Interview with Timothy Zahn
Del Rey: How long has it been since your last Star Wars book? How does it feel to be back in that galaxy long ago and far, far away?
Timothy Zahn:THE HAND OF THRAWN duology was published in 1997 and 1998, so it’s been almost six years. I have done a few Star Wars short stories in that time, though, so it isn’t like I’ve been out of the galaxy far, far away entirely.
DR:You mentioned THE HAND OF THRAWN. That series, along with its predecessor, THE THRAWN TRILOGY, remains hugely popular with fans. What is it that sets your Star Wars books apart?
TZ:That’s a question you’d have to ask the fans, because I really can’t tell you. As an author, I simply do my best to create a story with an interesting plot, characters the reader will care about, lots of action, and maybe a few twists along the way. At that point, all I can do is hope that what I’ve done will connect with the readers. So far, I’ve been very fortunate.
DR:Your new novel, SURVIVOR'S QUEST, is also concerned with Admiral Thrawn—or, rather, with the consequences of certain actions taken by him. How does this book fit into the Star Wars timeline? Is it a direct sequel to your two previous series or only tangentially related?
TZ:All of my Star Wars books have sort of melded into a single series, dealing with the same characters and some of the same events . . . or, as you say, the consequences of those events. Once the OUTBOUND FLIGHT book is finished, the books will form a loose septet spanning roughly fifty years of Star Wars history.
DR:Tell us a little about OUTBOUND FLIGHT and the part it plays in the novel.
TZ:OUTBOUND FLIGHT was a project to send an expedition to another galaxy in the days before the Clone Wars, a project pushed strongly by Jedi Master Jorus C'baoth. On its way through the Unknown Regions, it was attacked and destroyed by the young Chiss commander Mitth’raw’nuruodo, better known to us as Thrawn. In SURVIVOR’S QUEST, the Chiss have discovered the remains of OUTBOUND FLIGHT a considerable distance from where it was destroyed, and invite Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker to accompany them on the official voyage to examine the wreckage. Also along are representatives of an alien species who wants to pay their last respects, a group of stormtroopers from Thrawn’s Empire of the Hand, and a New Republic ambassador with some private ghosts of his own.
DR:Luke and Mara are still basically newlyweds as the novel opens. They both have doubts to work through—not about their love for each other, but about their own pasts, and the still-mysterious past of the Jedi order. Can you talk a little bit about this element of the novel?
TZ:Though Mara has fully joined the New Republic, there are still parts of her past Imperial service that hold a draw for her, particularly the order and discipline the Empire offered, and she discovers she still has to work through some of those feelings. Luke, for his part, is still struggling with questions about his role as “the” Jedi Master of the New Republic, as well as how some of the rules and traditions of the old Jedi order relate to the new Jedi Order he’s trying to build.
DR:In writing SURVIVOR'S QUEST, you're limited in what can happen to Luke and Mara by future events already set down by other writers in books like The New Jedi Order series. Did you find that constraint to be a troublesome one? How do you keep up the suspense when readers already know what's going to happen to your characters in the future?
TZ:I didn’t find that a particular problem, since I suspect most readers already know I’m not going to kill Luke or Mara, or even lop off a limb or two. However, even though the Skywalkers may be safe, there are still quite a few secondary characters who the readers will hopefully also come to root for. And their fates are in no way guaranteed.
DR:What is the relationship of the Empire of the Hand to the Empire of Palpatine?
TZ:The Empire of the Hand is Thrawn’s legacy, his version of the Empire of Palpatine that he brought to the Unknown Regions. Since Thrawn didn’t have Palpatine’s megalomania and xenophobia, there are some interesting differences between the two institutions.
DR:Tell us about Fel, who commands a squad of stormtroopers from the Empire of the Hand. Will we be seeing more of him in the future?
TZ:Chak Fel is one of the sons of the legendary Baron Fel, created by Mike Stackpole and shamelessly borrowed by me every chance I get. As to whether we’ll be seeing more of him, I guess that’ll depend on whether or not he lives through the book!
DR:In addition to the novel, you've written an eBook novella, FOOL'S BARGAIN, set before the action of SURVIVOR'S QUEST begins. Is this a prelude to the novel, or a stand-alone adventure?
TZ:It’s sort of a prelude, telling the back-story of one of the stormtroopers in the book, an alien, and how he first came to join up.
DR:Is there any formula you follow to create your alien characters and races?
TZ:Not really. I usually check the various Star Wars alien listings first to see if I can use an existing species. If I can, great; if not, I make up my own. As to specific characters, I create them pretty much as I do human characters: give ’em a job to do in the book, and let them do it. Of course, I also try to come up with a few interesting non-human characteristics to give them, as well.
DR:What can you tell us about the next book in the series?
TZ:The next book will actually be the first chronologically in my Star Wars septet: the story of OUTBOUND FLIGHT, which takes place about fifty years before SURVIVOR’S QUEST. Interestingly enough, because of the way the publication schedule fell out, there are several mysteries and questions raised in SURVIVOR’S QUEST about what happened to OUTBOUND FLIGHT that won’t be answered until that book. But, hey—if prequels are good enough for George Lucas, they’re certainly good enough for me!
DR:Any other Star Wars projects on the horizon?
TZ:I’m currently working on a two-part Clone Wars-era story for the Star Wars Insider featuring Obi-Wan and Anakin. After that, of course, there’s the OUTBOUND FLIGHT book. Aside from those, there’s nothing else pending.
DR:Fans of your Star Wars work may be pleasantly surprised to learn that your talents aren't restricted to Star Wars. Tell us about some of your other projects.
TZ:The second book of my six-book young-adult Dragonback series, DRAGON AND SOLDIER, will be published this coming May or June. (The first book, DRAGON AND THIEF, comes out in paperback in March.) I also have a sort of modern-day SF/fantasy book called THE GREEN AND THE GRAY, which is due out in September. My three military SF Cobra books, which have been out of print for a while, will also be published in September in an omnibus edition.
DR:As a successful writer, with a Hugo Award to your credit, you obviously don't need to write Star Wars books. What keeps you coming back, and keeps the universe and characters fresh?
TZ:What keeps Star Wars fresh is the same thing that keeps any other writing project fresh: challenging stories to write, interesting and likeable characters to create or revisit, and, of course, a vast and intricate universe to play in. Since that first awesome Star Destroyer overflight back in 1977, Star Wars has been an important and enjoyable part of my life. I see no reason why that should change any time soon.
From the Hardcover edition.