‘Young Jedi Adventures’ Creatives on Telling 12-Minute High Republic Stories

May 4, 2023

The Galaxy Far, Far Away just got a little larger with the brand-new Disney+ and Disney Jr. series Star Wars: Young Jedi Adventures, which follows a trio of Jedi Younglings living in the High Republic era. As Kai (Jamaal Avery Jr.), Lys (Juliet Donenfeld) and Nubs (Dee Bradley Baker) train with Masters Yoda (Piotr Michael) and Zia (Nasim Pedrad), they also make new friends like hotshot pilot Nash Durango (Emma Berman), and run afoul of young space pirate, Taborr (Trey Murphy).

To mark the release of the exciting new series, executive producer James Waugh, showrunner Michael Olson and series writer Lamont Magee sat down with Collider’s Arezou Amin to discuss adapting the High Republic era for the screen, approaching the story from a character-first angle, and their personal highlights in making the series.
COLLIDER: So congratulations on Young Jedi Adventures, I’m loving it. I also am a big fan of the High Republic in general, so I wanted to ask what it was about the High Republic era that felt so appealing to you?

JAMES WAUGH: First off, I see that High Republic poster in the background.

[Laughs] The books are all right behind my head, as well.

MICHAEL OLSON: You’re not kidding!

WAUGH: We’re in very good company. You know, the thing that inspired us the most when we first started talking about the High Republic, and cracking it – you’re sort of mining the unknown when we were first breaking that era – but the thing that always excited us, the North Star, was that this was the era where the Jedi were the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy. And this was an era that they were at their height, but also at their purest, in a way. There was not the sort of corruption in the galaxy that happens in later Star Wars. This was really, really an opportunity to lean into that. So I think for us, we always saw it as being this hopeful, optimistic place where we could really lean into the aspirational qualities of the Jedi. Look, from the start, we thought this could be the right space for a series for Younglings everywhere.

LAMONT MAGEE: What he said [laughter].

OLSON: Yeah, I think I would echo all of that. And again, for a show that’s meant to help introduce kids to the Jedi, into Star Wars, and sort of fulfill that fantasy of wanting to be a Jedi yourself, or a cool gearhead pilot, the hotshot pilot character, the High Republic is sort of that wonderful space where the Jedi are at their height. Even the people throughout the galaxy, most of them, look up to the Jedi, and so it provides such a wonderful sort of heroic, aspirational in-point for young kids. I couldn’t imagine doing this show in a better part of the timeline, for sure.

WAUGH: For light and life.

OLSON: [Laughs] For light and life!

Image via LucasFilm

Touching on something that you mentioned, this being kind of maybe a Youngling gateway into Star Wars, what is that like to know that you are creating somebody’s entry point into this vast galaxy?

MAGEE: I will take this one. It feels like a really big responsibility because we all love Star Wars so much. And I mean, those of us with children, – not I, but those guys [gestures to Waugh and Olson] – to be able to introduce kids to what we love, but to instill in them the values of how to just be a good person while experiencing all the fun and excitement and adventure of Star Wars, it is literally the coolest thing ever. Like if they didn’t ask me, I would have begged to help do this show. So, I don’t know, it’s just fun to see a bunch of aspirational people going around the universe learning things about themselves and other people, and to just kind of walk kids into, “This is what the world is like,” and you can show them the world through Star Wars? No better thing.

So in prepping for this, you said the High Republic is a great kind of era to tell this story, and I was curious how deep into the High Republic you got in prepping, or was the approach just kind of like, “This is the vague era and we’ll take it from here?”

WAUGH: I’ll pass it over to Michael, but just to say that I think we really approach all of our storytelling, across all of Lucasfilm, from a character-first place. Like, what is the human story that, if you strip away all the Star Wars, what are you saying about? Why do we care? Why does it resonate with us emotionally? What relatable themes and values, or lessons in this case, can you give to kids that transcend the world-building of Star Wars?

I think secondly, the world-building is really important for us in the sense that we want to introduce our kids to these amazing imaginative elements and the wonders of the galaxy. So from a Lucasfilm perspective, as much as it’s easy to get swept into the High Republic of it all, which I’m sure there is definitely stuff to talk about, it’s always the character’s story is what we’re looking for. Which is one of the reasons why Michael was absolutely the person who we instantly thought was the perfect writer, the showrunner for this. He’s a guy full of heart, and a nerdy love for the Star Wars elements too.

OLSON: Yeah, first and foremost, this show is really meant to be an introduction to the whole of Star Wars for kids. And so for me, it was most important, as much as I love the High Republic, it was most important to me that this had the themes and motifs and the lessons and the feeling of Star Wars front and center. And then we could dive into the incredible world-building that Charles [Soule] and the rest of the incredible High Republic team have created, and sort of bring in those elements where we felt right. But my guiding light throughout all of this was to make sure that this show truly felt like it welcomed kids into the broader galaxy, in general.

So, there’s lots of High Republic elements in this show and some funny Easter eggs for sure, coming down the pike. But yeah, the primary purpose of this was to get kids excited about this galaxy we love so much.

WAUGH: But I will say, since clearly you’re a High Republic fan, I see the books everywhere–

I’m telling on myself here.

WAUGH: You’ve probably seen them, but hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised. It takes place in the High Republic, there are so many High Republic elements. Keep watching because you probably will eventually see characters you know, and places you know, too.

MAGEE: Possibly.

OLSON: Maybe.

MAGEE: Maybe not.

WAUGH: Yeah, possibly maybe not [laughs]. Probably.

Image via Disney+

I do really like this character-driven aspect of it all. The High Republic is very much like that, but I think, like you said, it does kind of distill down. So I think that is something that has been done very successfully with the series, it is so focused on these kids and their stories. I want to find a good way to phrase this because you’re all experienced storytellers, but was there a challenge in making sure that you can contain these character beats in 12 minutes without getting bogged down by the pressures of a larger galaxy?

MAGEE: Yes. Coming from– I was doing hour-long drama, sci-fi genre shows, and then half-hour other stuff. It’s just a different sweet spot. So it’s trial and error to get it to the point where we know the formula, it’s like the rhythm of the story. So to be able to distill it down, to have the characters, the adventures, the lessons learned, in that little 11-and-a-half, 12-minute span– Obviously when you’re writing for a younger age group, there’s also other things that you have to take into consideration as far as tone and stuff like that. So it took a little bit of time, but Mike, like James said, Mike was great, and he’s very patient with us novices, and it was fun, it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in Hollywood.

WAUGH: Yeah, from the Lucasfilm perspective, it was a little more daunting at first, like, “Oh, wait, we only have 11 minutes per story?” You know? You get swept into the Star Wars of it. We always knew we could do it, but Michael never wavered, he had so much experience in the space, and I gotta say it fits.

OLSON: Yeah, I love the clarity of telling stories in this format because it really does force you to understand these characters really well, understand the challenges that they’re facing, and see how the theme and how the lessons learned kind of impact them in the course of a very short amount of time. And I actually think it’s a bit of a gift to be able to tell these kinds of stories.

And additionally, you were talking, I think, also about just the broader world as well. You know, this show takes place on a planet far out in the remote outer rim, far, far away from trade route disputes or, you know, crashing –well, no, I’m not gonna say, that’s a High Republic spoiler – from other events. And so again, it’s been a gift for us because these kids sort of are existing in a part of the galaxy that’s relatively at peace, and they get to have their adventures together. So yes, there are tie-ins with the other High Republic elements, but largely we get to follow these kids on their adventures. It’s almost like kids in their neighborhoods having their own adventures in their own neighborhood. So, very relatable.

WAUGH: And I will say that I adapted very quickly because I realized working with Michael on this stuff, and Lamont, that the focus is these kids. And the focus is those simple sort of lessons that are kid-relatable, but also the life lessons that are gonna guide them, and help them, be the kind of tools to get through those initial stages of life and figure out how to be a good person. And those could be really boiled down into simplistic, more simpler stories, and I think that’s why the 11-minute ends up working so well.

MAGEE: It’s funny, to me, how I wrapped my head around it was, like they were saying, it’s like riding around the neighborhood on your bike with all your friends when you’re a kid, and all the adventures you would get into. We would have to imagine, “Oh, we’re being chased by alien invaders,” but these kids are actually being chased by an alien invader. It’s like the coolest thing where we had to imagine it, which is why we’re here imagining it, but these kids growing up get to experience it. And the way it’s drawn and animated, it’s so vivid and bright and beautiful. Again, it’s just a beautiful show, and I’m really biased, but it is.

Image via Disney+

What, for the three of you, has been the highlight of making this show? Because it sounds like it’s a positive experience all around, but if you had to pick a highlight of it all?

MAGEE: I know mine, so I’ll go last.

OLSON: [Laughs] You’ll go last, great. I think for me, there’s so many highlights. I mean, again, as a fan, as a lifelong fan, I don’t know anything other than Star Wars. I’ve grown up with this as a part of my life since I was born. As a lifelong fan, being able to create characters that get to be a part of the legacy of Star Wars, and get to be an introduction for kids– particularly, I have three kids, and I have two very young boys who are in their day care age, and this is their first exposure to it. And I get to sit next to them and watch them experience the show, and experience this galaxy, and share that with them. For me, there’s nothing better.

WAUGH: I love making things with others. I find that the creative energy of the writers’ rooms, the creative energies of the conversations around what the show should look like, art notes, et cetera, what’s the right choices of these characters? I love working with other incredibly talented people who are deeply passionate and committed to making something amazing. And so, the process, I always go back to the process for me, is really the magic. And that process, you never know how the audience is gonna respond, and it’s always a joy when they do love things. But you have to love the process, and you have to love working with amazing people who are passionate about it.

And then of course, seeing people tweet pictures of their little kids, like three, four years, five years old, with their eyes wide in wonder watching Young Jedi Adventures has just been such a joy and such a treat, and kind of is very edifying. This is why we do this stuff.

MAGEE: I have specific instances. So one of my really good friends, who I’m not gonna name, who James knows – you know who I’m talking about – he’s very tall and he acts a lot and does a lot of things. So a friend of mine – I’m not gonna mention him – his son saw the trailer, and then said, “Dad, can Uncle Monty come out and watch the episodes with us?” I fell apart. I was like, “This is the best thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.”

And then the other side is, in the second episode where Yoda has that conversation with Kai, and then he hands him the– writing that, and then seeing that, when I first saw it, I cried. Just to know where I came from, a little kid from this small– there was a bunch of people in the small house in a bad neighborhood. And the first time I saw Star Wars was in that house in 1983, on CBS, as a rerun. To be able to have Yoda give that Saber to Kai, and I wrote it, thanks to Michael and James bringing me on. No one can ever take that away from me. And lastly, Yarrum is Murray backwards, my mother’s maiden name, so I canonized my mother’s maiden name backwards. I am done now.

I don’t think I can top that with anything else, so I’m just gonna thank you all for your time.

WAUGH: You’re not our target demo, do you mind if we ask you what you thought?

I loved it. I love that it has this Saturday morning cartoon vibe where it all kind of resets at the end of 12 minutes, and it’s just these little bite-size adventures. And I know in my heart if I was six years old, I would have been like, “I’m Lys and nobody tell me anything,” and I would have stolen my mom’s makeup and put lines on my face, and I know this without a shadow of a doubt.

WAUGH: That’s amazing to hear. Thank you.

Young Jedi Adventures is available to stream now on Disney+.

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