Author Cavan Scott talks to StarWars.com about the deeper mysteries and galaxy-altering events of his new Star Wars: The High Republic novel.
By this point, hopefully you’ve had a chance to read Cavan Scott’s Star Wars: The High Republic: The Rising Storm, the second novel in The High Republic publishing program. Picking up right after the events of the series’ first novel, Star Wars: The High Republic: Light of the Jedi, The Rising Storm is full of jaw-dropping moments. After talking with him to mark the launch of The Rising Storm, StarWars.com caught up with Scott to dig deep into spoiler territory. From Marchion’s evolution to Elzar’s journey to that shocking ending…nothing was off limits. Well, except maybe that question about the Leveler.
Spoiler warning: This article discusses details and plot points from The Rising Storm.
StarWars.com: Marchion Ro is the major Nihil villain in the series and takes center stage in The Rising Storm. While he didn’t necessarily start in the more traditional leadership role in the first novel, Light of the Jedi, he comes into his own throughout The Rising Storm -- all while posing more questions for readers than answers. How do you ensure he holds up as an iconic Star Wars baddie, while still providing readers a fresh take?
Cavan Scott: I really struggled at first to know whether we should see in his head. My first instinct was that we should never see in his head. But then I kept writing scenes when I did exactly that. Because he’s so fascinating, and because I didn’t want him to be a cypher in the book. I do find him a fascinating villain because he is a great manipulator. He’s not necessarily a great planner, in the way that we’ve seen with the Emperor or, to an extent, Maul -- and definitely Dooku. But he’s someone who rolls with the punches and reacts very, very quickly and I think that’s why I find him so interesting and what makes him so scary. Because he’s very difficult to knock down. When you think you’re knocking him down, he’s coming up with a new plan immediately. And he can think on his feet and he will always, most of the time, come out on top at the end of it. I think it’s going to be fascinating when we delve more into his past, to explore why that is the case.
So yeah, so I started thinking I won’t ever go inside the helmet, and then found myself doing it over and over again. And surprised myself with some of the ways he views the world and some of the people that he talks to. You want to give yourself room to be surprised by your characters, and definitely Marchion Ro surprised me. And some of the relationship he has with his father that hasn’t gone away, that’s still there. Which has opened up lots of possibilities for the future.
StarWars.com: Marchion Ro’s nefarious plans for the Republic Fair is a central part of The Rising Storm. And the Fair itself feels very relatable -- it feels like Disneyland, or even a Star Wars Celebration. And you bring this world of the Fair to life and build the tension leading up to the massive Nihil attack by cutting between our main heroes and ordinary fairgoers. Why was striking this unique balance important to you for this story?
Cavan Scott: Because these stories can’t just be about the Jedi, you know? It’s about consequences. The Nihil, and what they decide to do and why they decide to do it, as well -- that entire course of action that leads Marchion Ro to make the decision that yes, they are going to hit Valo, and then on the flip-side of that, the Jedi and the Republic and the chancellor and their hubris about what they believe they’re going to get away with and what the Republic Fair will be…you need to see the effect that’s going to have on real people.
And I was thinking back to the London Olympics and going to the Olympic Park and just sort of the excitement in that room, and yeah, going to theme parks and conventions -- and I’ve been going to conventions for years -- and you can just imagine what the chaos would be in a place like that if something goes on. And we see things like that happen in terrible moments in the news at public events where something bad goes down. I knew I couldn’t spend a lot of time with those people because I had bigger stories with the main players that I had to tell. But I had to show why the Jedi should care about saving it. Not just because it’s this abstract thing, that there’s lots of people here, it’s a celebration, it’s about the Republic -- “we’re all the Republic” -- but no, it’s about the kid who wants a Ronto Wrap, or whatever it was, and is nagging their mum. It’s about the families that are arguing because they want to go there and they should be on the other side of the park. And those people who really don’t know something is coming. It’s in the best tradition of disaster movies. Those are the moments you see. And they’re the moments that make it real.
You don’t necessarily spend a lot of time with them, but you just know you’re seeing a glimpse of life that you can recognize. I think that was important to me. As a parent of young-ish kids now, knowing how terrifying it would be to think, “I brought my family to this place and something really bad has happened.” I don’t think Stars Wars is the right place to focus on that for 400 pages, you know, and tell that story because that’s a very, very different kind of tale. But to make these events have consequence and have meaning, you have to touch those lives. Because then you get those moments when you realize, “Yeah we’re in space, yeah we’re on different planets, yeah there are spaceships falling out of the sky, but there are real people that are landed on.” And I think that’s what’s important in these kinds of stories.
StarWars.com: You’ve mentioned “consequences” several times. In the chaos of the Nihil attack on the Republic Fair, we see Elzar Mann face some pretty serious consequences when he touches the dark side. While we’ve seen Jedi flirt with the dark side before, how did you tackle this moment with Elzar to make it unique?
Cavan Scott: I wanted to explore a Jedi overreaching and yes, as you say, touching the dark side, and then explore how they react to it. I think it was important to show that Jedi can have regret and they can also plan to make a difference after that and make amends. We’re told once you’re started on that path, the dark side will forever be part of your life. But how many of us, in our pasts, especially when we’re younger and perhaps a bit cockier, have done things we wish we could change, but you’ve got to move on from it. And you’ve got to learn. And I think if our heroes are going to be real heroes, they have to have those moments, too. For me, yeah, I wanted to have a Jedi who touches the dark side, who flirts with it, for the best of intentions -- that’s when the dark side is most dangerous. We’ve seen that before, in Dooku and Anakin -- the dark side uses those best intentions against the people who have them. And that’s exactly what happens to Elzar. He’s not completely blameless. But at the same point, as soon as it happens, he realizes what he’s done. And he doesn’t then want to delve into it more. He realizes he needs to do something about it. And he wants to ask for help. I think, if anything, a hero that asks for help is a fascinating thing to explore. It allows us to explore the relationship between Elzar and Stellan and the fact that, you know, who do you turn to when you really have let yourself down and [realize] how dangerous the path that you’re on is? To have the peace of mind and the state of mind to go to a friend and say, “I need help” -- that was something I wanted to get in there. That’s something we can build on for the future.
StarWars.com: Speaking of Elzar and Stellan’s relationship…in Light of the Jedi, we see the Elzar/Avar story, but The Rising Storm is really the Elzar/Stellan story. We haven’t yet seen these three come together, making Elzar the connective tissue between the two. For you, what do you want readers to take away from the Elzar/Stellan relationship that we may not have seen in the Elzar/Avar relationship?
Cavan Scott: I think it’s that important thing that you are different people with whoever you’re with. You can be the same person, but you show a different side of yourself. And yeah, we haven’t seen the three of them together yet, and I think that’s going to be very interesting when we do because we know how the individual units work and it’s going to be a completely different dynamic when they’re all in the same room together.
Obviously Elzar has very deep feelings for Avar. And, you know, if you’ve read the books, you know it’s not exactly just one way. But Avar being Avar, she follows the path that she feels has been set for her. As does Stellan, to a certain degree. And Elzar is perhaps the one who humanizes both of them. Whether that’s because he’s the one who needs the help, or he’s the one who pops their bubble and says, “Remember, we knew each other, we used to go and steal things in the Temple, and we used to get up to mischief” -- again, he’s the humanizer for all three of them, I think. He reminds all of them, himself included, you can’t take yourself too importantly, you can’t take yourself too seriously.
Also, I really wanted to explore friendship between two guys in the Order and explore what it’s like for one person out of a group to feel that perhaps you’ve been left behind, because you’ve always said, “I’m not part of this, I can do my own thing” -- but then your two best friends are suddenly elevated and you’re left there going, “Well, what am I doing then?” Because I think a lot of us have experienced that.
There’s so much you can explore with those three. They are very similar and they’re also very, very different at the same time. And so it gave me the chance to show [that] Stellan is the poster boy of the Jedi, and he gave me three ways to look at him: you’ve got the way other people look at him, which is very different to how he views himself, and then very different to how Elzar views him, because Elzar probably knows him better than anyone, including himself. Those kinds of dynamics really help explore different aspects of a character.
StarWars.com: In addition to Stellan’s novel debut, we get introduced to many new characters in The Rising Storm, including some prominent queer representation in ex-Jedi-turned-monster-hunter, Ty Yorrick; Chancellor Soh’s son, Kitrep; and the son of Lonisa City’s mayor, Jom. As a writer for The High Republic, why is this kind of visibility important to include?
Cavan Scott: Because, again, it’s about incredible things happening to people who live ordinary lives. And for me, you know, the world I live in, that’s the world I see around me. I want to include those stories in the worlds I create, whether it’s Star Wars or elsewhere. And importantly for me, I didn’t want their stories to be stories because of their sexuality. And I think a lot of people get hung up on this, that we talk about these characters and we say, “It’s because of their sexuality that they’re there,” but no, it’s that’s the story they happen to be living.
So the story of Kip and Jom, you know, it could very easily be a boy and a girl, or two girls. The important bit is he’s a boy who is incredibly alienated in some way and out of his comfort zone, not comfortable in his own skin, who finds someone who completes him. And it wasn’t a great statement -- it was just, that’s the story that came when I was writing those characters. That was their relationship. Because it’s a relationship I see in my friends, it’s a relationship I see in my community, and it’s a relationship we all know in all our communities. And I think it should be in the galaxy far, far away, as well.
StarWars.com: From two boys finding love at the Republic Fair to the heart-breaking, cliffhanger ending, The Rising Storm really takes readers on a journey. And we couldn’t have a spoiler-filled interview without talking about that ending! You mentioned previously that Bell Zettifar’s story of loss was a big part of his arc you were excited to explore. We see this almost resolved when he’s finally reunited with his master, Loden Greatstorm. But then it all gets taken away again on the final page. Why choose this painful path for Bell and Loden?
Cavan Scott: Because you put your characters through the worst possible situations. You always have to. So -- we’re in spoiler zone -- Loden was always going to have that ending. When Loden was created, that moment was set aside for him in the future. There was a moment when I was wondering, “Is Bell the one who finds him in those final moments?” But yeah, you do want to pull the rug out from your readers and there is [that] moment when you have a real punch-the-air moment when Loden’s lightsaber flies into his hand and he says, “Point me to the baddies” and you go, “They’re back! And they’re going to be okay!” And Loden is obviously in a very bad way. But you think it’s all going to be ok, and it is a bit of a false victory. Because you need that final moment.
And that moment…is so central to everything we’ve been planning for The High Republic. That last page was right there in the first days of us discussing The High Republic. And, as I say, poor Loden. He was always going that way. And I wanted to really underline it. And I wanted to underline that pain. And also, perhaps -- I don’t know if it’s going to be a comfort for Bell in the future -- but he did get one more time when he fought alongside his master. I don’t know if that makes it better or worse. I suppose we’ll have to see.
StarWars.com: Dare we even ask what the Leveler even is?
Cavan Scott: [Laughs] You can ask! But I’m not going to be able to tell you.
StarWars.com: Fair enough! What we can ask, though: What’s next for readers? There is so much more story to tell, clearly, and you have several projects in the works, including The Monster of Temple Peak featuring Ty Yorrick and the Tempest Runner audio drama featuring Lourna Dee -- what are you excited for readers to jump into next?
Cavan Scott: Well, as you say, there is a lot to come. I’m excited for people to listen to Tempest Runner. I’m, at the minute, as we talk, putting the final touches to the draft script for it to be recorded now. It’s given me a chance to return to two characters I wasn’t expecting to love so much, which is Lourna and Pan, who’ve become very, very dear to me, which is a very odd thing to say about two people who are so horrible. But I have quite a bit of history in Star Wars of taking a villain and sort of delving into their past and finding out what made them that way. So, hopefully, a similar thing will happen with Lourna. I think she’s going to play quite a big role in The High Republic moving forward.
It’s been interesting writing this book because obviously I wrote scenes with Avar, off doing things with the Starlight Jedi, and then I get to write what those scenes are [for the comics]. That was a great bit of fun. The consequences to Avar, as well, and what that means to Keeve and Sskeer and everyone on Starlight. Because she’s going to have to cope with the fact that she wasn’t on Valo. And I think that’s going to be a major part of her story. Because she’s the Hero of Hetzal, she’s the one that held everyone together. And she wasn’t there [on Valo] to do it. So there are a lot of questions for her to ask: What would have happened if she were there instead of Stellan? What’s that going to do to her relationship [with] Stellan? And why wasn’t she there? Who was responsible for her being halfway across the Outer Rim at Starlight and beyond? That, I’m excited for people to follow up with, as well. The ramifications from the Republic Fair rumble on for a long time now, for everyone involved. Not just the Jedi, not just the Republic, not just the chancellor -- also for the Nihil, as well. They’ve really marked their territory now, and it’s not going to be easy for them moving forward. The Republic is going to come back fighting.
We said the first wave of books was like the pre-title sequence. I really believe this second wave is the first act. There is a lot more to tell.
And what is the inciting incident in The High Republic? Is it the Great Disaster or is it the last chapter of The Rising Storm? That’s a question I think people should ask.
Visit Lucasfilm’s official hub for all things Star Wars: The High Republic at StarWars.com/TheHighRepublic.