there was also part of me going “Why am I here,” You know? There was part of me going, “I’m a long way from home…” Literally, I’m from Bristol, you couldn’t get much different from Bristol from Skywalker Ranch, California! There was a real sense of…something I suffer with sometimes is imposter syndrome, and it’s something I was struggling with that week. And the more we talked about what the Jedi could be — and it was the second week we’d [been] out there, that we really established what the era would be — the more I kept thinking back to that moment where it was scary enough, for me, to be in this situation, to think, “Have I got a place to be at this table? Do I deserve a place at this table? Have I got a story to tell?”
What would it be like to be a Jedi who was literally, straight minutes away after being knighted, thrown into this situation? Who suddenly finds herself the focal point for the entire galaxy — all the eyes are literally on her? Everyone’s expecting them to do well, just because she’s there. Just because she’s with these people. She’s been knighted, so they’ve got faith in her. If she wasn’t good, she would not be a Jedi Knight.
That kept coming back to me and fascinating me because we’ve had stories of Jedi who were confident. We’ve had stories of Jedi who search, who want to know more, who want to be better. I want to tell the story of a Jedi who is good, but doesn’t know how good she is — and doesn’t know why she’s been chosen for this and struggles with that question and what that would mean to her character. How would she respond to people? She has a relationship with Sskeer she’s had for years, as his apprentice. And he’s there. But now he’s not there. She’s equal to him. And perhaps he’s going off with other people, and she’s going off on her own. That was fascinating.
I pitched right from the beginning. That came from my initial pitch for the entire initiative. [Keeve] was quite different, in those days… she’s been with me all the way through this. As soon as we were talking about what jobs we were going to do, I think it’s a good story you can do in comics that readers identify with. It just opens up so many forms of drama, for both of them. Because it’s not just Keeve who struggles with life, we’ve never really thought about what it’d be like for a Master to send out their Padawan and be a Knight in their own right. So there’s lots to deal with.
Whitbrook: I wanted to talk about Sskeer — he’s a big Trandoshan with one arm, and I love him to bits already. But like you said, not only does he have this very interesting relationship with Keeve, we also don’t see Trandoshan characters depicted like this. It’s a race that is usually coded in Star Wars as bounty hunters, as warriors — not usually seen in a particularly bright light — whereas now we’ve got a Jedi master. What was it like writing a character like that?
Scott: The thing with Sskeer is that, he… I struggle with alien races that have one characteristic. Monocultures, I struggle with, because we don’t have that, as a species. It was something I was keen to explore. I have to totally put down the creation of the idea to Phil Noto, comic artist extraordinaire, who did this concept art while we were coming up with these ideas — and there was a Trandoshan in the middle with a lightsaber. I got very obsessed, as Mike and the rest will tell you, with that picture, trying to work out who each person in the line was — Sskeer really stood out to me. For exactly those reasons, he’s a Trandoshan, he comes from a very brutal background. What would that be like for a Jedi? He must have worked hard to get over that in his training. What would his relationship be with a young person who just came in? We’re going to see Keeve and Sskeer younger [at points during the comic]. How would he go against his nature, striving to be something else, to be the best? So yeah, Phil gave me the start for that and I ran with it.
It was quite late in the day that Sskeer became [Keeve’s] master. In earlier iterations, he was a Jedi on the station, and we didn’t really see her master. But I wasn’t happy with the way she was — I didn’t feel like she had a past we could really understand — so when the inspiration came to make Sskeer her master, that’s where [Keeve] really crystalized. I think people are going to love that relationship. From the few pages people have seen online, people seem to be. It’s not always going to be easy for them — I can’t really say more than that… but some troubled times lie ahead.
Whitbrook: You mentioned Phil there — what was it like coming into a project with such a large group of collaborators, only to introduce more as you met Ario and Mark? Did you feel like you were shepherding these people into a universe you’ve had in your head for a while?
Scott: I can’t really compare it to anything else, the scope of this has just been huge. The people Lucasfilm have collected to work on it, beyond the five of us, beyond the artists of the comics, or any of the creative teams on the writing side… we had a day when we were in L.A. for the launch, earlier this year — feels like a long time ago! — and we went into the [Lucasfilm] art department, and there were so many walls of The High Republic art. These characters we’d been discussing, there was concept art. A lot of it we’ve been sharing, but to have Disney and Lucasfilm’s art department working on this has been amazing. I’ve never worked on a feature film, I can only imagine what it’s like to have a concept artist working [on your project]. You throw ideas out and somebody realises, which I’m used to with comics, you give an idea and the artist 99% of the time makes it better. With this, there were so many ideas coming from these pieces of art. One of the main antagonists we’ve got in the comic came from a piece of art from Ian [McCaig, longtime Star Wars concept artist]. It wasn’t anything he designed but he put together this character and we went, “Oooh, that’s interesting. What’s their story?” So it’s been incredible to have such a vast amount of talent going into this.
I don’t think people realise just how many people have been working on The High Republic. And hats off to everyone else, the five of us are out there, but there are so many people behind-the-scenes on this project. So many people. The work they’ve been doing is so stellar, it’s been amazing, and it’s been more creative because of that. The possibilities for stories wouldn’t have been there without that art [team]. It’s been incredible.
On the side of the comic, Keeve had been pretty much designed by the time Ario came aboard, as had Sskeer and a few other characters — but there was still a long way to go with the way Starlight Beacon looked or different aspects of the High Republic. We had to extrapolate what things were looking like from the concept art. Ario as well is a massive, huge Star Wars fan — when he came on board, he’s in Indonesia, we had a two-hour chat on Skype where we just geeked out. We talked for the first hour about what we loved about Star Wars and then realised we had to do some work! It was great. I was able to give him a tour of the High Republic, how the galaxy looks, who’s involved. He just… the detail in the pages has been exquisite. There’s plenty of what will become the High Republic is straight out of Ario’s head now, which is great to see.
Whitbrook: We have familiar iconography — spaceships, lightsabers, the Jedi wearing robes — but you’re helping coalesce this new period of Star Wars that has to feel like the Star Wars that has come before it. What’s that process been like for you and the team?
Scott: It’s something I take very seriously. There was probably, at the beginning, [a point where] we pushed things further and then brought them back because it has to be recognisably “The Republic.” It has to be recognisably “The Jedi Order.” But 200 years is a long time, a lot of things can happen in those 200 years. We know the Jedi of the prequel era so well, so we know where they end up — but the question has always been in our mind, “Where did they come from? Where are they now? How did they get there?”
We didn’t want it to be exactly the same. We didn’t want it to feel like the Order had stagnated — we know the Order was around for thousands of years. It must have changed over that time. Language must have changed within the Order, how the past must have changed it, and how they refer to things. The robes are something the concept artists are interested in [particularly], they’re a little more elaborate than the monk-like robes we see in the prequels — there are story reasons for that. There are story reasons why they end up like they do in the prequel movies. The lightsabers are a bit more elaborate, too.
This is an era of peace where it is a renaissance — the galaxy is growing, prospering. The Jedi, without having to cope with wars and battles and protecting, have been able to flourish within it and lead it, be aligned with it. They show the way without being involved in all the politics as well, so the Jedi are in a very, very different place when this story starts. I’m not saying they’re comfortable, but they’re more powerful than they’ve ever been, probably more in harmony than they’ve ever been. It’s a time where the Jedi are, perhaps, allowed a little more freedom than we’ve seen before, to be more unique, to be more individual in their understanding of the way the Force works and how the Jedi work. And then the fun begins! Because there’s where we are, where we have to get to — how does it happen? But we have tried to… there’s certain things we can and can’t change. There’s certain things we shouldn’t change. But we can have a lot of fun on the way, as well. And I think that’s the most important thing.
Whitbrook: What do you hope people take when they come to the comic? Because the comics that we’ve seen at Marvel so far have all been very specifically rooted in familiarity — We’ve got the Vader book, the main book following Han, Luke, and Leia, and little spin-offs of different periods…what do you hope people take from this adventure?
Scott: I hope they get a sense of how big it all is, how big the Republic is, at this time. How positive the Republic is at this time. How it is a time of hope and that hope will be tested. But it’s Star Wars and in this present period of time, we need reminders that hope always remains. That’s what I hope they see from the comic. The Jedi are heroes, and they’re not the sort of superhero in the sense they have their own fears and doubts — they’re all trying to be better, and the people they think they should be, just as all of us are. That’s the sense I want people to take away from The High Republic as a whole and from the comic since there are real people at the heart of all of this.
You’re seeing behind-the-scenes — you’re not seeing the propaganda, the documentaries on the holo-net about how wonderful the Jedi are. You’re seeing what the Jedi are actually like. They’re good people, who are challenged, and they get through it. Hopefully, in those first few issues, there’s just a sense that this is new, the sense that you don’t know what’s going to come because there is no role we’re fitted into. There’s no preexisting story we have to get to. We do, but that’s two-hundred years away. So there’s a lot of stories that can be told in that time — and there will be!
I hope people get the sense of the size of this and the ambition of this… and how true we’re trying to remain to Star Wars, as well. The love we all have for Star Wars is in it because it’s so much of who we are.
Star Wars: The High Republic formally begins with the release of The Light of the Jedi, by Charles Soule, and Justina Ireland’s A Test of Courage, on January 5, 2021. Marvel’s Star Wars: The High Republic #1 will release January 6.