Talking To Kieron Gillen About His New Darth Vader Comic For Marvel's Star Wars Line


It has just been announced at San Diego Comic Con that Kieron Gillen and Jason Aaron are the two new writers for two new Star Wars monthly titles to be published at Marvel Comics. Jason writing the Rebel Alliance, Kieron writing the Emperor and Darth Vader…

On learning this, I was able to send a few questions to Kieron via Marvel ahead of announcement, embargoed till this moment. I was especially intrigued because ten years ago, in an intro to a review of a Star Wars game, he wrote,

Star Wars is enough to drive any fair-minded observer of popular culture insane. I sit in horror, watching otherwise sane-minded individuals wander out of the latest cinematic monstrosity cursing George Lucas' name only to – a handful of months later – go out and buy the DVD anyway "for the extras". You scratch your head at the AintItFatFacedAmericansInTheirBasements somehow claiming the original trilogy were the high points of cinematic history, when only Empire stands up as anything more than campy high adventure and Jedi is covered in a frankly embarrassing Ewokitis. And you grit your teeth as reviewer after reviewer adds twenty percent to a game's score because it's got Stormtroopers and the real Lightsabre sound effects.

In short: I hate Star Wars.

The article of course this perspective around. Jason Aaron talked about his relationship with Star Wars: Clone Wars over here,

My son loves the animated Clone Wars series. He knows way more about the characters of that world than he does about Luke Skywalker, Han Solo or any of the Star Wars characters I grew up with. And the show is actually pretty entertaining, especially when compared to those last three films. But as an old-school Star Wars fan I just find it weird that I'm now supposed to be cheering for Stormtroopers, knowing full-well that they're eventually going to wind up as the shocktroops of a ruthless Nazi-like empire. I mean, even the name "Stormtrooper" is derived from German assault troops in World War I. Yet to my son, Stormtroopers are now cool. They're one of the coolest parts of the Clone Wars series. So basically George Lucas has given us a show set in pre-World War II Germany where you find out Goebbels and Himmler were actually pretty cool dudes. Almost as cool as Anakin Skywalker, the other big hero of the series. Who we all know eventually turns out to be Hitler!

Is George Lucas crazy-genius or just flat-out fucking crazy? I can't tell anymore.

Maybe he can now? But that will have to wait. For now I had questions for Kieron… as you can see I only knew he was writing a Star Wars book, not exactly what he was writing…

Rich Johnston: This is the book you quit Iron Man for, and called it "utterly irresistible". Why?

Kieron Gillen: Oh, you know me. I couldn't resist the call of the dark side.

A new challenge and a new universe I haven't written is part of it, but it's more about the specific challenge and opportunity. The stories are set in a period where we have real narrative meat. It's not a project where I feel we're doodling in the margins. As a specific urge for me, I've wanted to write a villain-centric book for a long time. The chance to do that with one of the greatest villains in all pop culture? That would be irresistible in and of itself.

RJ; It does feel like a combination of all your wheelhouses at once. The magic of Phonogram, the sci-fi of Iron Man and SWORD, the personal stories as part of a far larger history of Three and dealing with characters that some see as deities of Loki and TWATD and the squee of Young Avengers. Is this Star Wars or a Kieron Gillen mash up?

KG: No, it's a Star Wars book which my particular background and skillset makes me a particularly strong choice to write. The core aesthetic drive is to try and make it feel as Star Wars as we can, from top to bottom. That it's an Empire-centric book means that involves a lot of invention, but if it doesn't feel like Star Wars, I've failed.

In terms of the parts in my past going into this, the only one on the list I'd disagree with would be Young Avengers. This book is very unsquee. Generally speaking, me doing a Darth Vader book is something that does make a worrying amount of sense. One of the more common critiques of my Superhero work is always that I spend too much time with the bad guys. Well, here, this isn't a problem. That's the point. In some ways, my model here is a book that's Journey Into Mystery to Thor. Not in the quirkiness of JIM, but in terms of a sister book that dances darkly along the path, telling its own story while both books feed into each other. That it's a book where I feel I have a firm start/middle/end is the other link. JIM was a novel, and if everything works out, this will be too.

(There's also a lot of Uncanny X-Men to Jason's Wolverine & The X-men. Good guys and bad guys, each telling their own story, each readable by themselves, each feeding into one another.)

RJ: Last year, you talked about the track Jubilee Street by Nick Cave, saying "I didn't go too deep into the album, but this had a way of inching its way out of the speakers of the radio that made me stir my tea in a particularly melodramatic fashion. The mood is strong with this one. That's probably my pitch for a Star Wars comic, about mopey Sith lords or something." How many mopey Sith Lords are you intending to introduce in this series?

KG: None. There's just Vader and the Emperor, and neither are mopey.

Vader especially isn't. He's stoic and operatic. You know that bit in the introduction to Dark Knight Returns which talks about how Batman doesn't whine, and his passions are operatic, etc? That's very much how I see Vader. Keeping his grandeur and fundamental tragedy is what drives me.

In other notes, I'd forgot I wrote that in one of my end of the year music lists. That's an odd coincidence, innit? Though if we're starting to do predictions via my music writing, it can only be time until I get to my Kate From The Long Blondes As The Punisher series.

RJ:  Ten years ago, when reviewing the game Knights of the Old Republic, you were rather disdainful of Star Wars but found playing the game made you love it! again How it "takes something that's been merchandised, franchised and branded to death over the last twenty-five years and makes it magical again." It's 35 years now. You are part of the merchandising, franchising and branding. What have you learnt in those ten years that you can apply to  your Star Wars that makes it more than just IP formerchandising the next toy line?

KG: Yeah, I knew this one would come out.

That's part of a critical essay, and the flow of the thing is the entire point. I was writing for Eurogamer, a pretty hardcore, serious game-fan site. At the period when KOTOR dropped, Star Wars games weren't the (rightful) critical darlings they were in the days of Tie-Fighter or Jedi Knight. Gamers were a little disdainful, a little distant, a little "again?" about Star Wars games.

So when I'm reviewing a game that's not just an astounding game, but an astounding Star Wars game, the tactic to try and persuade people to believe me is to lean into that. As in, admit I'm as much a cynic as they are. Hell, position myself as a Star Wars apostate. And KOTOR? This is something that made me believe again. It's a Damascean moment.

There's more to it than that. That was probably the period I cared least about Star Wars. As someone whose primary love is always excellence, it grated when I saw a lot of reviewers who added 5-15% to any game, no matter what quality or type, as long as it featured Star Wars sound effects. I thought this was insulting to games as a medium and Star Wars too. Star Wars isn't great because it's Star Wars. Star Wars is great because it is Great. A Star Wars that isn't Great isn't Star Wars in any meaningful way.

And the only thing which will justify the series is to follow that. It's got to be great. It's got to be meaningful. It's got to tell a story that's necessary. It can't be extraneous, in any way.

I don't think I'd have accepted the job if I didn't think this could be something powerful. The period is the thing. We have a clean slate to explore the period between A New Hope and Empire. A lot of things happened between the movie of enormous importance to the characters. To state the obvious, at the end of A New Hope Vader was wondering why Obi Wan turned up right then and noting a certain Death-Star destroying X-Wing pilot was Strong in the Force. In Empire, he knows that's Luke Skywalker – and everything that means. For Luke, the "I Am Your Father" scene is probably the most important beat in the whole saga. In terms of the second trilogy, it's arguable that Darth's most important beat is never shown, as it's the point he realises his last twenty years have been based on a lie.

There's also a fascinating implied narrative. At the end of A New Hope, he's the sole survivor of the biggest military disaster of all time – and a disaster he's at least partially to blame for. At the start of Jedi, he's actually acting in a far more dominant fashion than he ever did in Empire. There's a fall and rise story implied in there, and that's what I'm telling.

Bar Star Wars, my main narrative influences on this are The Godfather and House Of Cards. The latter especially.

RJ: You teamed with Jason Aaron on the X-books for one of the recent relaunches, you taking Uncanny X-Men to his Wolverine And The X-Men. Have you been able to renew that simpatico relationship for a galaxy far far away?

KG: We have! It's one of my favourite things about the job. While it's new with such obvious enormous challenges, that we've done something similar in the past in structure means that's one thing we don't have to worry about. The big jumps in the book seem to come when we basically get in a bar together or have a dinner, and then throw ideas back and forth.

RJ: You are a Brit. Me too. Much of Star Wars is based around the American Revolutionary War, the Americans are the Rebels, we are the Empire. Did you ever, when watching Star Wars, feel a patriotic need to side with Vader? Does that historical perspective affect how you write the comic?

KG: Hmm. Rome meets the Revolutionary War, maybe. That said, two periods I love, and it really would explain all those British Accents.

Really? I'm not that patriotic, so don't feel any need to side with the Imperial powers. The opposite, really. However, I do feel a need to understand him and be fascinated by him. "Why do people do bad things" is one of those core things that bubble along in my writing. The sins of Empire fascinate me. I touched on this over in Uncanny with the whole Sinister arc, y'know?

The only thing that may touch there is that I don't really write bad guys. People do things for reasons. That's right at the core of the book, in all the extended cast. There's a lot of ethically troubled and troubling people, not all of whom agree with one-another. Vader's life is a lot more complicated than just chasing the rebels around all day.

RJ: The Empire must be sick of listening to that same ringtone by now. What would you suggest?

KG: I can't stop listening to Mastodon's new album, so that's all I can think of. If the Empire had more hard rock, the Rebels wouldn't have stood a chance.

Thanks Kieron… maybe it might have saved the British Empire as well…

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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