John Ostrander’s return to Dark Horse’s Star Wars comic franchise with Agent of the Empire – Iron Eclipse #1 is a cause for celebration. Ostrander has proven to be a master of the material, his knowledge of cannon coupled with an admirable willingness to throw in disparate influences to George Lucas’s vision. For his latest series, focusing on the adventures of original creation Jahan Cross, he has chosen a surprising source of inspiration – the most well known member of Her Majesty’s Secret Service
But as Ostrander explains this is perhaps not an unusual departure for the series. “There’s a great deal of overlap between the two – similar tropes. Exotic locales, sexy females, charismatic main character(s), gadgets, big time villains, chases and so on. So I didn’t have to introduce them; they’re already part of Star Wars.” It’s an interesting comment, because for one it refocuses attention on how Star Wars is the sum of its parts. Buster Crabbe, Lensman, Jack Kirby and Akira Kurosawa were already key ingredients in the extravagant gumbo served up in 1977 with A New Hope– what harm is another late addition like Bond? Even the cover to the first issue by series artist Stéphane Roux bears a close resemblance to the title sequences of the spy franchise. “I believe it was his idea to put the logo at the bottom which also makes it stand out”, Ostrander explains. “Very clever and talented man, our Mr. Roux.” However, Ostrander also made it clear that there’s a lot more under the hood in Agent of the Empire besides being a simple pastiche.
Of course over the years Star Wars has evolved its own wide, self-contained continuity – especially thanks to the Expanded Universe – and Agent Cross literally runs right into one of the major figureheads of the series within the first issue, the irascible smuggler Han Solo. Soontir Fel is also mentioned in passing through dialogue, which the writer notes is a reference to his previous work on Legacy, particularly the character of Marasiah Fel. Continuity is not an issue he worries about overmuch though. “Everything I do at Star Wars is vetted by Lucas Film Licensing (LFL) and always has been. It’s not really different than working with any franchise, including Batman or the X-Men. I e-mail Leland [Chee]when I have some questions but I do my own research first so I don’t waste his time on something that I can dig up myself.” Fans can also look forward to other familiar cameos, should the needs of the plot permit. “I have some ideas and plans but it depends on the story and where they are in their own continuity. Part of the fun of playing in Star Wars is to use these familiar icons. By not having them in the major roles, I’m more likely to be able to squeeze them in.”
In Ostrander’s protagonist Jahan Cross we see a character who serves the interests of the Empire, while at the same time appearing to be broadly sympathetic. Certainly his friendship with Han is a point in his favour, the smuggler flouting the law while at the same time being basically decent. How can he operate as a servant of such an oppressive galactic force? “He believes that the Empire is necessary to preserve order in the galaxy,” reveals Ostrander. “He was alive during the Clone Wars and he knows first hand what the brutality, carnage, and chaos of war looks like.” Hints are dropped within the first issue as to what kind of ghosts in Cross’ past he is running from. This makes for yet another example of the degree of complexity and detail that Ostrander introduces into his work. He goes on to explain the reasoning behind the kinds of stories he writes, how the creation of intriguing characters itself makes for good stories. “I like having lots of possibilities in my stories. I don’t want the reader to see where I’m going but, once we’re there, they should think it makes really good sense.”
Work is already underway on a second series of adventures with Jahan Cross. Ostrander and Roux (“We both have an enormous enthusiasm for Star Wars”) are well on the way to enshrining the character as yet another addition to the canon. As is only right and proper, here is the writer’s last word on the subject.
“We’ll keep doing them so long as people keep buying them. Or my fingers drop off my hands from typing.”