Excerpted from Outbound Flight: Star Wars by Timothy Zahn. Copyright © 2006 by Timothy Zahn. Excerpted by permission of LucasBooks, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Interview with Timothy Zahn, author of Outbound Flight
Question:How did you first came up with the idea for Outbound Flight–not the book, but the mission that's become such a legendary part of Star Wars lore?
Timothy Zahn: Ironically enough, Outbound Flight began life basically as a throwaway line. It was a way to confirm for the readers in Heir to the Empire that Joruus C’baoth was indeed a clone and not the original Jorus, as well as to provide another reference to Grand Admiral Thrawn’s military skills. It also seemed like something Palpatine might reasonably have done: create something else to distract the Jedi and perhaps prune away some of the troublemakers in advance of his full extermination scheme.
If I’d known that I’d eventually write two books dealing with the project, I’d have definitely tried to come up with a classier name.
Q:Though it's long been a canonical part of the Star Wars universe, mentioned in novels by you and others, and featured in your book Survivor's Quest, it's only now that you've actually written the story of the Outbound Flight mission itself. Why did it take so long?
TZ: Actually, the original impetus came from Lucasfilm, not me. A few years ago my editor, Shelly Shapiro, informed me that Sue Rostoni had expressed interest in having Outbound Flight’s story told and asked if I would be interested in writing it. It took me about three seconds to make up my mind (“I get to write another Thrawn story?! Cool!”), and I said yes.
Originally, the plan was to publish it in 2002 just before the release of Attack of the Clones, which would have put it in its proper chronological place. However, for unknown reasons all that was changed and the book ended up being rescheduled for November 2005. Throw in one more scheduling shuffle, and we arrive at January 2006.
Q:What did it feel like to finally close this chapter in your career–if indeed it is closed? Are there more revelations to come about Outbound Flight?
TZ: I think that between this book and Survivor’s Quest, I’ve said pretty much all I have to say about Outbound Flight. And yes, it did rather feel like closing a chapter in Star Wars history.
And as always, it was immensely fun to play tactics with Thrawn.
Q:Why so much time between publication of Survivor's Quest and Outbound Flight?
TZ: Again, there originally wasn’t supposed to be quite this much time between the two books, but the scheduling just worked out that way.
For that matter, the books weren’t originally intended to be linked at all. After I’d signed for Outbound Flight, and we’d done the scheduling change, Lucasfilm and Del Rey came to me and asked if I’d like to do a Luke/Mara book as a sort of parallel to the Han/Leia book (Tatooine Ghost) already in the works. Again, the deliberation process took all of three seconds (“I get to write another Mara Jade story?! Cool!”).
It was as I was working on the outline for the story that it occurred to me that since Survivor's Quest would be coming out before Outbound Flight, I could pull the same trick George Lucas himself was doing, prequel-wise, and have Survivor's Quest tell the end of the Outbound Flight story before the readers actually got to see the beginning. It made the process a little trickier, as I was outlining two books at the same time for Del Rey and Lucasfilm, but making the books into a sort of backwards-order-and-separated-in-time duology was definitely worth the extra intricacy.
Q:Your original Thrawn trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command) is widely credited with reviving interest in Star Wars, and your name is always mentioned when fans discuss their favorite SW writers. Clearly, you're doing something right! What do you think makes your work so popular?
TZ: To be honest, I really don’t know. I did the best I could with those three books, of course, but then I do that with everything else I write, too. Through some combination of story and character and chemistry, it all simply came together better than anything else I’ve ever published. Having vibrant, well-loved characters like Luke, Han, and Leia already at hand, of course, just added that much extra to the mix.
Q:Though you're best known for your Star Wars work, most of your published novels and stories are set in universes of your own creation. How do you decide, when you get an idea for a story or book, whether to keep it for yourself or use it in Star Wars?
TZ: I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with that. When I’m plotting or writing a Star Wars book, I’m in that particular universe’s mindset, and only come up with ideas that I think will fit into that universe. (Though of course not everyone necessarily agrees with what I think fits the Star Wars universe. Remind me to tell you sometime about the flap over Luke’s hot chocolate...)
Q:Who is your favorite among the characters you've created for Star Wars, and why?
TZ: Top places go to Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Thrawn. Mara, with her attitude and her Jedi skills, is just plain fun to write, especially when she’s in opposition–or in partnership–with Luke. Thrawn, in contrast, provides the intellectual challenge of trying to come up with new, clever, and (hopefully) workable tactics and strategies.
Q:I was surprised by Thrawn's character in Outbound Flight. He seems too smart and basically decent to become the servant of Palpatine that he later becomes.
TZ: Ah, but is he really Palpatine’s servant? My sense has always been that he was manipulating Palpatine just as much as Palpatine is manipulating him. After all, he only came to the Empire so that he could gain command rank, collect all the military hardware Palpatine was willing to give him, and then get himself kicked back out to the Unknown Regions where he could start his long-term preparations for the coming war against the Yuuzhan Vong.
Not that Palpatine was fooled, of course. I’m sure he knew perfectly well what was going on and figured he was getting as much out of the deal as Thrawn was. Possibly a little more.
Q:What is it about Jorus C’baoth’s character that makes him susceptible to the dark side, and why doesn't Palpatine/Sidious turn him and use him for his own purposes, as he later does with Count Dooku?
TZ: I don’t think C’baoth would be good Sith material. He wants to stretch and extend Jedi power and authority, but he hasn’t rejected the overall Jedi philosophy the way the Sith have. However, his arrogance and self-confidence definitely make him someone Palpatine can manipulate and use in more subtle ways.
Q:Are you working on anything else in the Star Wars universe?
TZ: I’m just finishing my eighth Star Wars book, Allegiance. It fits into the timeline a short time after A New Hope, which means Luke is not yet a Jedi, but Mara Jade is firmly ensconced in her position as the Emperor’s Hand.
Q:Any other upcoming releases you'd like to tell us about?
TZ: My young-adult Dragonback series continues with the fourth book, Dragon and Herdsman, in June from Tor Starscape. Also in June, Baen Books is bringing out Blackcollar: The Judas Solution, the third and final book in the Blackcollar series that I began in 1983 and continued in 1986 and then somehow never got back to. And assuming all goes well, Star Wars: Allegiance should be published in early 2007.
From the Hardcover edition.