The author tells StarWars.com about finding character inspiration and defining a new era in Star Wars storytelling.
As we prepare to enter a new era of Star Wars storytelling with Star Wars: The High Republic, StarWars.com sits down with the five authors -- Charles Soule, Justina Ireland, Claudia Gray, Daniel José Older, and Cavan Scott -- penning the first round of books and comics. “The Makers of Star Wars: The High Republic” will run weekly through the end of the year to celebrate the January 2021 launch of the storytelling epic.
Spoiler warning: The article contains plot details from Into the Dark.
Padawan Reath Silas is much more interested in studying in the Jedi archives at the galactic capital of Coruscant than in taking part in any adventures. However, when his Master, Jora Malli, requests his presence in the undeveloped frontier, he reluctantly yet respectfully accepts and departs on a starship into the unknown.
In Star Wars: The High Republic: Into the Dark, the third book hitting bookshelves in February 2021 as part of The High Republic initiative next year, Claudia Gray explores this new era in Star Wars as only she can. And the adventure quickly goes sideways when a catastrophic event reroutes Reath’s vessel to an abandoned space station, forcing our hero to venture out of his comfort zone, trust in the Force, and learn what it means to be a Jedi Knight.
StarWars.com recently spoke with Gray to learn more about this bold new chapter, the inspiration for some of her characters, and the collaborative nature of The High Republic.
StarWars.com: You've long been considered one of the premier authors in Star Wars with your genre-influencing take on characters. And now you've got the opportunity to continue that tradition with Star Wars: The High Republic: Into The Dark. What has the response been like for you since the announcement in February?
Claudia Gray: It's been really overwhelmingly positive. I have to say that I tried not to look at it too much either. You don't want the burden of expectation to color the creative process, if that makes any sense. If I've really thought hard, like, “Wow, there are this many people looking forward to this” every single time I sat down to write, nothing would get written. It would be very bad. So I've been really excited to see the enthusiasm out there for it and the interest. But, I've also kind of taken a step back, too. I just want to kind of be in that space. The High Republic is a place where we kind of get to let our imaginations run wild, I suppose.
StarWars.com: I love that. It's a really unique opportunity because you're all creators, but you're also fans.
Claudia Gray: Yeah, I've said before, if I had understood how many people read Star Wars books before Lost Stars, I don't know if Lost Stars could ever have ever gotten written. I read Star Wars books and I understood on one level, but I did not get it on another. Just did not.
StarWars.com: Absolutely. So now, of course, you're literally in this brand new place. What has the collaboration been like for you and your fellow authors?
Claudia Gray: Honestly, I think the [author] Slack channel is the most fun part of this entire thing. At this point we know what's going on with everybody's kids and everybody's dogs. And I get advice from Justina Ireland about baking sometimes. And she's really good! I've spent quarantine getting competent at it and, God help me, I have done it. And that was knowledge I was not meant to possess, I don't think. [Laughs]
It's really great being able to talk about not just The High Republic, but to sort of have this community of authors. We weigh in with advice on each other's other projects and things like that. So it's been a really fascinating process. I did not realize how collaborative it would be. I mean, I didn't think “I will be talking to at least a couple of these people pretty much every day.” And I do.
StarWars.com: We're obviously not going to go into spoilers so that everybody can enjoy the book, but what can you talk about regarding how the book has evolved since the announcement?
Claudia Gray: It's not like there was an idea of the book before there was the collaboration or before there was the universe. It grew very organically out of that, like what are the different stories we need to tell in this universe? With this being a new cast of characters, and all the different starter books, we get to introduce our own people, their own situations, but it's all part of this one big puzzle. And so I got to have a little side quest; I think the young adult novel could kind of count as that. It's separate from a lot of the things that are going on, but there are also some setups for a lot of things that you're going to see later. Is that vague enough? [Laughs]
StarWars.com: That's perfect. It's like you've done this before. [Laughter] So when you're crafting this overall story, I would think that one of the biggest challenges has got to be covering familiar territory like the Jedi, Coruscant, how the Jedi work, etc. You're using a fresh coat of paint since we're a long way from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and the Jedi council we are so acquainted with. Talk about the challenges of that.
Claudia Gray: Yeah. It is very different because with every other Star Wars project I've worked on, I've gone back to the source material a lot and been like, “Okay, I'm going to listen to Qui-Gon talk for a while; I'm going to spend more time with Princess Leia. Oh, hardship.” [Laughs] And that isn't something that we have here, you know, you're drawing from the entire universe, but you don't sort of have that touchstone where you go and listen to this one character's dialogue. And so, on the one hand, that's a little bit scary because you like having that sort of guide. But on the other hand, it's very liberating because you really get to create these characters from the first whiff of an idea to the entirely, hopefully three-dimensional final result.
StarWars.com: That's got to be exciting and daunting.
Claudia Gray: Yeah. Yeah. Both of those things. It definitely is. And it was kind of fun being able to start the book on Coruscant with the stuff that's a little more familiar, [then] Reath and the others go into the unknown, which is sort of what we're doing with this project, I think.
StarWars.com: Speaking of the unknown, we've got a whole new cast of characters that are sure to be exciting additions to the Star Wars universe. So let's just go ahead and break down these characters a little bit. First, we're going to start with Jora Malli. Her confidence and her poise strike me right away as does her teaching style. What sets her apart from the Jedi Masters that we have already met?
Claudia Gray: I think what sets her apart is in some ways what sets the Jedi at large apart from what we've seen so far, because we're at the height of the Jedi's sort of…power and influence isn't the word. That's not exactly what I mean, but you know, the cracks aren't showing the way they are in The Phantom Menace. This is them at their height and there's a confidence and an ease and a surety of purpose that the Order at large has and that most -- not all, but most -- of the individual Jedi have. And I think that comes through with Jora Malli. She is very, very sure not only of what she's trying to do with her student, her apprentice Reath, but to her, this all fits together seamlessly in a way that we really don't see later on by the time of The Phantom Menace. Like I said, the cracks are showing. You're kind of seeing the Jedi really at the Republic’s beck and call. And that wasn't [always] the case. It's, I think, maybe a little bit more of a spiritual discipline in the High Republic era.
StarWars.com: Very well said. I guess I would equate it to a gravitas of competency that exudes from her.
Claudia Gray: Yeah. She's on the Jedi Council. And she's not only a Jedi and a Jedi Master, she is somebody that is at the very pinnacle of this organization at the height of its power. So yeah, she should come across as somebody very much in control.
StarWars.com: How would you describe Reath Silas?
Claudia Gray: Reath is almost like if you made Hermione Granger a boy and put him in the Star Wars universe. [Laughs] He’s reading Hogwarts: A History or I guess Jedi Temple: A History. [Laughs] He believes in the rules for a reason.
He wants everything to go according to plan, but just like Hermione, he also gets why sometimes you have to bend the rules a little bit and does not lack for any amount of courage.
StarWars.com: Did I read in an interview that you compared one of the characters in Into The Dark to Matthew McConaughey?
Claudia Gray: [Laughs] The character who’s [inspired by] Matthew McConaughey is one of the non-Jedi characters. He's the pilot of the ship that our Jedi take to the frontier. And I was trying to think like, “Okay, I want a pilot and he's an independent pilot. And I want him to be a little bit of, kind of a rogue type, but he can't be Han Solo.” And I was like, “What's the kind of personality that might do that and be very, very distinct?” And then just the thought, like, give Matthew McConaughey a spaceship. Just to do it.
Claudia Gray: [Laughs] And, from that moment on, I was like, “Oh, this makes me very, very happy.” I hope other people are going to enjoy him too, because I have a blast with him!
StarWars.com: Reath has a much more cerebral approach, which I really love as well as the work ethic that is separate from his Force strength. Can you talk about the inspiration for that?
Claudia Gray: That kind of evolved out of it. Characters usually start with one bit of inspiration and…they develop their own personality as you write. And Hermione, obviously, is one of the best witches of her age. But, I thought it would be kind of interesting to have a Jedi and somebody who is a good Jedi, who isn't quite as strong as the others are and not everything comes as easily to him.
He obviously made the cut, I guess you would say, but he has to work a little harder. And like you said, take a cerebral approach to what might be instinctive for somebody even stronger in the Force. As you begin to see in the book, there are ways in which that pays off for him. You know, if everything comes easily to you, when you run into that first obstacle, it can completely throw you off. Whereas when Reath runs into a problem, he's like, “Right. We're going to figure out solution A, solution B, solution C. Try all three solutions and see what's best.” You know, he's not going to be thrown in the same way. And right now, I think, as a Padawan, he sees himself as compensating. But I think as that character goes on, we're going to see that being one of his greater strengths.
StarWars.com: I do love that you've managed to [create] this delicate balance of internal conflict without a ton of insecurity. And I think that's a very fine line.
Claudia Gray: Yeah. I mean, he knows exactly what he possesses and doesn't possess. But he also knows like, “This is how I make up for it. This is how I compensate. This is how I do what I do,” and that's a lot that he got from Jora Malli.
StarWars.com: Absolutely. Shifting gears a little, let's talk about Dez Rydan. What makes this Jedi Knight tick?
Claudia Gray: Dez, I think, is really the embodiment of what we were talking about earlier. That total confidence that the Order has. He’s young, he's talented. He's just become a Knight in the last few years. He's always ready for the next challenge, the next adventure. And he has that energy about him. I think he really embodies that more straightforwardly than any of the other characters in Into The Dark.
But there comes a time, like I said, if you're really, really talented and you don't run into obstacles and then you hit an obstacle, sometimes you haven't developed the tools to deal with it. No spoilers! No spoilers.
StarWars.com: Orla Jareni is a Wayseeker. What can you tell fans about Orla and her role?
Claudia Gray: Well, like we were talking about before, the idea of the Jedi Order at this time, they're a little more spiritual. They are not quite as beholden to the Republic. And also they're not as firmly centralized as we see by the time of The Phantom Menace. I mean, there's still the Jedi Council, Coruscant is still the main temple. But individual temples are a little bit more independent and Jedi themselves can be a little more independent.
By becoming a Wayseeker, you don't leave being a Jedi. But you kind of step away from the Order and you just listen to the Force and do what that calls on you to do for a while. And a lot of times it's a very solitary quest, but it takes all different shapes depending on which Jedi is individually doing this. It's somebody who is forging their own individual bond with the Force and acting independently of the Order while still, at the same time, being aligned with the Order. Most Wayseekers are going to come back eventually, whether that's after three months or ten years.
StarWars.com: Finally, how does it feel to define a new era in Star Wars through The High Republic?
Claudia Gray: I'm very grateful that I am not doing that alone. I'm very grateful that we've got Charles Soule and Cavan Scott and Daniel José Older and Justina Ireland all in this with me, because that is way too much responsibility for anyone to have! [Laughs] And I'm so glad I don't have it, but playing a part in it and being along for the ride, that has been an honor, really to be chosen for that and to get to do it.
Into the Dark arrives February 2, 2021, and is available for pre-order now.
Visit Lucasfilm’s official hub for all things Star Wars: The High Republic at StarWars.com/TheHighRepublic.