Django Wexler: Star Wars and the Beginnings of Ashes of the Sun

It’s just one of those true things that for many, the DNA of Star Wars is in what we do — either because we’re fans or because it’s so pervasive, for good or ill. Here’s one author talking about that very thing — Django Wexler!

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I wanted to tell the story of the inspiration for Ashes of the Sun, and that means talking about Star Wars.  So let me get this out the way up front: I love Star Wars.  It’s quite possible that no other single franchise has taken up so much of my fan energy over the decades.  I have a story in a new Star Wars anthology, and you have no idea how much fanboy-squee that makes me feel.

I say all this because this story involves a certain amount of nitpicking, and I want to make it clear that for a person like me (that is, a world-building obsessed turbo-nerd) this kind of fascinated close analysis is the highest form of affection, rather than trying to put down something I don’t like.  I can love The Empire Strikes Back with a fervent passion and also ask importunate questions like “How did they get from Hoth to Bespin if the hyperdrive was broken?”

Anyway, with that caveat understood, the story of Ashes begins with the Jedi, and specifically the way Jedi recruitment is pictured in the SW prequels and The Clone Wars TV show.  In the prequels, we see very young children (maybe five or six?) being trained by Yoda.  In The Clone Wars, we see younglings brought in for training who are maybe slightly older (starting in S5E6 “The Gathering”) and put through a bunch of harrowing tests in order to get their lightsaber crystals.  Watching this, I couldn’t help but start thinking — this is creepy as hell, right?

The thing is, the Jedi aren’t just a training society for force-sensitives, where you might send your kid to pick a few tricks like going to karate class at the mall.  They are a religious order of ascetic warrior monks, who swear an oath to uphold an extremely strict code of behavior.  This is, to put it mildly, not a thing which it is in a five-year-old’s power to understand or agree to.  (I find myself agreeing with the Harry Plinkett review when he says the whole “not permitted to love” thing means they must lose a lot of Jedi teenagers.)

It’s also not completely clear what happens if the parents aren’t on board with this.  We see some parents who are sad about it, but they’re all ultimately convinced.  If they weren’t, though, it’s not hard to image the kids would be brought along for their own good — the Jedi Order has some unspecified-but-vast legal authority in the Galactic Republic, and a strong interest in making sure Force-sensitives grow up to be Jedi.  Clone Wars’ narrator tells us that the younglings soon understand that the Order is their true family, which sounds extremely like a thing a cult leader would say.

(A related weirdness of Clone Wars is that the enormous authority of the Jedi within the Republic results in situations where fourteen-year-old girls are given command authority over literally thousands of soldiers, in addition to the law enforcement and other powers they already have.  Try to imagine a situation where your local teen, who was already an FBI Special Agent, was also commissioned a brigadier general on the spot.)

Okay, so, weird, right?  But in-universe, we have the Force, which makes it all work.  Younglings want to become Jedi, and their parents are okay with it, because presumably the Force wouldn’t allow things to be otherwise.  (And maybe making kids military commanders makes more sense when those kids have provably-correct magical insights, in addition to being combat gods.)  Again, this is not a critique of Star Wars, it’s just the kind of thing that gets me thinking as a world-builder and a writer.  And it got me asking the question — what if you didn’t have the Force to make things better?

More precisely, what if you had the magic-powers part of the Force, but not the semi-divine guidance part?  After all, in Star Wars, the Jedi are in charge because they’re wise and good, but also, it’s pretty clear, because nobody can stop them.  (The SW MMO The Old Republic storylines depicted this wonderfully on the Empire side — it was clear that nobody thought having a bunch of Sith religious lunatics running the government was a good idea, but since they were also a bunch of unstoppable killing machine … shrug emoji?)  And this, finally, brings us around to Ashes of the Sun.

(As an aside, it’s not the first time I’ve been inspired by this kind of theme.  My middle-grade series, The Forbidden Library, came from the observation that Dumbledore sure does spend a lot of time allowing Harry and his friends to get into life-threatening danger in order to accomplish things that he, Dumbledore, could do easily and safely.  In the books, we trust Dumbledore because he’s both well-meaning and knows what’s best, but removing this element — what TVTropes calls the Omniscient Morality License — gives us what I described as the Sketchy Dumbledore Scenario, where an old guy tells you “Hey, you’re a wizard and the Chosen One!  Now fight these guys I don’t like for me.”)

In the world of Ashes, you can be born with the ability to access deiat, the power of creation.  Using special tools, deiat users called centarchs become almost unstoppable fighters.  The community of centarchs, the Twilight Order, see themselves as the last bastion of civilization, and this is not unreasonable: after a race of deiat-wielders called the Chosen went extinct and their great civilization collapsed, only the Order has access to the power to hold human society together and protect with from the monstrous plaguespawn on its borders.  Centarchs have unlimited authority, both legal and practical, because apart from another centarch, no one can stop them.  But they don’t have an all-powerful Force assuring them everything will come out for the best; deiat doesn’t provide guidance, it just blows things up.

Gyre is eight years old, and his sister Maya five, when a centarch comes to their home and declares that Maya has the gift and will be taken to join the Order.  Maya doesn’t want to go (what five-year-old would, right?) and Gyre tries to help her, and gets badly injured for his troubles.  The incident sets them on opposite paths: twelve years late, Maya is a loyal member of the Order and devoted to her mentor and friends, while Gyre has become a thief and a rebel, scouring the dark places of the world for forbidden power that will let him stand up to the centarchs.

There’s a lot more to Ashes then that, of course.  Like any good story, once I started working on it it took on a life of its own, and there’s a few other big threads and themes that got drawn in.  But the original idea, and the core argument between these two characters, comes back to my Star Wars thought experiment — if you have people who are born with the potential for great power, can you justify forcing them to use it for the common good?  And, if you do, is it fair to assign authority based on what is after all just the luck of the genetic draw?  The Order, in Ashes, would answer yes to both questions, and they could easily be right; survival is a struggle in a world full of monsters.  But ruling classes — centarch or Jedi — like to construct elegant justifications for their dominance, when in the end it just comes down to who has the magic swords.

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Long ago, a magical war destroyed an empire, and a new one was built in its ashes. But still the old grudges simmer, and two siblings will fight on opposite sides to save their world in the start of Django Wexler’s new epic fantasy trilogy.

Gyre hasn’t seen his beloved sister since their parents sold her to the mysterious Twilight Order. Now, twelve years after her disappearance, Gyre’s sole focus is revenge, and he’s willing to risk anything and anyone to claim enough power to destroy the Order.

Chasing rumors of a fabled city protecting a powerful artifact, Gyre comes face-to-face with his lost sister. But she isn’t who she once was. Trained to be a warrior Maya wields magic for the Twilight Order’s cause. Standing on opposite sides of a looming civil war, the two siblings will learn that not even the ties of blood will keep them from splitting the world in two.

About the author: Django Wexler is the bestselling fantasy author of the Shadow Campaigns series and the Wells of Sorcery young adult series. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh with degrees in creative writing and computer science, and worked for the university in artificial intelligence research. Eventually he migrated to Microsoft in Seattle, where he now lives with two cats and a teetering mountain of books. When not writing, he wrangles computers, paints tiny soldiers, and plays games of all sorts. 

Django Wexler: Website

Ashes of the Sun: Indiebound | Bookshop | Amazon