Timothy Zahn is simultaneously my favorite and least favorite writer to interview. He’s my favorite for all the usual reasons. Impressively, not only is he a Hugo Award winner and a New York Times best-selling author, but he also has over four million books in print – both in the Star Wars Universe and his own original sci-fi series. In person, he’s really interesting to talk to. Zahn is thoughtful in his answers and has interesting insights about Star Wars and storytelling in general, which he generously shares. Despite his hectic schedule, the multitudes of cons and interviews he does, he always remains unfailingly nice.
And with all that said… How do I ask him anything new and interesting? How do I not fawn like the absolute Thrawn fangirl that I am? Zahn is my favorite Star Wars author writing about my favorite Star Wars character in his new novel, Thrawn: Alliances. The storyline with its flawless jigsaw puzzle, page-turning plot has now tied the top spot with Choices of One for my all-time favorite Star Wars book!
It is, quite frankly, a bit intimidating. Fortunately, Timothy Zahn is not. He sat down and graciously answered my questions about his latest contribution to canon, Thrawn: Alliances.
Thrawn: Alliances is dedicated to anyone who felt they were teamed up with the wrong person. Have you had any personal experiences that informed the story?
Not really. I’ve always had editors who were easy to work with, and even in my pre-writing days most of my co-workers were nice people. But I’ve heard stories from friends about their experiences, and I know it’s a situation a lot of folks find themselves in.
Padme’s point of view was really enjoyable and your respect for her as a character is clear. What trait of hers do you find most admirable?
I like the fact that she has a great skill set – diplomacy, combat, problem-solving – and seems to know instinctively which one to bring to a given situation. At the same time, she hasn’t lost that softer side, the part of her that can mourn a friend or feel compassion for all the collateral damage the war is causing. She presents a strong contrast to Anakin, who has mostly lost that ability, and Thrawn, whose version of compassion is largely a matter of protecting potentially useful assets.
What did you find the biggest challenge of interweaving two stories set in different times and characters at different points in their lives? Anakin’s change to Vader, of course, is unambiguous. Thrawn is always subtler. In this story you reveal a few more elements of his personality: sarcasm, dry humor, determination, sadness, even a moment where Thrawn is actually surprised… How would you say Thrawn has changed?
The biggest challenge is to make the two storylines feed off each other, to find where to shift stories to maximize the suspense for the reader, and to show the connections between what was and what is. In the Anakin storyline Thrawn is younger, a bit more brash, perhaps on some level trying to prove himself to his own people as well as to his new partner. He also has less at stake – he can theoretically always leave if things get over his head. In the Vader storyline, in contrast, he’s more mature and confident in his abilities, but is also walking a tightrope with a man who has the power – and the inclination – to instantly kill him if he makes the wrong misstep.
In this novel, we learn a little bit more about Chiss society and the Chiss remain a fan favorite across genres in Star Wars. Did you draw from any real-life cultures to develop theirs?
Nothing specifically. However, I read a lot of history, and all that information goes into my subconscious, ready to be mixed and matched when I set out to build my own worlds and cultures.
We also get some insight into how Imperials work; the initial distrust and politicking between the 501st and the 7th Fleet. Like Vader and Thrawn, the secondary characters like Commodore Faro and Commander Kimmund and even Rukh must learn to forge partnerships. How do you develop these other characters?
Basically, I just imagine myself in their situation, with the various constraints of politics and military structure, and work out their attitudes and how they would react to a given set of situations.
Thrawn: Alliances takes Thrawn to some new settings. Batuu, of course which will be featured in Disney’s Star Wars Lands, as well as the Clone Wars Era. What kind of research did that require?
The LFL folks were kind enough to let me see some of the Galaxy’s Edge concept art, as well as some descriptions of the various shops and vending area. I also made a point of riding Star Tours as many times as I could in order to watch that last flight into Batuu. The sacrifices we authors have to make for our art … :)
You’ve mentioned you enjoy music while writing. Do you associate Thrawn or Vader with any specific music outside of their Star Wars themes?
I listen to a wide variety of things, so there’s no specific pattern. However, I will say that Wagner’s operas and Tchaikovsky’s later symphonies and tone poems lend themselves nicely to Vader’s mood.
Who would you rather team up with yourself, Vader or Thrawn? Or is there another Star Wars character you’d rather partner up with?
If sheer power is needed, Vader is your man. Downside: if you mess up you might find yourself on the wrong end of a Force choke. If strategy and tactics are key, Thrawn would be the one to have at your side. Downside: if you drift off his agenda, you might find yourself suddenly fighting alone. All things considered, Obi-Wan might be a safer choice.
Thanks to Timothy Zahn for participating in this interview. Looking for more on Thrawn: Alliances? Check out Kay’s review. Looking for more behind-the-scenes with the author? Check out my interview with him on the previous Thrawn book.
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