The Stinger Mantis rides again. On April 28, Order 66 survivors Cal Kestis and Cere Junda, fast-talking pilot Greez Dritus, and the Dathomirian Nightsister Merrin return to action in the sequel to the video game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor. Five years have passed since we last checked in on Cal and his crew, and based on what we’ve seen from the trailers, a lot has changed. Luckily, in grand Star Wars tradition, there’s a wealth of expanded material growing to explore the gaps between episodes. The new novel Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars by author Sam Maggs drops us into a mission right in the middle of the two AAA video game titles with a team that’s gotten to know each other over years of adventuring, bound by their shared experience.
Despite its March 7 release date, there’s already plenty of buzz online about this book in Star Wars fandom spaces, particularly about the book’s hot and heavy romance between a member of the crew and a new original character. Popverse got the first chance to talk to the author about her latest entry into the Star Wars holocron library, where we did our best to get the details on Star Wars timeline specifics, a familiar villain freshly explored, Merrin’s sexual awakening, and the secret meaning of the book’s title you wouldn’t guess in A Thousand Years.
Popverse: I’ve been reading Star Wars books basically my whole life, I was a huge fan of the Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order video game, and you really did something special here and I’m excited to talk about it.
Sam Maggs: Oh my gosh, great! Well, this is my first interview for the book. So, it’s gonna be raw and fresh. You’re not gonna get any practiced answers yet, this is my first run.
All right, let’s get into it. ‘Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars.’ Interesting choice in a name for the next chapter of the Stinger Mantis crew. Without getting too heavily into the plot details, what does this title mean to you?
For me, the title Battle Scars really refers to the fact that everyone on the Mantis crew has been through it. They have been through some stuff. Separately in their lives before joining the Mantis crew, each of them went through some pretty traumatizing experiences. The Mantis crew really takes childhood trauma, I think, to another level.
It’s a requirement for joining.
Yeah, really! They check your card at the door. But also, in the time that they’ve been together, as part of the crew. I mean, we see them join up in Fallen Order, but over the time that they’ve been together on this ship they’ve also been through a lot. And I think that anyone who has spent an extended period of time living with people knows that those things can leave marks on you in different ways that affect your relationship.
The other thing this title means is that… when I sent the list of potential titles for this book, I sent ‘Battle Scars’ as kind of a joke title with a YouTube link to Jasper from Twilight saying “battle scars.” And they picked it! Now, every time I hear the title, I think of my Twilight joke.
That's amazing. Can you tell us a couple titles that didn’t make the cut?
Some other titles that I suggested were ‘Star Wars Jedi: Rebellion,’ ‘Star Wars Jedi: Dark Age,’ but my favorite sort of non-picked title was ‘An Equal Yet Opposing Force.’
Oh! Double meaning there!
Oh yeah, a little metaphor. I’m also a big fan of verbose sci-fi titles, like The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. So that felt like my suggestion in that vein, but honestly Battle Scars was the best possible call.
Yeah, it’s kind of the same format as ‘Fallen Order.’ ‘Battle Scars.’ It feels like a new entry in the same story.
That’s so true! Those folks at Lucasfilm, they know what they’re doing.
In Battle Scars, you say a few times that years have passed since we last saw Cal and the crew in Fallen Order. But I’m gonna hold your feet to the fire here. Exactly how long after Fallen Order does Battle Scars take place?
This is a great question. I unfortunately can’t give you a great answer. I’m sorry. It’s sort of intentionally vague. But we can say for sure that a couple of years have passed since the events of Fallen Order. Can’t get too specific about it, but certainly it’s been a couple of years.
So, Fallen Order takes place five years after Episode III, and Survivor takes place five years after that, so I guess “a couple” would be right in the middle.
It’s really interesting to me, because of what we’ve seen of Survivor so far, the crew’s broken up and the band kind of has to get back together. Whereas here, they’re still very tight-knit and still traveling the galaxy together, and… haven’t made much progress in their mission to find the children of The Force that the first game ended with, but seem to have fallen into a totally different line of work along the same path. Helping out tiny rebellion cells, taking odd jobs across the galaxy trying to fight the Empire. I guess what I’m asking at this point is… what have they been up to this whole time?
That’s a great question, and I think that’s a question for future writers to fill in with a little more detail. But that’s exactly what they’ve been doing. They’ve been supporting pockets of what is quite not a rebellion, but pockets of rebellious-ness, I suppose, against the Imperials. And also putting down the Imperials in any way that they can, to make a difference in the ways a small team like this can, while also internally trying to decide what each one of them thinks is the right move for what they should be doing moving into the future. How do they support a nascent rebellion? How do they best go about taking down something as big as the Empire, when they are a tiny crew? What is the move? And they all have different ideas, or all come to a different conclusion, about what that is. They’re all fighting the same fight but in different ways and for different reasons. And that sort of comes to a head here in Battle Scars.
Fallen Order was very focused specifically on Cal Kestis. But Battle Scars is more of an ensemble piece, shifting perspectives between each member of the crew as the story is told. How did you decide to cut the story between each of them?
This book was actually initially pitched and envisioned as a Cal Kestis book. And when I came on board, it was a great priority of mine to be able to include perspectives from all the different characters. Why that was important to me is because the games are always gonna be from Cal’s perspective. We got all of Fallen Order from Cal’s perspective. I can’t say too much about Survivor, but you’ve seen the trailers. It’s fair to say you play a lot from Cal’s perspective in that game as well. The games are always going to be told through Cal’s lens and point of view. The book, or comics, or peripheral media, is really our only opportunity to hear the thoughts or experience these actions from the perspectives of the other crew members. It felt like it would be a real missed opportunity if we didn’t take advantage of that. If we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to experience Merrin’s interiority. To hear the way that Cere feels about Trilla. To get their unfiltered and unvarnished thoughts on what their goals are, what they’re doing, and why. Because ultimately, when Greez says something in the game, he’s thought about it, he’s saying it for a reason. We don’t really know. You can only trust what people say at face value, right? You don’t know what their actual thoughts are. This was the opportunity to do that. And I think it’s going to really help inform your experience playing Survivor to have their intimate thoughts going into it.
Greez is a gambler, he holds his cards close to his chest.
Yeah! Exactly, right?
It was really nice to get his perspective. He was a favorite of mine in the game. I loved seeing more from him, I loved seeing more from Cere… but the reviews are in, and I think everybody agrees that the real star of this book is Merrin. So let’s talk about Merrin! Merrin is the Nightsister who joined the crew late in the original game, and gets a lot more focus and development here. Most significantly, the exploration of her queer identity, and romantic feelings towards sentients both male and female. Was Merrin always envisioned as a queer character, or was that an aspect you introduced? What’s involved in queering an established Star Wars character?
I’m really glad you asked this. Merrin was my favorite character from Fallen Order. I finished the game and I think I immediately posted online, “Let me write the Merrin book.”
And they did!
And they sure did! Which was great! It worked out! I thought Merrin was the most interesting character in the game. I thought her story held a ton of potential. I wanted to know exactly how she was feeling. I love an anti-hero. I love a complicated sort of lady, which we don’t get to see a lot in fiction who’s still a good guy. I love everything about her. And so I immediately wanted to dive into her perspective, and her thoughts, and her story, and expand it.
Merrin was originally envisioned as pansexual by the team at Respawn. So, that was an established thing when I came on to writing this book, something that the Respawn team wanted to explore with this book, and wanted to establish with this book was Merrin’s pansexuality so that it would be clear, canonical, and also is something that the book gives us a unique opportunity to explore. Not a lot of time in video games to do romance with extraneous characters. We got stuff going on. And also, again, the games being from Cal’s perspective, this was a really unique opportunity to get Merrin’s thoughts and establish the way she feels about people in a really intimate way.
There are really romantic video games, but Fallen Order isn’t about that.
Yeah, Fallen Order isn’t Dream Daddy, you know what I mean? And that’s okay. It’s just hard to find time in a AAA action-focused video game for the side stories of romances of side characters. So this was the moment to do that.
I am a queer author. It’s really important for me to tell queer stories, and to have that representation for people who might be fans, like myself, of Star Wars. So this was an established thing about her, I just really had the opportunity from Lucasfilm and the Respawn team to make it clear and canonical.
That’s so cool. So you were like, “I want to write the Merrin book,” and then they said, “Great. Also, she’s pansexual.”
Totally. And I was like, “This is dope. This is the best thing that could possibly happen to me.”
Did you know? Did you play the game and have it in the back of your head, “Maybe?”
Oh, yeah. Of course. I mean, listen. It’s not that I have an agenda. But something that people know about my work, and when they approach me to write something for them, is that my work is probably going to be unapologetically feminist, it’s going to involve women working together, it’s going to have a feeling of hopefulness, it’s going to have a feeling of humor, and most often is going to have queer representation. So I think it’s not surprising that given that this was something they wanted to tackle with this book that I was a choice to write it.
What surprised me the most about Merrin’s romantic plot in Battle Scars was all of the sexual chemistry between Merrin and her new love interest Fret. It’s very, very sexually charged, without being particularly lurid, but it’s absolutely palpable. It gets REALLY hot in a couple spots-
[Laughing] Ooh, thank you.
-which stories about Force users in particular tend not to be. The Jedi are a pretty sexless people.
In MOST depictions, I’m not gonna say all depictions, we all know about Quinlan Vos. But usually when people talk about Star Wars, they don’t think about sex. How do you tastefully add that into this whole milieu? Or is that something you think has always been there, radiating in the background?
I think for me it was really important that Merrin’s relationship with this woman in this book, that it was overtly queer. We get to see other people have romantic relationships. Straight couples have kissed in Star Wars, and even on Andor things got a little spicy. So I thought it was only fair and also kind of necessary to do that here. I mean, that being said, I like a little spice in my books! And Merrin deserves it. Merrin deserves to get some. [Laughs]
I think that Star Wars as a whole is becoming more open to being spicier in general. And, you know, the girls should have a little bit of that.
You’ve clearly made the Kessel Run, because you bring the spice.
[Laughing] Thank you so much!
Aside from Merrin, another really fascinating character to me as someone who’s been following all the expanded Star Wars media for a while is The Fifth Brother. We’ve seen him before in Star Wars: Rebels, and in last year’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, but it feels like this book is where we really start getting to know him as a character for the first time, as opposed to one of an ensemble of Inquisitors. How did you get under that big hat and into his head?
Being allowed to incorporate The Fifth Brother into this story and expand his existing backstory was one of the greatest and coolest opportunities that I had when writing this book. It was one of the most fun things to expand an established canon of a character that is becoming more popular and more well-known in the overall Star Wars universe right now. And, you know, always fun to be able to add your little touch to that kind of stuff.
That being said, to your point, we don’t actually know too much about The Fifth Brother until this point. Other than, you know, he’s particularly ruthless, he’s a brutal fighter. He’s an Inquisitor.
He doesn’t necessarily get along with the other Inquisitors.
Yeah, not super-friendly, not interested in making friends, necessarily. We didn’t even know his species. And so for me it was about looking at that kind of character, and in the same way I got to lift up the hood on Greez, and Cere, and Merrin in a new way and dig around in their insides in a way to figure out what would motivate them to act in the way that they do, I got to do the same thing with The Fifth Brother. I guess the subtitle for this book really is ‘Childhood Trauma: The Novel.’ And The Fifth Brother kind of fits into that, with what happened to him that he would become this kind of person. What happens to a Force user to mold him into this shape.
It was interesting because I spend most of my time in a book like this getting into the brains of characters who go the other direction. Terrible things happen, and they come out better people with the urge to do heroism. The Fifth Brother also feels that…
Yeah, he’s the hero, in his head.
Totally! He thinks that’s what he’s doing!
In the first segment you write where we get to see his perspective a little bit, I couldn’t help but think, “You know… he’s making some valid points about the Jedi here.”
OKAY, LISTEN. [Laughs] I have to say, next to Greez, The Fifth Brother was one of my favorite perspectives to write, because, and maybe this is sacrilege as a Star Wars writer, but I think in a lot of ways the Jedi suck!
Oh yeah, for sure! “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!”
Dude, yeah! The Fifth Brother makes some points! The Sith unfortunately make some points about the Jedi.
Luke brings those problems up himself in The Last Jedi!
He sure does, which is one of the reasons why The Last Jedi is one of my all-time favorite Star Wars films.
Sorry, Twitter. I don’t know. Be mad at me about that. That’s okay.
But, because it’s true! They just did not have it together, and probably should not have been allowed to continue existing! They caused a lot of trauma to a lot of children and families, and were overly political and not really invested in being good people… you know. There were a lot of things.
[Laughs] Which is not to say Space Fascism was the better choice, right? You know, this is not me defending the Sith, let’s be clear about this. But I think it’s easy to understand how something really horrible could happen to The Fifth Brother as a child, as a result of inaction or, frankly, dumb action, or political action on the part of the Jedi Council, and have that sort of… BATTLE SCAR… you for life, in a way that impacts the path you take towards being a ‘hero’ in whatever form that takes for you. The Fifth Brother’s is particularly murderous. Is the Jedi’s LESS particularly murderous? I dunno! But you know what I mean?
Yeah! But also, the way you develop him really sets off his arc against Cere in particular, clearly trying to sublimate her failure to save her own Padawan into the thought that maybe she can save this one. There’s a really interesting dynamic between them when they first meet.
I mean, that’s Cere’s trauma, right? In the first game, we see her reaction to what happened to Trilla. For Cere to be “I’m gonna go Dark Side about it. I’m gonna do whatever it takes to fix my mistake, and that means going to the Dark Side.” By the end of Fallen Order, she’s learned that was a huge mistake, and she should never do that again. And she never does do that again. That’s the end of that story for Cere, they sort of resolved that arc for her in the game.
But now, she’s still dealing with that trauma of “This is a thing that I’m responsible for, and I want to do better, and I want to try to fix that in whatever way that I can,” and she kind of goes to another extreme. Which is wanting to be a mega-pacifist, almost.
To save everybody.
Yeah! Being unwilling to do the hard things that you have to do sometimes, and realizing that unfortunately not everyone is capable of or willing to be saved. It’s not your responsibility to do that for other people. You can try, and you can reach out your hand and offer that in whatever way that you can. I think that Cere has a really really hard time recognizing that sometimes people don’t want to or aren’t able to reach back.
Yeah, finding a middle path is something that Star Wars characters are not… great at.
[Laughs] So true, bestie.
We’ve been talking a lot about the characters of the Star Wars: Jedi games, but other non-narrative hallmarks of the series, such as the sense of world exploration and the tough but rewarding combat system, feel like they’d be more of a challenge to translate to a text medium. How do you capture the flavors of a video game as a novelist?
I love this question. One of the things I was most nervous about when I sat down to tackle Battle Scars was the action sequences, and making the book feel as much like a video game as possible. And I think something that really helped is that in my day job for the past decade, I am a video game writer! I make video games, I’m a dev! And so I think having that insight into how the mechanics of the game work, how game writers write about action in games, having more intimate knowledge on the backend of that was really, really helpful.
And it was actually great – a lot of the feedback I got from Lucasfilm along the way, as we were going through draft after draft of this, was that they were always the most pleased with the action sequences.
I played through Fallen Order and beat it back when it came out, but as I was writing the book I spent a ton of time with YouTube videos open of Cal in action during fights. And I wanted to make sure, as much as possible- there are parts that deviate in the book because I had a cool opportunity to do something fun- but as much as possible, Cal’s battle actions in the book map largely one for one onto his playable actions in the game.
Oh yeah, I noticed that!
Oh, thank you! Okay, great!
Yeah, I was like “Oh yeah, I could do that in the game!”
Yeah, exactly! I wanted it to feel like if you had played the game, these were recognizable moves that you could undertake.
Your video game background might explain a little Easter Egg in the book just for me, the number one KOTOR fan. At one point in Battle Scars, we get a surprising deep cut allusion to the Circlet of Saresh, which is an equippable item in the 2003 BioWare Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic RPG. Where did you pull THAT from?
So… listen. My first job in video games was with BioWare. I am a big BioWare fangirl, and I briefly, for a while, was working as a write on the Knights of the Old Republic remake while it was still at the team with Aspyr. I am also a huge Knights of the Old Republic fan, and I really wanted to connect Old Star Wars Game with New Star Wars Game in a way that felt as organic as possible, and this felt like a good way to get that in there.
Considering the whole first game is about drudging up ancient artifacts, it was a good fit!
Thank you so much! That means a lot.
One last question: without giving too much away, how will Battle Scars help prepare fans of Star Wars: Jedi for Survivor?
It serves as a bridge in the story of each character’s journey between the end of Fallen Order and the beginning of Survivor. It’s going to help inform a lot of the decisions that the characters make in Survivor when you read the book. I think it’s going to give you a lot of cute little Easter Eggs for things the characters are maybe wearing, or saying, or things that happened to characters in the game, you’ll be like “Oh, I know where that’s from.” But it also sets up where things are when Survivor starts. Survivor starts in a really interesting place, and the book is going to give you a little context about why things start the way that they do.
So if you want that extra bridge, that little extra character juice, and that extra insight into what’s been going on in the characters’ heads and in their lives between the two games, it’s gonna set you up for that really nicely.
I think everyone who played the first game grew really close to the Mantis crew.
That’s how I felt! That’s why I wanted to write this book! Immediately I was like, “I want to know everything about these characters. I wanna hang out with them.”
Yeah! It’s a great opportunity to check in with these characters at a point when they care about each other as much as we care about them.
SO well said. I’m gonna write that down.
Please do. You can steal that.