The eagerly anticipated novel Star Wars: Scoundrels was released on the first of the year, and in honor of the release author Timothy Zahn conferred with me about Han Solo, the women of Star Wars, and very elaborate Easter Eggs.
Zahn is known as the father of all Star Wars novels, with his Thrawn Trilogy kicking off the Expanded Universe in 1991.
Megan: Hi Tim - Thanks so much for speaking with me. Could you tell me a little bit about the beginnings of Scoundrels? What inspired you to want to write this story?
Timothy Zahn: I’ve always enjoyed the twisty plots and schemes found in good heist stories, and I especially like stories with a crew working cheerfully and professionally together without planning any betrayals or back-stabbing. Ocean’s 11 and The Sting are the two that, for me, most exemplify this tone.
My original plan was to have a cast more heavily weighted toward EU characters, including Luke, Mara, Corran, and Mirax. However, as I pitched the idea to Shelly and Sue, I learned they’d been looking for something that might bring in Star Wars fans who weren’t already EU readers. The obvious approach was thus to adjust the Scoundrels cast and timeline so that any reader who was familiar with the classic movie trilogy would be able to pick up the book and not get lost in EU references.
M: I really liked the female characters in the book as well as the emphasis on friendship and family. Tell me a little about the development of sisters Bink and Tavia.
TZ: Like most of my characters, their personalities were fleshed out as I developed the storyline. I already knew I wanted female twins with very different levels of professional enthusiasm in those roles, and as I plotted I worked out the details of their relationship with each other and the universe at large.
M: Then there’s Han and Lando, a better-known pair. How did you connect your characterization of them in Scoundrels with what we see in The Empire Strikes Back?
TZ: Over the years, various other writers have suggested reasons for the Han/Lando tension in TESB. My take was that Han’s semi-innocent “Who, me?” expression in response to Lando’s accusation is not the look of a man who’s remembering a serious, deadly, life and death incident that came between them. Rather, it strikes me as a “Oh, come on. You’re still mad about that?” sort of thing, which is what I’ve tried to put into this book.
I’m sure the readers will have various reactions to that, both positive and negative, and I expect to hear a lot about it during the year’s conventions.
M: When you’re writing original characters in the Star Wars universe, do you consciously choose their gender, like ‘I’m going to make a female character now’, or does it happen organically?
TZ: It’s a combination. I like to have a mix of male and female characters because I think a varied cast allows more depth of personalities and interactions. But I won’t shoehorn a woman into a role because it’s the PC thing to do. Usually as I’m developing a story the genders of the characters just sort of automatically emerge in my mind. Bink and Tavia’s roles were always women; Dozer was always a man, and so on. It’s mostly a matter of what feels right.
M: How was it working with the Rebellion characters Kell and Winter outside their element? I thought it was a nice touch that Winter didn’t know Leia was alive - or that Han knew her.
TZ: It’s always fun to work with Winter—I really like the lady. As for Kell, it was a pretty daring move (for me, anyway) to use someone else’s character in anything larger than a cameo. But Aaron [Allston] and I have similar views on how the Star Wars universe operates, and I had some discussions with him as to whether Kell would/could have the necessary skills for the tasks I needed him to do.
Still, in keeping with the goal of making Scoundrels a first-time-reader-friendly story the Winter and Kell roles are in many ways just very elaborate Easter Eggs – regular EU readers will enjoy seeing them here, but non-EU folks can meet them for the first time with no problem, or (hopefully) any sense that they’re missing something.
M: The novel’s twist ending was one of my favorite parts. Was the twist one of the first ideas you had for the novel or did it come into being later?
TZ: Actually, that twist was the brainchild of the Del Rey editorial team, who came up with it at one of their roundtable meetings and suggested it to me. Naturally, it was too cool to pass up.
Thanks to Tricia Barr and Greg Kubie for their help with this interview.