Ethan Sacks is a writer and journalist who hails from New York. In recent years any Star Wars comic fan has got used to seeing the name Sacks on the front of many of our favourite comics. Sacks has taken us on an epic roller coaster ride through a galaxy far, far away. We managed to grab some time with Ethan recently to discuss his life, career and yes, of course, his passion for Star Wars!
Hi Ethan and welcome to Jedi News!
We need to start at the beginning, so can you tell us a bit about yourself and how your career started as a comic book writer?
Comics are a bit of a career change for me, having spent nearly a quarter century in journalism, most of which was working for the New York Daily News. Ironically enough considering we’re here talking about STAR WARS, my secret origin story in comics came three and a half years ago, when I sent a spec script about Greedo (!) to my friend at Marvel, the great Joe Quesada. Everything that happened afterwards in terms of a budding career, I owe to him.
Which comics, characters, and genres from when you were growing up have been an inspiration for your own work?
I always gravitated towards Marvel Comics characters growing up because of their struggles. Daredevil overcame blindness; Captain America was a man out of time; the X-Men were hated by most of the world. When I got a chance to write some of those characters, as with “Old Man Hawkeye,” I tried to channel those foibles. But Star Wars was always my cultural touchstone, ever since I first saw “A New Hope” in the summer of 1977 as a four-year-old.
I find research and preparation is a huge part of any type literature work. Do you have any go to books in your office or study that help you write?
I have a large stack of reference books by my desk so they’re handy when I start writing. For Star Wars, I have an atlas, several visual dictionaries, a trade or two of the original Marvel Comics series. It is a franchise where all those little details matter.
We have all heard stories about the infamous ‘writers block’. Do you have any distinct patterns to when you write or is there anything that you do to encourage your process?
In cases of writer’s block, the best thing I can do for myself is to go on a long walk and brainstorm while I’m in motion. I find, whether it’s the change in scenery or the altering of my breathing, it gives me a different perspective. Then there’s the less glamorous answer: As a freelancer, if I get stuck on one project, I shift over to another. I don’t waste a lot of time.
Many cite music as a huge inspiration while writing. Is this something that works for you?
I love music. The problem is I get distracted by lyrics, so it’s instrumental only. I have an evolving playlist. It’s a weird mix. For Star Wars comics, I do make sure “Duel of the Fates” and other John Williams pieces make it on there. But I also have jazz like Chick Corea, John Coltrane, Miles Davis or Vince Guaraldi; classical including Chopin; some music from Miyazaki movies; and then harder cuts like “Fall From the Stars” by God is an Astronaut” and Scale the Summit “The Great Planes.”
We know that many writers probably read more than they write, but what type of books do you enjoy reading for yourself when you’re not in research mode?
When I’m not reading “Star Wars” books or my friends’ novels (Charles Soule’s “Anyone” is great,) I read a lot of non-fiction books. Right now, I’m reading James Gleick’s “Time Travel: A History,” which, believe it or not, is a non-fiction book.
Away from the hubbub of writing comics, what else makes Ethan Sacks tick?
Of course, family is at the core of everything, especially my daughter. I’m a movie buff and I love traveling. Professionally, I keep one foot in the journalism world, freelancing one day a week at NBC News.
To say the last couple of years has been busy on the Star Wars front for you is a little bit of an understatement. You were picked to undertake some pretty important tie-in projects most notably with Galaxy’s Edge and Allegiance. So, I want to ask you about your own personal beginning with the Star Wars galaxy. What are your earliest and favourite memories of Star Wars?
The very first time I watched “A New Hope” was as a child in a Times Square (New York) movie theatre as a four-year-old. The memory of sitting in that theatre, listening to the John Williams fanfare and seeing that star destroyer pass through the frame is seared in my brain. It’s such a strong memory, as I fell in love with the characters, that when I close my eyes, I can still see and hear my father, who died 25 years ago. I got the chance to tell Carrie Fisher that story, before I interviewed her for “The Force Awakens,” and she became visibly moved. Which in turn became my second favourite Star Wars memory. Then creating my first character for Star Wars canon in a 10-page Mace Windu story for Marvel (Age of Republic – Special #1: The Weapon) is up there as well. And the time I got to ride Rise of the Resistance before it opened to the public or the four movie premieres I went to in Hollywood. God, there’s too many to choose.
Working with the very talented Will Sliney must have been a blast. Your story and his artwork married up together so well. Was the process between you two as fluid as the end product of Galaxy’s Edge makes it look?
The audience just sees how incredibly talented Will is and how cinematic his art comes out. What they don’t see is how fast he works. I’d say he’s effortlessly talented, but he puts in so much effort that it’s not an accurate way of describing his ridiculous speed. The jerk is just too talented and may be the nicest guy in comics. I guess my role in the team is to hoard all the character flaws.
I loved the work you did on Galaxy’s Edge and the story was an awesome tie in for the attraction at Disney Parks. I assume this was a difficult subject to navigate as it would have been heavily guided by what was being built. What type of information did you have as your guide from Disney/Lucasfilm while you were writing the story?
“Galaxy’s Edge” was a challenge, for sure, but the Imagineering team made it as easy as possible, sharing their in-depth and immersive guide (I called it the bible) that had everything from maps to backstories to concept art. Will had the much harder job, drawing something that didn’t physically exist yet, but would in time for readers to be able to compare all the discrepancies between our comic and the Black Spire Outpost. Fortunately, he nailed it.
Kendoh and the gang were a big part of the main body of the story and their demographic worked so well with everything that was going on. Which choices that you made around their characters were your own personal favourites?
Right from the beginning, my editors, Mark Pannicia and Tom Groneman, and I agreed that we didn’t want to just do an anthology story in which issues about different relics in Dok Ondor’s were just interchangeable. So, we hit on the idea of a heist, and then Will and I set out to design a criminal crew that were both incredibly confident and fiercely loyal to each other. I love the result, including the banter between them.
I was actually hoping they would turn up as part of the plot for The Rise of Skywalker. Did you know this wasn’t to be and is there a chance we may see them resurface anywhere in the future?
We brought them into “Allegiance,” for a storyline in which they are hunting Finn. I’m hoping to bring them back one day. But the real test will be if and when another writer takes Will and my babies along for an adventure.
You also got to visit Galaxy’s Edge for the opening in Florida and you also met up with James Burns our Editor in Chief there. What was the experience like being there for the official opening ceremony?
I’ve been invited twice, once to help open Galaxy’s Edge, and once to help open the Rise of the Resistance ride. I’m so honoured to be a distant cousin twice removed in the Disney family. As for the experience, you can’t be cynical in that place, it’s just pure joy. The Force is strong in that place.
And then you got to work with the gentleman that is Luke Ross. Luke is a good a friend of ours here at Jedi News, his work is so good! What was it like to see him bring your words to life?
Luke is so gifted and has his own unique style. The example I love to give is a pair of panels in Issue 2 where Rey has her hand open in the first one, and then her staff is in her hand, with her grip closing to hold he weapon. He turned a 2-D image into a moving picture. It’s a really tough effect to pull off.
While Galaxy’s Edge did not have a direct link into The Rise of Skywalker, Allegiance definitely did. Were you privy to any insider knowledge of the events that would unfold in Episode IX?
As you might imagine, it was very much need to know. And we needed to know where the new movie would start. So, the Bothans who got the information to me were able to smuggle out the plans for part of the first arc. That’s it, thank God. I got to go into the theatre and enjoy everything after the first fifteen minutes or so as a surprise.
Aftab Ackbar was a great part of the story and his character has traits of his father for being a great strategist and ally to the Resistance cause. How did you approach writing him?
We were blessed with the responsibility of introducing him ahead of “Rise of the Skywalker.” He was easy to write. I just imagined what it would be like to both grow up in the shadow of a great man but also to have not spent so much time with that great man. It shaped the course of the young man he’s become.
General Leia Organa gives a quite wonderful rallying speech in issue 4. What has it been like to be able to write for such iconic characters?
These were the most important word balloons I’ve ever written. As I mentioned before, I met her in person, and this was my chance to properly pay tribute. So, I wanted to give her a “Braveheart” speech, by which I mean a chance to inspire a room full of sceptics to her cause. This is a leader who inspires people to charge into battle or to sacrifice, and I wanted to show her sheer force of will. She was my first crush as a child and I still love Prin…General Leia.
There is a reference to Vi Moradi during issue 1, is this linked directly to her mission in Black Spire by Delilah S. Dawson?
Yes. It made sense both from a plot standpoint, to make it clear to readers exactly when this story was set, and because I wanted to put a little tribute to my friend, Delilah.
We’ve been having some discussions between the literature team members at Jedi News in our WhatsApp group around our own personal favourite new era canon novels. Are you a reader of these books and if so, what would be your current top 5?
In no particular order because I have so many favourites, “Aftermath,” “Black Spire,” “Resistance Reborn,” “Bloodline,” Jason Fry’s adaptation of “The Last Jedi,” “A Crash of Fate,” “Dark Disciple”… Uh, I went over five, didn’t I?
Yes, you did, but we’ll let you have that!
Okay, now onto the elephant in the room; Bounty Hunters! I’ve managed to fight off the rest of the literature team and I have to warn you, that I will be reviewing this series. I’m SO excited to see what you have in store. Is there anything you can share with us that won’t get you in trouble with anyone on what we can expect?
What fans can expect is the chance to visit the seediest back alleys of the most cutthroat spaceports, where bounty hunters put their lives at risk for the most dangerous of bounties. Most Star Wars stories focus on the good and evil battles between the Rebellion and the Empire, or Sith vs. Jedi, but these hunters are too busy trying to survive to care who wins. This is all about the shades of grey. Our guide will be Beilert Valance, a cyborg who dates back to the original Marvel series.
Have you got a Star Wars character in mind that you haven’t yet written for that you would like to in the future?
There are so many characters I would like to take for a spin. Mace Windu, who I’ve had the pleasure of tackling in one ten-page story, is at the top of the list. So is Wedge Antilles, my childhood favourite for some reason. Finally, Jyn Erso is a hero who could carry a mini-series, in my opinion. Finally, Luke is the only one of the big three I haven’t written yet, and I’d like to complete my collection.
The likes of Charles Soule, Cavan Scott and Michael Moreci have recently released novels, whether that be Star Wars related or otherwise. Can you see yourself branching out and writing a novel of your own in the future?
Honestly, I don’t think I would make that leap anytime soon. Right now, to make my comic freelancing life economically viable, I work as a journalist part-time. I work about 50-55 hours a week and am hesitant to take any more time away from my family. A novel is a heck of a commitment. Besides, comics is so creative and fulfilling that I don’t really need another such outlet.
So, what does the rest of 2020 hold in store for you?
“Bounty Hunters” is the big one, but there are at least three other projects that I’m working on that haven’t been announced yet. That’s on top of a creator owned story that’s really personal to me, but really early in the development process.
Will you be attending any conventions during 2020?
As of right now, just New York Comic Con (October), but I do hold hope of going to Star Wars Celebration.
Ethan, it’s been great talking to you, and I’d like to thank you on behalf of all the team at Jedi News for your time. Keep up the good work and we wish you every success with your upcoming projects.
Thank you! And thanks for the great, thoughtful questions.
We would like to send our thanks to Ethan for his time and for his candid repsonses. You can see his passion for Star Wars not only comes out in his answers, but also in the writing of his comics.
You can keep up to date with everytihng Ethan is up to via his regular updates on Twitter.