By Danica Davidson
How would you like to know all about the origin of the Jedi? Writer John Ostrander and artist Jan Duursema are adding to the Star Wars mythos with their new series, Dawn of the Jedi, which has an issue zero just released from Dark Horse Comics. MTV Geek spoke to Ostrander and Duursema to get the scoop.
MTV Geek: What makes Dawn of the Jedi stand out among your other Star Wars works?
John Ostrander: This is Genesis. I think everyone who has had any kind of interest in Star Wars, even those who have only seen the films, would be interested in how the Jedi Order began. That’s the story we’re telling.
Jan Duursema: Being asked to travel back in time to the beginnings of the Jedi Order is a pretty awesome undertaking. I've always wondered how the Jedi began—what the Force Wars that split the original order were like and how the Star Wars Galaxy looked back when this all happened. This is an era that a lot of Star Wars fans, like myself, have been wanting to see for a long time—and now John Ostrander and I get to explore it all in Dawn of the Jedi!
Geek: What’s it like writing new stories about these iconic characters and situations?
Ostrander: First word that comes to mind is FUN. Jan and I both love Star Wars. I was a fan actually before the FIRST film came out. I’d picked up the novel of the first movie and thought it was very cool and looked forward to seeing the movie. Then I actually SAW the movie and was blown away. Like anyone else, I wanted to not just view or read Star Wars, I wanted to be a PART of it. And through the work we’ve done in comics, I’ve had that chance.
Geek: Did you have to do a lot of research?
Duursema: Oh, yeah, developing Dawn of the Jedi took a lot of research. We knew that bits of information about the era existed, but we had to pull it all together to see how it would fit into the story we had in mind. I find this kind of research interesting. It was like looking at snapshots and developing a story from them. These snapshots gave us a great jumping off point—and some great villains in a species called the Rakata, a race of dark side creatures who enslave Force users in order to power their ships. These Rakata use the Force as well and employ saber wielding Force Hounds to seek out new planets to ransack. One of the main characters, Xesh, is one of these Force Hounds.
Ostrander: Jan and I both do constant research. I have this concept I call “fair extrapolation” by which I mean we take established data – what I call a “given” – and then figure out logical extensions of that given. We don’t try to make up something out of whole cloth and say “Wouldn’t that be cool?” We try to make certain that it ties into the SW Universe. For example, Jan has studied martial arts and has had experience using swords. She works that knowledge into how she draws lightsaber battles. It’s a given that the hyperdrive technology that, for example, the Millennium Falcon uses was developed from an earlier hyperdrive technology used by a race called the Rakata, who used the Force itself to power the hyperdrive. Since the Rakata are a big part of our story, we ask ourselves what else might the Rakata have that we see versions of later.
Geek: How much new material are you adding to the mythos?
Duursema: We've developed a ton of new material for Dawn of the Jedi to add to the Star Wars mythos. Very little has been told about the Dawn era of Star Wars, so everything had to be created pretty much from scratch. It was a lot of fun to develop the Tython System—a solar system within the Deep Core of the Galaxy that's only been seen on star maps in THE OLD REPUBLIC game.
The Tython system is home to the planet Tython — which is the planet of origin for the Jedi Order. In this era it is a dangerous world, where it would take the powers of a Jedi to survive. There is also a bunch of new characters—Je'daii Masters, Rangers, Journeyers and Padawans; Factions of non-Force users on other worlds (not all of the children of the Je'daii are able to touch the Force) that range from the Miners of Sunspot to the Barons of Shikaakwa. The Je'daii go where they feel the Force calls them to go, sometimes as ambassadors, sometimes as warriors, to mediate disputes or fight in wars. These Je'daii are neither dark side nor light side, but seek always to maintain a balance in the Force between the light and dark.
Ostrander: We always add new twists and, in DAWN OF THE JEDI, we have lots of new stuff. New characters, new ships and technology, different ways of seeing the Force, a whole new civilization within Tython. For example, it had already been established how many planets were in the Tython system but no one had named the other planets. Jan and I have and not only named them but figured out what sort of planets they are. We’ve developed a lot of background and some of it is just to have a convincing backdrop against which to tell the story we’re telling in DotJ. It needs to feel “real.” We create something and then we ask ourselves, “Selves, what are the ramifications of that?”
Geek: Since you’re coming up with new material for Star Wars, do you have to get approval from others?
Ostrander: Everything we come up with, including overviews, plots, scripts, sketches, art and more have to be approved not only by our esteemed editor, Randy Stradley, but by Lucas Film Licensing as well. We don’t get to make up just anything we want; we’re playing in George Lucas’s sandbox and there are guardians in place. However, we have a good working relationship with LFL. We’ve been doing this for quite a while and we’ve earned their trust, I think.
Duursema: It’s taken a lot of research, work and thought on everyone's part to get Dawn of the Jedi up and running.
Geek: Jan, what process do you go through designing characters?
Duursema: Designing characters is an interesting process. First, John Ostrander and I talk about what kind of characters we would like to see in the story. Once we understand who they are—their personalities, their strengths and weaknesses—their motivation, the sketching begins. I try to get a good picture of the character in my mind's eye and let the drawing evolve from there. I don't actually know how that initial impression of what they should be like forms. With most characters it's just there and I know when it's right. I always keep a mental catalog of elements I would like to use for characters someday. I definitely used a lot of these stored elements for the characters in Dawn.
I also did a lot of research into historical costumes and armor for Dawn of the Jedi. I looked at modern leather armor and costumes as well. Clothes are fascinating and tell so much about a character. I wanted to get what felt like a correct balance of armor to cloth for these Je'daii warriors. At first I thought they would not wear armor at all, but as the story concept progressed, I found that these Je'daii were only twelve years distant from the last time war had come to their world, so it seemed like at least some vestiges of armor would be appropriate for many of them.
Designing the temples, worlds and tech, I kept in mind something our editor on this book, Randy Stradley always says—that they are all characters in the story as well. Since none of this existed in films, I wanted to have 3D turnarounds of buildings and ships, so I created virtual models of the Je'daii temples and ships. From those models I did paintings so I could get a feel for the atmosphere of the strange new worlds we would be visiting as well.