This August at GeekGirlCon, I will be hosting a panel on strong female characters in Star Wars. I believe the Force was with me these past couple months. The panel was approved around the same time I was presented with the opportunity to interview Aaron Allston about his upcoming book X-Wing: Mercy Kill for Star Wars Insider. That interview appears in Issue #135, which hits stores July 24th. Coincidentally, Mercy Kill debuts on August 8th and GeekGirlCon is the weekend after the book’s release. We may have a lot to talk about!
Right now, strong female characters are a hot topic. The success of characters like Katniss and Korra has propelled heroines into the spotlight, but it’s not like they haven’t existed in storytelling. Ultimately, I think the hope for many women is that eventually creators like Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Gail Simone (Batgirl, Birds of Prey) and Greg Rucka (Wonder Woman, Alpha) stop having to answer silly questions like why or how they write strong female characters. We won’t get there without having the conversation, though.
Looking ahead to my panel, I wanted to highlight examples of many types of female characters – superheroines like Jaina Solo and villainesses like Asajj Ventress – including the secondary female characters that make a fictional universe vivid and exciting for a broad group of fans. Tyria Sarkin Tainer has been proving her worth as a female character in small but instrumental roles in Star Wars books since her introduction by Aaron Allston’s Wraith Squadron in 1998. She seemed like a natural fit.
When I talked to Del Rey about using Suvudu as a platform to highlight her character as part of my Seeking Strong Female Heroine series, they offered the assistance of Chris Scalf to illustrate this heroine in action. Aaron Allston also generously offered his experience and author perspective on creating her character. Over at Suvudu you can find my thoughts on why Tyria is a compelling strong female character as well as the kick-ass artwork of her fighting alongside Jaina Solo. Luckily for me, and I think the fans too, Aaron had a lot to say – a whole post’s worth. Below are his insightful responses to a couple of questions I posed to him.
1) When you created Tyria did you have something specific mapped out for her character within the Wraith Squadron dynamic?
Definitely. A lot of the Wraith Squadron trilogy was about people changing each other. Ton changed Face. Everybody, the squadron as a whole, changed Gara/Lara/Kirney. Tyria changed Kell and Kell changed Tyria.
In the latter case, we had a woman who wanted to be a Jedi but had come to believe that she wasn’t good enough. Since her self-definition had that of a Jedi, by the time of Wraith Squadron she didn’t really know who she was. With Kell, we had a guy whose self-definition led him to try to become the perfect soldier, the poster boy of the New Republic armed forces – but whose personal flaws kept him from quite living up to that image, something he sensed but couldn’t quite accept. When Kell saw Tyria, at some subconscious level, he thought, “The perfect woman for the perfect soldier; I am in love with her.” But Tyria knew that his “love” was bogus, based on self-deception and misinterpretation, and refused him. Kell was forced to recognize that his view of reality was not universally shared, and he began to reexamine pretty much everything he believed. And Tyria told herself that she was not this idealized thing, this prize, that Kell believed her to be, but the event forced her to open up again the question of what she really was.
It was this psych lab rat’s maze of searching for self that fueled their respective changes. So, basically, Tyria’s role at that time was as a catalyst for change, but the catalyst was changed, too.
2) Over the years – through the New Jedi Order, Legacy of the Force, and Fate of the Jedi series – you’ve woven Tyria into the books you have written. It doesn’t seem like you just name drop but leave specific details that form a rough outline of her life’s story. Are there The Adventures of Tyria Sarkin Tainer hidden within your imagination or jotted out in your secret author files ?
Not exactly. I have a good basic sense of the structure of her life and career, because every detail I’ve revealed and some I haven’t has been to illustrate something. Let’s look at some of the things her life illustrates.
Tyria’s role as an Antarian Ranger – illustrates another of the varied forms that Jedi relationships with the rest of the GFFA have taken over the centuries. Mike Stackpole’s work establishing Corellian variations in the Jedi Order is one example of this; the Antarian Rangers’ relationship with the Order is another.
Tyria rejected for Jedi training – illustrates that Luke Skywalker, even in the early years of his Jedi mastery, was not a soft touch, admitting everyone with a touch of Force sensitivity. He knew when many potential candidates, like Tyria, just weren’t ready.
Tyria refusing Kell the first time around – illustrates her analytical powers and lack of self-deception, and illustrates that she was not some sort of needy waif who would leap at the first hint of a relationship to come her way. As a side note, I was very pleased, in the first few years after Wraith Squadron came out, to get fan mail from teenage girls who really liked that scene.
Tyria becoming a Jedi – this happened off-screen, a few years after Solo Command, and the basic idea was that after giving up and accepting the fact that she would never make it as a Jedi, she stopped castigating herself and overthinking everything… which allowed her to get more in touch with the Force… which allowed her to become a Jedi. This merely illustrates yet one more factor that can interfere with a person’s contact with the Force and limit his or her potential.
Tainer Family dynamics, including some hitherto-unrevealed, behind-the-scenes facts – Though often separated by their respective professions and circumstances, Tyria and Kell did marry and have two children. By the start of the Yuuzhan Vong War, their son, Doran, was about 12 and their daughter, Jesmin, about 6. As the war really got going, Tyria and Kell had to contemplate the possibility that galactic civilization as they knew it would be all but wiped out, and they made some hard decisions to make it more likely that some part of their family might survive. Kell remained with the Wraiths to be where the action was and have an early shot at intelligence that he might use to preserve his family. Tyria took Doran as her apprentice, despite misgivings but not actual opposition from Luke Skywalker, and volunteered for long-term Jedi missions well away from the war zones. Jesmin was taken to Toprawa, Tyria’s homeworld, and left there to be raised by more distant relatives. Thus the family spent years in three pieces, operating under the hope that some might survive. This was a tactic that was often seen with border families during the U.S. Civil War – they’d make sure that some family members would be with the Union and others with the Confederates to improve the odds that someone would survive and be on the winning side. Anyway, with the Tainers, this illustrates their grim pragmatism in the most terrible of circumstances and, with the end of the war, illustrates that families of unusual structure in the GFFA can endure. With Luke, it illustrates his flexibility as the Grand Master, his willingness to experiment with Jedi customs.
Of course, a necessary side effect is that Doran spent most of his teenage years with no contact with his father, and Jesmin spent some of her most important formative years separated from both parents, which must have inevitably resulted in some interesting ramifications to their respective relationships, but that’s the subject of another story. Or so I hope.
Tyria in Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi – simply demonstrates the roles played by ordinary Jedi. As a Jedi Knight, she really is ordinary, and will probably never be a Master. Naturally, people want to see the really exceptional and exotic Jedi at work – Luke, Mara, Kyp, Jaina, Leia, Corran, Saba, and so on – but I think we need to be reminded of the rank and file, their own efforts and sacrifices.
Anyway, Tyria went from being a conflicted young woman sought as a prize by head-butting pilots to a Jedi Knight who sweats and goes to the refresher and raises kids and solves problems and kicks ass to the best of her ability, and for the right reasons, and that’s how I like her.
So there’s your answer. I didn’t have a Tyria Sarkin Tainer series in mind; she serves as a series of illustrations, as a lot of my characters do. And, no, I don’t bring her in to name-drop or throw a sop to Wraith Squadron fans, but whenever I have need of a pragmatic, mid-level, dependable, well-rounded (I’m talking about skills here, guys) Jedi, naturally I’m going to return to an old favorite.
Thanks to Aaron Allston, Erich Schoeneweiss at Del Rey, and artist Chris Scalf for their help.