The original Dark Horse Comics run of Tales Of The Jedi, beginning in 1994 with Tales Of The Jedi: Knights Of The Old Republic, was the first attempt to detail the Star Wars universe prior to the rise of the Empire.
Originally scripted by Tom Veitch (Animal Man, Dark Empire), he was later joined by prolific Star Wars tie-in novelist Kevin J Anderson, and between them they detailed a rich and evocative Old Republic 4,000 years before that Star Destroyer first rolled ominously over the camera.
18 years later, to celebrate the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic – which like Bioware’s Knights Of The Old Republic before it owes Tales Of The Jedi a tremendous debt – we got in touch with Veitch to find out the amazing true stories behind some of those groundbreaking decisions, now eating up our free time as we lightsaber pirates to death in the name of truth, justice and the Galactic Republic.
Tales Of The Jedi felt like a bold move, as most EU writers were still very much tied to the apron strings of the Original Trilogy at that point – where did you get the idea that this was something you’d like to explore?
Probably the first time I heard Obi-Wan Kenobi say “For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times… before the Empire.”
Lucas indicated a virtually infinite backstory in A New Hope. The question was: where do you start digging in to that? When I proposed Tales Of The Jedi, I took an arbitrary period, 4,000 years before the period of the films. But I also made notes on other earlier periods, for my own use – and in case I got a chance to start yet another series!
There’s such a tremendous character arc for everyone involved in TOTJ, it really does feel epic – how far had you planned that when you started out?
The idea was to make the stories character driven, and, with the artists’ help, give them the unique feeling of an earlier period of technology. The whole “epic feel” was built on that foundation.
How much input did you have from Lucasfilm and were their any ideas they vetoed outright or any that they insisted on?
Well, as you know, George had to OK everything we did back then. We sent him long lists of ideas and themes, and I don’t remember that he vetoed anything. I’d have to go back and check my files to make sure.
Were you disappointed that little of your depiction of the Old Republic made it into the prequel trilogy and how did you feel about the portrayal of the Jedi as a more ritualised and established order, compared to the ad hoc mysticism of TOTJ?
It makes sense that the Jedi would have become more formalized over 4,000 years, don’t you think? Look at the Catholic Church! It’s a wonder the “modern” Jedi aren’t electing a Pope!
You were very much involved in turning the Sith into something more than Vader’s meaningless honorific, did you have to work quite closely with Lucasfilm on that, and what was your original idea for the depiction of the Sith?
Kevin J Anderson and I worked together on that. As I recall, it was he who got permission to use the Sith. I invited him to bring his permissions together with my permissions – and there you have it. At first he was hesitant to write comics – he had never done it before. But I showed him the ropes, as best I could. We had some wicked good idea sessions at his house in the East Bay.
You presided over a number of firsts that have since been incorporated into the Star Wars universe, can you tell me a little bit about the creation or the decisions behind:
Two lightsabers, one Jedi?
Yeah, that’s my idea, and the highly talented Chris Gossett brought it to life. I also invented the double-ended lightsaber, which first appeared in a comic I worked on, which doesn’t bear my name. I still have the little sketch I made of that. That’s one of the items they picked up for the films.
The first ever alien Jedi?
In retrospect it seems kind of obvious that there would be alien Jedi. It was just a matter of time before some Star Wars writer thought one up.
The holocron (in Dark Empire)?
I love that thing! With no books lying around, you had to wonder how they taught the history of Galaxy. The answer was, of course, the Holocron, which is a dynamic and interactive device. It just opens so many windows to the past. No Jedi should be without one.
For those who don’t know, Korriban is “a sacred planet for the Sith Order, housing the tombs for many ancient and powerful Dark Lords of the Sith.” As I recall, that’s one of the ideas that Kevin and I came up with over lunch at his house.
I’m a bit vague on that. I think it has to do with the back-story and origin material we invented for Boba Fett.
Nomi Sunrider, must be one of the first really strong and independent female characters in Star Wars, do you think this is something the saga struggles with in general, and was it a conscious decision to fill this gap?
Yes, very conscious. At the time I thought she might be the first woman Jedi, so I had her take up her husband Andur’s lightsaber when he was killed. She’s a character with rich possibilities. Unfortunately her last name turned out to already exist under trademark to another company, and they made a fuss. I thought up the name “Sunrider” as a play on the name “Skywalker” – so in my mind she was the female equivalent of Luke, from an earlier era.
Is it cool to see these scattered references to the likes of Nomi Sunrider, Ulic Qel-Droma and Naga Sadow et al scattered across the Star Wars EU today?
Bastila Shan in KOTOR was originally going to be Vima Sunrider – without getting into the tedious legalese of why that didn’t happen – were you involved at all, and how much of Vima did you see in the original character? As Bastila’s descendant Satele Shan is a key character in The Old Republic – appearing prominently in the artwork – do you think of her as being an honorary Sunrider?
What you don’t know, is that Nomi’s daughter Vima had 35 children by six different husbands. Bastila Shan is part of that bloodline!
How did you deal with fanboys complaining about everything?
I did a talk and a signing not long ago in Bennington, Vermont (where I live). A guy drove all the way from Maine to attend. We had great talks. Star Wars fans tend to be more intelligent and likeable than Star Trek fans. But you knew that already!