Interview by Kay
FG: It’s clear from the title of your new book alone that there’s a focus on Obi-Wan Kenobi. What did you think of Obi-Wan when you first saw A New Hope?
John Jackson Miller: I remember feeling he was almost on another plane of existence from the other characters — and not just because of the gravitas that Alec Guinness brought to the role. Of all of the heroes, only Leia was as assured about what to do as he was. Han and Luke were just making it up as they went along! It dawned on me then that this guy must have been waiting on Tatooine for a very long time, indeed, hiding out from the Empire — and yet he seemed to be ready to go and get back out into action the second the call came. There’s no remorse over leaving the life he’s been leading. He at that point saw himself as an instrument of the Force, ready to play his appointed role.
Obi-Wan is still becoming that person in Kenobi. He’s a lot of the way there, to be sure — he copes very easily with some of the surprises and awkward situations I threw his way. But the wounds from the events of Revenge of the Sith are still very fresh, and he has to deal with them if he wants to succeed at his mission. He can’t go running off into the galaxy to assuage the guilt he feels with acts of derring-do; that’s not his role any more. He’s got to stay and protect the future. For someone who’s been used to a more active life, that’s challenging to adapt to.
FG: Did you watch any of The Clone Wars animated TV series and did you let that portrayal of Obi-Wan influence how you wrote him in your book?
John Jackson Miller: I’ve watched some. I’ve been wanting to sit down with the whole series at some point and catch it all in order — TV consumption patterns tend to be a little chaotic when you’re writing in the evenings, which I tend to do. I’d say the animated series portrayal did have an influence, alongside the movie and other iterations of Obi-Wan; and I’m especially pleased that James Arnold Taylor, Obi-Wan’s voice actor in the series, is such a fan of the book. I felt I had Obi-Wan’s manner of speaking right, but it’s great to have that kind of professional confirmation!
(And fans of Ewan McGregor may note that Obi-Wan even pronounces specialty as “speciality” somewhere in the book!)
FG: As a writer, what’s your favorite quality of Obi-Wan’s? What about as a fan?
John Jackson Miller: I think he has a resilience, an inner peace, that’s sort of mind-boggling. He’s at the center of galactic events one minute, and then living out on the fringes of civilization in the next. As noted above, he’s human — and he does respond to it all; we see that, through the eyes of several of the story’s characters and in his meditations. But he doesn’t wallow. He reflects. He considers. He deals. And he gets down to business and does what has to be done.
That, again, is something that you see quite dramatically in A New Hope. He realizes he’s likely going to have to sacrifice himself so Luke and Leia can escape, and he immediately gets on with it. That’s beyond heroic; super-heroic, we’d say. That’s why I wanted to write a story looking at this earlier time, when he’s tested on that score. I think if a writer attacks characters’ strongest points, you raise the dramatic stakes: it becomes much more devastating, then, should they fail.
FG: What kind of research did you do for Kenobi? Did you find it more complicated to write a story that happens in between the movies than outside them?
John Jackson Miller: I began work on the storyline seven years ago as a possible graphic novel — I shelved it once I realized it would work better as prose. But in that earlier time I did a lot of the heavy work of studying what was known about Ben’s life in this time — what things had been explained or addressed, what things hadn’t. By the time I took it up again last year some new material was out there, and I caught up on it. And then there were a number of out-of-universe things I brushed up on — I studied desert landforms and looked for just the right settings that I wanted to depict, for example.
I don’t feel that the continuity was overly complicated, though. By virtue of Ben’s predicament, he really has been mostly bound to Tatooine, and the tendency has been not to send him many visitors. I think that’s how it should be: to the extent that he sees Tatooine as his place of atonement for failing to save Anakin, it would be wrong for his life to vary a whole lot.
But he does have some interesting days now and again, and he can — and does — affect other people’s lives just by being there. That’s what the episode in this book shows.
FG: You were able to introduce some new characters in prominent roles in this story. One of them is Annileen, the proprietor of Dannar’s Claim. I love how she’s tough but not without her share of worries and vulnerabilities. Was anyone in particular your inspiration for her?
John Jackson Miller: While I never base characters on actual people, I do pick up personality aspects and manners of speech here and there, much as any other writer might. Annileen, I would say, probably shares more traits with my wife than any character I’ve written. She’s a lover of nature, like Annileen, and her ability to deal with all the curves that life and family and work throws at her never ceases to amaze me. People around here nicknamed her “the Intrepid Meredith” many years ago, and as readers see, Annileen gets that sobriquet as well. Annileen’s world is shaken up by a lot of shocking events, but she’s strong and centered enough that it’s never long before she’s tackling the problem head-on. They’re quite different in many ways, to be sure, but in ten years of my fiction-writing, Annileen is the character she says she recognizes herself in most.
And Annileen, connecting back to what was mentioned earlier, becomes absolutely the right person for Obi-Wan to meet in this stage. He sees what she’s sacrificed to be able to provide for those she’s responsible for, kinfolk and otherwise; and it helps him to see exactly where his path lies.
FG: You made sure readers weren’t just seeing the human perspective of life on Tatooine. What made you want to explore the world of A’Yark and the Tusken Raiders?
John Jackson Miller: I felt there was an opportunity to tell a parallel story to Obi-Wan’s — ironically, one also involving Anakin’s fall. The Tusken clans are reeling from Anakin’s acts during Episode II — many are quite superstitious, and his elimination of the one clan was so complete and mysterious that it sent them all into a downward spiral. A’Yark, like Obi-Wan, is struggling to pick up the pieces; trying to find some act that might repair things, that might bring the clan’s spirits back.
Writing a Tusken as a point-of-view character gave me the opportunity to get inside a very alien mindset — and the fact that the clans were all fragmented offered the chance to come up with some traditions and mythology unique to their group. Some things, like the gender roles in Tusken culture, had been established earlier in other sources — but my thinking was that couldn’t be the whole picture. This was a people trapped between its past and no future: either someone effects a change, or the spiral continues.
All four of the lead characters — Obi-Wan, Annileen, A’Yark, and Orrin (who was an entertaining piece of work to write) — are, on the one hand, parents or guardians of children themselves — and also people who have responsibility for a much larger community. It’s a lot of fun seeing them all interacting when we know that the guy they all think is the loner — Obi-Wan — actually has more people depending on him than anyone.
And yet, Obi-Wan would not, and does not, dismiss their concerns. He knows everyone’s burden is important. That’s what makes a good Jedi, I think.
FG: You describe Kenobi as “part epic Western.” And the original Star Wars movie trilogy featured various Western genre elements including codes of honor, duels, the man in black, outlaws, and a wandering hero. What do you find most appealing about the genre and what lead you to highlighting this facet of the movies?
John Jackson Miller: Obviously, the terrain of Tatooine suggests isolation. A place where there is little law, a place with mysterious dangers, a place where people have to depend upon one another to survive. That’s clearly central to many westerns, and I feel that Lucas was trying to trade on our easy understanding of that world when he first showed us Luke’s life on the frontier. That’s one reason I refer throughout to the non-Tuskens as settlers, even though some people have lived here for generations: it is still not their world. The beast has not been broken. People move here, they’re beaten or killed by the harshness of life, and someone else follows. I think it’s probably the way it’s always been on Tatooine.
So I tried to share a bit of that feeling. The result is a different kind of novel, but it’s what fits Obi-Wan’s situation at this place and time.
FG: What other Star Wars characters would you like to write?
John Jackson Miller: I’ve never written Luke or Leia yet, and it would be interesting to write about them growing up — such vastly different worlds, they lived in. I’ve also always been fond of Lando, as is probably obvious from the kinds of characters I wrote in KOTOR. There are a number of other characters from the EU who would be interesting — I think it’s just a matter of finding the right kind of story for them. I’m looking forward to seeing what Disney comes up with for the sequels, like everyone else.
And I’d enjoy returning to Kenobi’s world one day. It was an interesting place to spend a winter — it was certainly warmer on Tatooine than it was in Wisconsin!
FG: Last Question: Eopie, Dewback, or Krayt Dragon?
John Jackson Miller: Probable eopie. The insurance premiums on the others are murder!