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Creating Jedi Master Estala Maru for Star Wars: The High Republic
The joy of seeing your characters leap from the written page onto the screen
Last week, my first episode of Star Wars: Young Jedi Adventures was released on Disney+. Charhound Chase is the first part of episode 14 and sees Jedi Master Loden Greatstorm and his Padawan Bell Zettifar guest star alongside Bell’s faithful charhound Ember, the first group of Star Wars: The High Republic characters to leap from the books to the screen.
I must admit I was feeling the pressure before transmission. So many people were hyped for Loden and Bell’s appearance that I fretted that it wouldn’t land. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. The responses I received on social media were absolutely lovely1 and, best of all, I started to receive pictures of families sitting down to watch the show together! Joy!
And yes, I must admit that seeing my name in that blue on that starfield was pretty special.
And the High Republic characters keep on coming. Loden, Bell and Ember were created by my fellow THR story architect Charles Soule, but later in the season a character I created with High Republic comic artist Ario Anindito also appears.
Jedi Master Estala Maru is the head of operations on Starlight Beacon in Phase One, and here makes a special appearance at the end of Stuck in the Mud, a wonderful episode written by Katie Kaniewski that also heralds the first screen appearance of the Beacon itself!
Maru was created during our second week at Skywalker Ranch working on what became the High Republic, a Jedi master of multitasking who keeps the Beacon running perfectly… most of the time.
As I’ve mentioned in interviews, I became enamoured by one particular piece of concept art by genius Phil Noto. The art in question was actually created to support Charles Soule’s pitch for the initiative, but as we delved deeper into the structure for the broader story I gave myself the task of creating characters for each of the Jedi portrayed in the now-famous line-up.
Over the years, many people have guessed that the Twi’lek with the orange lightsaber was the basis of Loden Greatstorm, but that wasn’t the case. Old Greenie there was originally going to be Maru, which remained the plan quite a long way into the development process. Then Charles invented Loden for Light of the Jedi. It soon became clear that we couldn’t have two green-skinned Twi’lek Jedi running around, so Maru needed to switch species.2
But what could he be? Faced with a quandary, I did what I always did in such situations and hit the books!
One of the best parts of my job is getting a new Star Wars Visual Dictionary. I go through the pages, marking pages that contain new alien species I find interesting, especially if I think I’ll be able to use them in future stories3. The Rise of Skywalker Dictionary was no different. One such species was the Kessurians as designed by Jake Lunt. In fact, going back through my books, I discovered I’d also marked them up in the Art of the Rise of Skywalker, so they’d obviously made an impression.
A simple decision, then. Estalu Maru would become the first male Kessurian we’d see in Star Wars canon.4
Here’s how I described his first appearance in the script for The High Republic #1:
Cut to ESTALA MARU in the operations room on Starlight, surrounded by both Republic crew and Jedi at various consoles. Largest panel on the page, highlighting MARU as the master of multi-tasking he is. MARU is the second-in-command on Starlight, a gruff and often officious male Kessurian in his mid-to-late 40s.
He is floating cross-legged in the middle of the space, surrounded by holographic windows as he coordinates various operations at once. A cup of steaming mei-mei tea also floats near the Jedi Master as does a datapad or two. He is in Temple attire.
The operations room is glistening and clean, the pinnacle of High Republic design.
AVAR KRISS is also in the room, in her Temple attire, cross-armed, looking at the Kessurian with an arched eyebrow.
And then it was over to artist Ario Anindito to bring him to life. First came the thumbnail, which at this early stage, didn’t offer much of a clue to how Maru would look.
The answer came in the pencils and oh, wasn’t it glorious?
I always planned for Maru to have a slightly spikey, sarcastic nature, especially when dealing with Keeve Trennis, and Ario captured this perfectly as the series progressed. He soon became one of my favourite characters to write.5
But what did the maestro think when he saw our boy in Young Jedi Adventures? I reached out to Ario the moment the episode aired and he told me this:
“It feels surreal. I mean, I saw pictures of cosplayers dressed as Maru, but seeing him in animated form is amazing. Looking at him moving and listening to him talking, it's a whole different experience.
His mannerisms and the way he moves is exactly what I had in mind when I designed and drew him in those early panels.
And the voice is also very similar to what I hd in mind! Since you wrote him as a meimei tea drinker6, I always assumed he had a posh, and wise-sounding voice!”
It’s true. We tea drinkers are very wise.
And, of course, as I said, Stuck in the Muck also features the on-screen debut of Starlight Beacon.
As with Maru, the station's interiors were designed by none other than Ario Anindito. A double whammy!
So what did Ario think as the YJA younglings walked on board the station for the first time:
“It was such a joy to see. They really understood what I had in mind for the style [of the interiors] especially when I saw the door at the top of the stairs! That's the Avar- meets-Keeve door7!
The lights on the columns, the gold linings.. everything is perfect. It's such a wonderful feeling to see my design in 3D, with the characters living in it. I hope to see the Grand Hall8 with the giant windows showing endless space and stars!
Most of all, I'm just very happy to know that my architecture degree is being put to use, especially in Star Wars! Ha!”
I’m with Ario. Seeing these characters and locations brought to life is just incredible, not to mention a little humbling9. When you write for a property such as Star Wars — especially when you love the universe as much as we love the galaxy, far far away — all you hope is that you can add just something to the rich tapestry of creativity that has gone before you. Maru and Starlight Beacon — not to mention Bell, Loden and Ember — will be a part of the Young Jedi Adventures for all time now, the gateway for an entire generation of kids.
The fan-turned-creator in me hopes that these episodes and characters will inspire future creators the same way I was inspired by the original Marvel run or the Ewok cartoon. That’s the dream. The first step into a larger world…
Proof that in 2023 social media can still be a nice thing. Sometimes.
As an aside, I’ve always thought Phil’s Twi’lek Jedi looks a bit like Mark Hamill in make-up. That might just be me!
It was at our third High Republic writers summit, at Walt Disney World in early 2022, that Story Group’s Matt Martin asked me if I also had a book filled with Expanded Universe species that I was trying to reintroduce. I admitted that yes, I was guilty as charged. A lot of those species are being ticked off in Phase 3 one way or another.
Wondering who the other Jedi are in that picture? Well, from left to right we have: Orla Jareni, Ty Yorrick, Vildar Mac, Maru, an as yet unrevealed Jedi, Terec & Ceret (the fact they were twins inspired by the identical Dathomirians next to them), Sskeer (the first character I created from this artwork) and the Yacombe envoy from the first issue of The High Republic volume 2.
And yes, you read that right, that blonde Jedi was not the inspiration for Avar Kriss!
Which made his eventual Phase 1 fate all the more difficult to write. Yes, reader, I made myself cry.
The floating tea cup was my little tribute to the original Star Wars comic book adaptation from 1977. Artist Howard Chaykin decided to give Darth Vader a coffee cup that he casually summons using the Force before viciously choking Admiral Motti. I’ve been obsessed with these three panels ever since!
From issue one of the original High Republic Marvel run.
Where the Jedi raise their sabers at the end of the first issue.