In 1977’s “Star Wars” (Later retitled “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope”) a farm boy, an old hermit, two smugglers, a princess and a pair of droids came together to do the impossible — destroy the ultimate weapon of the tyrannical Galactic Empire. Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Leia Organa, C-3PO and R2-D2 were able to destroy the Empire’s Death Star and further the cause of the Rebel Alliance because they banded together as heroes.
When the other two films in the original “Star Wars” trilogy — “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” — caught up with the cast of the first film, the bonds of friendship between all of them had cemented and each had made a number of important choices regarding their destinies. While plenty of the Rebel Alliance’s pivotal battles against the Galactic Empire were depicted on film, many more were never seen.
In January 2015, writer Jason Aaron and artist John Cassaday will delve into some of those unseen adventures with their new ongoing Star Wars series from Marvel Comics announced by the company yesterday at their “Cup O’ Joe” panel at Comic Con International in San Diego. CBR News spoke with Aaron about the series, which explores the Rebel Alliance’s attempts to capitalize on the destruction of the first Death Star and, like Marvel’s “Star Wars: Darth Vader” by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca, is set in the time period between “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back.”
CBR News: Jason, Kieron Gillen left “Iron Man” to work on “Star Wars: Darth Vader.” Did you have a similar reaction to being offered “Star Wars?” How does it feel to be given a chance to add to and explore the “Star Wars” mythos?
Jason Aaron: Now you know why I had to leave “Amazing X-Men” so suddenly. [Laughs] There was a week several months back where my entire schedule that had been laid out for the year sort of blew up, but, of course saying no was never an option. As soon as Axel [Alonso, Marvel’s editor-in-chief] called me up and said “Star Wars” I was in.
Like most everybody else my age, I grew up a huge Star Wars fan. I still remember seeing the original trilogy in its first go around, I still have my original Darth Vader action figure case, and I still have all my figures. It was not an opportunity that I saw coming. It was not what I envisioned doing this year, but it was certainly a very pleasant surprise.
In “Star Wars” you’re digging into the heroes of the Rebel Alliance in the aftermath of a huge victory, the destruction of the first Death Star. What do you find most interesting about Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie during this time period?
What’s great about this time period is that all the characters are kind of on the table. Of course this is still early on and these people have pretty much just met each and just come together. So they’re still finding their place within this group and sort of figuring out their relationships with each other.
â€¨Then there’s the fact that when you look at the gap between Episode IV and Episode V there’s some pretty major beats that happen off screen. So this gives up the opportunity to grab those beats and lay them down as part of the same canon as the movies.
â€¨Lucasfilm changed the nature of their tie-ins which means we’re getting to do brand new versions of those big moments like Luke Skywalker’s quest to find answers about his father and learn what it means to be a Jedi, and Darth Vader’s pursuit of whoever it was that blew up the Death Star, which leads to him hearing that name Skywalker for the first time.
There’s quite a huge gap between those two movies so I think we can do a lot of stories before we get up to date with “Empire Strikes Back.” I’m going to grab all the major beats that Lucasfilm will let us grab and explore them.
We know Leia is a major figure in the Rebel Alliance, and you mentioned Luke will be searching for answers about his father and Jedis. What can you tell us about Han and Chewie’s motivations when “Star Wars” begins?
I think Han is in a very interesting place in that he’s still not in the spot where he’s fully committed to being Han Solo, the Rebel leader. There’s still a big question mark over his place in the group. I think he’d wake up every day and ask, “Why am I still here? Is today the day I get the hell out of here.” Then of course at what point does his past start catching up to him?
Part of the reason Han might be sticking around is that he has feelings for Princess Leia. The first two films established a love triangle between Luke, Leia and Han, which became a little awkward with the reveal in the third film that Luke and Leia are related. Will that love triangle be part of the dynamic between the three characters in your book?
One thing that’s good about doing this book is we have the knowledge of foresight. We know where the story is going and where everybody is coming from. So there won’t be any Luke and Leia kissing.
Let’s talk a little bit about some of the past print material that documented this time period like the original “Star Wars” comics published by Marvel. I understand the Expanded Universe material is now part of the “Legends” line, but you can reintroduce those elements in this series if you like, correct?
Sure, pretty much everything is on the table. Just because the story is set in the time period it’s set in doesn’t mean we can’t pull resources from other parts of the “Star Wars” timeline and universe — as long as things make sense. It’s a bit like dumping all the toys out on the table and seeing how we can mix them up, which is one of the things that’s fun about it.
â€¨So yes, if there is stuff from the previous “Star Wars” comics that fit with what we want to do, great. We have the option of picking and choosing what we want in conjunction with Lucasfilm of course.
We talked about your core cast of characters, so let’s move into some of your supporting players. Will “Star Wars” feature both new and established supporting characters? And will we get to know more about the makeup and resources of the Rebel Alliance at this time?
We’ll certainly expand the cast as things go along, but for this first arc I wanted to focus in on the main movie cast. So this first arc is pretty much Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, the droids, Darth Vader and one other character who pops up a little later in the arc.
I want this to feel like the book you could have read two months after that original film came out. Really all you need to know going into this book is what you saw in the first movie. So I wanted to get back to the films as the main inspiration for this. We’re going to start by focusing in on those characters. Going forward, we’ll start to broaden that with new and existing characters.
You mentioned Darth Vader, who will also have his own title written by Kieron Gillen. What kind of role will Vader play in your book?
He’s still the big bad, of course. This is a team book and I’ve got a big cast, but the narrative is kind of driven by Luke Skywalker and this quest that he’s begun. So he’s in a very interesting place and has kind of just been introduced into this world. Everything he’s known has gone away. The people who raised him are dead. He meets Ben Kenobi who was sort of a mentor for a moment, and then he dies. So he’s left holding his father’s lightsaber and filled with questions.
He’s just done something amazing. He was able to blow up this Death Star using the Force. So he knows there’s something special about him, but he still has no idea at all what it means to be a Jedi. We’re still quite a ways away from Ben whispering in his ear, “You should probably go see Yoda on Dagobah.” This is Luke kind of floundering and trying to figure out ‘what do I do?’
He can look across the aisle at Darth Vader and as far as he knows that’s the man who killed his father. He’s definitely the man who killed Ben Kenobi. So I think deep down Luke already knows that at some point this is going to come down to him and that guy, which means he’s got to be ready to win that fight.
â€¨Then on the flip side of that is Darth Vader who’s looking for answers of his own. He wants to know who the hell blew up the Death Star? Ben Kenobi pops up out of the blue for the first time in years and the next thing he knows the Death Star has been blown up. Clearly there’s something going on there.
I liked the idea of the narrative being driven by these two characters chasing after each other without really realizing it. Luke is looking for clues about his father while at the same time running from Darth Vader without realizing what’s really going on there.
â€¨So initially, that relationship really drives the story, but again it’s a team book. I want big moments for all of those characters. In the first issue we’ll have moments for Han, Leia, and even R2 and 3PO. Everybody will have moments. That includes Vader too. He has his own book, but in my book he’s still the face of the Empire.
In Kieron’s “Darth Vader” book you get to peek behind the scenes a little bit and get a real look at what’s going on in the Empire. In my book he’s what he is in the movies. He pops up on occasion as this big, scary figure carrying a lightsaber. He’s sort of leading the Empire’s charge to stop these Rebels and to specifically figure out who the guy who blew up the Death Star is.
I know one of the things you like to do in your books is feature a variety of different story types. Because this book is “Star Wars” I imagine the main genre will be Space Opera, but are there other genres you’re interested in exploring in this series as well?
I’m going to be careful, especially initially. I don’t want to do something that seems jarringly out of touch with the films. For me, this job is different than writing characters like Wolverine or Spider-Man. Those characters have decades worth of comics going back 60 years in some instances. They’re characters that have been part of almost every sort of story you can imagine.
So for me, what’s cool and refreshing about this new book is we kind of start over with the “Star Wars” Universe. It comes back to where it all began with those first few films. So I want this to read like it’s in that same universe. I want this to have the feel of that original film. I want it to be as funny, exciting and filled with wonder as the movies were. That’s what I’m going for. As we go along we might break out of that mold a little bit and see different kinds of stories, but for now this is what we’re shooting for.
There will be another story though that’s kind of interwoven into our main story in “Star Wars.” I don’t want to say too much about it, but we’ll do the occasional flashback story that will give us more insight into the “Old Ben” version of Obi-Wan Kenobi. I always loved that character in the original film and we never really see much of that version, the Alec Guinness version. So even though he’s dead he’ll be a character in the book as well.
Let’s move from story and characters to the work being done by your collaborator, artist John Cassaday. What’s it like working with John on a “Star Wars” book?
First off, he’s the world’s biggest “Star Wars” fan, which I didn’t know. When we first got this job and first started talking about it we got to go out to San Francisco and have meetings with Lucasfilm. As part of that we got to go out to the Skywalker Ranch and get a tour of the archives. So we’re all walking through these shelves piled with the actual blasters, lightsabers and the real Yoda. It was pretty much everything, which was amazing.
In that group of people which includes me, Kieron, John, and several people from editorial, nobody was a bigger “Star Wars” geek than Cassaday. He seemed to recognize more of the blasters, lightsabers, and ships than anybody else. He was definitely geeking out.
So it’s clear that he’s a huge “Star Wars” fan. He’s been incredibly excited about this from the get-go. He’s very into it and has a lot of ideas of his own on how this should be and what we should do. I’ve seen the pages and the cover he’s turned in and you can see that passion in them. His work looks amazing.
John is a fantastic artist but he doesn’t tend to do long runs on monthly comics without some sort of break or fill-in. I imagine his enthusiasm for the project and the fact that it doesn’t begin until 2015 means that this is a book that should ship on time month after month?
Yeah, we have the luxury of time. We knew this was going to happen well in advance. We’ve been working on this quite awhile. The first issue of the book doesn’t come out until January, but we’ve already got quite a few pages. Plus, our relationship with Lucasfilm is still new, and we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to figure this out. The wheels have been turning on this for quite awhile.
What else can you tell us about the initial “Star Wars” arc you and John are working on? In terms of plot and themes what is it about?
The book starts a couple of weeks after the destruction of the Death Star. So this has obviously been a huge win for the Rebels. It’s the biggest win they’ve had. They just destroyed this massive space station. So they’ve dealt this huge blow to the Empire, and this is very much them trying to press their advantage and launch sort of the Tet Offensive against the Empire.
â€¨The feeling is that they dazed the Empire a little bit and now it’s time to go for the knockout punch. They’re ready to step things up. This is them launching more surprise attacks. When that first issue opens we get to see our beloved cast of characters diving into the fire one more time.
Finally, what’s it like to once again be telling stories in a beloved franchise alongside Kieron Gillen? I understand you both want your individual books to stand on their own, but that you’ll also be working to give readers of both titles a bigger and richer tapestry of story.
I think there’s a lot of room to coordinate between the books like we did in the X-Men office. We’ve got two series that clearly take place in the same universe and the same time period. So occasionally we’ll see the same scene in both books. We’ll see where they interact and diverge. You’re going to to get a full picture of what’s going on in this galaxy at this moment from both the Rebel and Imperial perspectives.
“Star Wars” by Jason Aaron & John Cassaday begins in January 2015 from Marvel Comics.