“Might and mercy, Kerra. It’s part of the job.” — Vannar Treece
“Aflame” Part 1
More than one thousand years before Luke Skywalker, a dark age grips the galaxy as an ineffectual Republic abandons entire systems to Sith control. A newly knighted Jedi on her first mission, eighteen-year-old Kerra Holt has joined a band of Jedi volunteers traveling deep behind enemy lines, with no support from the Republic and little chance of survival. She thinks she is prepared for anything. She’s wrong…
Star Wars: Knight Errant is a comic book series from Dark Horse, but it’s also an original novel from Del Rey. While dual-media projects have been done before in Star Wars publishing, this one had an interesting genesis in that it began on the comics side first, rather than the other way around.
In early 2009, my editors at Dark Horse and I began developing a series to follow my fifty-issue run on Knights of the Old Republic. Randy Stradley, head of the Star Wars line at Dark Horse, suggested the timeframe: the years before the “Rule of Two” was instituted, when the Republic has retreated and multiple Sith Lords are warring on the Outer Rim for dominance. He also suggested the series focus on a “lone female Jedi” stranded in Sith space – that phrase becoming the first teaser line about the project on the Dark Horse message boards.
I was still in the early stages of developing Kerra Holt’s story with comics editor Dave Marshall when I heard from Shelly Shapiro, my editor at Del Rey. Earlier in 2009, I had been asked to write prose for Del Rey in the form of the Lost Tribe of the Sith e-books; since then, Lucasfilm’s Sue Rostoni had suggested that a novel by me based on the new comics series would be a good fit. So it was that, while I was developing the comics series for Dark Horse, I simultaneously began considering what would go in the Knight Errant novel for Del Rey. The aim was to create two independent products with the same cast and setting; readers wouldn’t have to read the comics to follow the novel or vice versa, but those who did would find a completely consistent world between the two media.
My earliest concept for Knight Errant featured a team of Jedi that was completely dispirited — including the character that was to become Kerra. While interesting, that direction proved problematic from a number of standpoints; the narrative energy follows the protagonist, and a unmotivated hero isn’t going to take you very far very quickly. Ultimately, we went in the opposite direction: it remains a series about a very bleak place, but the fire of defiance burns brightly in Kerra. She’s a perpetual-motion machine. No one but a self-starter would last very long in Sith space alone!
For the other side, I saw a host of enemies rushing to fill the vacuum left by the Republic. If the barbarians were at the Republic gates, back home, they weren’t unified at all. I saw a true dark-age setting where scads of Sith Lords had declared themselves the future ruler of the galaxy — all of whom resented the others’ claims. Daiman and Odion are the first two we see, and are deranged in their own ways; but there are certainly more.
By autumn, the first comics storyline, “Aflame” had taken shape. The announcement that Knights of the Old Republic was ending and that I was creating a new series came at the Diamond Retailer Trade Show in Baltimore in October 2009, where I was in attendance. The announcement of the novel and comics series came later, in February 2010.
While I set the events of the novel after the events of the first five-issue comics storyline, I actually scripted the fifth issue of the comics series after I finished the novel. That allowed me to knit the two projects together more tightly; those who follow both will find an easy transition. But since the production window for comics involves a lot of lead time, I was also able to go back to earlier issues and better synchronize character and setting elements. As a result, neither medium is the only source of the concepts; comics elements found their way into the novel and vice versa.
Federico Dallocchio created the arresting visual designs for the characters and drew the first couple of issues. Michael Atiyeh, colorist on Knights of the Old Republic, cranked the colors up a notch for the depiction of this hellish sector of space – some of the best work of his career, I think! Another KOTOR veteran, letterer Michael Heisler, returned as well. KOTOR and Knight Errant are completely different stories, but many of the people behind the scenes are the same.
Something unusual for the first issue: since letters to the editor require a lot of lag time, first issues tend not to have letter columns. But Marshall solicited opinions from a group of volunteer readers who received proof copies and agreed not to reveal what they’d seen before the issue came out. The result: immediate reactions in the same issue.
“No one can resist the purity of nothingness. Let me introduce you.” — Lord Odion
The source of Kerra’s first name is surprisingly obvious, but it wasn’t meant to be. Stradley and I independently had the idea of calling the series “Knight Errant” in the beginning, but for a time, the plan was to call the title simply “Jedi,” to underline the character’s position as a Jedi alone in Sith space. During this time, I chose “Kerra” as a contraction of “knight errant” — a little inside reference to the original name. The title “Jedi” lasted until just after Knights of the Old Republic #50 went to press, where it was mentioned in the letter column. By that book’s release, though, we’d already changed back to “Knight Errant” — and by that point, I didn’t want to change Kerra’s name. So, yeah, it really is that simple, but it wasn’t initially going to be quite so obvious!
I won’t say where her last name came from yet, although folks who know Zayne’s surname origin may be able to hazard a guess.
I wanted the Kerra Holt character to have a distinctive look — and to really appear, in later issues, like she’s been living a hard life. She’s fighting a guerilla war — she wasn’t going to have Padme Amidala’s fashion designer and hairdresser waiting in the wings. Federico’s design for Kerra captured the driven look I was hoping for. There aren’t specific actors or actresses I imagine for the characters, though I can see the comparisons some have made between Kerra and a young Salma Hayek. She wasn’t acting in films at 18, but she’s played roles where she has a similar intensity in her facial expressions.
While Kerra’s eyes appear green in some shots where they’re reflecting her lightsaber (as on the novel cover), they’re actually more of a hazel. Michael Atiyeh matched Sophia Loren’s eye color in the initial design.
Vannar Treece’s role in Republic history I likened to that of Claire Chennault, who led the Flying Tigers volunteer air group in China before and during World War II. I wanted to capture a situation where a Jedi’s independent efforts were slightly more official than those of Revan in the Knights of the Old Republic setting. We’ll learn more about how Vannar’s efforts are organized as we go along.
In designing the Kinetic Corruptor, I asked for something vaguely pyramidal with a tower at center. I knew what I wanted it to look like – the stubby wing strut that used to snap too easily off the Kenner Tie Fighters. My son suggested just taking a photo of it and sending it to Dallocchio. And that’s what happened.
Gorlan uses the term “filibuster” in its original sense — referring to adventurers who carried on private wars in other countries. Only later did it refer to a parliamentary tactic for seizing control of debate — hijacking (no pun intended) what had been a pretty useful and unique word. It sounded like the sort of thing Gorlan would know!
In most dictionaries, knight-errant has a hyphen. Our title never had one. If anyone asks, it was lost in a hyperspace accident!