The Dawning of "Star Wars: The Old Republic"

The Force is strong in this one. Taking place over 3,500 years before the events of the sextet of famous films, "Star Wars: the Old Republic" will give players the choice of joining the Jedi or the Sith in a massively multiplayer online experience. But before you begin practicing the ways of the force in BioWare and LucasArts upcoming game (set for release in 2011), whet your appetite this July with the release of a brand new "Old Republic" limited series from Dark Horse Comics that sets up the events taking place a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Originally appearing as a weekly web comic written by BioWare's Robert Chestney and illustrated by artist Alex Sanchez, "Star Wars: The Old Republic - The Threat of Peace" is the first arc in the prequel miniseries taking place 10 years prior to the start of the game and featuring a number of characters, places and events all tying into the MMO. The comic finally sees the printed page this summer, and both Chestney and Sanchez spoke with CBR News about the conception of the title, how the comic carries over into the upcoming video game and whether they'd fight for the force or succumb to the dark side if they themselves entered the Old Republic.

The idea for a comic book tie in to the game first came about while Chestney and the other members of the "Old Republic" writing team began making plans for the Website. Wanting to produce some original content for fans, they decided to craft a comic introducing some of the characters and giving an overall feel for what the game story would be like. "The concept for the comic actually went through a few iterations, and I wrote up the pitch for 'Threat of Peace' as just one of a few ideas. When Dark Horse got involved, they liked the pitch, so we just moved forward with that," Chestney told CBR. "The goal for the comic was always to give the fans a reason to come back to the website regularly and to keep them entertained during the buildup to the game. To be honest, creating a printed version was never even on the table until Dark Horse got involved. Of course, that was just like putting a big layer of icing on top of the cake."

To bring the Old Republic to life visually, BioWare and Dark Horse recruited penciler Alex Sanchez, who force jumped at the chance to contribute to the title. "I had been drawing a bunch of Star Wars character commission pin ups for my gallery at Comicartfans.com and I had always wanted to illustrate Star Wars in some capacity, so I got in touch with Scott Allie who is an editor at Dark Horse," explained Sanchez. "He put me in touch with Dave Marshall and Randy Stradley. I showed them my artwork and in about a week or so, Dave offered me 'The Old Republic' gig. I was extremely excited because 'Star Wars' has always been my favorite movies."

Sanchez, who saw his first "Star Wars" movie in 1983 at just 7 years old when his mom took him to see the film in theaters, admitted to being a huge fan of the franchise, growing up on the films and reading a number of the comic series throughout the years. From the technology to the awesome weaponry to characters and even the politics, the artist said he simply loves everything about the Star Wars Universe. Chestney also got sucked into Star Wars at a young age after seeing "The Empire Strikes Back" for the first time.

"One of my good friends had all the action-figures and a killer set of wooden blocks," recalled Chestney. "We would build out star cruisers and space stations and then have battles that would rage for days. I was also notorious in my family for turning our freezer into a carbonite chamber for my action figures. Unfortunately, Chewbacca, my favorite character, didn't survive the thawing process a few times when I tried to break him out of the ice.

"What I love about Star Wars is that it's fantasy, not just science fiction. Star Wars stories are epic, idealistic and character-driven," he continued. "The original movies are about Luke's redemption of his father and the saving of the galaxy from evil, not about time traveling or solving a mystery that takes place in multiple dimensions. I also love lightsabers. Who doesn't? They made it possible to have cool-looking sword fights in space."

That idea of character-driven storytelling plays a major part in both the game and the comic, a tradition long held by BioWare and praised by fans of the video game company. Chestney emphasized the importance of the emotional impact gained from properly developing characters. "The only way to really get a player emotionally engaged in a game is to give them something they care about," explained Chestney. "When we can create a moment in the game where you feel the tears well up in the back of your throat, or when you let out a no-holds-barred belly laugh, that's when we've achieved our goal. Characters involved in compelling stories are the vehicle with which we try to deliver this. In 'Threat of Peace,' my goal was to introduce a large and varied cast with the deeper character development occurring at the level of faction. What we're watching in 'Threat of Peace' is how the Jedi Order reacts to the peace forced by the Treaty of Coruscant and how the character of the Order evolves into the model embodied by Satele Shan. In contrast, the character of the Sith is embodied in the two different personas of Angral and Baras. Angral lives in the moment, always feeding and acting from his rage. Baras, of course, represents the more methodical, calculating aspect of the dark side. Both are equally dangerous and in constant conflict."

Of course, while Chestney developed the intricate personalities and inner working of the varied cast of characters, creating their visual designs fell on the shoulders of Sanchez. "The challenge was that we didn't know exactly what these characters would look like in the game, and thus Alex was in the difficult position of having to quickly turn out concepts for all these characters with just a brief description to go on," said Chestnet. "For the game, much more time and energy is spent detailing the character's looks, so it was hard to get through that process so quickly, but what we came out with really worked for me. Alex's style gives an edgy and actually a quite controversial appearance to the characters as well, and I like that about it. It's something I've never seen in Star Wars before, and I think it adds another dimension to the experience, especially in the printed version of the comic."

For Sanchez, the task of creating the looks for these characters actually ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences, despite the limited timeframe. "I was the one designing them off of Rob's scripts and descriptions, and Dave would edit certain aspects just to make sure that they fit perfectly within the Star Wars mythos," said the artist. "We spent a lot of time on the phone talking about certain character qualities, what armor and weapons some races should have, certain physical features some should have because their offsprings will be direct descendants and are already established characters. BioWare the game developer had a bunch of talented guys on staff that created a lot of the weaponry, armor and ships. So I have to give them props for feeding me all that reference whenever I needed it."

Sanchez's personal favorite characters ended up being the two he spent the most time designing - Satele Shan from the side of Order and Lord Angral of the dark side. And while Chestney admitted that he also liked the sexy Satele, his love for Han Solo's loyal, but hairy partner from the original films shined through. "I have a soft spot for Wookiees, so I also love Dalborra," he said. "I was especially pleased with the goggles and helmet that Alex Sanchez gave him. It made him all the more intriguing to me. The hard part with a Wookiee is that they're increasingly less exciting the more complex you make them. What was great about Chewie is that he was this ferocious monster who was also furry, snuggly, loyal and lovable. George Lucas said he based Chewie on a dog and that's pretty much what he is. So while I would love to do a lot more with Dalborra, I exercised the restraint to keep him at arm's length."

As to how exactly the comic ties into the game, Chestney said that the events of the title covers a quintessential moment in that time period's history: the Sacking of Coruscant. "The Sith lured the Jedi away and attacked the Republic's capital, and then they forced the Republic to agree to a treaty," said the writer. "Peace between the Jedi and the Sith is inherently impossible. The Sith believe in violence and war, and they hate the Jedi. The Jedi thus fight the Sith to protect themselves and the galaxy. But how do the Jedi react when the Sith promise to stop fighting? They're duty-bound to 'try' to observe the peace, even though they know it's just a lie. So the comic deals with the immediate aftermath of the Sacking and Treaty of Coruscant. The game itself takes place about ten years later, so things have changed, and the peace has really started to fall apart. Thus, the comic story doesn't really segue into the game story directly. Instead, it sets the stage for a prolonged lull in the fighting, which lasts until the characters enter the game."

Characters from the comic also see some carry over into the video game. Chestney mainly worked on the Jedi side of the MMO, so many of those characters from the comic appear or are referenced once the game begins. "The characters in 'Threat of Peace' are the heroes of their time, so a decade later, when the game begins, you'll more than likely see them in the role of mentors and leaders who the players will interact with," he explained. "People who've read the comic will get something extra from these characters when they actually play the game, and I hope that extra depth pays off in terms of delivering that emotional experience."

For both Chestney and Sanchez, simply being able to contribute to a world they love so much provides and emotional experience in itself. "It's funny. When we first started on this project, we marveled at all the obscure extended universe lore on Wookieepedia, but it never occurred to me how much we'd be adding to it. Just in the stories, videos and comics we've created around the game, we've introduced a huge amount of material, but the amount of lore introduced in the game itself makes everything else miniscule," said Chestney. "For me personally, I'd say writing for Star Wars is the fruition of a long-standing dream, but the truth is that it's beyond my dreams. Getting to contribute even one story or a single character to the Star Wars Universe would have been an amazing honor. Getting to participate in it at this level is just mind-blowing. I sometimes think, if only they could all see me now, all those folks who thought I was a geek in high school... and then I realize they'd still think I'm a geek. The great thing is that I'm grateful for that now. I don't have to hide my Star Wars figures these days; in fact, I can bust them out with my own kids."

"The possibility that these characters can go on forever and possibly end up in other parts of the Star Wars Universe is very exciting," added Sanchez. "It was definately one of my proudest moments as an artist and I'm very grateful to the guys at Dark Horse and BioWare for giving me that opportunity."

Contributing to the Star Wars Universe is one thing, but literally being a part of it is another. Both Chestney and Sanchez looked within themselves, attuned themselves to the force and discovered what their inner character holds. For Sanchez, a walk on the dark side seems best. "I would be a Zabrak Sith because Darth Maul is my favorite character and he was bad ass," admitted the artist. "So I guess I would want to follow in the footsteps of the most awesome Star Wars character, minus the whole getting cut in half, dying thing."

Chestney, on the other hand, sees himself in a different light. "On an ideal level, I'm a Jedi Knight. I identify with their moral struggles and I envy both their powers and their stoicism," he said. "In reality, however, I'm just a Wookiee: relatively simple-minded and fiercely protective of the things I care about. I don't have all the hair, though."

Use the Force and find your way to comic shops on July 7 for issue #1 of "Star Wars: The Old Republic."

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