Cavan Scott knows what he did, and he's not apologizing for it. There were many surprises in Wave 2 of Phase 1 of Star Wars: The High Republic, and many of them came in the form of extreme heartbreak thanks to his novel, Star Wars: The High Republic: The Rising Storm.
Fans found themselves bereft about characters they hadn't even known for a year. Everyone from Kristin Baver to Scott's collaborator Daniel José Older, often repeats the phrase, "Cavan knows what he did." He didn't do it alone, though, as all of the main High Republic story beats are worked on by the "Project Luminous" team of Scott, Older, Claudia Gray, Justina Ireland, and Charles Soule.
Few fans saw an audio drama getting tossed into the mix, but that happened too. Scott wrote the recently released Star Wars: The High Republic: Tempest Runner, which is a fully cast audio experience that delves deep into one of the era's fiercest Nihil antagonists; imprisoned Twi'lek Lourna Dee.
SYFY WIRE caught up with Scott to discuss Tempest Runner, and what he hoped to accomplish by shifting the storytelling to Lourna. We also discussed his ongoing work on the Marvel comic title Star Wars: The High Republic, and of course, The Rising Storm. Be sure to check out a clip from Tempest Runner at the end of the interview.
***WARNING: From this point forward, there will be mild spoilers for Tempest Runner, spoilers for the Marvel comic Star Wars: The High Republic, and spoilers for The Rising Storm.***
Tempest Runner is one of the most recent additions to the High Republic. How did that whole story, as well as the way it would be told, end up in the High Republic mix?
It was an addition, in a way, to the original plan. We knew there were going to be audio dramas, but we didn't know how they were going to fall. The pandemic worked in our favor… it actually gave us a bit more time to work on things. We had everything planned for a launch last August, but we only had so many hours in the day to write. That's how Tempest Runner came about, really. We knew as we were developing the characters that Lourna Dee who's the main character, we knew we wanted to expand her role in the High Republic and in the future of the High Republic, which meant that we had to find a way of telling her backstory. Her part was growing and the chance to tell her story through audio came about. It was one of the happy accidents of the pandemic and the extra time we found ourselves with.
Was there any hope that listeners may sympathize or identify with her? That's a tall order because, personally, I despise her.
I think even a great villain, you want to sympathize with a bit, and Star Wars is full of those. Darth Vader is a character people do feel sympathy for, and he did some pretty bad things, thinking of children and temples and lightsabers. I think it's not so much sympathize but understand. Even if you don't like the choices she's made in her life, I wanted to try and write a story where you at least understand how she made the decisions that led her to where she is. You don't have to agree with those decisions. I personally, as the writer, don't agree [with] all the decisions she makes… it was always meant to be a character piece that would lay a framework for things we're going to see in the future.
We're in the early days of the entire storytelling, and I know there's been a lot in a very short space of time, but when you step back and look at the High Republic and the plans for it in the years to come, these are really the early days of it. Where we are, everything we're doing is there for a reason and those reasons will play out.
I imagine that writing Nihil characters and writing Nihil chapters is very different from writing a Jedi chapter or anything else.
Do you have to take breaks in between, or can you just go right from a Nihil chapter into a Jedi chapter?
I didn't have much chance in the schedule to take too much of a break in between. It depends on the project, with this one... most of the things you see through the eyes of the Nihil. I did write it straight through. Sometimes when I'm writing a piece like this, I do break it down into writing a sequence in Nihil and then writing a sequence in say, Jedi. With this one, I didn't really have that luxury. Sometimes you do have to take a step back and change gears and just try to remember whose head you're in. I do use music quite a lot, and I use it as a palate cleanser. Obviously, when you write Jedi, you've got an entire back catalog of John Williams pieces, you can put on the Force Theme or Yoda's Theme, and you're pretty much there. With Nihil, you just play a lot of thrash metal, and it does get you into the mindset. I do use that as a way of just remembering where I am and whose head I'm in at the moment.
Is that where "wreckpunk" came from?
Wreckpunk came from Charles Soule's head, and I think that says a lot about him.
Speaking of him and your other colleagues, the ones I've talked to all have a certain ownership of characters that they either created or wrote first. Your work covers so many characters, but who would your babies be? I imagine maybe Keeve Trennis from the Marvel comic, but are there any others?
Keeve and Sskeer are probably the ones I hang on to, And the ones that I class as 'mine.' Any of us can say that we are in those characters because we do share them around and we do write them. It's funny, I do feel a lot of ownership for Lourna now that I've ended up writing quite a lot of her. I think that's what the great thing about the High Republic is, Charles created Lourna and then passed the baton with Lourna onto me with writing this. You do feel a sense of ownership for the characters that the others have created as well, because you don't create them in a vacuum. So even though Charles created Lourna, there were conversations, there was discussion.
Keeve's been there right from the beginning for me, from my early pitches for what became the High Republic. She's definitely at the center of it and Sskeer goes with her these days, the two are interchangeable, which is why they found their way into Tempest Runner as well.
You torture Sskeer.
Aah, poor Sskeer.
This is something that happens, especially with you, a lot of High Republic fans give you a lot of grief for inflicting emotional turmoil, especially from Rising Storm. "Cavan knows what he did" is the repeated phrase from your colleagues. I don't think you enjoy emotionally damaging readers, but it must feel good that everyone cares so much about characters that we haven't even known for a year.
It blows my mind. Rising Storm always had a job to do, and that ending was part of the job. As I've said before, the character that the main thing happens to, that fate was sealed the moment he was created. We knew what we had to do going into The Rising Storm, and I knew what I had to do in writing that book. There was still a fear I suppose, that these characters wouldn't have the resonance that we hoped for. It was so gratifying to see the reaction to that character's death, because that character's death is the inciting incident for the entire High Republic in a way. That and The Republic Fair are the things that set everything off. Everything before that point is really the pre-title sequence to the High Republic, and then everything that happens afterward is a result of those two events.
It was so gratifying and so humbling to see that people reacted in such a way, yet we've had a lot of fun with the "Cav knows what he did". But I think now about sliding quite merrily into "Daniel knows what he's doing." Claudia definitely knows what she's doing and Charles is coming back as well. You put your characters through a lot. I don't like to think I'm causing readers pain just for the sake of causing pain, but you do put your character through the ringer, especially when they are the Jedi and they're in the golden era of the Jedi. They have to be tested.
All five of you are to blame really. You just got left holding the grav-ball.
Yeah, and I've happily passed that on now, through a third wave. Trust me, there's going to be events going on in the comic which are going to have ramifications in the third wave. I am going to sit back, quite happily, and let the others take the brunt of people being hurt and then throwing the blame back at them as well.
This isn't really a question, I just wrote, "Please address Elzar Mann's randiness."
I think Elzar addresses that quite well for himself, to be honest. This is a Jedi of a different era. They are a Jedi who perhaps, are exploring their relationships to the code and to the force in slightly different ways. Whether Elzar does it in the right way or not, well, that's for Elzar to know. It's been fascinating to be able to explore Jedi in that way. I would say that Elzar has a certain randy quality to him.
Is he really in love with Avar Kriss, or is he just obsessed?
Time will tell, it always does.
Alright. Here's a question I always have to ask: how many problems would be solved in the Jedi in the Skywalker Saga were allowed to explore romantic feelings?
I think so many things in the Skywalker Saga would be solved if people just opened up to each other and talked to each other, and not have secrets. But, isn't that the same as most storytelling? Definitely. That's the tragedy of the Skywalkers and the Skywalker Saga, is that so much of it could have been solved if people had been open. If people had talked to each other if the secrets hadn't been kept, and if people hadn't been able to use those secrets and see those secrets forming and twisting secrets into something you can use as a weapon. That's something that I wanted to explore through Elzar and The Rising Storm. We have a Jedi who does flirt to the dark side and realizes what road he's going down, where instead of embracing it, goes to a friend and says, "I need help." We didn't want Elzar to be Anakin 2.0.
The difference is that Elzar is in a time where the Jedi are willing to talk. Whether that will stay the same… as we've seen, the galaxy's changing for them very, very fast.
You're insanely prolific. With Star Wars alone, you write novels, the ongoing comic, audio dramas, and more. This is also not at all the only work you do. How do you stay motivated to keep going so hard? Because you go hard.
I'm very lucky, I love what I do. My passion is to tell stories, and I have so many avenues I can pour that passion into. I'm very fortunate with that. I am purposely perhaps, taking a slight step back of sort of the sheer volume of the things I've been doing, only because I have to. I have to be able to clear my mind to make sure that the quality remains and that I'm telling the stories to the best of my ability. I'm not disappearing by any means… some other people have to have a go as well. You've got to share the wealth. One of the things that keeps me going is the reaction from the fans, and engaging with fans on social media.
It's so exciting. When you have moments where you do feel like it becomes a job and it becomes a chore and not every day can be wonderful, and you're sitting there shooting lightning from your fingertips into the keyboard in a non-Sith way. The moments when you go online and you see the excitement and you see the fan art and you see people making Lego figures and all those moments, that's what keeps you going, I think. Because, at the end of the day, especially in this project, we're all fans ourselves, we know what it feels like to be that excited about stuff that's coming out. That definitely fires me and keeps me going.
Any teases that you can give fans for Wave 3 of the High Republic?
This is one of the moments when I look at my list of things I can't say and realize that they far outnumber the things that I can. Things come to a head for Keeve in the comic. She's forced into making decisions where she has to work out what kind of Jedi she's going to be, if she's going to be a Jedi at all. Those decisions will have ramifications far beyond Phase 1 of the High Republic, for not just her, but for the Jedi around her.
I don't like the sound of that at all.
Hey, ramifications could be good ramifications. It hasn't all got to be doom and gloom.
Take a listen right here to an excerpt from Star Wars: The High Republic: Tempest Runner, which is a flashback to the moment when Lourna saved Asgar Ro and was elevated in rank:
Star Wars: The High Republic: Tempest Runner is available now. For light and life. This interview was edited for length and clarity.