One of the first things you notice about Michael Moreci is the tattoo on his arm: the crescent-shaped Starbird symbol Luke Skywalker wears on his helmet in the original Star Wars trilogy. “My older brother has a matching one,” Moreci says, pulling up his sleeve. “He got the Empire Vigil on his left forearm, and I got the Rebel Alliance on my right.”
For Moreci, who grew up in Clearing on the Southwest Side and says he didn’t travel north of Interstate 55 until he was 10, Star Wars offered an escape: “I never really fit in, because for guys, it was gangs and sports, and I just liked to read. I identified with Luke because of his sense of not belonging and wanting to get out.”
Moreci tried penning his own epic in 2003 while enrolled in a master’s program in creative writing at Northwestern University. It didn’t go well. “My professors literally told me they wouldn’t read science fiction,” says Moreci. “So I found a home in comics.”
His first effort, a self-financed riff on reality TV called Hoax Hunters, was critically acclaimed but failed to sell. The project plummeted Moreci into debt. In 2014, just as he was mulling whether to quit writing altogether, his second project, the space-based Roche Limit, started to take off. It was an Image Comics bestseller in 2015, and Paste magazine named it one of the best sci-fi comics of all time.
From there, Moreci landed some plum gigs at DC Comics, including penning issues of Superman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash. But despite his success, Moreci—whose Oak Park office is littered with more than a hundred Star Wars action figures—couldn’t shake his dream of writing a full-blown sci-fi novel. He sent dozens of pitches to publishers, and finally an editor at St. Martin’s Press said, “Michael, you love Star Wars. Give me a book like that.”
Moreci did. His debut novel, Black Star Renegades (January 2), tells the story of Tristan and Cade Sura, two brothers charged with saving the universe from a warmongering queen. Combining Marvel wit with the geeky jokes of Galaxy Quest, the book is set in a universe filled with Jedi-like warriors, star-destroying weapons, and planet-hopping misfits. And if that sounds familiar, Moreci is the first to acknowledge the similarity: “Star Wars taught me the fundamentals of everything I know about writing. I’ve literally written down the acts and what happens in each scene. I’ve got notebooks where I’ve written down every detail.”
While Black Star Renegades takes its cues from George Lucas’s space opera, it also bears clear marks of its author. For one, Tristan and Cade hail from a planet that’s “crowded and grimy,” not so different from the way Moreci describes Clearing (“a place full of violence and addiction”), and the sibling dynamic is drawn directly from his own family. “My brother’s always been like Tristan,” he says. “He’s the guy you expect to do big things.”
Ultimately, Moreci hopes Black Star Renegades, which he aims to make a series (he is already working on a second book), will forge a unique identity. “The sequel will maintain the same spirit,” he says, “but now we’re in the middle of a war. It’s a bit darker and more mature.” But, he assures, “it won’t be called Black Star Renegades Strike Back.”