Miller Draws the Curtain on "KotOR"

As Yoda would say, to an end, all good things must come. Just ask John Jackson Miller. The veteran writer and noted comic circulation historian has been having the time of his life expanding the Star Wars Universe while telling the tales of Zayne Carrick in "Star Wars: Knights of the Republic," a series from Dark Horse Comics set in 3963 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin).

But after writing every issue of the series to date, "Knights of the Republic" #50 will be Miller's last as Dark Horse has announced in its most recent solicitations that the title will end with its semi-centennial issue in February.

Since its launch in January of 2006, "Knights of the Republic" - "KotOR" to its fans - has followed the exploits of Zayne Carrick, a young Padawan blessed with the Force, but unfortunately not much else. Befriending the outlaw Gryph (a Snivvian, which is the same race as the bounty hunter known as Snaggletooth from "Star Wars: A New Hope"), Zayne headed out into a galaxy far, far away to clear his name after all his classmates at the Jedi Academy are mass murdered and he becomes the prime suspect.

CBR News checked in with Miller to see what was ahead for Zayne and his pals as the title closed and what Miller's thoughts were as this five-year project comes to an end.

Miller, who has fond memories of reading Marvel Comics' "Star Wars" #1 back in the late seventies, said that there are still many secrets to reveal before the final issue of "Knights of the Old Republic" is released, and there are a few "Ah-ha!" moments still to come, too, including the exact nature of Zayne's unusual relationship with the Force.

CBR News: Well, JJM, it's been a wild ride but "Knights of the Old Republic" is coming to an end with #50 in February. Why was it time to bring Zayne Carrick's story to a close?

John Jackson Miller: We've had a great run - fifty issues, not counting our #0 issue and the handbook, is a lot for a series, especially with the same writer on board. Dark Horse really gave us the chance to spread out and explore a lot of different places and see the characters grow and learn about themselves, or, in the case of our recidivist scoundrel Gryph, to learn absolutely nothing. Along the way, we've had some fun adventures and added a great deal to the mythos - huge swaths of last year's role-playing game guide are based on what's in the comics.

Why now? In part, I think we're always looking to try to reach out to new readers - and once you get up to eight or nine collected editions, it gets a bit more challenging to craft every story like it's the first one for someone. That's why it pays to have deck-clearing moments in the storyline like "Vector" and "Vindication" as a series goes along, so new readers can find their footing. So you're always balancing what's the best way to reach as many people as possible - continuing one series, or doing something completely new. We made the call this year to do the latter.

Did you get to tell all the stories you wanted to with Zayne and his friends, or do you wish you had another 50 issues to go?

I can always find more stories to tell - but no, I actually had been angling toward getting all the existing plotlines wrapped up in 2010, to facilitate another one of those fresh starts mentioned above, or possibly something completely different. The fugitive storyline we began with ran nearly three years; the Crucible storyline was never intended to go that long. So the decision to wrap things up in #50 really just gave me a target issue to shoot for.

I certainly don't rule out a return to these characters again, in one format or another. I've written them now for comics, the role-playing game, and prose for StarWars.com. I'm doing prose writing for Del Rey now in the "Lost Tribe of the Sith" series of ebooks, so that's yet another channel I've been working with.

You've been writing Zayne for nearly five years - has he changed much since you first introduced him back in 2005? Obviously, he's grown as a character, but have your feelings changed towards him and, after 50 issues, has he grown into the character you believed he would become?

I think the key with Zayne is that he's resilient, that he's taken the worst that fate can throw at him and he hasn't become bitter or hateful. At the end of the initial story, "Commencement," the Jedi Masters are left with the possibility that he might turn out to be the dark nightmare figure that they imagine. But then as we travel with him through the series, we learn otherwise.

He's not perfect - as we see in "Destroyer," where the high standards he sets for himself created a rift between himself and Jarael. Zayne has grown a lot since the series started, but we've tried never to forget that he's 19; not every decision he makes is always the wisest one. But overall, he's a decent kid, trying to do the best he can - certainly not a monster. It floors me that there are still a few readers out there hoping the Covenant was right, and that Zayne will become some evil overlord. I'm not sure why anyone would want that for him, and as Gryph put it well in "Vindication," if you've watched him in action, you'd know he's not that guy.

I also wanted to make sure we played it straight when it came to his abilities. The series to date has taken less than a year of time in the KotOR universe. Zayne began as a student of lesser abilities - or to be more exact, someone who didn't have a handle on the powers that he did have. He wasn't going to improve overnight, unless we leapt ahead in the timeline, which was something we didn't want to do. Now, he has improved a great deal, particularly when it comes to using the softer Force skills involving persuasion and misdirection; a lot of that comes from who's been "training" him.

Does the end of "Knights of the Old Republic," mean the end of Zayne Carrick?

[I] wouldn't want to give away the ending of the last issue, of course - and in the larger scheme, you never know what the future may hold. "Always in motion," etc, etc.

Have you saved some "Ah-ha!" moments for this final arc, in terms of the back story and origins of Zayne and some of the other major characters like Gryph and Jarael?

Oh, yes - later this month in #48, we find out all about Jarael's past, and how it is intertwined with that of her abductor. Of course, she doesn't even know she's been abducted yet. We also learn a lot more about Demagol - and how this series has had unseen connections with earlier Star Wars comics from the beginning. This storyline also spells out the exact nature of Zayne's unusual relationship with the Force, as well as what he's been doing with the money he's been squirreling away from their shady enterprises.

Demagol has been a character lurking in the KotOR mythos almost since the beginning. Did you relish the opportunity you had to finally reveal the Mandalorian scientist's evil plans?

Absolutely - and "lurking" is really the right word. This was a case where, early on, I saw a chance to give our con-artists a taste of their own medicine. We forget sometimes that "con" stands for "confidence" in this usage; well, here was the chance to show a truly long con, in which someone who's a real danger gains everyone's acceptance. We had clues for the readers, but never enough for the characters to put it together - until recently, when it was too late.

What made it work is that it was never the "A" story or the "B" story - if it were out front and center, you couldn't play it for too long without needing to resolve it. But this was always deep in the background, coming out at moments that could play either way depending on whether you suspected that something was amiss. If you weren't looking, you'd never know it was a subplot. If the series had ended abruptly some time earlier on, in fact, it might not even have needed to be addressed, because it did play both ways.

What's fun is that after our revelation in "Knights of the Old Republic" #47, it's been like a whole new series for some of the people I've been hearing from, as they're going back through all the previous stories and rereading with their new perspective. It reminds me of the old days reading Jim Starlin's "Dreadstar," and discovering how the roots of the traitor storyline were planted years before.

Are there any more secrets to come in the final three issues?

Absolutely, including a few twists that I really don't think anyone's expecting - though the clues are, as usual, there...

Do you have a favorite story or arc from the run?

There are number of moments that really fit the mold I'd imagined for the series. "Flashpoint," in Volume 2, was the first post-origin story, and it really was archetypical of a lot that we did later on. Our heroes would be minding their own business running a scam, and then events in the larger universe would intrude and mess everything up, and then the characters would have to scramble to think their way out of the jam. I get that feeling from later stories like "Exalted," in Volume 6, and "Prophet Motive." Dark Horse wanted us to get out and explore the galaxy; these kinds of caper stories, exploring unseen worlds, were a joy to write.

And then there are the stories with heavy emotional content, with scenes where I think the artists really knocked it out of the park. The endings of "Days of Fear" in Volume 3 by Dustin Weaver and "Destroyer" in Volume 7 by Brian Ching are examples of that.

I also enjoyed the mix of different kinds of humor we had in the series. There are screwball bits, but there's also darker stuff mixed in. One of my favorite examples of that is "Reunion." It's such a light story, it seemed like it might blow away in a strong wind - but even there, are still these darker moments in it where we're reminded there's this undercurrent of bad stuff going on in the galaxy just outside the door.

What about the massive event that was "Vector"?

Beginning with "Knights of the Old Republic" #25-28, "Vector" was a time-spanning story that worked its way through four different Star Wars titles. It was really good to do as it brought us a lot of attention and some of our best sales of the series; it also really set events in motion for our third year. I'm happy with how it turned out.

Readers looking for "Knights of the Old Republic" Volume 5 will find it is actually "Vector" Volume 1, in case anyone is wondering.

After spending over 4 years on "KotOR," do you have any regrets about things you might have done differently or things you never got around to doing?

I'm pleased with what we did overall, though in retrospect, you always see places for improvement. I think our sophomore year presented some challenges. In the Arkanian Legacy storyline, I'd sought to craft something that had a lot of moving parts, sort of in the tradition of the old Archie Goodwin "Wheel" story, which had 10 major characters colliding in the same location for six issues. I found it was a lot harder than I imagined - I had more than enough material for a prose novel by the time I was done, and some elements, like Gryph's escape from Serroco, had to wait for later issues. Our artists did a great job getting everything on the page, but I know it was challenging.

Will you miss working with your long-time collaborator, artist Brian Ching?

Brian has been wonderful to work with. He's created some signature scenes, some of which we've reinterpreted again and again, like the perp walk to the Jedi Tower in #6, which we did again in #47. He's also always thinking about what characters should look like - he's the reason Gryph is a Snivvian and not a blue elephant guy like Max Rebo, which was my original not-very-workable idea. He really puts a lot of time into costume design, too; we've had several fans dressing as the series characters at conventions who've expressed their appreciation of that.

Your love of the characters comes through in every issue. Were you a big Star Wars fan growing up? It must be quite surreal to be adding characters and places and stories to the Star Wars canon every month.

It's a lot of fun. Yes, Marvel's "Star Wars" #1 was the first "grown-up" comic I ever bought - and it was Archie Goodwin and Carmine Infantino's run on the Marvel series that hooked me into comics for good. So I always try to imagine I'm writing to that kid and his friends - while coming up with something that will engage the longer-time readers.

I've been writing in the Galaxy Far, Far Away for five years this month - that was when I got the assignment for "Star Wars: Empire" #35, my first Star Wars story. It was a pleasure then, and it's a pleasure now. I like that there's room for a lot of different kinds of stories in this milieu; what I'm doing for "Lost Tribe of the Sith" is a world apart from KotOR, and yet it's all Star Wars.

Your next project for Dark Horse has been announced as "Mass Effect: Redemption." Can you give us a tease about what we'll see in that series?

"Mass Effect" is the hit video game franchise from BioWare, set in a future in which humanity has reached the stars a lot sooner than it had expected to. We're the new kids on the galactic block, and we're ruffling a lot of feathers, or scales, or whatever the various species have. But we're also handy to have around, because the galaxy is teeming with mysterious threats. One of those threats is addressed in "Mass Effect: Redemption," the first comics series based on the franchise; it's my script based on a plot by Mac Walters, head writer on "Mass Effect 2," the blockbuster sequel that's coming out in January 2010. Omar Francia ("Star Wars: Legacy") is the artist. So there's a lot in the comics that will be relevant to the upcoming game.

It should be a good place for comics readers to get into the game world and vice-versa; there's a variant-cover version of the first issue in the Collector's Edition of the video game.

So, is there any chance that you'll return to Dark Horse's Star Wars line again?

Definitely. More than that I cannot say, except... stay tuned!

"Knights of the Old Republic" #48 is scheduled to arrive in comic book stores December 23.

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