NYCC EXCLUSIVE: Ostrander and Duursema Unveil "Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi"

In 2006, a creative team already well-entrenched in "Star Wars" lore set their sights on the far future of the Skywalker line, chronicling the adventures of rebellious Jedi Cade Skywalker in "Star Wars: Legacy." Now, writer John Ostrander and artist Jan Duursema will take a step back, all the way to the very earliest days of the Jedi Order. Thursday at New York Comic Con, Dark Horse announced "Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi," an ongoing series of 5-issue miniseries launching February 1 with an introductory #0 issue, with #1 following two weeks later. In an era before lightsabers, before adherents of the Force were divided into light and dark, what does it mean to be a Jedi? And how did the Order first come to be?

Comic Book Resources caught up with John Ostrander and Jan Duursema for an expansive chat about the series, featuring exclusive cover art from issue #1!

CBR News: John, beginning at the top -- how would you describe the story you're telling in "Dawn of the Jedi," and what is its place in the "Star Wars" Expanded Universe?

John Ostrander: "Dawn of the Jedi" is epic in scope and personal in the telling. It's rooted in the "Star Wars" Expanded Universe continuity, but also designed to be accessible to those who know "Star Wars" only from the movies or the cartoons. We've taken the existing continuity, asked questions and have formed answers. For example, it was previously established that the galaxy's best philosophers, priests, scientists and warriors had come together on Tython millennia before the Jedi Order's formal founding. Well, that would be sort of difficult, given that hyperspace travel was not common at that time, and that Tython is in the Deep Core -- a place notoriously hard to navigate even in "modern" "Star Wars" times. So one of the first questions Jan and I asked ourselves was -- how did they get there? And why Tython?

It's also previously established that there were Force Wars (note plural) beginning in 25,793 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin -- the Rebels' battle against the Death Star in "A New Hope") that lasted for about a decade. At the end, the proto-Jedi left the planet because of a Force Cataclysm and landed on Ossus 730 years later. So we're using -- sometimes clarifying and sometimes reinterpreting -- existing material to give the true story of how the Jedi came to be. I think that anyone with even a passing interest in "Star Wars" would be extremely interested in how it all began.

For those who know the background, "Dawn" will have reverberation and a lot of "Aha!" moments as they recognize these elements and see how we use them. If you know nothing about the background stories, it doesn't matter. Everything you need to know about the series will be in the series.

You're telling a story set in the very earliest days of the Jedi Order, and you've mentioned the Force Wars. When does "Dawn of the Jedi" take place relative to the Battle of Yavin?

Ostrander: It starts with the gathering of the Force sensitive sentients on Tython in 36,453 BBY. We move quickly as the rest of the Tython system is colonized and the series really gets going with events just prior to the Force Wars, which began in 25,793 BBY.

I believe there are stories that touch on pre-Jedi history, but this looks to highlight the time when they were first organizing. Is there a particular event that sparks the evolution?

Ostrander: There are two major events in "Dawn of the Jedi." The first event will be the gathering of Force sensitives on the planet Tython.

The second, and the event that begins to polarize dark and light within the Jedi Order, will be set into motion when another species enters the Tython system shortly before the Force Wars begin.

The press release mentions that in "Dawn of the Jedi" lightsabers have yet to appear. What does the Jedi Order, or the underlying religion, look like at this point in history?

Ostrander: This is the great lost culture of the Jedi, a "Star Wars" Atlantis. While many of the tenets have been set down, the beings who study the Force on Tython are not yet the Jedi. At this point, they are the Je'daii, a Dai Bendu term meaning mystic (je) center (daii). This will later be shortened to Jedi. The Je'daii have been brought to Tython, a planet where the Force is very strong, from around the galaxy and they have spent ten millennia studying the Force, attempting to understand it and their place in relationship to it. That doesn't mean they spend all the time in quiet meditation. The Je'daii are actively engaged with the Force, using its power in a moving meditation in their daily existence. They are still discovering many things about the Force and the power it gives them, experimenting with aspects of the Force sometimes lost or forbidden to later Jedi -- sometimes deliberately. In some cases, the Jedi learned from the mistakes their predecessors the Je'daii made -- some serious, serious mistakes.

The Je'daii don't see a division of the light and dark side; instead, they believe a balance is necessary between the two. The Je'daii are like the Titans in Greek mythology who came before the gods. They are beings of great power and ability, but not all-knowing. They struggle with the idea of balance in the Force and know that being out of balance affects their power and the planet Tython itself.

What does it mean to be a Jedi -- or Je'daii -- in this time?

Ostrander: The Je'daii have been on Tython for ten thousand years. To put that in perspective, here on Earth that would put us, from today, roughly at the Neolithic era, when wheat and barley were just starting to be cultivated. Ten thousand years ago the saber tooth cats were going extinct. Ten thousand years is a lot of time.

To be a Je'daii means constant involvement with the Force in every aspect of your life. There were four levels of attainment starting with the Padawan, or apprentice. After a certain point, you became a Je'daii Journeyer, going from temple to temple on Tython, increasing your knowledge and your skills. A Je'daii Ranger, the next level, would travel out among the Settled Worlds, sometimes at the request of the governments of those worlds, sometimes not. You went where the Force took you and you acted as the Force commanded -- which might not be as the governments or vested interests of the Settled Worlds would like. Finally, there were the Masters, including the Masters of the temples.

Have the Sith or other adherents of the dark side arisen yet, in this era?

Ostrander: We do have Sith, but they're of the Sith species, and not yet the Sith sect. They're members of the Sith species taken from Korriban and brought to Tython. Do not expect them to be evil. It was only later that the Dark Jedi masters came to Korriban and conquered the Sith, taking their name as the name of their Order. There will be those who stray too far to the dark side, but they are considered by the Je'daii to be out of balance. Those who fall out of balance are put into exile on one of Tython's moons until they can find a way back into balance. Those who go to far to the light side of the Force are also considered to be out of balance and are exiled to the other moon of Titan until they can find a way back into balance.

And then there are the Rakata.

For those who don't know them, the Rakata first appeared in the "Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic" video game, and they are nasty pieces of work. The Rakata focused only on the dark side of the Force and used it in their technology -- including their hyperdrives. The "Infinite Empire" of the Rakata stretched to different planets throughout various sectors in the galaxy. Usually these were Force-rich worlds. Jan and I are fascinated by the Rakata, but we also had some questions, such as "How did the Rakata find these worlds?" Well, we've come up with some answers that will also permit us to explore the Rakata and their culture a bit in the process. These are nasty sentients, folks. That makes them really good villains.

The "Dawn of the Jedi" era is set somewhat before the formation of the Galactic Republic. What does the organization of the universe look like at this point?

Ostrander: The Republic was created in 25,053 BBY which would be 740 years after the Je'daii left Tython, and only about a decade after they landed on Ossus. So our story predates the Republic by a bit. In the "Dawn" era, the Rakatan Infinite Empire would have been very active in the galaxy. They had a kind of hyperspace capability and used it to conquer planets around the galaxy, including planets in the Deep Core such as Byss.

What's more important to our story than the state of the galaxy at that point is the Tython solar system. Remember, getting into or out of -- or even navigating around -- the Deep Core is very difficult. However, "Star Wars" has a history of its heroes going to different locations and planets and experiencing different cultures and societies.

What we've done is focus on the Tython planetary system. In the 10,000 years since the first Je'daii landed on Tython, their descendants have gone out and developed these other planets and moons, which we call the Settled Worlds. Jan and I have put a lot of thought into all this and created new potential places to take our story. We won't get to all of them right away, but we know what they are and their backstory, so we have places to go.

Now that we've got a feeling for this era of "Star Wars" mythology, who are the main characters of this series? Who are our heroes, and what are they up against?

Ostrander: As fans of "Legacy" will remember, we tend to have a big cast of characters and like a wide canvas on which to tell our stories. It's no different here. We have both Je'daii and non-Je'daii. We'll have a wide raft of sentients from which to draw (it ain't "Star Wars" without lots of aliens) and all kinds of characters.

At the center of it all are three young Je'daii Jouneyers. Shae Koda is a Dathomiri female; both of her parents were killed before our story opens in an event called The Despot War. Shae is young, brave, restless, rash, and a bit reckless. With an incessant curiosity about everything, she does not accept things on blind faith and is not afraid to ask questions, even about things that are considered accepted.

Sek'nos Rath is a young Sith male. Born to Je'daii parents who travel the system as diplomats, he was raised by his maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather, both Je'daii Masters. He likes to push the envelope and yearns for adventure. He's rowdy and bold and fun loving -- a friend to all. He also loves weaponry and females of all types. Sek'nos is charming but also driven; so many Je'daii have done great things. Sek'nos also wants to do great things.

Tasha Ryo is a female Twi'lek whose non-Je'daii father is Baron Volnos Ryo, a clan lord on the planet Shikaakwa, and her mother, Kora Ryo, is the master of Kaleth, the Je'daii Temple of Knowledge. Very calm and empathic, Tasha looks before she leaps and tries to understand the possible repercussions of what she does. Tasha prefers not to use weapons, employing "empty hand" techniques that uses the Force itself as weapon and shield. She's also often torn between duties to her mother and the Je'daii and to her father and their clan.

At the very center of this all, however, is Xesh -- a mysterious and powerful being called a Force Hound, whose arrival on Tython really sets the entire series in motion and powers the events that will drive the series. This will be his story, but telling too much about him now would reveal too much. I want the reader to encounter Xesh in the context of the story.

And there will be lots of other characters to encounter in the story, like Twi'lek Ranger Hawk Ryo, Ketu, Master of Akar Kesh, Rakatan Predor Skal'nas, Trill, and Je'daii Daegen Lok, just for starters.

A question for Jan: what sort of thought went into designing the new characters in this series? Were there particular traits you wanted to emphasize visually?

Jan Duursema: As with any new series, the first goal was to create characters who are visually striking -- characters who you immediately want to learn more about. With "Legacy" and "Republic" it was easy to take cues from existing material and create characters who fit into worlds that were already created. With "Dawn of the Jedi," we had this huge era for which very little had been established. Initially, it was kind of mind boggling, but as John and I began to come up with the story elements we wanted in "Dawn," we were able to figure out what kind of characters we wanted to see.

Designing the Je'daii characters was tricky. What makes a Jedi look like a Jedi? For me, it's their lightsabers and robes. In this era the Jedi are still using bladed weapons, so that leaves robes, which these early Jedi will still have. I didn't want to give them the same traditional clothes as later Jedi sometimes wear, but instead give them something along those lines which looks as though it might be a predecessor of that style. This costume would be for training or formal occasions. For everyday use, the Je'daii are more individualized, and their costumes based on functionality for the character.

Along these lines, in creating a visual look for the technology and planetary settings, what sort of factors did you have to take into consideration given the early era in which these stories take place? How does this compare to your process on "Legacy," which was set in the far future?

Duursema: With "Legacy," the process of design was forward looking. I could build on existing designs, utilize pieces of existing ships, buildings or weapons. That's one of the things I've always loved about "Star Wars" -- that feeling that objects also had a history. There was also plenty of established technology to play with.

With "Dawn of the Jedi," there was a retro-fitting process involved in designing the ships, temples, weapons and the rest. I tried to imagine design elements that the later tech could spring from. There are airships, dirigible-like vessels that are mostly transport ships or pleasure ships. Dirigibles just felt right for the era. The Je'daii have Pteron fighters, named because they reminded me of Pterosaurs. These are fast, winged vessels -- and armed. The Je'daii have cause to be peace-keepers from time to time.

Some of the tech, like the Tho Yor pyramid ships, are so ancient they look like stone. They are obviously some kind of ancient alien technology. The temple settings vary in style, some being more hi-tech than others and each utilizing the energies of Tython as a power source. The Je'daii are all about balance with their world, Tython, so I tried to incorporate that feeling into each temple building -- considering how the Je'daii would build their structures to enhance or capture the nature of the planet.

"Dawn of the Jedi" entailed more than creating technology. John and I had to consider what kinds of worlds we wanted to populate the Tython System with. These worlds vary from temperate and Earth-like to hot worlds with underground caverns and lakes, to cold out-lying worlds where life is only possible on a space station. Hope you will join us -- we have some really fun places to go!

Jan mentions that the Jedi origin ties in with pyramid ships called Tho Yor. Are these an existing part of "Star Wars" lore, or do they appear here for the first time? In either case, what can you tell us about them?

Ostrander: The Tho Yor are new to "Star Wars." These are the eight great ships that carried the Force sensitive beings to Tython in 36,453 BBY. There is also a ninth, larger Tho Yor on Tython which hovers over the Akar Kesh temple. The Je'daii are uncertain who built these ships, or what their purpose is beyond gathering their ancestors to be brought to Tython. Nine great temples, the centers of Je'daii culture and learning are now scattered around Tython, each attached to a Tho Yor.

"Dawn of the Jedi" brings the "Legacy" team back together. John and Jan, what makes your collaboration click?

Ostrander: Well, we've been doing this a while. Ten years! We both bring slightly different things to the mix. And we both love "Star Wars," and we love telling stories.

Duursema: Besides the fact that working with John is fun, I'm pretty sure we've developed a hive mind. Seriously, I just couldn't resist the temptation to get to tell how the Jedi order began. And working with John to think-tank "Dawn of the Jedi" into existence has been awesome!

"Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi" #0 by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema arrives February 1, 2012.

Dark Multiverse: DC Just Proved It Always NEEDS a Crisis - Or Else!

More in Comics