Gillen’s Star Wars Ushers in a Dark Time for the Rebellion

One of the reasons the original Star Wars films are so resonant is they’re ultimately a story about a ragtag group of underdog heroes who band together to rebel against the tyrannical rule of the Galactic Empire. In films like Star Wars: A New Hope and the recent Rogue One: A Star Wars Story we saw the Rebellion take shape and the ultimate sacrifices many of it’s members made to score it’s initial victory against the Empire; the destruction of the Death Star.

Of course, the victory at the end of A New Hope eventually led to the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, where fans learned Luke Skywalker and the other Rebels had been hounded by the Empire to the remote, icy world of Hoth. Plenty of pivotal events happened in between those two films, as Marvel Comics Star Wars series is currently illustrating.

RELATED: Aaron & Gillen’s Screaming Citadel Combines Star Wars & Gothic Horror

This fall, a major chapter begins as new writer Kieron Gillen reunites with artist Salvador Larroca with Issue #38 for a long form story about the journey to Hoth, how heroes like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia shaped the Rebellion — and how the Rebellion shaped them.

CBR: From your work on Darth Vader and Doctor Aphra it’s clear that you love telling tales set in the world of Star Wars, but I imagine you wouldn’t take on such a big assignment as Marvel’s flagship Star Wars book if you didn’t have a story to tell that’s different from what we’ve seen so far. So what can you tell us about your larger themes and approach to the series?

Kieron Gillen: A lot of the book will be similar to my approach with Vader only with the cast from A New Hope in that I looked at where they were at the end of that first movie, and then where they were at the start of The Empire Strikes Back. I then removed everything that Jason Aaron had already done and saw what was left there.

EXCLUSIVE: David Marquez and Matt Wilson’s cover for Star Wars #40

In the case of A New Hope they’re kind of in the complete opposite of where Vader was. Vader starts really low because the Death Star had just blown up and he was kind of responsible. [Laughs] And his series ends with him in charge of his own fleet at the start of Empire. That’s clearly a fall and rise story. With the Rebels, they’ve just had an enormous victory. They’ve blown up the Death Star, which was literally 20 years of work from the Empire, and it’s an enormous propaganda victory. So they’re on the upswing.

Jason has been touching on that a bit. By the time we see them in Empire, they’re cornered at a remote base, and they’ve been on the run for ages. They’re quite low. The Empire has struck back before The Empire Strikes Back starts. [Laughs] That’s kind of the core thing, and that’s what I want to do. We start high with the rise of the Rebellion and then there must be some awful tragedy at some point.

At the same time, this is just as much about the rise of Luke, Han, and to a slightly different degree Leia. By the time we meet up with Han in Empire you’ve got Leia saying that he’s a born leader of men. That means he’s been leading men! [Laughs] He’s called Han Solo, Solo being the key word, but he’s been in a position of authority at some point.

With Jason, we’ve seen a lot about the Jedi. The primary narrative of that run was about Luke trying to develop his powers and become a Jedi. Luke has become about as good as he can be — we saw how good he was in Empire, so we can’t make much more progress there. What we can explore is Luke’s relationship with the Rebellion. We can show him within the ranks and doing things like assembling squadrons.

We’ll see Leia increasingly as a military leader. So we’ll have her exploring the responsibility that she’s been positioned in. A lot of this period was about Luke deciding to become a Jedi, but mirroring that is the fact that Leia, as we realize by the time of Return of the Jedi, is Force sensitive too. You see that in The Force Awakens, but she hasn’t done much with it. Her interests are practical. In that film she’s General Leia.

So my run will be kind of the time period where she goes this other way. Dovetailing the two unknowing twins and their lives seemed really interesting to me.

So we’ll see how these individuals push against and grow into the roles they play in the larger organization of the Rebel Alliance.

Yes, and how they shape it. That’s the thing. They’re member of pretty significant ranking by the time of Empire. How did that end up happening? [Laughs] My answer to that question is probably one of my favorite things about the run.

So the idea of this is almost Shakespearean. The Rebellion must have a solid tactic. The idea of the Death Star was so unfathomably mind boggling. Everyone is like, “The Empire tried to do what? The Empire did what?” So for the Rebellion it’s like, “What do we do next?” That’s the great irony. The Death Star was A) built and B) blown up. So after that they have more people than ever trying to resist the Empire, which means it’s a really optimistic time for Rebellion.

We’ll be charting that and dealing with the diplomacy. The Rebel forces will be looking to make new allies. So we’ll take the cast to these great places and then something goes wrong.

We know the story because we’ve seen Star Wars, but to me, the specifics are really interesting. I like doing these important and necessary scenes for the characters and the lives they’re living and going to live.

Because the run has more of a military tone than Jason’s run I thought the best way to start that was by coming off the back of Rogue One which was more of a war movie take on the Star Wars universe. So we’re kind of starting with a smaller story explicitly integrating with and exposing the New Hope characters to everything that happened in Rogue One. We’re going to the post apocalyptic wasteland that was left after the Empire blew a hole in Jedha and removed one of the holiest sites there. That’s great for all of our characters.

We’re taking Leia to a planet that was shot by the Death Star. For a survivor of Alderaan that’s everything. Then Luke is searching for the spirituality of the Jedi and he’s taken to a big hole where their holiest site used to be. That’s an enormous visual that expresses the problem that Luke is facing. [Laughs] What he’s looking for isn’t there anymore.

So there’s that juicy, meaty, thematic stuff and then you’ve got really good visuals. [Laughs] The idea of dropping, Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and the droids into a post-apocalyptic wasteland is pretty fun.

What will your cast find when they arrive on Jedha? Did anyone survive the Death Star attack on Jedha City?

Page 2:

Luke Learns of Jyn Erso’s Sacrifice, Darth Vader’s Supporting Cast Arrives

The Rogue One crew survived it, so there’s a good chance others did as well. Also, Jedha City wasn’t the only settlement on the planet. Those other settlements though are in shall we say . . . a pretty poor state right now.

There are reasons why the Empire thinks it needs to go back to Jedha. They took all the Khyber Crystals from the planet and now they’re coming back for something else. That’s prompted what would be best described as a neo-partisan movement. Some people are trying to carry on in the spirit of Saw Gerrera.

Through that we get people like Luke discovering everything that allowed him to get into a position to destroy the Death Star. He finds out about Jyn Erso and all the people who sacrificed their lives to give him the chance to be a hero. As you can imagine, that’s going to hit Luke hard.

When I saw Rogue One I immediately thought, “I wonder what Luke makes of all this? I wonder what Leia makes of it?” Now I’m in a position where I get to write that. [Laughs] It’s a lot of fun.

With your run putting a larger focus on the Rebellion will you get a chance to flesh out that organization and some of it’s familiar members?

Definitely. That’s part of the fun.

Jon Erso and the Rogue One team’s sacrifice will reverberate in Marvel’s Star Wars comic

I keep the first arc quite small. It’s all on Jedha. It’s about the partisans, our heroes, and the Imperials that are working there. In the second arc will get more into doing the thing that the Rebels are trying to do. So I want to get into some of the Generals. I don’t want to name any names yet, but I really want to look at the Rebel high command. Let’s get these people on stage and explore them while still making things primarily about Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie and the Droids.

You introduced quite a few new and interesting characters in your run on Darth Vader. Any chance of seeing some of them during your Star Wars run?

Yes! We’ve been doing Star Wars comics for a while now. So we’ve introduced quite a few characters. At the same time, we have a whole new cannon. So there’s a lot of different places we can go, but I’m specifically bringing back Queen Trios of Shu-Toran. She was in Darth Vader and she’s brought into this arc as a civilian expert for the Empire because Shu-Toran is basically a hell world where they’ve created a society that runs like pre-revolutionary France. So it’s a very courtly culture in this hellscape.

That means these people are experts at trying to exploit really bad places. So bringing her along makes a lot of sense. She’s also an interesting foil because she’s on the Imperial side, but she’s not actually an Imperial. That gives you a really nice culture clash.

It sounds like that there will be some shifting around in terms of tone and genres, but your Star Wars run will frequently feature more gritty and action packed tales.

Yes, but I don’t want to give anybody the idea that this is going to be an incredibly dour story. No one wants to see grim and gritty Luke Skywalker. [Laughs] But at the same time, there is an integration between the aesthetic of Rogue One and the New Hope cast. We’re kind of rubbing them up against each other.

It’s very action packed and very high adventure. It’s a military story in the Star Wars universe. That’s quite key.

Helping you tell that story is your Darth Vader collaborator, artist Salvador Larroca. How does it feel to reunite with Salva, an artist who not only knows Star Wars, but has a real affinity for both technology and acting?

It’s great! The band is back together. Salva has so many skills. He’s great at likenesses. He’s great at tech. He’s great at inventing stuff that looks Star Wars, which is an incredible skill for this. He’s also blindingly fast. If we’ve got Salva we don’t need to do fill in issues. Salva can do a modern shipping book by himself.

If you look at his pages in the recent Screaming Citadel crossover we did between Star Wars and Doctor Aphra they’re very different from traditional Star Wars pages because he was basically doing a horror story. He really leaned into the horror of the characters. So with this we’re really trying to get the war movie aesthetic across. Because while we want continuity with what Jason has been doing, we also want this to feel like the start of a new volume.

It starts with issue #38 and it builds off of everything Jason has done, but there is a time gap. So people can easily jump aboard. This is where the original Star Wars cast integrates with the cast and events of Rogue One Come join us!

Finally, will there be much connective tissue between Star Wars and your other book set in this universe, Doctor Aphra??

They are two books set in the same time period both being written by me, but we have no plans for a crossover at the moment. We’ve done that twice and Aphra’s plans are pretty much laid out until issue #25.

So there’s not really room for a whole lot, but it’s more likely that Star Wars will influence Aphra than Aphra will influence Star Wars. There are certain things that are set in motion in Star Wars that will hit Aphra quite hard.