Interview: John Jackson Miller on Knight Errant

With Knight Errant coming out next week, writer John Jackson Miller has crossed over to the dark side – or at least crossed from penning comics and short stories to his first novel. John took some time to talk with Club Jade about the new book, as well as the Knight Errant comics and Lost Tribe of the Sith series of e-books.

James: In recent years, the Star Wars universe has grown to include several different eras for storytelling in novels, comics, and gaming, each with their own favorite characters – what makes the era and characters of Knight Errant interesting?

John Jackson Miller: I think it’s just a lot different than what we’ve seen. We’re familiar with the idea of a Jedi working alone in the movie time frame — but unlike Obi-Wan in exile, Kerra Holt is actively working against the Sith Lords who rule the systems she’s visiting. This period a thousand years before Episode I finds the Outer Rim as a bizarre patchwork of territories ruled by various would-be Sith Lords; they’re doing as much damage to each other as they are to the Republic. There’s a theoretical danger in the future to the Republic if the Sith get their act together — but there’s a clear and present danger now to the people who are caught in the battlezone.

Kerra Holt, both in the first comics storyline, “Aflame,” and in the novel which takes place shortly after, is one of the more driven characters I’ve ever written. She doesn’t relax; she doesn’t really know how to relax. She’s wound a lot more tightly than is probably in her best interests, but then, when you’re the only Jedi working in Sith space, maybe a little paranoia is healthy!

James: As the sole Jedi behind enemy lines, what is Kerra Holt’s mission?

John: This is something she’s been trying to figure out from the beginning of the comics series. Issue #4, just out, sheds some light on what she should be doing — but she really is torn between the examples of Vannar Treece and Gorlan Palladane. Vannar looked for muscular displays of Jedi power in Sith space; he liked making a statement. Gorlan is a lot more about the soft power that the Jedi have — doing all his work entirely in secret, trying to improve people’s lives on the fringes. Kerra sees both examples and initially gravitates more toward Vannar’s example — but by the time of the novel, she’s come to realize that she needs to use might and mercy in equal measures when trying to figure out her role.

She’d like to strike a blow against the Sith Lords, but she’s always conscious of what may happen to the people once she’s done it. There’s so much collateral damage out here, it has to be part of everything she does. If she’s going to act, either she can’t leave anyone behind, or she’s got to make sure whatever she does doesn’t lead to something worse for the people who can’t leave.

James: This is something we don’t often see in Star Wars – usually when Sith are defeated, freedom can be restored, but here, the liberated are just prey for the next warlord to oppress. In the comic series, we’ve been introduced to some of the Sith that Kerra must contend with – what types of evil will Kerra Holt be working against in the novel?

John: They all have their own idea about how to interpret Sith philosophy; they all have their own theories. Every little empire is different, an expression of the particular madness that their ruler exhibits. Readers shouldn’t look for clones of later Darths; those come after the winnowing-out has taken place, after the war of ideas has been fought and a Sith ideal has emerged. This is really the messy part that happens in the development of a movement — a stage where everything’s in flux. Yes, there are the examples of earlier Sith in history, and many of the rulers in Knight Errant pay a lot of attention to them. But this is, again, a cause for friction — since there are so many different examples to follow and styles to emulate.

So we have things like the fracture introduced in the comics — where Lord Daiman takes Sith self-centeredness to mean he’s the creator of the universe; his brother interprets it a different way, to mean that he should be the universe’s destroyer. Quillan and Dromika, seen in the novel, are a different matter entirely, as is Arkadia. It’s all very chaotic — but one of the elements of the novel is that Kerra begins to see some common threads.

James: Speaking of the comics, how important is it for readers of the novel to be familiar with the comic storyline?

John: It’s not. We’ve purposefully designed the novel so that while it includes the characters and concepts from the comics, those characters and concepts are completely reintroduced. Since Kerra really is on an almost mythological odyssey, each part of it can stand alone.

The interesting thing here is we have a sixteen-page comics section in the novel — a reprint of the opening of Knight Errant: Aflame #1. So it’s kind of like those original movie novelizations with color inserts — you can look and see what some of the characters look like!

James:How did the Knight Errant series as both a comic and novel come about?

John: The initial concept of doing a series set in the time before Darth Bane came from Randy Stradley at Dark Horse; he also suggested it be about a female Jedi who’s stranded in Sith space. I took it from there, and with editor Dave Marshall worked out all the particulars about Kerra Holt and her story. In the middle of that process, I was also doing the Lost Tribe of the Sith e-books, and soon discussions began with Del Rey. The idea was always that the novel would follow the first comics storyline in continuity, and it does; the novel is actually shipping between issues #4 and #5, but we’ve worked not to give anything about the end of “Aflame” away in the novel.

The coordination between the two publishers has been great — we did a lot of unusual, unprecedented stuff. There was the #0 issue at Star Wars Celebration V with a comics and novel excerpt. Issue #4 of “Aflame” has another novel excerpt, and the novel has a 16-page comics excerpt. And then we’ve done things for StarWars.com that promote both, like the prose prequel, “Influx,” and the Knight Errant Atlas supplement. I’m working on one more little thing, which hopefully will be along right before the novel hits. So it has been a nice dynamic.

James: With your background in writing comics, including your impressive work on Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), and short stories, how was it writing your first novel-length work of fiction?

John: I used to write very detailed plots for comics stories — almost prose-like, a lot more than was necessary. That was too much, but it gave me a sense of how action might be expanded and elaborated upon. As I look at the events of the Knight Errant novel, I see that it really has the material for three stories the length of “Aflame”: in some sense, right as we get to the end of “Aflame,” we’ve got three more arcs of material right away in the novel — there’s that much action in it.

So, yeah, it was fun to be able to cover that much story ground in one work. Sometimes in comics, a big megastory is tougher to pull off in monthly installments. I found this in the “Days/Knights/Daze/Knights” year of KOTOR — there was a whole lot going on, and much to recap. It functions better in the collected editions, where it’s all there. Well, in a novel, it’s already collected, so it’s a lot easier to keep the action going because you’re not reintroducing the characters.

There’s an interesting tempo to the novel, as well, because it starts a bit like Episode IV in that we get to know the heroine in her surroundings — and as soon as the action ramps up, it never stops. We really get to see what life is like under Sith rule before we see her efforts to change it. It’s important, because it gives the motive for everything that follows.

James: So it sounds like you were already a good fit for the creating a longer story. At Star Wars Celebration V, you mentioned some your influences in the development of Knight Errant, such as the early Middle Ages. What aspects of that period have been pulled into Kerra Holt’s universe, and what other influences might we see in her story?

John: The main one was the thought of England following the collapse of the Roman Empire. Like the Outer Rim, England was a remote colony — and when Rome pulled back, it was left largely to fend for itself. You had institutions that remained, like the church, but in large measure, it was on its own against the hordes that came at it from all sides. What had been Roman territory splintered; it was hundreds of years before unity returned. I look at the pullback of the Republic from the Outer Rim here in the same way. You still had people who wanted to be loyal to the Republic and who longed for the return of the Jedi, but you have all these Sith princelings crashing in — and it’s misery for everyone. It’s truly a Dark Age.

The Republic has cut off its communications relays and, with that, updating of the hyperspace routes, and so everything has gotten more insular. There are reversals in the spread of knowledge. Yes, some Sith recognize the value of knowledge as a weapon, but with smart people fleeing or crushed and many institutions getting ground up in the chaos, we see a technological stagnation in many realms. Not medieval-world, by any stretch — it’s still Star Wars — but you do see Sith minions working to rediscover old knowledge, as opposed to pushing the envelope. And that gets into one of the themes of the book, which is how a Sith Lord — someone who’s all about oppression — can get the best results. How can they guarantee their power is absolute — and yet exploit the living to their full potential? A slave state doesn’t innovate much.

So that becomes the question we see with all the would-be Sith Lords. They’re all autocrats, of one stripe or another, but they all take different tacks. Some allow corporations to function; some loot them and leave them in ruins. Some try to get the people to buy into their beliefs and regime; others don’t. It struck me that if the Sith were as cunning as we’ve been led to believe, they could try a lot of variations before they ultimately got to the one that worked, at least for a while — which was Palpatine hijacking the galactic government to do his bidding.

James: Talking about different Sith experimenting with running an empire, let’s switch over to Lost Tribe of the Sith – you recently posted that your five Lost Tribe e-books are in the top eight free sci-fi/fantasy Kindle downloads, alongside Mary Shelley, Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. The fifth novella moved us into a new generation on Kesh, with more betrayal and a newcomer (first introduced in KOTOR) – what’s in store for those Sith now? Will we see the fate of Adari Vaal and her fellow fugitives?

John: “Purgatory” brought us forward in time, which was consistent with what I had always intended — something like the time jumps in Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, where the cast refreshed and we got to see how the society had changed. Here, we see that the Lost Tribe is really well entrenched, following the guidelines for their society as set up by Yaru Korsin and his daughter — but we also see that the would-be Sith lords have ratcheted up the political intrigue to the point where things could fall apart at any moment. I don’t want to give away the surprise about the newcomer to those who haven’t read it, but it throws a real wild card into the mix.

I think the fun thing about Lost Tribe is these guys were, from the beginning, established as not being the highest ranking figures in Naga Sadow’s forces; they were warriors and miners. But this particular group followed Sith teachings, and so removed from the influence of their overlord, they were able to let their own dark ambitions run free. There was a really old computer program from the Apple II days, “Life,” that simulated the growth of a colony of organisms across time; most of the time, the colony hit a dead end because of the decisions you made. This is kind of similar; each time we come back, they’re either thriving or on the edge.

As to Adari, there’s no telling what the future holds. The Lost Tribe short stories are a lot of fun, and it’s nice to see this format out there. With fans spreading the word, these have had a nice continuing life — I get as much website traffic about Lost Tribe as I do a lot of physical books!

James: Ah, the iterations in the game of “Life”, only in the end, my colony would always go bankrupt after a goat would eat my prize-winning orchids. Anyway, thank you for taking the time to discuss Knight Errant with us and congratulations on your first novel!

Be sure to check out John Jackson Miller’s site, www.farawaypress.com for the latest info on all his projects. For more info on the Knight Errant novel or the Lost Tribe of the Sith e-books, visit Del Rey’s Star Wars Books site. For more information on the Knight Errant comic series (The first story arc, “Aflame,” covers issues #1-#5), visit Dark Horse’s site. Knight Errant is scheduled for release on January 25, 2011.

4 thoughts on “Interview: John Jackson Miller on Knight Errant

  1. Paula

    I like the idea of the insert. I’ve always had a fondness for those since the ANH “gold covered” novelization.

    I’m looking forward to the novel!

  2. Aaron

    Me too. First SW novel in a while I actually pre-ordered. :-)
    And BTW: Thanks for the interview, guys! I love that BTS stuff.
    So when JJM said “dark age for the Republic” he was actually talking about the dark ages. A writer to be taken literally. That’s new.
    I wonder if Knight Errant might take us to some sort of Camelot. A Round Table in Sith space, maybe a holy grail or two to search for, wizards, legendary (laser) swords… Wouldn’t mind that one bit. :-)

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