Recently at San Diego Comicon, Andrew Liptak at The Verge had a chance to talk with Timothy Zahn about Thrawn, Star Wars and its changes over the years. Timothy Zahn talked about writing Thrawn again after all these years and what its like to write the character. He had this to say:
Oh, it’s a lot of fun. Thrawn is a great character to write. It was really like I was never away from the last books I did. He’s a fun character to deal with, because he’s more antagonist than villain, which means the readers can understand him better than perhaps someone like General Grievous. Thrawn has always been smarter than the average imperial officer, and he forces the good guys to bring their A-game to the field. It’s always fun to have the characters out-think each other, rather than just “Who’s got the bigger blaster?” or “Can lightsabers and the Force save the day this time?”
Andrew asked about how Zahn’s new book Thrawn: Alliances feels like a set up to the original legends trilogy Heir to the Empire. Zahn had this to say:
Oh, I don’t think you need to squint at all. I wrote him in these two books to fit in with everything else I’d done. So if someone at Lucasfilm snapped their fingers, and suddenly all of my other books were canon, and there would be no real retrofitting that would have to go in. It would all fit together.
While situations can always change that would no longer make the fit work, it is cool to read these books thinking that they could indeed all fit together. Timothy talked about what it was like to get to play in the Clone Wars era:
I liked it. Padmé did not have that much to do in the prequel movies, but they fleshed out a lot more in the Clone Wars series, and that was the Padmé I wanted to write about. Being able to pick up that character and have her be really competent, in action when she needs to be, diplomatic when she needs to be. She’s a fun character to play with. Of course Anakin and Vader are two sides: you have two hints of what Anakin will become, you can have hints of Vader’s past, and linking them together in the storyline was really fun.
In just starting the book I have loved the interactions between Thrawn and Vader. Timothy Zahn does a great job highlighting their differences in very direct, succinct ways without muddling the story. Here is what he had to say about bringing them together:
Both of them have strengths, and the idea whenever you do a match-up like this is to make sure they complement each other. Vader’s got the Force. As Anakin, he was an excellent pilot. He can sense and do various things. Thrawn can see stuff that maybe other people don’t: he can anticipate, while Vader can be the brute force. By the end they are working more or less together. There’s still a little bit of distrust on Vader’s part, but again, he recognizes Thrawn’s abilities and knows how to use them in whatever problem they are facing.
Timothy talked about what it was like going from writing in a universe with no restrictions to write a book that has to fit a snug little hole between The Clone Wars, Revenge of the Sith and Rebels. Here’s what he had to say:
The constraints can be tricky. I do my first pass through things like Wookieepedia, and just make sure I’m not stepping on something that’s obviously been done. For anything that is not covered, I rely on the Star Wars Story Group to let me know about what’s in the works that I couldn’t possibly know about. They help keep the constraints, but also keep the consistency, which I really appreciate….At the end of the presale era, the last few books I did before that were largely relying on Leland Chee, the keeper of the Holocron, with his phenomenal memory for Star Wars, and of course [senior editor] Jennifer Heddle, the book person. They were largely taking that role. By expanding it into the story group, which also has fingers in all the pies everywhere, it’s more streamlined, it’s more efficient. People would ask about Thrawn, “Was Tarkin a Grand Moff at the time?” I can unequivocally say “Absolutely,” because the Story Group didn’t flag it as wrong. That’s very freeing, because I know I have less of a fear of running into a wall someplace and knowing these guys around the warning track.
As the interview went along Andrew asked some deeper questions. Andrew asked Timothy how he feels the fandom has changed over the years. This is what Zahn had to say:
I think fandom in many ways is following the trend in the world in general of less civility and more toxicity. A lot of that is the anonymity of the internet. People generally will not come up to me and say, “I hate your books,” but on the internet, they can say that because they are essentially anonymous, even if they have their name. You’re never going to face whoever you’re picking on.
But you’re right — it’s gotten very, very toxic. And it’s bleeding over into real life as well. People say and do things in public they never would have done 40 years ago, because the public would… there’s a certain amount of shame and disapproval from the overall society. A lot of that seems to have eroded away. So much of it is misplaced. It’s just bizarre that people pick on an actor or an actress for a movie they don’t like. This actor or actress did not write or direct it! They did what they were told! It’s not their fault.
Andrew asked “Especially with The Last Jedi, it seems like there’s a very entitled sense of ‘this film didn’t turn out the way I expected, therefore it’s the worst thing in the world.'”
You can go up to disapprove of something, but going up into hatred is just wrong and wasteful. There are more things in this world that deserve some hatred rather than movies or universes or fan things. There’s still a whole lot of slavery in the world! Let’s save our hate for that. How about that, guys?
Finally, Thrawn Alliances takes place in a little world called Batuu with an outpost called Dark Spire. Sound familiar? It should. Batuu is a lot closer than any other Star Wars location. How close? Say…California and Florida. These are where the Star Wars theme parks are said to be replicating. Here is what Zahn had to say about using the theme parks as the location for his novel:
They gave me some of the sketches and descriptions of what Galaxy’s Edge will be like. But I’m not writing in the same era that that’s set. Galaxy’s Edge is set in the sequel era, with Rey and the First Order. I’m quite a bit before that, so while I can keep the basics of how the town is structured, because towns often don’t change that much physically, the people there won’t necessarily translate from the book to the park. But it gives a little introduction, and a little flavor of what it’s going to be like.
Be sure to Check out Timothy Zahn’s newest novel Thrawn: Alliances now on bookshelves everywhere.