Interview with Timothy Zahn author of Star Wars: Allegiance
Question: Allegiance is set between Episodes IV and V, A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Obviously, these two movies placed limitations on what you could do in the novel, both in terms of action and character development. How did you approach this challenge?
Timothy Zahn: The character development was actually not all that difficult, since I had both the beginning and end points to work with. All I had to do was interpolate where I thought the characters would be in their personal growth and interpersonal relationships at the time of Allegiance.
The action was even easier, since we know the Empire is pretty much all-powerful at this point and that the Rebel Alliance is a fairly new concept for the various resistance forces. (Note the wide variety of helmet insignia of the fighters at Yavin, as opposed to the more uniform Rebel insignia from the later movies as the different groups become welded into a single unit.) Those two facts set my overall political and military parameters.
Also, since I’m dealing with worlds not mentioned in the movies (and therefore off-camera, so to speak), I don’t need to worry about any of the smaller historical details that I might have needed to consider if the story had involved, say, Bespin.
Q:Is Allegiance a stand-alone adventure or the first of a new series?
TZ:As far as I know, it’s a stand-alone. If LFL wants me to write another book in the future, though, it would certainly offer a good jump-off point for further stories.
Q:Fans will be glad to know that Mara Jade is featured in Allegiance. You created her character in Heir to the Empire, which was set after The Return of the Jedi. Is Allegiance the earliest depiction of Mara as the Emperor's Hand? Is this the first time she and Luke have crossed paths, and do you think the Force is somehow bringing the two of them together?
TZ:Yes, I believe it’s Mara’s earliest story (at least by me) — all the others I’ve written take place during or after RotJ. One of the reasons I wanted to write Allegiance was to be able to show her in her role as the Emperor’s Hand, and to show how she could serve the Empire without being corrupted by it.
Q:Are there any plans for further adventures featuring the outfit of rogue stormtroopers who christen themselves the Hand of Judgment? They are very appealing characters, not least because they are torn between their duty to the Empire and their moral duty to themselves. That's a distinction that Mara also seems sensitive to, although she is still able to separate the Emperor from the dark side of the Empire.
TZ:Again, if I do another Star Wars novel that’s definitely the direction I’d like to go. Not only are the stormtroopers themselves intriguing and fun to write about, but the Classic Movie era has a lot of potential still in it, not least because Grand Admiral Thrawn is still hovering at the edges of it.
Q:As with the current season of Battlestar Galactica, it's tempting to read current events into the scenarios portrayed in the Star Wars movies and novels. First of all, did you consciously attempt to make these kinds of contemporary connections, and second, do you think it's inevitable, regardless of the author's intent, that some readers will find them? It that a good thing or a bad thing?
TZ:There was no conscious effort to bring in contemporary events or politics into the book. (Actually, that sort of thing can be a futile exercise anyway, since it’s a year or more from the time a book is written to the time when it’s published, and events can easily leave the author behind.)
However, since most of history is driven by loyalty, trust, greed, betrayal, friendship, moral stands, triumph over circumstances, and general all-around good versus evil, it’s hard for a good Star Wars novel NOT to somehow reflect the headlines of the day. I think the major reason that Star Wars remains popular and fresh is because the saga DOES hit all those basic human themes.
And after all, isn’t one of SF’s strengths its ability to make the reader think about his/her own world from a new angle or point of view?
Q:Do you have insider knowledge about the events unfolding in Del Rey's Legacy of the Force series, which is set forty or so years after Allegiance? After all, the writers of that series are writing about the same characters you are, albeit older and presumably wiser versions!
TZ:I'm afraid I have no inside track about what the plans are for Legacy. Even if I did, if I told you, I’d probably have to kill you.
Q:I was surprised by Obi-Wan's presence in the novel–he takes a much more active role in Luke's training than is shown in any of the movies.
TZ:I wanted to show a little of my concept of Luke’s training after A New Hope, again to try to nudge him toward the level of ability he shows later in The Empire Strikes Back.
The whole thing did require some extraordinary fine-tuning, though — there were several places in the first draft where I overstepped LFL’s ideas of how active a role Obi-Wan would take and had to scale things back. In the end, though, I think we found a good balance of how Obi-Wan could continue Luke’s training without simply doing everything for him.
Q:Is Emperor Palpatine grooming Mara Jade to take Darth Vader's place?
TZ:No, though it’s clear that Vader has his suspicions. Palpatine wants to keep Mara under his control, but as something other than a Sith. I see her as a grand experiment: if he’s limited to one Sith apprentice, perhaps he can still extend his power by having a single apprentice PLUS a group of lower-power non-Sith Force users like Mara.
Q:Where are C-3PO and R2-D2 during the action of Allegiance?
TZ:Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything significant in the book for the droids to do. Since I already had a fair number of new characters to develop, I decided to leave the droids out rather than keep them in just as window dressing. Perhaps they’re in the shop for a 50,000 km tune-up.
Q:You've written about Outbound Flight, Admiral Thrawn, and Mara Jade. What other facets of the Star Wars universe, whether created by you or not, would you like to explore next?
TZ:Aside from more about the Hand of Judgment stormtroopers themselves, I’d like to take a more detailed look at the worlds of the Chiss and Thrawn’s development of his Empire of the Hand.
Q:The last time we talked, you had a new Dragonback novel coming out, as well as the last book in your Blackcollar series. Are there any upcoming publications we should watch out for?
TZ:The fifth Dragonback book (Dragon and Judge) comes out in May ‘07, with the sixth and final book (Dragon and Liberator) out a year after that. I’m also developing Night Train to Rigel into a series (called the Quadrail series), with the first sequel finished and a second in the works. I’m also working on developing another young adult series called Black Cat Crossing.