Star Wars was in a black hole.
The beloved original franchise had ended with Return of the Jedi in 1983, and as the kids of that generation grew up, leaving their toys to gather dust in the attic or garage, no one was giving much thought to what was next.
Star Wars was over. Nostalgia had yet to kick in. Then, suddenly, three more stories appeared.
That was 1991, when sci-fi author Timothy Zahn popularized the so-called “Expanded Universe” with The Thrawn Trilogy – a series of novels about Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia that was set five years after the end of Jedi. As the books rose on The New York Times best-seller list, Star Wars climbed back to the top of the pop-culture mountain.
As word spread this week that The Walt Disney Co. had purchased Lucasfilm with the intention of making Episodes VII, VIII and IX, many fans began repeating something they’ve been saying for 21 years: Make the Zahn books!
Entertainment Weekly reached the author in his Oregon lair to find out what he knew about Lucas’ plans for the post-Jedi chronology, and what he hopes those films might take from his still-beloved books.
DARTH VADER’S GRANDCHILDREN
Although no one outside of Lucas and Disney executives know the content of the planned movie sequels, the first of which would come out in 2015, they will more than likely be original tales.
That means Zahn’s books won’t be directly adapted, but the author says that was always the case: “The books were always just the books.”
But years ago, he was briefed on Lucas’ plans for sequels, and how the Thrawn books would fit in. “The original idea as I understood it— and Lucas changes his mind off and on, so it may not be what he’s thinking right now – but it was going to be three generations. You’d have the original trilogy, then go back to Luke’s father and find out what happened to him [in the prequels], and if there was another 7th, 8th, or 9th film, it would be Luke’s children. The Thrawn Trilogy really would have fit into the gap,” the author said.
However, his books remain so popular they could still have a Force-like pull on the movies.
In many ways, they already have.
Zahn’s trilogy gets it’s name from the central villain, a blue-skinned, red-eyed Imperial general who cobbles together the remains of the vast, evil army after Vader and the Emperor are killed in Return of the Jedi.
The author gave a name to the galaxy’s capital planet – Coruscant – which Lucas kept for the prequels, and he introduced some beloved figures that any later Star Wars movie would be wise to remember.
Foremost among them was the femme fatale Mara Jade, an Imperial assassin who becomes a love interest for Luke Skywalker. (No more kissing your sister, bub.) And Han Solo and Princess Leia give birth to twins in the third Thrawn book, The Last Command.
“Another thing in the Thrawn trilogy was the catching of Force lightning with a lightsaber blade. Apparently, George thought that was a cool visual and put it in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, so he has been keeping a close eye on what has been done,” Zahn says.
“It could be an entirely new storyline, but if he picks and chooses bits and pieces from the expanded universe, we’d all be thrilled to death.”
As Lucas slips into retirement and hands Star Wars off to new filmmakers, Zahn hopes the movies will do the same.
“I’d like to see the original characters in perhaps smaller roles, handing the mantle of adventure to the next generation. Luke would be like Obi-Wan, but not quite the same because he will have raised his children and Obi-Wan was more standing off, watching and protecting,” Zahn says.
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“I’d love to see a good father-son, or mother-son, or daughter story. I’d like to see family. We haven’t seen a lot of good family stuff in Star Wars. A lot of it has been dysfunctional, and driven by somebody else. Anakin was a slave and manipulated all his life. Luke and Leia never knew each other…”
Zahn says his favorite of the Indiana Jones movies was The Last Crusade, pairing Harrison Ford with Sean Connery as the archaeologist’s father. Even parents who aren’t monsters like Darth Vader have trouble with their kids, and the new Star Wars movies could explore than with Luke, Han and Leia.
“Some family interaction would be something different for the new movies to do – against the backdrop of excitement and adventure that forms the basis of Star Wars,” Zahn says. “There are a lot of directions you can go with the Skywalker families and really kick some serious butt.”
ADJUSTING THE TIMELINE
Whatever Disney decides to do with the Star Wars sequels, fans are going to insist on having the original characters appear in some capacity. It’s just a question of how – and when.
“Frankly, I’m interested to see what they’re going to do,” Zahn says. “Is Lucas going to skip a generation so that Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher can do their roles at the proper age? Or would they try some CG ‘youthing,’ like the filmmakers did with [Jeff Bridges] in Tron: Legacy? Could they reboot and use different actors? That sounds like it would be a horrible sacrilege, but Star Trek got away with it.”
Setting the sequels after the Thrawn series, but following the direction it set out in its conclusion, would be Zahn’s preference. “It would also be a little less likely to run roughshod all over the books,” Zahn says. “On the other hand, it’s George Lucas’ property and if he wants to ignore the books and comics, that’s his perfect right.”
Fans might have other feelings about that, although Lucas has shown with the prequels that he doesn’t always consider their wishes.
NEED TO KNOW BASIS
When Marvel Studios announced at Comic-Con this year that its Captain America sequel would be subtitled The Winter Soldier, comic-book scribe Ed Brubaker, who created that particular character, found out about it via Twitter.
Despite playing in a company’s mythological sandbox, authors aren’t always told whether their creations are being adapted. The same is true of Zahn, whose books could very well be a major influence on whatever treatment Lucas has outlined — without any of the author’s knowledge.
“It certainly could be happening,” the author says. “They have no obligation to touch base. As with any other franchise, once we write something, it’s owned by Lucasfilm, as it should be. It’s their property. “
He has been surprised before. “I’ve had conversations with friends over the years and they’d say, ‘Oh, Thrawn is in a new video game,’ and that would be the first I heard about it. So they could film the whole Thrawn trilogy without me ever knowing until I sat down in the theater!”
HAN SOLO’S HEIST
Zahn has penned several other Star Wars books, including one debuting in January called Scoundrels, set just after the events in the original 1977 movie, now known as A New Hope. (You can find out more about his current work on his Facebook page.)
“It’s a couple of weeks after the first Death Star has been destroyed, and Han, Lando and Chewie are going to collect eight other scoundrels for a heist,” Zahn says. “They’re going up against a criminal who has a supposedly impregnable vault where they are going to try to steal 163 million credits.”
He says he took inspiration from a familiar kind of team caper. Think The Dirty Dozen, The Expendables or the Frank Sinatra and George Clooney heist films. “This is the Star Wars version of Ocean’s 11,” Zahn says. “In fact, my original title was Solo’s 11, but they decided that might be a little too close to the trademark.”
One thing Lucasfilm knows well is trademark violations.
So Zahn is still close with the company, obviously. And if they want his input on the movies, he’s eager to participate. “I will be on the first plane to California,” the author says. “As I said on Facebook, I will hire a charter if I have to!”
Fans would urge him to find one that can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.