Let me introduce you to a few of my favorite books of all time:
For those Star Wars obsessed individuals among my readers, you likely easily recognized The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn. What you may not know is that this is the trilogy that relaunched the Expanded Universe. Without Timothy Zahn and his incredible ability to evoke the heart of Star Wars while injecting much needed life in the form of unique new characters, I’m not sure what Star Wars fandom would be today. We might not have even had any of the other content that has come out since the early 1990s. Indeed, we might not even have the die-hard fans our fandom has. I say this because for many, me included, it was the Expanded Universe novels that solidified and fed our love of Star Wars when there was nothing else new out there. Fun fact: We also wouldn’t actually know that the name of the planet that housed the Imperial Center was Coruscant if Zahn hadn’t dreamed up the name (See “Legends” Wookieepedia page for “Coruscant,”and scroll to “Behind the Scenes” – I’m not making this up!).
So when a friend told me Zahn would be attending two panels at a local science fiction convention, I knew I had to go. I gathered the hallowed above paperbacks from their honored place on my fiction bookshelf to be signed. (Yes I have a whole other bookshelf for nonfiction.) And then I spent several days freaking out.
When I arrived at my very first convention, I spent some time people-watching while I waited for my friend to show up. I spied almost every character from Steven Universe, including Pearl (above, right). The only absentee was Steven himself (this made me laugh, because my husband dressed up as Steven last year for Halloween). I saw plenty of characters recognizable as possibly anime characters by the fact that I had no idea who they were (above, left). My knowledge of anime is woefully incomplete. There were Marvel and DC superheroes, as well as characters from a variety of games. But the best part was of course the mix of stormtroopers, bounty hunters, Jedis, Kylo Rens and one incredibly cute 5-year-old dressed as a Jawa. Did I take pictures? Well, I snuck the two above, but that’s it. It took all my courage to just show up, let alone ask perfect strangers to let me take their picture. But it was a great deal of fun.
Of course, the main highlight was talking to Timothy Zahn (pictured with me above!) about his incredible experiences playing in the Star Wars sandbox. Not only did he sign my ratty paperbacks (I’ve read them approximately 15 times each since I first read them 18 years ago), but he also signed his 20th Anniversary Edition of the first of the trilogy, Heir to the Empire. I bought it because it was packed full of his own thoughts on why he did what he did, as well as a new novella focused on Grand Admiral Thrawn himself. I’m already getting a kick out of his own thoughts on different parts of his books.
His panels were also incredibly entertaining. Zahn has a ton of great stories, but he also is an incredible writer. Beyond offering thoughts on The Force Awakens and what it was like working with LucasBooks/LucasArts, he talked about his own writing process. Considering his characters are some of the most real characters in all of Star Wars, I was surprised to learn that he focuses on plot, allowing the initial “cardboard cutout stand-ins” to flesh out on their own as the plot evolved. For example, Mara Jade was initially just “Female character: Foil for Luke” until she became this complicated, badass woman filled with strengths and weakness and opinions!
Incidentally, Mara Jade is the reason I decided it was okay to be a girl and a giant Star Wars nerd. Leia is cool and all, but Mara Jade is the strong female character that all of us female Star Wars fans needed to really feel like we had a place in that overwhelmingly guy’s universe. Of course, we now have Rey, Ashoka and Hera, but I think it was Mara that really laid the foundation for these characters. And let’s not forget that Zahn brought us Thrawn , a villain that is unique, coolly terrifying and full of the sort of depth that the new Star Wars canon villains are kind of missing. I highly recommend the series; however, know that the “expanded universe” is no longer canon, so don’t be surprised when events in the trilogy don’t flow with what you’ve seen in the movies, television shows, or recent Marvel comic books and regular fiction releases fleshing out the canonical universe. Take it – and love it – for what it is: An incredible story that, thanks to a flood that destroyed the records room on Coruscant, may or may not be true. That’s Zahn’s explanation, anyway! 🙂