Fan-favorite author John Jackson Miller has written numerous books and comics in the Star Wars universe, and his latest novel, Star Wars: The Living Force, will be released on April 9, 2024 in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook from Random House Worlds. Discussing the book at his table in Writers’ Block (a new section of Artist Alley dedicated to authors) at New York Comic Con, Miller delved into the inspirations and ideas behind the book, which takes place a year before the events of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
“It is the first novel for the Jedi Council where we show everybody,” Miller said. “Everybody gets a role, everybody gets a point-of-view section or more… I send the Jedi on a road trip.”
In the novel, it takes a bit of a kick from a familiar character to get the entire Jedi Council out of their lofty chamber on Coruscant. “The Jedi Masters are reacting to a challenge from Qui-Gon Jinn, who says, ‘You need to get out of this room,’” Miller explained. “ ‘You need to get out of this room and actually see people, and see if you can maybe actually help somebody, instead of being in this ivory tower here, studying the future of the galaxy or whatever… how long has it been since you’ve all gotten out and actually helped anybody? Talked anybody out of using death sticks? Done any of the Jedi things—even going out and actually… done any work actually protecting people?”
Miller pointed out that while the Jedi Council usually has other people to take on such everyday tasks, it’s essential for them to, as Qui-Gon says, “be mindful of the living Force.”
“The Living Force is the aspect of the Force that involves people who are alive today—those people who are around us,” Miller explained. “It’s one thing to have the responsibility for the entire galaxy, and the future, and everything, but these people really need to get out and see the people.”
When Miller was asked to write a book with the Jedi Council, he decided to explore a matter from the films that might ruffle some fan feathers.
“What I really wanted to do was come to terms with this duality that is out there in the Jedi and in their job,” he said. “Yoda and Obi-Wan give Luke Skywalker bad advice in [Star Wars Episode V] The Empire Strikes Back… I remember watching, in grad school, [Star Wars Episode VI] The Return of the Jedi with the philosophy students, and we were discussing afterward that this was a case where the guidance they gave him was entirely wrong.”
Memorably, in The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker receives a vision of Han and Leia suffering and chooses to abandon his training on Dagobah to rescue them, despite both Yoda and Obi-Wan insisting that to do so would lead to disaster. Their warnings appear to pan out as Luke arrives at Bespin with R2-D2, only to fall into Vader’s trap and winds up fighting the Sith Lord before he’s ready. The result: He fails to rescue his friends, the frozen Han is taken by Boba Fett, and Luke loses a hand before fleeing, nearly falling to his death before Leia directs the Millennium Falcon to rescue him. Seeing the wounded Luke toward the end of Empire, it’s easy to believe the two masters were correct.
Miller, however, disagrees with them. “You’d think that Luke didn’t actually accomplish anything,” Miller said. “Well, first of all, that’s not true. R2 saves everybody by fixing the Millennium Falcon. But the other element, and George Lucas intended us to see this, is that by encountering Darth Vader and losing his hand… When [Luke] is battling Darth Vader in front of the Emperor and has a chance to strike Vader down, he pauses and looks at the gloved [mechanical] hand. And we see that, it’s deliberate. It’s him looking at that, realizing in that moment what the lesson of the vision of the tree and the cave on Dagobah [is]… that if he does this thing, he becomes no better than Vader, he would end up having the same fate. And he throws the lightsaber away. And so if he had not gone to save his friends, he would have fallen to the Dark Side.”
For Miller, that scene depicts the Living Force at work. “This is the Living Force saying, ‘Actually, Luke did the right thing,’” he said. “And by doing the right thing, the Force had his back later on.”
What is it that makes the Living Force special? Miller pointed out the differences between the Living Force and another aspect of the Force called the Unifying Force, which was the focus of a 2003 Star Wars novel by James Luceno titled The New Jedi Order: The Unifying Force. Both aspects of the Force were introduced in prose by Terry Brooks when he wrote the novelization for The Phantom Menace in 1999.
“There’s the line in The Phantom Menace: ‘You must be mindful of the Living Force,’” Miller said. “And we see Qui-Gon being willing to take on these cases like Jar Jar… Obi-Wan is like, ‘You know, what good is it to keep picking up these life forms like this?’ And Qui-Gon is like, ‘C’mon, you never know how helping this person is going to help you later. You never know. And so it was called the Unifying Force in the Brooks book, where it’s everything in the future and everything surrounding us… later, gets called the Cosmic Force. But the Living Force, I think, was always more… and we hear it from the Jedi, where Yoda says, ‘You’ve got to pay attention to where you are, your surroundings, what’s going on now.’”
In Miller’s view, the Jedi Councilors aren’t ignorant of the here-and-now aspect of the Living Force, but rather their job is such that they are focusing too much on the big picture. To reverse the common saying, they’re missing the trees for the forest. The Living Force is about the Jedi Council going out and seeing the trees.
“So it is a spring break road trip,” Miller said. “They actually get out, and they take a sabbatical. And there’s a major story going on here at the same time, and it all loops together.”
The Living Force contains a lot of complexities, but Miller is enjoying the challenge. “One of the nice things about some of the more recent novels I’ve written, including Strange New Worlds: The High Country for Star Trek, is I’ve had the opportunity to handle some very large casts,” he said. “And [I get to] handle some stories with extremely complicated plotting. Dealing with just the air traffic control of all these characters, and getting them to interact, and getting the story elements to drop the way I want to… I don’t feel I could have written The Living Force ten years ago, and I’m glad to have gotten the chance to do it now.”
Star Wars: The Living Force is currently available for preorder from multiple retailers, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: The High Country is available in hardback now, with a trade paperback coming in 2024.
Lastly, Miller was excited to mention that his very first Star Wars novel, Star Wars: Knight Errant, will be getting an essential edition in early 2024. “That will be a delight to see in the new format,” he said.
You can find Miller online at https://farawaypress.com/.