Timothy Zahn

This weekend the Mara Jade shirt sold out, as did the collectible statues. You created this character over two decades ago. How does it feel to see her still living on with the fans?

It’s humbling and exciting and strange all at the same time. When you actually stop and think about what you as a writer are doing – you’re creating stuff out of thin air, and when it connects with the reader I’ve done something right. It’s just really neat to see it happen. But you try not to think about it too much because it gets weird at some point. This is somebody I invented and people really like that. That’s cool, and yet it can be intimidating. How am I ever going to do this again? Can I ever do this again?

Let’s talk about how you created her. I just went to GeekGirlCon, and I did a Star Wars panel there. My panel was standing room only, and there were tons of Mara fans. Obviously she’s created somewhat as a foil to Luke.


But a lot of women feel like she still stands on her own. When you were creating her, were you going through that process, trying to really create her as an individual but balance her against the character?

You’re right. It was set up to be slightly Luke’s Han, as it were. The way Han and Leia do it; it would be Luke and Mara with the flip side. Luke is the upstanding farmboy type, Mara is the one with the shady past. She started out as a connection between the rescue of Han in Return of the Jedi and the main Rebellion storyline, which is the main part of the three movies. I wanted somebody to link those together. It seemed logical that Palpatine might not like Vader offering to overthrow him with Luke, so he would send somebody to kill Luke. So that was her origin. Then she developed out of that. I want readers to identify and to connect with her, and you can’t connect with a totally amoral person. At least most readers can’t, and we don’t want to. So she’s got the shady past, but she has an ethical core.

Did you always see that in her? Because it comes out stronger and stronger in later books, but I think you could feel it all along.

From the beginning she is loyal to Karrde. He took her in when she needed someplace to go. She is intensely loyal to him and his group. That basic loyalty, that basic core value – “I feel a compulsion to kill Luke but it’s not in Karrde’s best interest, so I will suppress that because I am loyal to my boss and my friend.” And she might not phrase it even that way in her own mind, but there is that internal core value, a place she will not cross the line. As you say, in later books it shows up. Especially in Choices of One, where “this guy has more or less admitted to being a traitor, but there are extenuating circumstances, so I’m going to hold off on the judgment until I dig a little deeper into this.” It shows that she’s not just a killing machine. She’s even five steps above Jason Bourne by this point. He doesn’t want to be an assassin anymore. The only reason she was killing was to protect the Empire and the people of the Empire. She never realized how much she was being used. So there’s a core value, and she’s been manipulated, which a lot of people can relate to. She is competent, all the stuff a guy would like to have at his side and women like to have as their personality, as part of themselves. So I think that’s part of her universal appeal – everybody would like to have her around, especially in times of trouble.

I agree. That’s kind of how I think of her. Staying on Heir to the Empire, you did something in that book that hasn’t really been done a lot in the EU since. You went ahead and jumped into Leia being pregnant in the story. When you made that decision, did you feel it was important to just get on with Leia’s life and her family?

Part of it was that, but part of it was the needs of the plot. The whole thing of C’Baoth and wanting to get hold of the Jedi, and Thrawn being able to say, “We’ve got a couple of twins on the way, they may very possibly have Jedi capabilities, how about we go after those.” So it was partly because it seemed to be a natural progression of Han and Leia’s relationship at the end of Return of the Jedi, that they would marry and obviously at some point they would have kids, but it also wove into the storyline I wanted. Ideally you don’t drop something in too abruptly just for that sake.

It’s organic.

Exactly. It works with everything else.

A lot of women really like that book. For women, we just have to get on with life. So it was organic to how a lot of women I know feel.

But at the same time, it doesn’t mean she’s now sitting at home knitting booties, either. She is still a very important force in the Star Wars universe, in the politics of the situation, and she is going to have that conflict of so many other women of family or career. And it’s even worse for her because she sees her career as, “We can’t do this without me,” and so much hangs in the balance. It’s not like I’m going into an accounting firm every day. Accounting is important, but think of, “The galaxy depends on me doing my job.” That has to be a horrible burden for anybody, male or female, to have to bear.

Absolutely. I know you worked with Mike Stackpole a little bit to develop Baron Soontir Fel. It seems like a lot of women I know really relate to that character. Later on as he’s been developed, he seems to have a strong sense of family. When you were creating him, was that something you put into his character initially? Or did that sort of come out of the stories around him?

To clarify, Fel was Mike’s character. He was planning to use him for the X-Wing comics, and then into the other books, as well. And my connection to Fel came out of a conversation with Mike, talking about links back and forth. And I knew for the Hand of Thrawn duology I needed a hotshot TIE Fighter pilot. And in the conversation I said, “By the way, I need a TIE Fighter pilot, do you have anybody in mind?” And he said, “As a matter of fact…” and described Fel to me. And I said okay what I really need is for him to have an emotional connection to the soil, and Mike said, “No problem, I can do that.” I think he did it in the introductory comic where Baron Fel is introduced, he had him growing up on a farm and just loving the farming life. Which is what I was going to use later in Vision of the Future with the clones: “We don’t want to fight anymore. We like the farming life. We like being a family together and just settling into the soil.” So that was my request, Mike said sure, and that’s how we got to cross-pollinate the two series.

I like that. That’s great.

And it worked out very well because he can be a hotshot pilot that Mike needs, and I can have his clones be hotshot pilots. But at the same time they don’t necessarily want to do what they were planned to do. Thrawn planned them to be our fifth column. “Well, we don’t really like that idea.”

We’re sort of seeing that coming around again in The Clone Wars TV show. The clones are in that same sort of position. They want to have families or just be people.


I can’t not ask about Thrawn. It seems like a lot of people related to his character. That he really had something that he was doing that he thought was right. Is that what you were thinking about when you were developing him?

With Thrawn, the impetus for his creation was that I wanted a villain for the Thrawn Trilogy that was not Vader. I didn’t want to do what Lucas had already done in the movies. So I didn’t want a Vader or an Emperor. And in the thought process it occurred to me Palpatine rules by manipulation and the Force, Vader rules largely through fear. More dangerous for our heroes is somebody who leads through loyalty. Because when Vader’s not around, the soldiers may slough off, not do as hard or do as well, but when Thrawn’s not around his people will still fight and die for him. So it’s a much wider influence of loyalty. And then I just developed him as the kind of person that soldiers will follow, the leadership characteristics and such. But at the same time, as you say I think people relate to him because his people are loyal to him, but not very many of them, if any of them, understand him. He’s kind of, “I’m doing this, it’s easy for me, nobody else understands it, really. Some people just accept this as I’m superhuman, others think I’m a freak.” Everybody who’s got a particular talent will have that same sort of thing. Maybe I can sketch stuff out easily and people will think I’m weird because I can do that, but that’s just my talent. And so I think that’s part of the reason readers relate to Thrawn, he’s kind of lonely in many ways.

I’ve read Scoundrels. So I wanted to ask you about Bink. She is awesome. She’s new, and obviously without spoiling her, what were you thinking when you created her?

She’s got a lot of Mara’s competence at what she does, but she does not have Mara’s seriousness. There’s a tongue-in-cheek, offhandedness about her. She enjoys her work, she’s having fun, but there is again the core values. We don’t want to spoil it, but she really cares about her sister and her sister really cares about her. She’s got the surface flippancy, but they will die for each other, they will kill for each other if necessary. They are family and they’re all they’ve got in a shifting world of alliances. Bink and Tavia are the only constants in each other’s lives. And despite their annoyances with each other on occasion, or frustrations, there’s never a question of, “Well of course I will stand by her. She’s my sister.”

I laugh every time she was on the page.

Well, between Bink, Tavia, and Rachelle, I think you’ve got some good strong female characters in Scoundrels.

And Winter too.

We’ve met Winter. But we don’t see her as much normally as we do in this book. So we get to see how competent at everything she is, as well.

All the female characters were fantastic, but Bink just kind of stood out.

She’s the most fun I think of all the new characters to write. I’m trying to give all of them some depth of character, some good screen time and such, but Bink is easily the easiest. The Star Wars Insider story is Bink and Tavia, and this other one I’m doing is Lando, Zerba, Bink, and Tavia. She’s just a fun character to write. With Force powers and a little manipulation by the Emperor, she could’ve been another Hand.