This Fall, writer John Ostrander returns with the second installment in the adventures of Jahan Cross, Imperial Intelligence Agent. The five-part miniseries from Dark Horse Comics, "Star Wars: Agent of the Empire - Hard Targets," features pencils by Davidé Fabbri and inks by Christian Dalla Vecchia. With the first issue on sale October 17, CBR News #1 hitting the stands on October 17. CBR News recently spoke with Ostrander about Cross' latest adventure and the importance of crafting a sympathetic Imperial.
In this upcoming installment, Jahan Cross returns to his home world of Alderaan to attend a celebration in honor of the new Count Dooku, hosted by Bail Organa. As might be expected, the trip quickly takes a turn following an assassination attempt on the count, and Cross is plunged into the intrigue.
In the past, Ostrander has compared Jahan Cross, a character he created, to James Bond. In writing "Hard Targets," however, Ostrander looked more to the spy-thrillers and tales of espionage by John LeCarre.
"This one is bit more of a John LeCarre spy story with explosions, chases, and a beautiful woman or two," Ostrander told CBR News. "There are still Bond elements to it but it's a darker story and Cross is more of a bastard in it -- We want to include other espionage tropes and memes in it as well. This arc includes a John LeCarre feel and some nods to the Steed and Peel 'Avengers' series. There are still plenty of Bondian touches to the story, but not every arc is going to be a 'Bond film.' I want to keep the readers on their toes."
The plot of the story contains a fair share of political intrigue, spanning worlds from Alderaan to Serenno, and Cross is thrust right into the thick of it.
"The latest Count Dooku is a boy, and a regent must be appointed until he comes of age," Ostrander said. "The heads of all the Houses (or families) on Serenno are eligible but unable to agree. The Empire has its preference and it's Cross' mission to see that he gets appointed -- and that will prove very, very difficult. Cross has his own personal code of honor but it's a real question whether he can keep that and do his mission."
Cross's character and code of honor will be fully tested this time out. Much of Ostrander's story is centered on the conflicts arising through Cross' sense of duty and moral code.
"[Cross] still believes in the Empire and what he's doing, but this time he has to do some pretty dirty stuff," Ostrander said. "He is an Imperial, after all. He's still very self-assured but, in this story, the antagonist is also the Empire's client. Cross is going to have to make some choices... and some won't be pleasant. The reader will see a darker side of Cross -- we define our characters by what they do and Cross' actions in this will be far more gray than in ['Star Wars: Agent of the Empire - Iron Eclipse.']"
Many readers and fans of the "Star Wars" mythos tend to sympathize with and root for the Rebel Alliance. One potential challenge Ostrander faces in creating and telling the stories of Jahan Cross is crafting a character that, while working for the Empire, remains sympathetic to readers. That identification, according to Ostrander, can stem from a range of sources, and what defines a hero or a villain is dependent on perspective.
"Cross has a sense of honor," said Ostrander. "He's for the Empire, but only as an agent of Order, which he thinks it is. Through his father (who was originally a diplomat for the Republic) Cross knew how corrupt the Republic itself was, which, as Cross sees it, helped start the Clone Wars. That resulted in the death of his mother and, more importantly, his younger sister, Jens, who he plainly adored.
"This is not to say that Jahan Cross is a good man," he continued. "He's more complicated than that. And the villains he's fought so far are far nastier than the Imperials, in my opinion. Also, he's smart, clever, and tough."
Penciler Davidé Fabbri and inker by Christian Dalla Vecchia both have a history of working with the Star Wars mythos, and Ostrander is looking forward to the collaboration on "Hard Targets."
"They have terrific storytelling skills and know Star Wars very well, so getting the feel right is second-nature to them now," said Ostrander of his collaborators. Way back when we were doing stories in 'Star Wars: Republic,' I did a two-parter with them called 'The Devaronian Version' and was very pleased with the results. They're both talented professionals and I'm very much looking forward to see how they realize the story."
In the course of the story, Cross encounters a handful of familiar faces. A couple key figures from "Iron Eclipse" will make brief appearances, including Armand Isard and Alessi Quon. Cross will also run afoul of his long-estranged father, with feelings Ostrander describes as "frosty, at best."
Ostrander has also hinted at the appearance of several canonical characters: Princess Leia, Boba Fett, and Darth Vader.
"It's a lot of fun, but none of them are just shoe-horned in for the sake of using them," Ostrander said. "All have a specific plot purpose in being there. It does help the reader, I think, to feel like this is 'Star Wars' by having known characters interact with Cross. The key is to get their vocal cadences and attitudes right and let them be who they are at the time and place in continuity where this all takes place.
"I COULD tell you how Princess Leia and Boba Fett are involved," he added, "but then I'd have to kill you."
"Star Wars: Agent of the Empire - Hard Targets" #1 is on sale October 17 from Dark Horse.