First In: Timothy Zahn and Star Wars

Barring Alan Dean Foster, Timothy Zahn is the first and arguably premier Expanded Universe author. His first trilogy of books, released in the early 1990s, spearheaded the re-birth of the Star Wars expanded universe, and introduced the fans to some of their best loved Star Wars characters such as the imposing Grand Admiral Thrawn and the infamous Mara Jade. Since then Zahn has continued to contribute a huge amount to the Star Wars universe, while simultaneously persuing succesful works set in his own universes such as the Dragonback series. We spoke to him about Star Wars, his original SF and his plans for the future.

FM: Aside from the obvious, what are your current projects?

TZ:One of my longest projects to date, the young-adult Dragonback series, will come to an end in early 2008 with the publication of Dragon and Liberator. My Quadrail series (which began with Night Train to Rigel ) is continuing with The Third Lynx(October 2007) and Odd Girl Out (late 2008).

I’m currently pitching several projects to various editors, including two more Quadrail books, another Cobra trilogy, a new young-adult series called Black Cat Crossing, and three different chapter book series.

FM:You are best known for your work in the SW universe, but obviously that’s only a small part of what you have written. Do you ever feel like you want to be known as something other than the ‘Star Wars Guy’?

TZ:I have no problem with my Star Wars books getting the lion’s share of the fans’ attention. After all, that universe comes with a built-in potential fan base. And, of course, many of those readers have discovered me via my Star Wars books and have gone on to become fans of my other books. More importantly, being permitted to play in the Star Wars universe has given me the chance to meet and get to know a lot of terrific people.

Besides, I’m no more or less proud of my Star Wars books than I am of anything else I’ve written. My goal with those books is the same as with any other project: to tell the best, the most exciting, and the most entertaining story that I possibly can.

FM:In the reverse, it’s probably fair to say that your three Thrawn Trilogy novels together with Tom Veitch’s Dark Empire comic book, are responsible for birthing an entire universe that now brings enjoyment to millions of people throughout the world. You must be proud of that, and did you ever imagine while you were writing those books back in the early 90s, what an impact they would have on the fan base, and indeed on the whole SW franchise.

TZ:I don’t think ANYONE really knew the impact that reopening the Star Wars fiction line would have. (The one exception being Lou Aronica, who was head of Bantam Spectra at that time, and who got the ball rolling on the Thrawn Trilogy. He solidly believed in the project right from square one.) Bear in mind that when Heir to the Empire and Dark Empire came out Star Wars was essentially dormant, and no one knew whether or not anyone even cared about it anymore.

The birthing analogy is a very good one, by the way. Neither Tom Veitch nor I CREATED the surge in Star Wars popularity. That popularity was already there, as the instant popularity of our projects showed. We merely got to bring it all out into the light again.

FM:Mara Jade & Grand Admiral Thrawn are two of the most recognisable and popular characters within the whole SW universe. Few characters, aside from the obvious film heroes, have such a wide fan base. What do you feel it is about them that so caught hold of the imagination of that fan base, and why do you think that so few characters since have been able to exert the same effect?

TZ:I think part of it is the fact that both Mara and Thrawn have a core of honor and nobility to them. Both care about their colleagues and those under their authority, which is exactly what we see in Luke, Leia, Han, and Obi-wan. (Though Han kept that part of himself hidden away as long as he could, and for at least two movies would probably have denied that it even existed.)

That core means the readers can feel comfortable identifying with both Mara and Thrawn, and can admire them, and perhaps on some level can want to be like one of them. Certainly I think that a lot of Mara’s female fans would like to have some of her traits, while her male fans would like to have her at their sides.

Or maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe the fans just like the fact that both Mara and Thrawn are really good at kicking the bad guys’ butts


FM:Do you have any plans to re-visit either of those characters in any up-coming books?

TZ:At the moment, Del Rey and Lucasfilm haven’t asked me to do any more Star Wars books. If they do, I’ll certainly be pitching stories that involve one or both of those characters.

FM:In what has been a fairly controversial decision amongst the fans, one of your most famous characters was recently killed off. Do you feel their death was well used in driving the overall SW story forward, and were you surprised by the fan reaction?

I’m not really familiar with the overall story line of that series, so I can’t really comment on whether the death was a necessary part of the story line.

That said, I don’t think that killing off major characters really fits the style and overall “feel” of the Star Wars universe. My take on Star Wars is that it’s an old-fashioned good-versus-evil saga where the heroes fight against impossible odds and eventually triumph. In the process, second-and third-tier characters might die (people DO die in war, after all), but the first-tier characters make it through alive.

My defense of this view is the climax of Return of the Jedi. If Lucas had wanted to kill off a semi-major character or two, neither Wedge nor Lando would have made it out of the exploding Death Star. The fact that both survived tells me that this should be a happy-ending sort of universe.

I should also point out, by the way, that I’m not saying this just because this was one of my created characters. I disagreed with Chewbacca’s death, too, for the same reasons.

FM:Through your SW work you have been involved in the comic book writing process. How did you find that in comparison to writing a novel, and would you ever be interested in re-visiting it as a format?

TZ:I see comics writing as being halfway between normal novels/short stories and movie or TV writing, with the chance to describe subtleties in the visuals that are difficult to do in normal prose. I would certainly like to do more of it, but so far no opportunities have presented themselves.

Discuss this topic here.

  • RossHaving recently finished a PhD in Immunology Ross is currently working for a UK biotech company. He lives in Cambridge where he reads comics, spends too much money on music and attempts to learn Portuguese. He owns at least 7 lightsabers, yet still manages to have a very attractive girlfriend who he misses very much, thus proving anything really is possible.