Before the Death Star. Before Mustafar. Before Geonosis. The writer of Marvel's upcoming miniseries discusses his new tale of an early Master and Padawan adventure.
"Anakin was a good friend. When I first knew him, your father was already a great pilot, but I was amazed how strongly the Force was with him. I took it upon myself to train him as a Jedi. I thought that I could instruct him just as well as Yoda. I was wrong." -- Obi-Wan Kenobi in Return of the Jedi
One of the central elements in the story of Anakin Skywalker is his relationship and training with Obi-Wan Kenobi. We've seen it in select snapshots. There's the older/younger brother dynamic in Attack of the Clones and the swashbuckling teamwork of equals in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Revenge of the Sith. But there's a big swath missing -- the 10 years between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. As announced at New York Comic Con, however, that will soon change. Obi-Wan & Anakin, a five-issue miniseries from Marvel by writer Charles Soule and artist Marco Checchetto, is coming January 2016.
"It's set between Episode I and II, which is one of the big attractions to me about doing the series," Soule tells StarWars.com in an exclusive interview. "Because that scenario, we haven't really seen explored that much. We've seen the end of The Phantom Menace, which is when Anakin said, 'Yes, I'll go to the Jedi Temple,' and Obi-Wan said, 'Yes, I'll train this kid.' But then, what happened between there and the start of Episode II, where they were buddy-buddy and clearly had lots of adventures? It's pretty unexplored territory." That unexplored territory is hugely important. Considering how young both Obi-Wan and Anakin were at the end of The Phantom Menace, those 10 years were formative for both. Soule is looking to explore that development by testing their relationship through extraordinary circumstances.
"What we see in this story is an adventure that takes place about three years after Phantom Menace, give or take," says Soule. "Anakin's around 12 or 13 years old, he's been training in the Jedi Temple for that time, he's got his lightsaber. He and Obi-Wan are sort of flying from place to place. They're going to meet up with a diplomatic fleet and then they hear a distress call from a planet that's supposed to be completely dead, there's not supposed to be anything on it. So, they answer the distress call and that's where the adventure begins. It's neat. It happens at a very pivotal time for them in their relationship. They've both got to the point where they're starting to ask some important questions about each other and themselves."
Soule comes to Obi-Wan & Anakin hot on the heels of his critically-acclaimed Lando series. While that story was about Cloud City's smooth-talking smuggler, he still felt ready to make the leap to Jedi business. "I was lucky enough to get this job, I think, in part, because I've already done a little work in the Star Wars universe for Marvel with the Lando miniseries," says Soule, "which was an absolute blast but very, very different -- writing a sort of space scoundrel versus writing a master-student relationship. Jedi are very different from smugglers. But I've been part of the Star Wars world in my head since I was a little kid. So, I had already had thoughts about what that relationship was probably like with Obi-Wan and Anakin."
In each Star Wars film, we see a different version of Anakin (and in the prequels, a different version of Obi-Wan). It's one of the great storytelling techniques in how George Lucas set up his films: they follow the main characters at different stages in life, charting their growth and how their relationships change. With such a wide gap of time to choose from for his story, the specific time and ages of Master and Padawan in Obi-Wan & Anakin was carefully picked, honoring that tradition. "I started thinking about what would be the most dramatic point to look at that relationship," Soule says. "It probably wasn't the very beginning, although I'm sure there are some stories to be told there. And I didn't think it was at the end right before Attack of the Clones, because the relationship that they had was pretty much established by that point. So, I figured it would be kind of in the middle, when Anakin was just on the cusp of becoming a teenager, which is when everybody starts asking questions about the path their life is on. Up to that point, your parents, your guardians, tell you what you're going to be doing with your life, and you just do it and don't really think about it that much. But then, right around 13 or so, you start wondering if there might be another way. And likewise, Obi-Wan jumped into this after promising to train Anakin on Qui-Gon's deathbed, and I don't think he necessarily knew what training Anakin Skywalker was going to be like. If you had both those questions happening at the same time, you could get a really cool, dramatic story out of it. That's how I broke into it, and then from there, it was fleshing out a world and a planet that hopefully would seem fresh, that we hadn't seen before, and a type of Star Wars story that we hadn't seen before." Part of what will help accomplish that is the art.
Soule has only seen one finished image from the series -- the cover featured above -- but is exited about what's to come. He's going for a look and feel that conveys a sense of the unknown in regards to the galaxy's guardians of peace and justice. There's danger out there, and the Jedi are serious, able warriors. "The artist is the amazing Marco Checchetto, who drew the Shattered Empire series with Greg Rucka," he says. "I gave him a lot of samurai movie reference. The Jedi have their hoods on a lot in this series. They're very mysterious. You don't get into their heads as much, they don't talk as much. Actions speak louder than words, sort of. So, I think that hopefully will be very cool." This approach extends to the story's setting.
"The series is set on a planet," Soule continues, "with mountain peaks over this huge rolling sea of green mist that obscures everything below because it's a planet full of secrets. It gives you some opportunity to do some really cool visuals with Jedi hopping around, using their lightsabers in the snow, stuff like that."
As Obi-Wan & Anakin showcases two Star Wars icons at ages that we haven't really seen before, it presented a unique challenge: How would they act? What would they be like? It would be up to Soule to define. "I've got nephews and nieces who are around that age, 12 or 13, so I kind of looked at how they talk and how they look at the world and how they think about things," Soule says. "There's still a lot of respect for grown-ups and for authority, but there's also a lot of pushing back, and a lot of, 'Whatever. I know what I'm doing.' So, some of that, but I also really didn't want to make Anakin a whiny, unhappy kid. He's very tough. He's a tough kid who's had a tough life. I wouldn't say that life in the Jedi Temple has been all rainbows and chocolate bars for him. So, he's hardened a little bit, but he's still very cool and funny and he has an outlook that I think is going to be very appealing. Whereas Obi-Wan, I think, he likes Anakin and he's fond of him and he really wants to do his best by him, but he's a lot older than Anakin is. Anakin is still a child at this point. I don't think they can relate as buddies yet, like we see in Attack of the Clones. It's very much more of a master-student relationship. I'm looking at a sort of samurai archetype. Anakin is the young student, Obi-Wan is the absolute master, no doubt about it. He is the master in every sense. You don't mess around with him, you don't push him too much, you certainly don't get on his bad side. But yet at the same time, he's wise, he's somebody that you can approach if you have problems, and he's super cool."
This is another key insight the series will also offer -- Kenobi's approach to Anakin in his younger years, and how that approach might influence Anakin's ultimate fate. As Obi-Wan admits in both Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith, he feels that he ultimately failed Anakin as a teacher. Soule is conscious of that. "My feeling is that it probably wasn't one thing," he says. "I think, you know, it wasn't one bad decision that Obi-Wan or Anakin could point to as a failure. It was probably an accumulation of decisions that maybe, over time, added up to a larger failure. Answers that weren't completely satisfying to Anakin that he stored away, that when Palpatine decided it was time to chip away at the Jedi armor [Anakin] had around himself, that he had those openings available. I don't even necessarily know that it's a failure. I think maybe it's Obi-Wan saying he didn't understand the scope of the influence and malevolence that was going to be aimed at Anakin from Palpatine, and he didn't really prepare him for it."
The segue from Kenobi to Palpatine is telling. Palpatine, the secret Sith Lord, is the other great mentor in Anakin's life. If you closely watch the prequels and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, you'll see that he imbued, from the beginning -- "We'll watch your career with great interest" -- a selfish ambition in Anakin. StarWars.com suggests that Palpatine offered Anakin emotional answers to questions, a direct opposite to Kenobi's even-keeled thoughtfulness, making him appear more compassionate. "I think that's completely right," Soule says. "The other thing that I'm going to explore a little bit in this series is, Anakin grew up as a slave. He was property. He was a cheerful kid in The Phantom Menace, but presumably, he had some really dark days there, as did his mother. So, I think he has a sense of realism about the universe that I believe he thinks a lot of the younger Padawans maybe don't share, and even some of the older Jedi probably don't see things the way he does. And again, I think that's something Palpatine would be able to foster in a way." One wonders what Palpatine's interactions with Anakin would have been like during this stage. Will we be seeing the Chancellor guiding the young Jedi, in some way, in Obi-Wan & Anakin?
"Well, I am a huge fan of Emperor Palpatine, which is kind of a crazy thing to say," Soule says. "I think he's just a really well-drawn character, I think a lot of the stuff he does is fascinating. I think, without him, the saga would be much, much poorer. So, I try to put him in wherever I can. He pops into the Lando series, which seems like it doesn't make any sense, but I cracked my brain so I could find a way for him to fit in there. And so if I can make it work I certainly will. It seems like it fits better here than it does in the Lando series. Let's put it that way." There is also, of course, a third great mentor-student relationship in the life of Anakin Skywalker: his relationship with Ahsoka Tano, his Padawan during the Clone Wars.
In Star Wars, themes tend to repeat, and similar situations pop up for subsequent generations. It gives the audience a chance to see how one action can lead to different reactions, how characters learn from their experiences, and how life is cyclical. Anakin's teaching of Ahsoka -- even though it's in the future -- is still in Soule's mind as he writes Obi-Wan & Anakin. "Clone Wars had over 100 episodes, right?" he says. "Many, many episodes to explore that relationship. I have five issues. So, they were able to look at those themes much more deeply than I may be able to. But I certainly think the idea of a master and an apprentice, and the way that Anakin looks at that, the way that he learns lessons from Obi-Wan that he may then apply down the road when he's trying to do something with Ahsoka, of course, there are going to be echoes. Hopefully they'll feel interesting and consistent, and I'll look clever like I almost did it on purpose."
When it came to crafting the story, Soule once again collaborated with the Lucasfilm Story Group. But when delving into a time period of Star Wars that's relatively unknown, what's the creative process? "The way that the Story Group has worked on both this and the Lando series is really more like, 'Bring us what you have,'" Soule says. "They respect the writing teams. You give them the best story you can think of. Create whatever you want, make up whatever you want, and if there's something that doesn't work with the overall vision of the Star Wars universe or conflicts with another plot point that somebody else has put together, then you'll hear about it. But otherwise, it's really, 'Do whatever you want.' And I think part of that is that their job is not to get in the way of stories, their job is to curate the universe, to a certain extent. To make sure that it feels cohesive, feels huge, and feels full of awesome things. And my experience has been very much that."
Obi-Wan & Anakin promises to bring new depth to Obi-Wan, Anakin, how they view each other, and how we view them. To bring more "awesome things" to Star Wars. Soule understands that responsibility, and it's something he's been preparing for for a long time. "I have brothers and a sister, and we grew up with Star Wars," he says. "I've spent a lot of time thinking and talking about the Jedi and Lando and Han Solo and Chewbacca and Darth Vader and everybody, so it's never really that hard to jump into any portion of the Star Wars universe for me. I find that I'm pretty fluent in Star Wars, I guess. And when I get off track, my editors at Marvel and the Story Group are there. But I have a huge, huge blast with it. It's very fun, and it feels very natural and almost an honor. This is a universe that I've been living with in my head with my family and friends since I was very little, so it's really neat to be part of it."
What were two of the galaxy's greatest Jedi like before they became a dynamic duo? We'll soon find out, and it seems like a story that will be long remembered.
"I think it's going to feel like a different view into the relationship that we've never seen before," Soule says, "and hopefully it will feel essential -- and not be just another adventure." Time to make some room in the longbox of your Jedi Archives.
Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content writer, and spends his days writing stuff for and around StarWars.com. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.