Almost a year ago, I began adapting the Star Wars Rebels animated show into a series of junior novels and chapter books for Disney-Lucasfilm Press. The most recent book to be published, The Rebellion Begins, serves as the novelization for Spark of Rebellion, the movie-of-the-week series premiere. Given the storied tradition Star Wars novelizations, the responsibility of bringing these screen characters to life on the printed page for the first time has been both exciting and humbling.
My primary goal for The Rebellion Begins (the original title of Spark of Rebellion) was to write a novel that could be enjoyed by readers of all ages, from kids who have never before picked up a Star Wars book to adult fans who own the entire collection of Expanded Universe literature. This approach meant that I needed to re-introduce classic elements of the galaxy like Imperial stormtroopers, Star Destroyers, and an energy field known as the Force to new readers who might be unfamiliar with the Star Wars universe. These re-introductions proved to grow organically out of the story itself, since screenwriter Simon Kinberg centered his script around a 14-year-old kid named Ezra Bridger. Ezra’s a street urchin who’s never been off the planet of Lothal, and knows only vaguely of the mystical Jedi Knights from old spacers’ stories. Yet as Ezra becomes further involved with the crew of the Ghost, he learns more about the galaxy at large, and so does the reader. Ezra’s journey acquiring all this new knowledge mirrors the reader’s journey through the novel.
The Rebellion Begins features other characters, such as Hera, Kanan, and Agent Kallus, who are not ignorant of galactic history. One of the pleasures of writing the novel (and the first season of Rebels in the chapter books) has been the opportunity of getting inside these characters’ heads, discovering what they think, how they feel. While the medium of film expresses characters’ thoughts and motivations through performance, literature offers a much more dynamic portal into the interior lives of characters. In the novel, I had the ability (and luxury of space) to examine why Kanan is hesitant at revealing who he once was and from where he came. I could explore Hera’s anxiety and even anger at her longtime friend for hiding that same past. I could even show the mind of an Imperial Security Bureau agent hard at work, and demonstrate how one does not need the Force in Star Wars to be an effective nemesis.
In addition to offering insights into characters, Star Wars novelizations have always enriched and expanded the story told on screen. The Rebellion Begins is no different. Its prologue propels the crew of the Ghost on their quest to find like-minded rebels, and presents, for the first time, the interior of a vessel built by the saga’s most iconic alien species. I must say that creating a starship that no one’s imagined before is part of the fun of writing Star Wars.
Ezra’s backstory is also further fleshed out in the novel. I was able to include a scene cut from an earlier draft of Kinberg’s script, when Ezra opened up a sack of loot to find propaganda holodisks. I rewound from this moment, to tell of the fateful adventure that led to acquiring these disks. This inspired the invention of one of Ezra’s streetwise mentors, the former pickpocket-turned-fence named Slyyth. I conceived him as character in the vein of Fagin from Oliver Twist, although trapped in the deteriorating larval body of a Ruurian.
One image I couldn’t get out of my head while writing Ezra’s interaction with Slyyth was Sir John Tenniel’s famous illustration of Alice and the caterpillar from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. A testy relationship between a boy and an enormous caterpillar seemed to fit perfectly within the playful tone of Rebels. David Rabbitte, a fantastic artist who’s illustrated many stories for the Star Wars Insider along with my graphic novel about Roman werewolves, Empire of the Wolf, contributed his vision of the new scene from the novel.
Out of all the characters, I must admit a favorite: Agent Kallus. Unlike the Inquisitor or Darth Vader, he can’t access any preternatural source for superhuman feats, yet his sharp perception, his devious nature, and his downright doggedness in the pursuit of catching rebels make him a worthy adversary. He’s the Inspector Javert of Star Wars, a man whose devotion to law and order is absolute. For Kallus, Imperial edicts are not to be questioned, they are only to be enforced. Consequently, he has dedicated his life to root out those who would dare break those laws, at the expense of everything else. His dark side is not the Force, but his own blindness to compassion. He’s a villain one can find in today’s society, a prisoner of his own intransigence.
These are but a few of the decisions and expansions I made during the process of adaptation. Most of all, I poured my efforts into delivering the strongest story I could. Even if a reader had never seen Rebels or even a Star Wars film, I wanted The Rebellion Begins to be a book that they couldn’t put down.
Michael Kogge has written for Star Wars for a long, long time. Empire of the Wolf, his original graphic novel about werewolves in ancient Rome, was recently published by Alterna Comics. You can find him online at michaelkogge.com or on Twitter at @michaelkogge.