For more than a decade, writer John Ostrander and artist Jan Duursema have been exploring the Star Wars Universe at Dark Horse Comics, most notably as the co-creators of “Star Wars: Legacy,” a series set 126 years after “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” and featuring Cade Skywalker, a descendant of Luke.
For an encore performance, the long-time collaborators wanted to visit a time and place in the opposite direction of “Legacy,” and that’s where Lucasfilm have unleashed Ostrander and Duursema, to an era not previously explored, before the Republic Era.
Set 36,453 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin), in the earliest days of the Jedi Order, “Dawn of the Jedi” is a new series of miniseries, detailing the story of the Je’daii Order — an obvious precursor to the Jedi, and its attempts to create a cosmic balance using the light and dark side of the Force — and an epic battle against the Rakata, a scientifically gifted race that only uses the dark side of the Force.
The first miniseries, “Dawn of the Jedi – Force Storm,” was launched in early 2012 while the second, “Dawn of the Jedi — The Prisoner of Bogan,” started in November 2012.
With the third series, “Dawn of the Jedi – Force Storm,” currently underway, CBR News connected with the two creators to better understand what it takes for the Je’daii Order to balance two sides of the Force, why a slave to the Rakata is playing such a central role to the war and how (with no Sith in the series) the ruthless Skal’nas is every bit as nasty as Darth Vader and Darth Krayt.
CBR News: Dark Horse and Lucasfilm needed to designate a whole new era for you to tell this story, one which occurred before the Republic Era. You have worked in all reaches of the Star Wars Universe, but as creators, a brand new era must be exciting to explore.
John Ostrander: We actually approached them about this era. [Laughs] We showed what happened more than 100 years after what you’d seen in the movies, and we asked ourselves what we could do for an encore. We turned on the WABAC Machine and went back to see how the Jedi start. There have been certain things that have been written and talked about, so we knew it had to be on Tython and use the Tython system, but it was remarkably open, as well.
Beyond being on a planet we’ve hardly explored as readers, Jan, how did you go about making this story feel like it was set 20-something thousand years before the Battle of Yavin?
Jan Duursema: There wasn’t a lot established; there were a few drawings here and there, and the information we had about Tython was all from “The Old Republic” video game. We had some information on visuals, but I visually retrofitted everything. Considering there was a vast amount of destruction on Tython, and things were rebuilt, I tried to base it on that. You have to imagine what it would look like way back when. What would the people, costumes, everything look like while keeping the flavor.
Ostrander: One thing to point out is that when the movies went to the prequels, Lucasfilm had teams of people developing the visuals. Jan had Jan. She did it with “Legacy,” and she’s doing it again with “Dawn of the Jedi.”
Duursema: “Legacy” was a lot easier in a lot of ways, because we weren’t going that far into the future. The original films showed, what looked like to me, their antiques. The blasters had wear on them and the ships had wear on them and the cities looked worn down. You had a feeling that everything had an old, even re-used quality. In “Legacy,” I made it look more used.
In “Dawn of the Jedi,” we’re 20,000 years before anything happened and that’s a heck of a lot of time. There can be new stuff, there can be old stuff and I still had some of that retro feel to things because people keep things around for a long time and fix and repair them, yet everything has a new, and different, quality to it.
When designing the Je’daii temples, I tried to do something we haven’t seen before in the Star Wars Universe. They have a massive quality, but each one has a different shape and a different feeling according to what they are used for.
The mythos of Star Wars is based largely on the Jedi and their use of the Force. With “Dawn of the Jedi,” you are retroactively setting the foundation for hundreds, if not thousands, of storylines and plot developments, which have been told since 1977. What makes the precursor to the Jedi, the Je’daii Order tick?
Ostrander: We knew that the Jedi come from the Je’daii Order, but we didn’t want to start with strictly the Je’daii. We wanted to start with, “What are they developed from?” Using what I like to call ‘fair extrapolation,’ one of the big things that define them for us is the idea of balance. They would use the dark side of the Force, as well as the light side. The idea is that you are to remain in balance between the two. If you go too much to one side, it’s bad. If you go too much to the other side, it’s bad. We felt this would set them apart from the Jedi but at the same time, show how it might lead into the Jedi.
Unlike “Legacy,” which was an ongoing series, “Dawn of the Jedi” is a series of miniseries, and “Dawn of the Jedi – Force War” is actually the third arc in the series. For potential new readers, who will no doubt pick up the collected trades of the first two arcs after this interview, can you talk about what the Je’daii Order are facing coming out of “The Prisoner of Bogan” arc in the form of the Rakata? And the role Xesh continues to play in this arc?
Duursema: It’s a year after the last arc, which ended with the Rakata planning an attack on the Tython system.
Ostrander: The Rakata have finally learned of the existence of Tython and where it is. The Rakata, by their very nature, are very aggressive and they like to attack Force-rich worlds. At the time, Tython is, of course, the most Force-rich world in the Deep Core region of the galaxy. It’s a very tough region to navigate, so that’s probably why the Je’daii hadn’t expanded beyond their own system.
The Rakata sent out a scout ship, which exploded when it came to Tython mainly because of some machinations of the supreme leader of the Rakata. Xesh was the sole survivor.; we told this story in the first arc.
Xesh is a Force Hound, which means he can sense the Force-rich worlds. He can also sense people on them that are strong in the Force. He’s a human slave of the Rakata and very powerful in his own right. He crashed, and after some initial conflicts with the Je’daii, they have let him stay among them and train in the light side of the Force, finding balance within the Force because the Rakata only use the dark side of the Force. The very concept of the light side was unknown to Xesh.
We compared him in the early days to some of these child warriors in Africa that, all they know is violence. It’s all they practice. Xesh has made allies and friends among the Je’daii and showed them how to make Forcesabers, which they didn’t know about. Forcesabers are, of course, precursors to lightsabers and lightsaber pikes.
In “Dawn of the Jedi – Force War,” the Rakata have come and it’s a year into the war. The entire system is involved in it and we start off on one of the outer planets, not Tython. The Je’daii Order is outnumbered by this vast amount of Rakata and their foot soldiers, the Flesh Eaters, who are mutated Rakatans. They’re really nasty.
They must be fun to draw.
Duursema: Oh, yeah. [Laughs] They have a lot of teeth and a lot of armor. Picture a shark with a lightsaber. Like John said, they’re just nasty.
Ostrander: Both the Rakata and the Flesh Raiders, especially the Flesh Raiders, like to eat their foes. It’s like in some primitive cultures, eating the heart of your foes gains you courage. They believe that they can gain the Force in this way.
I love Xesh, but he’s certainly not your classic Star Wars lead.
Duursema: Visually, and this is also part of his character, the Rakata name their Force Hounds after letters in their alphabet. Xesh is one of the letters, but mainly it’s his designation. It’s not really his name. He doesn’t actually have a name, but the Rakata make sure they tattoo these designations on their slaves’ bodies in different places so when they fight and die, the right Rakata can claim the remaining pieces.
Spoiler here for “Dawn of the Jedi – Force War” #2, but Xesh does reveal a name that he refers to himself with: Tau.
Duursema: That’s right. He has more sprit and soul than a normal Force Hound would possess. There is something in Xesh that transcends beyond his upbringing. Whether it’s something that he experienced when he was very young and remembers from before he was taken by the Rakata, or it’s just that he’s exceptional in that respect, we don’t know yet. But he’s developed this sense of self that’s different from the other Force Hounds, like Trill.
Part of his look was being tattooed and being a designation. He’s not a human. He’s sub-human because he’s a slave. That’s something Xesh struggles with, and I think it defines his look and his attitude — the way he reacts to other characters and the way he moves, even the way he holds himself. When I draw him, I don’t think of him as cold and aloof but sort of set aside. He sets himself aside because he doesn’t feel worthy or human or like someone that has a sense of self-worth beyond his designation. As he has interacted with the Je’daii, he has developed his self-worth. In particular, he’s developed a relationship with Shae Koda, and she’s starting to bring him around to that sense of self-worth and who he is.
Right from the beginning, Shae can sense him, and Xesh also has a relationship with Daegen Lok, who is really the first person to take him in among the Je’daii. Mostly because he wanted to escape and he found out that Xesh could help him escape Bogan.
Glad you mentioned Shae Koda as she’s a character that I have really enjoyed in “Dawn of the Jedi.” Maybe it’s because she’s a redhead and there aren’t too many of us in the Star Wars Universe. What’s Shae’s secret origin?
Ostrander: Shae has her own problems staying within the balance of the Force because her parents were killed in the Despot War, which is the only other conflict the Je’daii has known. That presents a difficulty in terms of getting close to people. Getting close to Xesh is something she feels, but it’s also a problem for her.
Duuresma: It’s a very foreign thing to her to allow her to get close enough to anybody. She and Sek’Nos Rath also have a very good relationship. Like Shae, he is a Je’daii Journeyer, a rank above Padawan. But he’s held at arm’s length for her. They’re friends and they kid around but as far as closeness goes, it’s not the kind of thing she has with Xesh and never was.
Ostrander: She also knows how to manipulate the Force and to create new creatures, which is what happened outside of the temple where she works. She’s a fierce fighter, and she gets angry, which we certainly don’t see with Jedi. She’s got a temper.
Duursema: And she will also do something at the spur of the moment. She’ll react strongly to situations, which is something you won’t see with a lot of Jedi. They’ll think about things. But not Shae — she just jumps right in. She’s a fun character to draw too. As opposed to Xesh, who is very held back, she’s very fierce and up front. They’re a nice contrast — literally, as well as emotionally.
You can’t have a great Star Wars story without a great villain, and you have a great one with Skal’nas. How does he compare to Darth Vader or Darth Krayt?
Ostrander: As the Predor or overall leader of this group of Rakatans, he is cunning, he is manipulative and he is without any scruples. Everyone beneath him is his to use — everyone else in the galaxy is his to use, as far as he’s concerned. He has an awareness that the Rakatans are losing their connection to the Force and that’s one of the reasons that he wants to get to Tython. Because he thinks he can renew himself and possibly, his race. He has motives within motives and he’s not above killing his own if it serves his purpose.
Which again, spoiler alert, we see in “Dawn of the Jedi – Force War” #2.
Ostrander: Yes. Be very careful about challenging this guy because he might make you feel good about yourself — and then the next minute, you might be served on his table.
Duursema: I think he’s far more manipulative than Vader or Krayt. They’re more up-front evil. He’s more like the Emperor. He’s insidious. He has webs within webs.
Ostrander: He’s also a very strong fighter. And he has a temper problem too. [Laughs]
That’s a running theme for you two, which is odd as you are two of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to interview.
Ostrander: We can afford to be nice because we get it all out in our characters.
Duursema: [Laughs] True.
In “Dawn of the Jedi – Force War” #2, Trill finally shows her true colors, much to the surprise of Xesh– or maybe it wasn’t such a surprise!
Ostrander: Trill is also a Force Hound from the Rakata. She’s sent to find and trail Xesh after the ship that he was on disappears. She finds him and then insinuates herself into Xesh’s and the Je’daii Order’s life by not revealing that she can use the Force, etcetera. She represents herself as a thief. She gets close to Sek’Nos but she’s reporting back to Skal’nas and she’s the one who has identified where Tython is located. She’s a Rakatan Force Hound through and through. There is no question and no doubts with her. She’s just playing the side. Given a chance, she’ll betray the Je’daii without a second thought.
She was always a little envious of Xesh, because Xesh is a more superior Force Hound. She wants to prove that she is the superior Force Hound.
Duursema: Right from the first issue, we’ve seen that Xesh can take her down without an effort.
Ostrander: Yet there is a link between her and Xesh.
Duursema: She’s a little bit older than him, and she was instrumental in keeping him alive when came under Rakata control. When he was first captured, she really kept him alive.
Ostrander: They had each other’s back for a while, and then she felt betrayed by him, so she has no qualms about betraying him now.
As was already stated, unlike “Legacy,” which was an ongoing, you’ve been building “Dawn of the Jedi” as a series of miniseries. Will we see a next arc/miniseries after “Dawn of the Jedi – Force War?”
Ostrander: After we’ve finished this one, Jan and I have lots of other stories we can tell. The real question will be where are we going to go with it, and when does Dark Horse want it. There’s nothing we can talk about yet, but we love doing the series.
Duursema: There is a lot more to tell.
Ostrander: Assuming anyone is left alive at the end of this one!
“Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi – Force War” #2, by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema, is available now.