Charles Soule, one of comics’ most acclaimed writers, is standing now. He paces back and forth, a look that falls somewhere between concern and deep thought on his face, while others debate and throw out ideas. There’s some tension in the air.
He approaches a whiteboard filled with scribbles of Star Wars words that I’m not at liberty to write here. He lays out how he thinks things should go. Cavan Scott, fellow Star Wars author, chimes in. From the back of the room, Pablo Hidalgo of the Lucasfilm Story Group speaks up, building on their ideas. Heads around the table nod, and we’re at a consensus. The tension breaks, replaced with an excited energy of This is really, really good.
This was the scene last summer, in which Lucasfilm Publishing creative director Michael Siglain led a summit to craft Star Wars: The High Republic, formerly known as Project Luminous — the long-teased, multi-platform publishing initiative that will take Star Wars to brand-new ground. Officially announced earlier this week, the story will take place 200 years before the events of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, at a time when the Jedi were in their prime. There will be new worlds to explore. There will be new threats to face. It sounds incredible and promises to have ramifications across Star Wars storytelling for years to come.
To pull it off, Siglain assembled his Avengers, an all-star lineup of Star Wars writers if there ever was one: Soule (Marvel’s Darth Vader, Star Wars, and Poe Dameron), Scott (Dooku: Jedi Lost, Tales from Vader’s Castle), Claudia Gray (Master & Apprentice), Justina Ireland (Lando’s Luck), and Daniel José Older (Last Shot). Following last summer’s summit, StarWars.com sat down Siglain and the entire group to talk about how they’re bringing Star Wars: The High Republic to our galaxy.
StarWars.com: Mike, you might be the one to speak to this. How did this start? How did this come to be?
Michael Siglain: This started way back when. This was an idea that I always wanted to do with Star Wars publishing, in that I wanted to tell a massive story, told across multiple formats over multiple years, for every type of fan. So if you’re only reading a Del Rey novel or you’re only reading a Marvel comic, you’re getting one piece of the story. But if you’re a core fan and you’re reading a Del Rey novel and a YA novel and a Marvel comic, you’re getting a much bigger part of the story. You’re getting the whole picture. It’s not as if it’s one story aged down or up depending upon format, there’s not one “A” story. Every one of these stories is the “A” story, and then they combine together into a massive, massive story.
The origin of this is really a comic book crossover, only instead of one super hero crossing over with another and another, it’s different publishers crossing over with each other, with one story or character leading into another.
StarWars.com: How did you all find out about it? What was your reaction when you were asked to be part of it?
Claudia Gray: I think you actually phoned me or sent an email saying, “Let’s set up a call.”
Justina Ireland: I think it was email. “We need to talk!”
Claudia Gray: Yeah. And I remember it was a day when I couldn’t be in my house, some kind of home repair was going on. I found the least-crazy restaurant I could find. The only other people were all the way across the thing and I was down low trying to talk. [Laughs] But he explained what we were doing and of course I was super excited. He had kind of mentioned the idea of a greater narrative project before, and I always thought that would be really cool. But to actually know like, “Oh! It’s happening and it’s happening now!” That was great.
Daniel José Older: I was actually in San Francisco, and I just came by the office for something, and he was like, “Come, step into my office!” And then he closed the door and I was like, “Oh, shhhh…” Like, what is this conversation gonna be? I thought it was going to be good, but I was also like, “Oh, boy.” And then he presented the whole idea, and I was like, “This obviously sounds incredible and this is really exciting to be a part of it.”
StarWars.com: Had you all known each other before this?
Daniel José Older: Yeah, we met really briefly.
Justina Ireland: San Diego Comic-Con, I met Daniel.
Claudia Gray: Daniel and I live 10 minutes from each other. [Laughs] Everybody else was brand-spanking new.
Michael Siglain: And nobody knew who else was being asked…
Cavan Scott: I was at San Diego Comic-Con, we went to breakfast, and I had a little notebook full of all the things I was going to say to Mike that I wanted to do. I was going in ready for that, and then Mike mentioned it, and I just put my notebook away. [Laughter]
Charles Soule: If we’re doing the origin stories, mine was, I was in New York City, which is where I live, and Mike happened to be there. Earlier that day I had turned down a big project that I was pretty sure I was going to do, and at the last minute I decided, I’m not going to do it. That opened up all of this room in my schedule, and Mike and I had made time to get drinks and hang out. So we were talking, and I’m like, “Oh man, you know, this thing happened and I’ve got all this room, if there’s any cool stuff coming up in Star Wars.” He’s like, “Well…!”
Michael Siglain: It was the perfect setup.
Charles Soule: Yeah, it was amazing, because I was like, man, I kinda wanted to do that thing, but it just wasn’t right. So I said no, and I was like, you say no to something big… But then something bigger came along. And here we were.
Daniel José Older: I think a lot of us have that experience of going in and it being like, “Here’s my pitch, here’s what it’s going to be like,” and what we ended up with was Mike actually pitching to us in a really great way. It was, “Here’s what I want to do, do you want to be on board?” It was very Nick Fury.
Cavan Scott: Yeah, so we’d all met but we didn’t know — it was literally like saying hello at panels. But there was a long time where none of us knew who the other people were. There was an email that went out with a list of all the names and we all went, “Oh! Good!”
Charles Soule: So this is our second time here at the Ranch. The first time was last September, and we spent a night at Terra Linda, which is a little town just south of here. We stayed at a hotel together, and we all met in that lobby just for that first drink. And then we went to dinner together, and that was the first time most of us had ever really chatted.
StarWars.com: What can you say about what you’re working on?
Claudia Gray: It is about Star Wars.
Cavan Scott: Yeah.
Justina Ireland: Yeah.
Charles Soule: As Mike said before, it’s a gigantic story that touches all different lines of publishing so you can see the scope of it has to be enormous, because think of the types of storytelling that can feed young adult, children’s, comics, novels, all that stuff. What has done that in the past? It’s the movies or TV shows, so it’s something that we’re building that is hopefully on that scope. We’re trying to make it as big as that because it has a lot of story to deliver.
StarWars.com: [To Charles] Coming from comics, do you feel like you’ve done this kind of thing before?
Charles Soule: It feels very much like, you know, you’re building the big Marvel summer event or something like that. You have to figure out what the crossovers are and what the minis are and the big, central spine of it.
Claudia Gray: I don’t think any of us have done a big multi-platform initiative before.
Charles Soule: Yeah, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Like, everybody has gotten up to speed on this. Everybody is definitely very experienced at it now, right?
Daniel José Older: I also feel that, on the other hand, what’s really refreshing is that nothing quite like this has ever been done before. There’s a lot of analogues, but this is on another scope, I think, from anything thing we’ve seen even from Star Wars or anything else. That’s really cool.
StarWars.com: So what has it been like so far in terms of collaborating and formulating stories?
Cavan Scott: We broke stories last time, and then we were all given responsibility to take one of those and develop it. They’ve all fed into this story that we’re creating now. The nice part has been, we had our last retreat here where we came up with all the different stories, and now we’re pulling bits from each and creating a joint story. And that’s the nice thing about it. So much time as writers, I mean, we get in comics and you work with artists. Different scripts and [you work] with actors and the like, but this is different when you’ve got five creative minds. And you’ve got the safety net as well of going, “I can’t get from A to B,” and then someone else will say, “Why don’t we do this?” That suggestion sparks something else between you.
Claudia Gray: It’s really great to have [the Story Group] here because you’re like, “What’s happening to that planet?” and Pablo is immediately is like, “Well, that planet has this race and 2,000 years ago it had that.” It’s so great to have all that wealth of knowledge in the room. They go, “Oh! I know a thing you can use for that.” It really helps. You’re not just going, “Oh, we’ll see what works.”
Justina Ireland: Yeah. I also think it’s good because nobody wants to do the same story. We’re all coming at this, like, it might be a general big idea, but we’re all taking this idea and splintering it off to these different narrative tracks. So back to what Mike was saying, it’s a big story, it’s a very big story, but you’re going to have a comic that’s going to feel different than the middle grade [book], you’re going to have an adult novel that’s going to feel a little different than a young adult novel. So if there’s something you really passionately want to do within this framework, there’s space for that. Which isn’t necessarily always the way storytelling can feel when there’s a group dynamic. Sometimes it feels like you have to put aside what you want to do for the good of the group, and that’s not the case here.
Charles Soule: You should tell them about the Slack, because you set it up, right? And named it after yourself?
Justina Ireland: Yeah! I did not name it after [myself]. It’s the “Jawas Incorporated!”
Charles Soule: And what are your initials again? [Laughter]
Justina Ireland: It was because Cav made a comment about the Jawas the last time we were here at the Ranch! And we said, “Oh, we’re like the Jawas. Jawas Incorporated!” Now I wish I was that level of megalomaniac.
Daniel José Older: That feeds back into what I was going to say, is that having been through this experience once and all of us coming up here and hanging out, learning about each other’s creativity and sense of humor and process, disagreements, everything, first of all, that was really fun. Doing it the second time is also really fun and we have this sense of trust.
Claudia Gray: I don’t know whether this is important for this or not, but in terms of projects unrelated to this, I was working on Master & Apprentice while Cav was working on the audio play [Dooku: Jedi Lost], and obviously there’s a lot of overlap there because Dooku is Qui-Gon’s master. If we had not connected through that Slack channel… I really feel like the book is a whole lot better from knowing stuff that you were doing. I know that one of my characters wandered off and now is in the radio play, and you write better dialogue for him than I do and how dare you. [Laughter] But it made it so much stronger, being able to share that information and know that the two narratives were really going to click together.
Michael Siglain: It also made you all stronger as a unit. You’re exactly what this initiative is. You are the Jedi coming together for the greater good.
Justina Ireland: I thought you were going to say Hey now, we’re all stars, gotta get our game on. Go play. [Laughter]
Michael Siglain: That too, that too.
Justina Ireland: Can we say? We’re talking “the High Republic.” We call it High Republic, so it would be before Phantom Menace.
Michael Siglain: It is an all-new era of storytelling, showing the Jedi at their height — the idea of, “For over 1,000 generations Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic.” What does that look like? These are their stories.
We’re going 200 years before The Phantom Menace. We’re seeing the Jedi in the most heroic light possible and really focusing in on what they’re doing. There is a theme of exploration and expansion to the galaxy that’s involved, so looking at it that way, all of these authors are doing the same thing. They’re exploring the same way and seeing, “What can we push, what can we do, how can we make this as big and as epic as possible but still make it 100 percent authentically Star Wars?” That’s the creative challenge and it’s a good one.
StarWars.com: You’re going into a new era, probably dealing with new characters. Is that especially exciting, to have a blank canvas?
Cavan Scott: I suppose what it is, it’s freeing in the fact that we’re creating a new canvas. We’re not filling in gaps or leading into something else. We’re creating a space.
Daniel José Older: I think it’s more exciting in the worldbuilding sense, and a historical sense, because this is such an untapped source of amazing material. And people can’t be like, “But that’s when that happened.” There’s a lot of room to play.
Charles Soule: That said, though, I would be lying if I didn’t say it is intimidating because you create a new bad guy. It’s immediately measured up against Palpatine, Vader, Kylo, Snoke. So that forces you to deliver at your A game because you’re not competing against, but you’re being measured against the greatest Star Wars creators of the last 40 years, from George Lucas to Tim Zahn to everybody else. It’s an interesting process but it is exciting. It forces us to bring that all-star initiative power.
StarWars.com: You mentioned the Story Group. What has their function been in all this? Is it just making sure things —
Daniel José Older: They’re Yoda. [Laughter]
Charles Soule: No, they’re Jocasta Nu!
Michael Siglain: They’re equal collaborators, building this story and this overall era. In fact I think it was [Story Group VP] James Waugh who came up with the name, “The High Republic.” Story keeps us on track and makes sure it’s still authentically Star Wars, but they also help us with guardrails in terms of what we can and cannot do if something else is in play elsewhere, because the one thing we don’t want to do is hit on a beat that’s already out there. We want to make sure this feels new and fresh and original, and so they help with that in terms of, “Oh, this is happening over here, so avoid this, this is happening over there.” Or, with some of the specific lore of literally, “Can this species do this, could this character do that?” They’re partners in crime every step of the way. They’re invaluable.
StarWars.com: I know we can’t go into specifics, but what are you most excited about for fans to know once this is announced?
Charles Soule: I’m excited for them to know that it exists and it’s the five of us doing it! [Group agrees] Which is so self-serving, but that’s — [Laughter]
Justina Ireland: I’m glad you said it so I didn’t!
Charles Soule: We’ve known about this more or less since last summer , so it’s been like, we’re so excited, everybody’s so excited, but we want to share that with the fans because we think they’ll be really excited, too. Even just the High Republic, they’re going to be like, “Oh, oh man!”
Claudia Gray: I was actually at one con, and this was before Master & Apprentice had even been announced, but I knew both of these things were in there, and just in a Q&A session there were two fans — and they were genuinely concerned and hopeful, but they were worried. They were like, “Why aren’t you writing more? How come you’re not doing that?” We thought, is there some problem, does the fandom need to know? I was like, “I really feel things will be okay. I feel very sure I will be doing this again.” They were being sweet.
Cavan Scott: [To Charles] Same when Vader finished, didn’t they? And Poe [Dameron]?
Charles Soule: Yeah!
Cavan Scott: You were going, “There is more stuff coming, there is a future.”
Claudia Gray: On a more micro level, this is just how I work as a storyteller. The fact that we start to identify a few individuals and a few key emotional moments, that’s the thing that really begins to grab me. It’s like this character, the world that we’re building, I think is so fascinating. But what makes it live is, of course, the people and the big moments.
Cavan Scott: Yeah. From this summit we’re going to go away and start populating the universe.
Claudia Gray: That sounds funny! [Laughs]
Cavan Scott: The five of us! Imagine the children! [Laughter]
Daniel José Older: Star Wars fans love story and they also love history a lot —
Justina Ireland: I love history, too!
Daniel José Older: We all do, right. And this is an opportunity to give them history… We get to get into this historical piece that has been lore for so long, and now we’re going to flesh it out. That’s amazing.
Justina Ireland: That’s one of things, if you watch, especially the original trilogy, there’s so much that’s never spelled out, like why things are the way they are. But implied. Now we can tell you why some those things are the way they are. We can take some of those breadcrumbs and make it a full loaf.
Cavan Scott: And also put in more breadcrumbs. That’s the thing.
Claudia Gray: We have connections within all the elements of this story, and we’re able to build connections to the other parts and other stories that really will tie together a lot in the universe.
Charles Soule: One of the things that’s been really fun about this initiative and particularly the two trips to Skywalker Ranch is that we’ve been able to watch A New Hope and then Empire Strikes Back in George Lucas’s theater here. It’s this incredible art deco, beautiful place. We got to see the best possible version of the movie with the best possible sound and everything. But it speaks to what Cav was just saying in that, and Claudia, where there’s these little moments and these little threads that you can pull on that we can use — like when Yoda talks about something on Dagobah, you’re like, “Oh, well, that can directly inform a Jedi philosophy from back in the time we’re talking about in the High Republic.” It’s the source material. It’s the bibles. Getting to experience those movies here, this way, is amazing.
Daniel José Older: Especially in the middle of this process of creating what’s going to be the next generation of Star Wars stories, and then going back 40 years and watching what the first generation was, we’re really rooted in that.
Cavan Scott: I think we’re putting the building blocks for future generations.
Daniel José Older: Exactly.
Cavan Scott: We’re setting up stuff here in this part of the galaxy that people in the future will build on and take the story forward. And that’s what Star Wars has always been. It’s a story that started that had a massive past, but it’s moving forward. I think that’s what we’re doing.
StarWars.com: As writers with your own tastes outside of Star Wars, are there character types or just things you want to see in Star Wars that now you have the opportunity to play with?
Justina Ireland: I’m going to populate the galaxy with the cutest freaking aliens you can ever imagine.
StarWars.com: Star Wars needs cute aliens.
Justina Ireland: It needs more cute aliens. So many furry, little critters with lightsabers… [Laughs] I love cute critters. I love those. I love comedy moments, I love comedy moments in Star Wars. I’m looking forward to have those really rich, funny moments. And then I like horror, and Star Wars and horror have always gone together, so I like that, as well. Cute, fuzzy creatures that are funny and terrifying. [Laughs]
Daniel José Older: That tear your head off. To that point, I think, Star Wars has always been so good at jumping genres, and there’s just always more to go with that. There are elements of horror, there’s elements of medieval fantasy and epic fantasy, there’s elements of romance, and really having such a wide space to play in means that we can lean into each of those thoroughly instead of just tapping on it here and there. We can really get into it.
Claudia Gray: That would be one of my favorite things, that we’re each going to get to do very different kinds of work, and different flavors of work. There’s room in this initiative to have children’s stories, adult stories —
Daniel José Older: It’s not one aesthetic.
Claudia Gray: — scary stories, books, comics.
Cavan Scott: Audio drama.
Charles Soule: It could even go beyond publishing. It can really be everything.
Claudia Gray: Even stuff that’s sort of humor. There’s room for stuff like that.
Daniel José Older: Also with Star Wars, there’s always opportunities to have really deep conversations about culture, about history, about the way people move across the world and what that means through power dynamics and spirituality. All of that is inherent to the Star Wars world, so all we have to do is tell a great story in that world, and those elements are always going to be thrown into the pot and conversation with each other.
Charles Soule: That’s been one of the things that I’ve really loved, is the way that we [collaborate] — like yesterday, we were going to refer to a certain group of characters with a certain piece of terminology, and then a couple of people in the room were like, “Well, that word has some baggage to it… We should get away from that word.” It became a real cultural conversation just as [Daniel] said, as opposed to just conversation about writing some lightsaber stories. And that is why Star Wars is such a great lens to explore, like, everything.
Daniel José Older: And that’s why this group has been such a great experience.
Charles Soule: Because we all bring different things.
Cavan Scott: I’m loving the fact that we’re learning about how each other work, how each other think, how we’re able to challenge each other —
Daniel José Older: We come from very different places.
Cavan Scott: Very different places.
Charles Soule: I mean, Cav comes from Britain! [Laughter]
Cavan Scott: Yeah, I come from the Empire! I’m very evil.
And we can play to each other’s strengths, as we’re learning what those strengths are, as well. And as I say, challenge each other to push in directions that, individually, we probably wouldn’t.
Daniel José Older: And we bring a lot of different creative approaches. Just witnessing everyone’s process has been so fascinating from a creative aspect. And it’s so great because they don’t step on each other’s toes. We have overlap, but everyone brings so many different elements of what they love, and what they’re good at, and what they struggle with to the table. It’s just amazing to see that sort of play out.
Cavan Scott: It’s been a very honest group.
Daniel José Older: Very honest. But that’s the trust piece, right?
Claudia Gray: And also, let’s face it, nerd fighting is fun. It’s just fun.
StarWars.com: Writing is such a solitary thing, was it weird to —
Daniel José Older: It’s not!
StarWars.com: You don’t think so?
Daniel José Older: I don’t think so, not so much. Not anymore. I think that we had that stereotype of it, but I think with things like the ability to have something like Slack or even social media, it becomes a much more collaborative process automatically, if you want it to. But this is absolutely different than just sitting down and writing a book.
Michael Siglain: This is very, very collaborative.
Cavan Scott: This probably couldn’t have happened in the way it’s happening 10 years ago. Because, let’s face it, we’ve got messages popping back and forth over the Atlantic, all across the States —
Charles Soule: Sending pictures of our dogs!
Cavan Scott: Yeah, yeah, exactly. But that’s the thing. It’s become fun. We’ve become friends. And that’s really fun. We said right from the beginning that Star Wars is about found family, and I think this is what this becoming, which will inform the story.
Daniel José Older: Usually when you’re doing a Star Wars thing, you’re going to have in your head, “Okay, I’m kind of playing in someone else’s sandbox.” There’s a certain respect and there’s an understanding that there’s stuff you’re not going to get to do that you want to do. That’s still true, but now I feel like we’re actually creating the sandbox to another level. It’s a very different experience. We understand our parameters, and now we’re going to establish what we can and can’t get away with within those parameters. Which is a totally difference experience. It’s awesome.
StarWars.com: It seems like [Star Wars: The High Republic] is something so massive in scope. Are you able to step back and see the end of it, and see what it’s going to be like when it’s finished, and what that might feel like?
Justina Ireland: I think right now we’re too into it to see it. That’s one of the things about writing. You write that first draft, and you’re like, “It’s not quite where I want to be. It needs to be over here.” So you revise, and revise, and revise, and by the time it gets to an actual book, it’s something completely different than what you started with. I think we’re still in that forming — it’s like an amorphous kind of thing. We’ve had that Big Bang moment, where things are starting to coalesce, but for me, it won’t be an actual real, concrete thing until I get to go away and write some stories.
Claudia Gray: We have an idea of where the overall narrative is going —
Cavan Scott: We have the direction.
Claudia Gray: It is a goal point, but we need to get in and find out, what events wind up being the most important? What characters grab the most interest? That’s going to shape more at the end. And you want to both have a place to go, you just don’t want to be wandering aimlessly, but you also want to be free enough to explore and let the idea evolve naturally over time. It’s just going to get richer and better.
Charles Soule: When this is all over and stuff, I think that will be years from now, and I have a feeling you might come up and talk to us again at the Ranch. Fingers crossed, right?
But you know, we’re at the start of a road, I can really feel it, and there’s a lot of great stuff to come.
StarWars.com: Will working on this inform the other Star Wars stories that you’re writing?
Michael Siglain: It already has!
Justina Ireland: So many Easter eggs.
Daniel José Older: Stuff has already popped up. Easter eggs have popped up.
Cavan Scott: Things are already going in.
Claudia Gray: Yeah.
Charles Soule: And things that have drawn from stories that we’ve already told are going to drop in. Star Wars is a shared universe and that means you can take from everything and we will.
Cavan Scott: And stories that other people are [telling]. Our fellow creators who aren’t involved at the minute in this initiative, we all read Star Wars. We all talk to other creators, we work with the creators, so there is stuff that has been in novels for the last three or four years that we can put in our stuff — a lot of us know the old Star Wars legacies, as well, that we can revisit while doing new things. So there’s a lot of different sources for this.
Daniel José Older: Like The Battle for Endor.
Justina Ireland: I’m trying so hard. [Laughs]
Daniel José Older: I know it doesn’t exist [in canon].
StarWars.com: The broad plot of the story — did that come from you, Mike, or did you guys hatch it together?
Michael Siglain: This table. What we did at this first round at the Ranch was have everyone — the authors, Story Group, the publishing team –talk about stories. We spent a couple days just saying, “What do we like about the franchise? What do we love about the franchise? What do we want to see in storytelling? What do we want to see in publishing? What do we read, what do we like, what do we watch?” And then everyone started to pitch different ideas and stories, and we went around and around, and all of those pitches were viewed internally. Everyone dug all of them, and it was decided, “All right, we want to go with this one,” which was one that Cav had come up with, but this is, no offense to you, Cav, this is no longer your story.
Cavan Scott: The moment it was released it wasn’t, it became our story.
Michael Siglain: Well, that’s what it is, exactly. Cav may have had the bones of this one, but everyone put the meat on it. We’re pulling from all of those other stories as well to create this one massive, epic story that’s still very authentically Star Wars, but still also very new. Which is exciting.
StarWars.com: Any final thoughts on this whole thing and what it means to you?
Justina Ireland: The galaxy’s big enough for everyone.
Daniel José Older: We’re just having a really good time, and it’s going to show in the work.
Claudia Gray: It’s going to be exciting to be able to work on something of this scale. Each novel or comic is going to be its own creation. Like I said, there’s room for so many different flavors of stories, and being able to see the macro level and choose where you want to go on a micro level, I find that really, really exciting.
The first wave of Star Wars: The High Republic titles includes:
- Star Wars: The High Republic: Into the Dark by Claudia Gray (Young Adult novel, Disney Lucasfilm Press / available for pre-order)
- Star Wars: The High Republic: A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland (Middle Grade novel, Disney Lucasfilm Press / available for pre-order)
- Star Wars: The High Republic Adventures by Daniel José Older (IDW Publishing comic book series)
- Star Wars: The High Republic by Cavan Scott (Marvel comic book series)
- Star Wars: The High Republic: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule (Adult novel, Del Rey / available for pre-order)
Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content strategist of online, the editor of StarWars.com, and a writer. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.