Last year, the Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion, a megamerger of storied fantasy brands that reignited enthusiasm for George Lucas’ space saga, especially after the companies announced the production of three new “Star Wars” movies.
Like any important royal marriage, the Disney-Lucas union had repercussions in many realms, including the publishing industry. Among the beneficiaries is native Memphian John Jackson Miller, science-fiction author and expert. Miller has written previous “Star Wars” novels, stories and comic books, but none has gotten the push that will accompany Tuesday’s release of “Star Wars: Kenobi” ($27, Random House/Del Rey Books/LucasBooks), which takes place after the events of the third “prequel” movie, “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.”
As the direct, no-nonsense title implies, the novel aspires to reach a mainstream audience in addition to the true believers who bought Miller’s previous Lucas-licensed books, “Star Wars: Knight Errant” (2011) and “Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith” (2012).
“As far as ‘Star Wars’ books are concerned, this is huge,” said Miller, 45, who kicks off his latest book tour with a 6 p.m. appearance Tuesday at The Booksellers at Laurelwood, 387 Perkins Ext.
“Kenobi” gave Miller the chance to fill in key gaps in the “Star Wars” mythology by imagining the life of wise, stalwart Obi-Wan Kenobi in self-imposed exile on the desert planet of Tatooine, where he hides his identity as a swashbuckling Jedi Knight to become the “crazy old man” introduced to Luke Skywalker as Ben Kenobi in the first “Star Wars” movie in 1977.
Or, in actorly terms: Ewan McGregor “has got to turn into Alec Guinness,” Miller said.
A graduate of St. Benedict’s at Auburndale High School who grew up in Cordova, Miller studied journalism before turning his love of comic books and science fiction into a career, working for such trade magazines as the famous, Wisconsin-based Comic Buyer’s Guide. (As a result, Miller lives in tiny Scandinavia, Wis., with his wife — a librarian — and two children.)
“Star Wars” spinoffs are different from those of many other franchises, which play fast and loose with series history.
“What’s special about the ‘Star Wars’ world is they decided 20 years ago that all the stuff that came out would be canonical, it’s all part of history,” Miller said. “There’s no pecking order. In ‘Star Wars,’ a movie equals a novel equals a comic book equals a TV cartoon equals a video game.”
Because of this, authors of “Star Wars” material work with a Lucasfilm team of fact-checkers and experts known as “the Keeper of the Holocron,” (“Holocron” being a “Star Wars” word for “database”) to make sure their innovations don’t conflict with previously established (or upcoming secret) continuity.
Miller describes “Kenobi” as a “departure” from the typical “Star Wars” spinoff. He says it is very much a Western, in space.
“This is not about another Death Star or another galaxy-shattering event,” he said. “The one-sentence description that’s kind of jokingly said about it is that it’s ‘Shane,’ with Obi-Wan Kenobi. Like Shane, Obi-Wan goes off and tries to live alone in peace, but because he’s who he is, he can’t.”
As introduced in the first “Star Wars” movie, Tatooine is a rustic desert planet of settlers, nomadic aliens and “water vapor” farmers, caught in what Miller describes as “a constant range war” with the primitive Tusken raiders. A unique aspect of “Kenobi” is that its cast of narrators includes a Tusken, giving “Star Wars” fans their first real peek behind the protective headgear and inside the mind of one of the savage “sand people.”
Miller has another new “Star Wars” book out this week, too. “Star Wars Omnibus: Knights of the Old Republic, Volume 1” is the first of three editions that will collect the entire run of the Dark Horse comic book series. He also will happily sign copies of his novel “Overdraft: The Orion Offensive,” an original work published by Amazon’s science-fiction imprint, 47North. He’s happy to have sold a novel that’s not beholden to previously existing characters, but argues that quality spinoffs have their own literary validity.
“Whenever I get to work with these characters created by Gene Roddenberry or George Lucas or people like that, I’m just thrilled they let me play in their sandbox,” he said. “I’m thrilled to be able to play with their toys.”
Meet the author
John Jackson Miller will sign and talk about “Star Wars: Kenobi” (Random House/Del Rey Books/LucasBooks, $27) and his other works at 6 p.m. Aug. 27 at The Booksellers at Laurelwood, 387 Perkins Ext.
The event is free and open to the public. Call 901-683-9801 for information.