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Author Emma Mieko Candon on fleshing out the world of 'The Duel' for Star Wars: Visions: Ronin
There are countless new Star Wars characters to ponder thanks to Star Wars: Visions, and one of the most intriguing is the Ronin. In The Duel, this lone warrior saves a village from a Sith bandit, and he does it with a red blade.
The lines between Sith and Jedi and not as simple as they usually are. A new book is now expanding that lore, and it is a Star Wars book like none that has ever come before. Star Wars: Visions: Ronin gives readers a deeper look into the world of The Duel, and then takes them on a much larger journey. The secrets of the Ronin himself are laid bare thanks to author Emma Mieko Candon.
SYFY WIRE caught up with Candon, as well as Lucasfilm Story Group member Matt Martin to discuss the new book, how it came to be, Candon's own fandom, and more.
***WARNING: There are spoilers ahead for the book Star Wars: Visions: Ronin. If you have not read it and do not want to be spoiled in any way, turn back before that pot boils.***
In terms of expanding this series from the short, where did you begin?
Emma Mieko Candon: The first thing I got, before they let me see the material, was the very basic concept. I was sitting with that for a night on my own, already pitching ideas to myself. And it was “dark warrior saves a village from bandits is actually a Sith.” What can I do with that? And so I was throwing ideas at the wall. And I think a lot of them originated in folklore because that's a lot of where my background is.
I did this whole section of my undergrad on Japanese monsters. But after that, I got the original script written by Kanako Shirasaki and that actually played a pretty big role in how I ended up writing the Ronin's voice, because he's actually pretty funny in that he has a very wry sense of humor… he ends up being very much more taciturn in the version of the animated duel that I see, which is pretty much the same that it is throughout all the drafts, because the voices are all there from the beginning, but the animation just grows more and more sophisticated.
But I have that original script. I have the Japanese script and between those two, I've got this voice that I want to preserve because it's easier for me to write it some, but he's funny. And also, they're so clearly drawing from a very particular movie genre, that just digging into one of the histories that that genre is based on, and also the history of when that genre was made, come together pretty naturally to create a backdrop for what this world is and who this guy is in it. Because that's the other major shaping question, right? All right, he's a Sith. What does that mean in this context? Okay. He's a Ronin. What does that mean in this context? And putting those together, and then also asking my own questions about what am I interested in, in terms of a Japanese Star Wars?
Because Tom [Hoeler of Del Rey] said, one of the first things he says to me, I think this was how he closed our opening discussion: don't write someone else's Star Wars book, write your Star Wars book. And I got the feeling he says that a lot. That's very smart because it's so much ensuring that each author is bringing in their very specific relationship with the work and also their own idea of it. And it's successful because Star Wars is so strong as a narrative. And just culturally, we all understand what it means, what it feels like. So bringing in your own perspective and attaching it to that just works, because that thing, as long as you're respecting that, is going to come through. And I was able to therefore look at all the socio-political stuff and go, all right, what's my relationship to that? And what's interesting to me about this? And thankfully, it's exactly the sort of thing that I'm interested in. So it worked out pretty well.
Can you speak to what your own Star Wars fandom is like? Have you always been a fan, or did it happen later on?
Candon: I tripped into it very early, when I was seven years old and it was on the television. I was like, what's this? A man is upside down. He's surrounded by ice as a Jedi. I just couldn't peel myself away. So I went from watching the movies very out of order to going to the library and stumbling across Star Wars books there and reading all of everything I could find to what's now called Legends. And then I think I dropped off of keeping up with stuff sometime in high school, in the early two thousands. And I've watched, I've seen every movie that's come out since, but I've kind of fallen behind on a lot of new canon outside of The Clone Wars, which I was watching in grad school just to enjoy myself.
But the entirety of Star Wars, I've always been a massive nerd for it. And I forced my wife to watch the original trilogy before we would date in earnest.
How did Emma come to be the writer for this particular book?
Matt Martin: We had an early meeting with Del Rey where we basically walked them through our kind of pitch deck for what Visions was going to be. This was pretty early on. I don't think we had any animation yet. We sort of walked them through the philosophy of the project, having it be a really creator-driven thing that would allow these amazing animated studios to explore a Star Wars through their own unique lens.
And I'm pretty sure in that room, we all kind of circled around The Duel being the best candidate for one we would expand upon in prose. So at that point, our friends at Del Rey, Tom, that Emma mentioned, and Elizabeth [Schaefer]. They kind of went back and they set about finding an author that sort of fit with the overall philosophy of Visions, with the focus on Japanese storytelling, traditions, and themes. Eventually, they came back to us with Emma's name and some examples, and it was pretty clear that she was the perfect fit for it.
From that point forward, how involved was the Story Group or the Visions producers in the story of the book?
Candon: What I ended up doing for Ronin was taking the Star Wars canon and pulling it a little bit closer to Jidaigeki, to its source material. And what was happening a lot of the time was they're like, okay, let's pull this part a little bit closer to Star Wars canon. We're navigating that space between. So it was a very joyful editorial experience for me because the best edits are the ones that made you have to go lie down and think about it. And that was happening to me pretty often. I had a lot of freedom, which I understand is a bit unusual, but it's also the nature of this specific project.
How often did Emma throw something at you guys that you did not see coming?
Martin: Most of it. This is such a unique project, Visions as a whole is such a unique project. That every time I would see one new story come in, it would be something I didn't expect and Ronin, especially because I think in my head from knowing The Duel pretty well, I thought I knew what to expect. And then when I actually got kind of the first outline, it was not at all what I expected in the best way possible. It was way cooler than I actually had imagined. And I think me as just kind of a Star Wars fan and a fan of Japanese cinema, it was just like this natural marriage of these things that I love. I almost felt more like a spectator.
How did you develop the character of the voice in the Ronin's head?
Candon: I knew that she was a thing in the story and where she was located in it. And rather early on the editorial team pointed out, she's just not present, so how can we make her more present? And they're like, well, what if she's talking to him? I just lost my mind. This fits in so well with some other horrible little Star Wars things we've known about, in the sequel trilogy. We know that Kylo Ren had voices in his head. And I was like, oh my god, this is so fun. But another thing that is kind of important to me personally, I'm very involved with the social sciences and specific, I have an MA in Clinical Psychology, and I ended up really coming into a role of patient advocacy.
So when we have opportunities for using things that would usually denote, oh, this person is mentally unwell, I like to fold that in with whatever is going on with them. In this case, if a person was going, "I hear voices," you'd be like, uh oh, so you need to see a doctor. And in this case, yes, the Ronin does need to see a doctor for multiple mental reasons. He's traumatized, he has deep-seated issues. He's probably anxious and depressed, but he also literally does have a voice in his head, but that's not just what's going on. It's kind of a reflection of his mental state, but also it's real. But also it's a way to tie in this figure that we're all moving towards truth, the plot. That was a point of editorial brilliance that just worked perfectly from the beginning. And it also helped me to let him be funny if he's being snide with someone who's being snide with him, and nobody else knows what else is going on.
Can we look forward to more projects like this? Either more of the Ronin or more of the world of these shorts being expanded out?
Martin: I obviously can't really go into future planning too much, but personally sure hope so. It was a joy to work on and it's just such a unique experience, both for the fans and for us on this side.
I really want more. Does that change anything?
Martin: You and me both, man.
Other than The Duel, what other Visions shorts inspired you?
Candon: With all the trailers and everything I knew right off the bat that The Village Bride was going to be one that was going to speak to me personally, because something that's sort of beautiful about this anthology is that every single short is somebody's favorite, which is amazing to me. I think it speaks to how well it was compiled as an anthology of various, different kinds of stories and points of view. But I knew The Village Bride was going to be for the kind of fan of anime that I am. It gave me chills at every step. I really, really loved it. The one that was unexpected for me was Akakiri, which I think is just tremendous. I loved how weird and upsetting it was at the end, and just... good.
Star Wars: Visions: Ronin is out right now. This article was edited for length and clarity.