Echo Station: Exploring Star Wars Beyond The Daily News




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Echo Station: Exploring Star Wars Beyond The Daily News




 


 

STAR WARS PER-ZAHN-IFIED
Interview by Jeff Carter

Tim Zahn is hands down the most widely acknowledged favorite author among fans in the STAR WARS Universe. 
ECHO STATION takes you behind the scenes with him in this new interview!

The time was summer, 1991. The Gulf War had just ended, Arsenio Hall ruled late nights, Silence of the Lambs racked up Oscar gold, Nirvana was about to unleash grunge on the world, and Star Wars…well...

Star Wars was dead.

Dead and forgotten, that is, until it’s life essence was suddenly rekindled and blasted into the stratosphere of popular culture once again with the release of a single book.

It appeared on store shelves innocently enough in that fateful summer with little fanfare to speak of, but once word got out about it’s breathtaking pacing, well-written characters, intense drama, and blazing action, Timothy Zahn’s Heir To the Empire quickly became an enormous wake-up call to the Star Wars-starved masses to rise from their 6 year slumber and usher in a new era for George Lucas’ beloved space saga. Heir to the Empire debuted in the top ten on the New York Times bestseller list and remained cemented there for over 29 straight weeks. With Heir and it’s follow-ups, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command, Hugo-award winning author Timothy Zahn opened the floodgates and blazed the trail for the countless numbers of Star Wars novels, role playing games, sourcebooks, comics, video games, CD-ROMs, action figures, t-shirts and mountains of other merchandise that line retail shelves. Two of Zahn’s characters, the brilliant Imperial tactician Grand Admiral Thrawn, and the beautiful, fiery-tempered, Force-user Mara Jade have entrenched themselves firmly in the Star Wars universe, just as easily recognized as Han Solo or Darth Vader. Heir to The Empire is a true milestone in the dizzying evolution of the Star Wars phenomenon, an important first step that led to George Lucas announcing that he indeed would be continuing the Star Wars saga with a new trilogy of films that would tell the tale of Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side of the Force. 

vision2.jpg (16605 bytes) Since the release and wild success of his three Star Wars novels, Zahn has continued to be one of the most accomplished and respected science-fiction fantasy writers in the business. Zahn wrote an original trilogy of books, known as the Conqueror’s trilogy, a StarLord comic miniseries for Marvel, and has just recently finished his long journey through the Star Wars universe with the release of Mara Jade: By the Emperor’s Hand, a comic series for Dark Horse, and the final two novels of the Bantam Star Wars saga, Specter of the Past and Vision Of The Future. Timothy Zahn has enjoyed an amazingly prosperous decade, and is showing no signs of slowing down. In this exclusive ECHO STATION interview, we sit down with the man to find out his thoughts on writing in the wild, wonderful world of Star Wars, how he really feels about "The Phantom Menace" , and his reaction to being called the…

SAVIOR OF STAR WARS…. 
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ES: Tim, many credit you with bringing Star Wars out of a so-called "dark age" when Heir to the Empire was released and stayed on the New York Times bestsellers list for 29 weeks. You helped to usher in a Star Wars "renaissance" of sorts that unleashed countless novels, CD-ROM’s, video games, and merchandise. How do you react to being called the "savior" of Star Wars?

TZ: Though I appreciate your praise, I hardly consider myself to be the "savior" of Star Wars in any respect. I didn’t revive Star Wars so much as I simply tapped into the interest that was already simmering below the surface. The fact that the first 60,000 copy printing vanished within a week shows that it wasn’t the quality of writing that people were first buying, but the name "Star Wars" on the cover. I’d like to think that the quality helped the sales later on, but the fact remains that the audience was hungry for anything that dealt with Star Wars. Of course, once that hunger was demonstrated, Lucasfilm could feel confident in branching out into the other aspects of the recent Star Wars renaissance.

ES: Back when you were writing the first novel, did you ever question what you were doing? Did you ever stop and say to yourself "Why am I doing this? No one likes Star Wars anymore, who is going to read this book?

TZ: You bet I wondered about the project at times. No one had any idea how well this was going to do out in the marketplace; certainly the initial book stores’ reaction and orders indicated it would be only a mild success. More worrisome to me than sales, though, was the question of whether I could capture the characters and the atmosphere of the Star Wars movies well enough to properly create a new chapter of the saga. If I couldn’t do that, the whole project would end up being a waste of everyone’s time.

ES: Going back to the virtual endless supply of Star Wars novels and merchandise, do you feel Star Wars has become over-exposed or cheapened in any way? Has the "magic" of Star Wars been tainted by this mass-market strategy?

TZ: I can’t really judge whether all the Star Wars merchandise has "cheapened" the magic of the universe. I do feel that the book market may have been a bit over-saturated by the number novels that have come out. But of course I’m arguing from hindsight, which is always easier than making the proper decision up front.

ES: Tim, take us through the process you use when you begin a new novel. Do you do anything unusual to prepare? Do you have any superstitions or any special music you might listen to?

TZ: My novel preparation is usually pretty prosaic. I start with an idea, which I work at in my mind for awhile until I have enough of it to start an outline. I work up a fairly complete outline, including all the major plot points and twists, as well as any minor points that I come up with that don’t want to forget once I start writing. Along the way, I make up a list of major characters and start defining their personalities in my mind. Sometimes I’ll pick a sort of "theme" music to listen to while I outline to get myself in the right mood; more often, I just listen to whatever strikes my fancy at the moment. When the outline is finished, I submit it to my publisher (or my agent, if we’re between publishers), and start on the novel itself.

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ES: You’ve written a couple of comic book miniseries recently (1996’s Starlord for Marvel and Mara Jade: By the Emperor’s Hand for Dark Horse) what was that experience like? Will you consider doing more comic work?

TZ: I would certainly like to do more comic book work. Comics are an interesting hybrid form, where I get to define an image that will be physically seen, as opposed to painting a mental picture that the reader has to then recreate in his/her own mind. As a matter of fact, Mike Stackpole and I are planning to pitch another 6-parter to Dark Horse early next year, a story about Baron Fel and Grand Admiral Thrawn in the Unknown Regions. I’ve also got another 3-part Starlord script at Marvel that’s been accepted (and paid for) but is currently on the shelf there. I’ve got my fingers crossed on both projects.

ES: What is your opinion of the Thrawn-trilogy comic adaptations done by Dark Horse? Was it a surreal experience seeing what you wrote so long ago realized visually on the comic page?

TZ: I generally liked the Dark Horse adaptations of the Thrawn Trilogy. The text, in particular, seemed quite faithful to the books, though I did have some problems with the artwork. (Side note: this is why many art directors forbid the cover artist to even TALK to the novelist. Art almost never precisely hits the author’s visualizations, and we authors can be such nuisances to work with.

ES: Two of your creations, Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Thrawn, have become so popular and entrenched in the Star Wars mythos, that you’d think they had been around since the inception. They appear alongside Luke, Han, and Leia in CD-ROM’s, video games, and even action figures. Characters from subsequent novels have not been as enduring. What do you attribute their success to?

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Image by Pablo Hidalgo

TZ: It’s always difficult to ascertain why one character is popular with readers and another isn’t, and even harder for their creator to make such an evaluation. (We’re a little too close to see things objectively.) A good basic assumption, though, is that any popular character has managed to hit some kind of emotional resonance with the readers. In the case of Mara, she’s a strong female character (which were few and far between in the Star Wars movies), but she’s also flawed and searching and—dare we say it?—human. At the same time, she’s highly competent at her job. One simplistic answer might be that women can identify with her, while men would like to have her at their side in trouble. AS to Thrawn, he’s a highly competent villain whose chief danger to the good guy is his competence and the fact that he can inspire loyalty and trust in his people. In addition, even though he’s on the enemy’s side, he has a sense of honor and the recognition of a commander’s duty toward his men.

ES: Most fans of yours know that originally, you intended to make Joruus C’baoth an insane clone of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and that you wanted Darth Vader’s mask to be a representation of a Noghri face, but Lucasfilm put the kibosh on the ideas. Can you share any other radical plans that Lucasfilm wouldn’t allow you to carry out in the novels?

TZ: Actually, there were very few things that I wanted to do in the books that LFL vetoed, and virtually all of them were quite minor. I like to think that such freedom of movement was at least partially due to my vision of Star Wars being very close to theirs.

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