Interview with Randy Stradley on Dark Times: Fire Carrier

SW-DarkTimes-FireCarrier-5-finalWith today being the release date of the fifth and final issue of the Fire Carrier story arc for the Star Wars: Dark Times comic, I wanted to highlight this fantastic comics storyline, so I got the chance to discuss the story with Randy Stradley, the writer of Dark Times as well as senior Star Wars editor and VP of Publishing at Dark Horse Comics.

Let’s hear what Randy has to say about writing the latest adventures of the Whiphid Jedi, Master K’Kruhk and a group of younglings under his care, posing as refugees on an Imperial backwater world. We won’t spoil the final issue, but if you want to learn more about the story so far, you can check out my reviews of all individual issues at Big Shiny Robot: #1 #2 #3 #4 #5.

SW-DarkTimes-FireCarrier-1Jawajames: The Fire Carrier story arc of Dark Times brought back a favorite character, Master K’Kruhk, who we hadn’t seen in a while — what was it like getting to continue his storyline into the era of the Empire?

Randy Stradley: Well, since I created K’Kruhk (he first appeared as a Padawan in the pre-Episode I series Jedi Council: Acts of War), it has always been fun to get back to him — especially as he has gone on to such a long and illustrious career. But the Fire Carrier arc is something I knew had to happen right after I finished writing Dark Times: Parallels. I knew I couldn’t just leave K’Kruhk and his younglings on a jungle moon somewhere. I had been trying for some years to get a “hidden temple” story off the ground, but it could never quite come together. This arc provided me with the chance to put K’Kruhk in a hidden temple — someplace where it would make sense that he might sit out the Rebellion and its aftermath. There’s a story to be told about why he eventually leaves the safety and seclusion of Arkinnea, and what happens to his Padawans. But the Star Wars galaxy is vast, and there’s nearly a hundred and fifty years between Fire Carrier and when K’Kruhk needs to show up in the Legacy era.

James: Also in Fire Carrier, we had a group of younglings that have begun to shift from being nameless kids to individuals with their own personalities. Tell us more about the development of some of these characters.

Dark Times: Fire Carrier #3Randy: In their first appearance in Parallels, the story was being split between what was happening with K’Kruhk and the younglings, and the misadventures of the crew of the Uhumele. There wasn’t the space in that arc to do much development with the kids. But I knew I couldn’t have five issues of Fire Carrier without fleshing out some of the their characters. And now that they were a bit older, it made sense that some of them would interject themselves into the events in the story.

I have to give credit where credit is due: Gabriel Guzman really brought those younglings to life. He found a way to present a wide range of emotions on many different alien faces. And he managed to make me feel for those characters. Often I was building personalities off of the initial drawings I saw of the kids from the issue previous to the one I was writing.

James: Dark Times frequently lives up to its own name, with grim situations happening as the Empire establishes its control across the galaxy, and Fire Carrier raised the stakes again, with the Arkinneans committing atrocities on the refugees landing on their world. What were some of the thoughts behind taking Dark Times into such a dark place?

Randy: It seemed a natural progression of events. The Star Wars galaxy is already a dangerous, often lawless place, but it would have to get worse under the Empire, right? Sure, the Core Worlds and rich planets were probably fine with the Emperor coming to power, but for those on the outskirts things just got tougher. And in places like Arkinnea, well, our own history provides us with plenty of examples of situations where when the going gets tough, some societies look for scapegoats. In this case — in the minds of some Arkinneans — the refugees who were overtaxing the struggling economy on the planet simply had to go.

James: The assassin Falco Sang was introduced in the previous arc, Out of the Wilderness, and has a very different role in this series — what was the reasoning behind his appearances in Fire Carrier?

Randy: Well, that’s a long story. Originally, Fire Carrier was going to come after A Spark Remains. Doug Wheatley and I had already begun work on ASR, and part of issue #1 was already done. Then Doug received an offer for a project that would earn him a pile of money in a relatively short amount of time. Doug has two young children, and I told him he’d be crazy if he didn’t take the job. So, editor Dave Marshall and I fast-tracked Fire Carrier.

After his appearance in — and his capture by Darth Vader — in Out of the Wilderness, I couldn’t very well just leave Sang off the playing field. So, some of his “training” scenes originally written for A Spark Remains got moved to Fire Carrier. But this also allowed Vader to get some page space. Frankly, Vader originally wasn’t going to have a part in Fire Carrier because if he showed up, well, the story would have had a very different ending.

Dark Times: Fire Carrier #2But Sang’s main purpose — along with his handler Lt. Gregg — is to provide the readers with a human perspective of Vader. If readers get too used to seeing Vader, he could be demystified. But if every time we see him we’re looking at him through the eyes of characters who are on the bottom level of the Imperial system, it helps to build Vader up. Also, the less Vader says, the scarier he is. And look, I’ve just given away the secret of how to write Darth Vader.

James: Gabriel Guzman brought us some fantastic art for this story arc — how was it working with him?

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Randy: Gabriel is amazing. He’s a consummate storyteller in that he instinctively knows how to stage action so that if flows effortlessly into the reader’s brain. But he also understands that all the action in the world is meaningless if we don’t care about the characters, or we can’t tell what’s going on in their heads at any given moment. I talk to a lot of comics artists who are just starting out, and they’re all gung ho to draw comics, but they haven’t really thought about the craft and the art of what they need to do to succeed. I tell them that, if you think of it in terms of a movie, the writer is the writer. But the artist is the cameraman, he’s the lighting supervisor, the set decorator, the costumer, and he has to act the part of every single character.

Drawing comics is a ton of work, and Gabriel makes it look easy.

SW-DarkTimes-ASparkRemains-2James: The next story arc for Dark Times is A Spark Remains and takes us back to Dass Jennir and the crew of the Uhumele. Both this and Fire Carrier storylines reference the Jedi as being the light in these dark times – while Jedi such as K’Kruhk and Dass Jennir seek to bring their light to the galaxy, what hope remains in an era known for their fire going out of the universe?

Randy: Well, that remains to be seen. But I can’t believe that any of the Jedi we got to know through the events of the Clone Wars would “go gentle into that good night.” Most of them would fight to the end to do the right thing — even knowing that the fight must end in death. And even if Jennir can’t be a Jedi like he used to be (with the support of the Jedi Order and the Republic backing him), he can still strive to uphold the principles of the Jedi.

James: Thanks Randy for chatting with us about the end of Fire Carrier, and what to look forward to in A Spark Remains (starting in July). Dark Times: Fire Carrier started in February and has continued monthly until today’s fifth and final issue, and will be collected in a trade paperback in September.

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