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'Star Wars' author Daniel José Older on 'Midnight Horizon' and the return of a major Jedi
From Zeen to The Great Bake-Off Spectacular, the author shares all.
Phase 1 of Star Wars: The High Republic is almost complete, but there is one major literary adventure still to be had.
Physical copies of Mission to Disaster by Justina Ireland have yet to come (it is available digitally), and The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray has already arrived. Dovetailing in with the events of the latter book is Star Wars: The High Republic — Midnight Horizon by Daniel José Older, and he has a hell of a Star Wars tale to tell.
With the book arriving today, February 1, 2022, Older’s new YA novel will feature returning characters Reath Silas, Ram Jomoram, Zeen Mrala, Cohmac Vitus, and Kantam Sy (among others) as they investigate suspicious activity on Corellia. While doing so, they meet Alys “Crash” Ongwa and her retinue of professional bodyguards.
Some of the book’s compelling drama flows directly out of the pages of Older’s work in the IDW comic Star Wars: The High Republic Adventures. There will be a few more comic issues to come (from both Marvel and IDW) after this that will help wrap up Phase 1, which is responsible than to the “Project Luminous” team of Older, Gray, Ireland, Cavan Scott and Charles Soule. Older himself has been very active in Wave 3, writing the Marvel comic Star Wars: The High Republic: Trail of Shadows, as well as an IDW one-off of pure delight called Galactic Bake-Off Spectacular.
SYFY WIRE caught up with the veteran of both books and comics alike to discuss his new book, what hints it might have as to Phase 2, how a Star Wars comic about baking ever became a thing, and much more.
***WARNING: This interview has massive spoilers. If you have not read the book yet, do not read this article. Cool? Cool.***
This book spins out of your work in The High Republic Adventures, and there's a hint of Trail of Shadows in there as well. How did you manage to walk that tightrope and connect everything so perfectly?
It's definitely been the hardest part of the whole thing, but also the most rewarding. And I think that just summarizes all of it, right? Cavan [Scott] did it, as you saw, in Wave 2. And coming into Wave 3, I realized I had kind of an unprecedented opportunity to do the same thing, but with myself. That actually turned out to be even harder because comics are their own animal and books are their own animal and publishing schedules are an entirely different species and altogether.
I also set out, from the beginning, to tell one large epic that could be separated into parts. Midnight Horizon, I will stand by this, could be read all by itself, right? All the information you need to know about each character is in there. If you want the full emotional arc, by all means, start from the beginning of High Republic Adventures. Each piece does stand on its own, but altogether they form an interconnected whole, which is in itself is kind a microcosm of the High Republic in its entirety.
How did the character of Crash come to be?
I needed someone on the ground in Corellia. I wanted her to be a very chaotic balancing act and contrast to the Jedi because they're so wholesome.
You've got the most wholesome of the lot in there, too.
Yes, Reath and Ram are, together combined, like one entire store full of cinnamon rolls. They're so sweet and I love them, but you need balance. In all things balance. And Crash was really just a balancing act to those two in terms of just her sheer, chaotic-ness, but also she's deeply connected to Corellia. I just knew I needed someone on the ground who knows Corellia, knows the underworld, knows the overworld, and can really be a tour guide to our characters. But I also wanted it to be someone really compelling on her own. The last piece is of course Alyssa Wong is the inspiration for her. The comic book writer?
Yeah, for [among other titles] Doctor Aphra.
Yeah, exactly. That's why her name is Crash, because of "crashwong," [Alyssa’s] Twitter name. Alyssa's a friend, and I asked her one day, I was like, "If you were in Star Wars, what would you do?” And without missing a beat, she was like, "I would be the very stressed-out administrator of an assassins guild.” I didn't tell her, but then I was like, "I'm going to make it bodyguards instead of assassins." And so it's kind of a tribute to her.
Crash also has this amazing moment, a realization that true neutrality is an illusion. It's not possible. Ultimately, she has to choose a side.
I think that really speaks to the larger moment we're all living through. There's never been a time when neutrality was an option, but I think that's becoming more starkly obvious now than it ever has before, in recent memory. And I just think it's an important concept, particularly for young people to wrestle with, because the kind of myth of neutrality… people love to shove it down our throats a lot. It's a talking point.We don't talk about it enough. I think we can always talk more about it. I think it is super complex.
I always come back to the Howard Zinn quote, "You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” The train is always in motion and I think young people come to that realization at different moments. I did at different moments in my life and I still do sometimes. So especially with Crash's job, it's really built into the work of being a bodyguard that you have to maintain neutrality, but also sometimes the world is falling apart around you and it's reminding you in very stark ways that you can never actually be neutral.
In terms of picking a side and finding your way, you have these amazing flashbacks with Kantam Sy. I think we spend more time with them in this book than we ever have before.
We find out that they left the Jedi Order for a considerable amount of time. Is that something that's rare for Jedi in this era, or is that a little more common?
I think it's rare. My sense is that it's probably less rare than it becomes, but it's still very rare. It's still like a "holy crap" kind of moment that that even happened. You can also gauge from Yoda's reaction, I think. Yoda knew it had to happen and he sort of accepts it. And, for me, a really important moment was Yoda actually having emotions about it. Kantam, and through Kantam, the reader, belatedly understanding that Yoda really dealt with that. They had to deal with the feelings of grief and of fear and everything else. And he did. He also made a decision not based on those feelings, and that's the Yoda way. You cannot let emotions run you, but you can't pretend you don't have them. And that's always the balance and the dynamic and the tension of every Jedi.
He probably got lucky that Yoda was his master, and not someone like Mace Windu, who wouldn’t have welcomed them back.
And also the Yoda of that era, because I don't know if Prequels-era Yoda would've flown with it.
I don't see Ki-Adi-Mundi letting that slide. Cohmac Vitus makes the choice to leave the Jedi at the end of the book. And I'm wondering what went into that choice, because I get the feeling that this is permanent.
No, he's out. He left his lightsaber behind, and so did Kantam, but this is different. He's not a Padawan, he's much older and deep into his tenure as a Jedi. If you track his arc from Into the Dark to here, you just see him gradually becoming more and more disillusioned with so much that's going on, both in the galaxy and in the Order itself. But I do think him and Kantam really pose an interesting contrast to each other in a lot of ways.
Cohmac is very much of the kind of Prequel-era styling of like, "I'm not supposed to feel grief." Right? You see it again and again in Cohmac, he sort of berates himself for his feelings. And I think that's ultimately what does him in as a Jedi is that he won't allow himself to feel all of the things he feels. He spirals when things really go out of control and ultimately losing Orla [Jareni] is the real tipping point for him.
Before he leaves, he knights Reath Silas. You're the third author now to write Reath. How did you take that on and how did the decision to knight him finally come about?
That was the hardest part of the book I think, because he's such a great character and I really wanted to do him justice. He’s out of my comfort zone because he doesn't make jokes. I usually write all these wise-cracking fools, hopefully with enough difference from each other to feel like different voices, but that's also kind of the end joke for me of Ram trying to figure out how to joke around and Reath walking him through it.
It really is about him getting to a place where he's not so fixated on what a path is and what it's going to be, and is able to become a little more fluid because he's very trapped, He's very much like, "This is how things are supposed to be. If I get enough knowledge, I'll be able to do whatever I need to do." But that's not true, right? That's a form of attachment, I think. And he had to move past it. And that was his ultimate quest that he really had to overcome to get to the place where he was ready to be knighted. And also, we just needed that light amidst that very dark moment in the book, which is especially important because it's the closing moment.
For what it's worth, he completely felt like the same character, especially his line about deciding to deal with his crushes by having “all of the crushes.”
That was autobiographical.
When it comes to big decisions, like when you're going to knight a character, or when you're going to kill one of them off, I'm assuming those decisions are made by the entire team? You don't ever just decide, "I'm going to kill this major character” and then just do it.
It's usually a group conversation, especially if it's a major character. For minor ones, we might just go ahead with it.
Say for the Loden Greatstorm moment in Wave 2?
We all had responsibility for that.
Thank you for putting Lady Proxima in the book. Since you were writing Grindalids on Corellia, was that just a given?
I just wanted to get her in there somewhere. She's such a cool character. I wanted to thread the legacy, too, and really get that moment of understanding that there is this connection between the Grindalids we see in this era, who are technically, no pun intended, above the ground in terms of their dealings. They're a legitimate business group. By the time we get to the Empire Era [in Solo: A Star Wars Story], they're a criminal enterprise. I just wanted to kind of chart that path a little bit and set different markers along the way, and really be clear that this is the same family, but things have gone a different direction.
In terms of Ram, he’s funny and we love him, and he coined the phrase, “Wizard.”
The influencer, the ultimate influencer.
He has some moments at the end of this book where he just… how powerful is he? Could he grow to be “pulls-a-Star-Destroyer-down-out-of-the-sky” powerful?
I feel like he's on the way to that. He thinks outside of the box and doesn't even realize he's doing it. So for him to take down those two ships the way he did, which for me, that's actually my favorite moment of the whole book. I keep going back to it in my head and just smiling because I love it so much. And it was just natural to him. He was like, "well, I'm in this ship, the ship is a drill. I will drill a hole through that star cruiser and then get in the cockpit and turn it around." He's a very powerful young man and I'm excited to... I will watch his career with much interest.
The fates of Lula Talisola and Torban Buck are up in the air. No question here, I just wanted to say that it’s not nice.
True. Correct. You are correct.
We know Zeen is okay at least. Why is it so hard for Zeen to admit her feelings? Is it possibly because she's unsure of them or that she doesn't even really know what love is?
I think she's fully cognizant of love. She's gradually, as we kind of follow her trajectory through this story, becoming very cognizant and understanding of the truth of it as love. She's just also very aware that she's in that horrible position where to truly be honest with what she wants, and who she is means throwing the very person who she cares the most about into a whole other spiral. Lula has been set up for her entire life, the one thing she's always wanted is knighthood and to be this great Jedi. That’s the one thing that is at risk by their connection. That's the tension that they're dealing with.
You give the entire phase a glimmer of hope at the end of the book by bringing back Yoda. To be fair, though, you are the one who took him away.
I blew him up.
Was his return always going to happen here?
Yes. That was one of the first things I knew about the book, if not the first thing, is that that would happen right there in that exact moment. What I'm very gratified by is that so far in all the conversations I've had with people who've read advanced copies is nobody saw it coming, which was the biggest concern.
You set it up, but we forget it about him. So when it had happened, I'm like, “Oh that’s right, also thank the Force.”
Yeah, that was the challenge too, is that I wanted you to forget about him, but I also wanted him to feel relevant to the story, which is (in part) why we have all those backstory moments with Kantam. And just everyone constantly is like, "Where the f*** is Yoda? What's going on?"
Yoda has the final line in the book, which is about how they all have to look to the past for answers. This seems to be pointing the way where we're going in Phase 2, with the big leap backwards.
I guess that's all you can say about that.
You recently wrote an issue for High Republic Adventures called Galactic Bake-Off Spectacular. I have to ask about how that came to be.
It all started as like a little offhand joke from Yoda, really. I think it's [issue] 3 of Adventures when they finally make it back to Starlight. And so much of the work of High Republic Adventures has been about building up Starlight to feel like home. To really create that community around the Padawans and around Zeen, especially, who's like the new kid and just really showing the love and the culture and the community that is created there by the Jedi and by everyone. And so that moment was about comfort. If your homeland has just been nearly destroyed, your best friend maybe got kidnapped and you're just a mess, and you’re in this new place… I feel like one of the best things you can see is this little green guy showing up with some baked goods that he himself baked.
So it was about making Zeen feel comfortable, and then it turned into a running gag, and then I think it was Michael Siglain who actually pitched that we do a bake-off special. People definitely asked for it on Twitter, which might have been why he pitched it, I don't know.
Either way, he got it approved, but I also feel like it was a very important thing, back to the idea of balance. We all knew it was a hard period for everybody in Wave 3, both in-world and in the fandom, it's just a rough time for everybody. Folks are dying. It's not cute. So I did want to provide some kind of relief and just put out an issue that people could read, knowing that it wasn't going to be tragic and nobody was going to die horribly. And they could just enjoy it, and just kind of have a good time. And, also, just get a chance to bring in a bunch of different characters and throw them onto the page. Everybody shows up by the end in the kitchen, just having fun and telling the stories. And it was a very Muppet vibe for me.
Star Wars: The High Republic — Midnight Horizon is available February 1.