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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

SPECIAL BONUS INSIDE—the exclusive story "A Forest Apart," previously available in e-book format only!

Han and Leia struggle to keep the Empire at bay as stunning revelations from the past threaten to eclipse the future of the New Republic. . . .

The deaths of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine by no means spelled the end of the Empire. In the aftermath, the New Republic has faced a constant struggle to survive. Now a new threat looms: a masterpiece of Alderaanian art—lost after the planet’s destruction—has resurfaced on the black market. It conceals a vital secret—the code used to communicate with New Republic agents undercover within the Empire. Discovery by Imperial forces would spell disaster. The only option is recovery—and Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO have been dispatched to Tatooine to infiltrate the auction.

When a dispute at the auction erupts into violence, the painting vanishes in the chaos. Han and Leia are thrust into a desperate race to reclaim it. As they battle against marauding TIE fighters, encroaching stormtroopers, and Tatooine’s savage Tusken Raiders, Leia’s emotional struggle over the specter of her infamous father culminates in the discovery of an extraordinary link to the past. And as long-buried secrets at last emerge, she faces a moment of reckoning that will forever alter her destiny . . . and that of the New Republic.

Excerpt

Tatooine Ghost

Chapter 1

Instead of bed, where she usually awoke from her dreams, Leia found herself slumped forward in her crash webbing, ears hissing with static and eyes aching from the glare of two G-class suns. Han and Chewbacca were still busy at their stations, Han plotting approach vectors and Chewbacca setting sensor filters. The planet Tatooine was just drifting into view, its yellow sodium-rich sands glowing so brightly it resembled a small sibling star in orbit around the big twins.

A metallic hand tapped Leia’s shoulder. She turned to see C-3PO’s photoreceptors shining at her from the adjacent passen- ger seat.

“Pardon me for asking, Princess Leia, but are you well?”

“Don’t I look well?”

“Oh dear,” C-3PO replied, a diplomatic subroutine activating in response to her tone of voice. “Why yes, you do look as splendid as ever, but it seemed for a moment as though you might have overloaded your primary circuits.”

“My circuits are fine.”

“I’ll need to confirm that later.” Han twisted around and glanced over his seat with the same crooked smile that had alternately charmed and worried Leia since their first meeting on the Death Star. “Princess.”

“Oh, really?” Leia straightened herself in her chair without fully realizing she was doing it. With his tough-guy good looks and eyes sparkling with trouble, Han still made her sit up and take notice. “And you think you can read my schematics?”

“Sweetheart, I know your schematics by heart.” Han’s smile faded, and his expression grew concerned. “Threepio’s right. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Something like that. A bad dream.”

Han looked doubtful. “I’ve sat in that chair. That chair isn’t comfortable enough for dreams–good or bad.”

“It’s been a long trip,” Leia said, perhaps a little too quickly. “I must have nodded off.”

Han regarded her a moment longer, then shrugged. “Well, see if you can stay awake.” He looked forward again, to where the twin suns were slowly being eclipsed by Tatooine’s steadily swelling disk. “Until the sensors come up, we need to keep an eye out for other traffic.”

Leia gazed out the canopy and began to search for the rapidly swelling silhouette of blocked starlight that would mean an approaching vessel. Her thoughts remained focused on the strange dream. It had a similar feel to the Force-vision she had experienced nearly five years earlier at Bakura, when her father had sent an apparition begging for the forgiveness she would never–could never–grant. But that had been his doing, not hers.

Han’s hand rose into view between the pilot and copilot’s seats, pointing toward a blocky silhouette floating some distance to one side of Tatooine’s yellow disk. The twin suns were now completely hidden behind the planet, and Leia could see that the tiny silhouette was growing larger as they approached. It seemed to be staying in the same place relative to Tatooine, deliberately hanging in the shadow of the planet.

“That’s too square to be a moon,” Han said.

“And it’s no asteroid, not hanging in one place like that,” Leia added. “But at least it doesn’t seem to be coming our way.”

“Yet,” Han replied. “How about those filters, Chewie?”

An impatient rumble suggested that the Wookiee was still struggling with the filters. Anyone else might have been frightened, but Leia found the groan reassuring, a touch of the familiar in a time of shifting alliances and random annihilation. When she had married Han six months ago, she had known Chewbacca would be an honorary member of their family, and that was fine with her. Over the years she had come to think of the Wookiee as something of a furry big brother, always loyal to Han and protective of her, and now she could not hear him growl without feeling that she lived in a safer place, that with Chewbacca and Luke and Han–when he was in the mood–and millions of others like them, the New Republic would beat back the Empire’s latest onslaught and one day bring peace to the galaxy.

That, and she liked how Wookiee fur always smelled of tril- lium soap.

The comm hiss finally fell silent as Chewbacca found the right combination of filters. He brought the sensors up, fiddled a moment longer, then let out a startled ruumph.

“The mass calibration is off,” Han said. “That reads like a Star Destroyer.”

Chewbacca oowralled indignantly, then sent the data read- out to the auxiliary display beside Leia’s seat and glanced back for her affirmation. She had to look only a second to see that he was correct.

“Sixteen hundred meters, six comm bands in use, and a TIE squadron circling on station,” Leia said, feeling a little sick and worried. When the Millennium Falcon came across a Star Destroyer these days, it was usually because one was stalking the other. “I don’t know, Han. The mass calibration looks fine to me.”

As she spoke, the Falcon’s computer found a profile match in its military data banks and displayed the schematic of an Imperial-class Star Destroyer. Below the image appeared the vessel’s name.

“The Chimaera,” Han read. “Isn’t she still in service to the Empire?”

“As of two months ago, she was one of their most efficient Destroyers.” Leia did not need to look up the information. The death of Warlord Zsinj eight months earlier had emboldened the Imperial fleet, and the Provisional Council had been mired in war minutiae ever since. “Admiral Ackbar has been wondering what became of her.”

“Deserters?” Han caught her eye in the canopy reflection. “Another captain wanting to set himself up as a warlord?”

“Please, no! The situation out here is already too confused.” With the New Republic battling the Imperials over the scraps of Zsinj’s empire and the surviving warlords exploiting the war to enlarge their own territories, confused was an understatement. Several times, the New Republic Navy had moved against one enemy to find itself engaging another, and sometimes two or three at once. “And the Chimaera’s commander isn’t the type. By all accounts, Gilad Pellaeon is both loyal and competent.”

“Then what’s he doing at Tatooine?” Han asked. “There isn’t a conflict zone within fifty systems of here.”

Chewbacca groaned the opinion that it was someone else’s job to analyze Imperial objectives, then began to plot hyperspace coordinates. Leia braced herself, more concerned with Han’s reaction than Chewbacca’s when she explained why they still had to risk a run planetside.

She was spared the necessity when Han scowled at the Wookiee’s flying fingers.

“Chewie! I can handle this, no problem.” Han looked vaguely insulted. “It’s only one little Star Destroyer.”

Chewbacca grunted doubtfully, then added a yawl about the folly of tempting fate for a piece of art.

“Killik Twilight means a lot to Leia,” Han said. “It hung in the palace on Alderaan.”

Chewbacca growled a long question that suggested they might be flying into a trap; the painting might not even be real.

“You can’t forge moss-paintings,” Leia answered. “Not anymore. They require strains that don’t spread or reproduce, the cultivation of which was a closely guarded secret even in Aldera. That secret died with the rest of Alderaan.”

“You see?” Han asked. “Besides, if the Imperials were trying to lure Leia to Tatooine, they wouldn’t leave their Star Destroyer out in the open like that.”

Han pointed at the tiny silhouette of the Chimaera, which had started an edgeward drift across the canopy as the Falcon eased past it toward the planet. Chewbacca stubbornly shook his head, reminding them of the syren plant on his native Kashyyyk, which drew victims to certain death with a scent so alluring it could not be resisted.

“Not a certain death,” Han corrected. “Or there wouldn’t be so many Wookiees in the galaxy.”

Never one whose purpose could be deflected by humor, Chewbacca reiterated the questions that had been troubling them all since learning of the auction. Why was such a valuable painting being sold in a seedy spaceport like Mos Espa? Where had it been all these years? Why was it surfacing now?

The answers were a mystery–as much a mystery as the Star Destroyer’s appearance here. At the time of Alderaan’s destruction, Killik Twilight had been returning home from a museum loan on Coruscant. It had dropped out of sight, and Leia had believed the painting destroyed with her home–at least until Lando Calrissian reported that it would soon be offered at auction on Tatooine.

Chewbacca continued to press his case, maintaining that the Chimaera’s presence was no coincidence. With an Imperial Star Destroyer hanging off Tatooine, there would almost certainly be Imperials at the auction. The argument was all too sensible, and–though Chewbacca clearly did not realize this–one that made it all the more imperative that Leia attend the sale herself. She leaned forward and grasped the Wookiee’s shoulder, and his tirade rumbled to an end.

“Chewie, everything you say makes sense. The Star Destroyer worries me, too. If this were just any piece of Alderaanian art, I wouldn’t ask you to take the risk. But for Killik Twilight, I must.”

Chewbacca studied her in the canopy reflection. He was a ferociously brave Wookiee–one who would never deny a friend’s request for aid once he knew a matter to be important. Leia only hoped she could win his help without having to explain herself now. Han was still stinging from that whole Hapan incident eight months ago, and being asked to risk his beloved Falcon on behalf of the Provisional Council would not sit well with him at the moment. Maybe not ever.

Leia held Chewbacca’s gaze with a sober expression that came to her face all too readily these days. Finally, he wrumpffed softly and nodded.

Han glanced over, his jaw dropped in disbelief. “That’s it? She says must, and you don’t even want to know why?”

Chewbacca shrugged.

“But you’ll argue with me?” Han glanced at Leia’s reflection in the canopy. “Those are some powers of persuasion you have there, Princess. You been studying with Luke when I’m not looking?”

“I’m no Jedi,” Leia said. Then, slipping back into the flirty mood that had been the norm between them since their wedding–it had to be driving Chewbacca mad, judging by how he turned away to look out the viewport–she gave Han a sultry half smile. “Just your common everyday Princess.”

“There’s nothing common or everyday about you,” Han replied in a tone so cloying that it made Chewbacca groan. “Or your hidden agendas.”

“Hidden agendas?” Leia cringed inwardly as she vacillated between sounding innocent and playful and came off as neither. “We’re just here to buy a moss-painting.”

“Yeah?” Han’s eyes assumed an amused twinkle. “Maybe Chewie’s right.”

“I didn’t say he was wrong,” Leia said, trying to sound cool–and failing. He had her, and he knew it. She hated that. “Han, I really want that painting.”

Han shook his head. “Something here smells wrong.” He began to ease the Falcon’s nose away from the planet. “In fact, I’m sure of it.”

“Han!”

He glanced again at her reflection. “Yeah?”

“You’ll draw attention to us.”

Han shrugged. “What’s it matter, if we’re leaving?” He turned to Chewbacca. “You about done with those hyperspace calculations?”

Chewbacca snorted and, clearly not wanting any part of what was to follow, threw up his hands. Tatooine began to slide across the viewport, and Leia knew she had to call Han’s bluff. He was too good a sabacc player to blank his cards without making her show her hand.

“Han, we need to be at that auction,” she said. “If Killik Twilight is down there, we have to buy it. Thousands of New Republic lives depend on it.”

“Really?” Han did not look at all surprised. “Imagine that.”

Tatooine stopped drifting toward the edge of the viewport, but Han did not turn the Falcon back toward the planet.

Leia took a deep breath, then said, “There’s a Shadowcast code key hidden in the painting. In the moisture-control circuitry.”

Chewbacca’s eyes grew as round as bubbles. Shadowcast was a secret communications network that had sent Rebel messages, encrypted within the commercial advertisements that paid for Imperial propaganda programming, via the HoloNet. The system remained undiscovered, and the New Republic still used it to send instructions deep behind Imperial lines to its most delicately placed spies.

Han’s eyes only hardened at the corners. “Honey, I think we’re about to have our first married fight. Why didn’t you tell me the Provisional Council was behind this trip?”

“Because it’s not,” Leia said, sounding more defensive than she would have liked. Why did her political skills always desert her with Han? “I’m the one who said Killik Twilight would be a good place to hide the code. I’m the one who thought the painting had been destroyed with Alderaan. This is on me, Han. The Provisional Council has authorized purchase funds, but only because Mon Mothma strong-armed them. She’s the only one who knows why we’re really here.”

“Oh, that makes me feel better.”

Eight months earlier, Mon Mothma had been among those urging Leia to cement an important strategic alliance by marrying the prince of a powerful consortium of planets known as the Hapes Cluster. Han still felt so betrayed by the Chief Councilor and the rest of the council that, despite several generous offers, he had so far refused to reactivate his military commission or assume any other formal role in the New Republic.

Han’s reaction was only one aspect of the Hapan matter that Leia regretted. Had she made it clear to Queen Mother Ta’a Chume that marriage to her son, Isolder, was not really a possibility– and that, given her genetic heritage, she had no interest in bearing children–she might well have salvaged an alliance via some other arrangement, and she would not have hurt Han.

Chewbacca yawled a warning, and Leia looked over at the auxiliary display to find an assault shuttle and three TIEs departing the Chimaera.

“Nothing to worry about,” Han said, studying his own display. “They just want to see if we get nervous.”

Leia was nervous, and a little exasperated, but she didn’t say so. Maybe Han had drawn the Chimaera’s attention, and maybe he hadn’t. Appearing too relaxed was just as likely to raise suspicions as appearing too worried. Anything could raise Imperial suspicions.

“Han, I didn’t mean to put the Falcon at risk,” Leia said. “I only wanted to spend some time together, and I thought this trip would be a good chance.”

“On a mission for the New Republic?”

“I didn’t know it would be a mission,” Leia said. “I’m sorry.”

“So you thought we’d enjoy a little trip to scenic Tatooine, pick up the lost code key, maybe swing by Jabba’s palace and relive old times?”

Chewbacca reported that the shuttle and TIEs were approaching on an intercept vector. Han adjusted the Falcon’s course enough to keep their line of escape open, then looked back at Leia.

“I don’t see why this code key’s so important anyway,” Han continued. “They must have updated it by now. It’s ten years old.”

“Nine years old,” Leia corrected. “And the code is updated every sixth broadcast. But even an old key would help the Imperials break the new codes. Worse, it would alert them to the existence of a network they haven’t detected in nearly a decade. It would cost the lives of thousands of former agents still living on enemy worlds. And there’s no telling how long it would take us to replace Shadowcast–or how many current agents we’d lose in the transition.”

Han looked away, his gaze dropping to his instruments, and Leia knew she had him. He would play hard to get, pretending to think it over, but Han Solo always came through when it counted. That was his weakness, and she loved him for it.

“Han, I really do want Killik Twilight back,” Leia said. “When you see it–”

“When I see it?” Han interrupted. “You’re taking a lot for granted.”

Chewbacca stopped monitoring the incoming assault shuttle long enough to turn and growl.

“I know she’s my wife,” Han said. “That doesn’t mean I’m responsible for dragging us out here. I can’t control what she does.”

Chewbacca dropped his eyes in exasperation, then awrooed at Han . . . twice.

“Me? I’m being Huttish?”

Chewbacca snorted an affirmative, turned back to the sensors, and reported that the TIEs were starting to accelerate ahead of the assault shuttle. Han spent a moment considering his copilot’s charge, then glanced at Leia again.

“Me?” he asked. “Huttish?”

Leia held her thumb and forefinger a few millimeters apart. “Maybe,” she said. “Just a little.”

Han’s expression turned from disbelieving to chagrined. He nudged the Falcon’s nose back toward Tatooine, angling for the planet horizon, where the twin suns were casting a crescent of white brilliance.

“I’m not doing this for the council,” he said. “I’m doing it for you.”

“I know you are.” Leia’s smile was perhaps a little too broad, and she could not resist adding, “And the council is grateful.”

Han scowled, but his retort was cut short when the comm speakers crackled to life.

“CEC transport Regina Galas,” a gruff Imperial voice said. “Maintain position and stand by for inspection.”

Regina Galas was one of a dozen false transponder codes the Falcon used when traveling anonymously. Han turned to C-3PO.

“You’re on, Goldenrod.”

C-3PO tipped his head. “On, Master Solo?”

“Stall.” Han pointed to the microphone above the auxiliary navicomputer interface. “Try Gand. They’ll have to rig for ammonia, and that’ll buy us some time.”

“Of course,” C-3PO said. “Perhaps I should suggest–”

“Regina Galas,” a smoother voice said. “This is the Star Destroyer Chimaera. Stand by for boarding, or we will open fire.”

“Threepio!” Leia pointed at the comm unit.

C-3PO activated the transmitter and used his vocabulator to emit a staccato burst of drones and clicks. There was a long pause while the Imperials summoned a translator droid.

Han smiled, satisfied, and rose from the pilot’s chair. “You know what to do, Chewie.”

Chewbacca groaned and took the yoke, continuing to angle for the bright crescent at the planet horizon. Han reached past C-3PO’s shoulder and linked the comm speakers to the Falcon’s intercom, then motioned for Leia to join him.

“I’ll need you in back with me,” he said.

Leia unbuckled her crash webbing, her heart rising into her throat. “Han, I don’t know if shooting our way out of this–”

“Do I look like a gundark?” he asked. “If we shoot, we’re dead.”

Happy to know they agreed, Leia followed him down the access to the rear hold. By the time they opened the hatch, the Imperials were back on the channel with their translator droid, and it was conversing with C-3PO in a cacophony of buzzes and clacks. Han retrieved a small cargo pod, then took it into the main ring corridor and opened one of the smuggling compartments in the floor. He began to extract the cases of fine Chandrilan brandy that he kept to pay off spaceport masters, passing them to Leia to stow in the cargo pod.

“What are we going to do, bomb them with intoxicants?”

“You might say that,” Han said. “It’s called ‘bribe-on-the-run.’ This stuff is good currency, especially to a junior officer who probably hasn’t seen a payment voucher in months.”

“Han, didn’t you hear what I said about Pellaeon?” Leia asked. “He won’t go for that.”

Han smiled. “He won’t have to.”

By the time he explained the details to Leia, the cargo pod was loaded and the Chimaera’s officer was back on the comm channel, sounding as irritated as only C-3PO could make a sentient.

“Regina Galas pilot, our droid assures me there is no reason a Gand can’t speak Basic.”

C-3PO replied with a long rattle of a question.

There was a momentary translation delay, then the officer replied, “My point is that I know you understand our instructions. Maintain position or you will be fired upon. Our targeting computers have you locked in.”

Leia nearly fell as Chewbacca suddenly decelerated and started what felt like a turn back toward the Chimaera. She knew it was really a maneuver to put the assault shuttle between them and the Star Destroyer’s powerful turbolasers. Han and Chewbacca had been running Imperial checkpoints since before there was a Rebellion. They knew every smuggler’s trick in the data banks–and a few more.

“I said maintain position, not come about,” the Chimaera officer barked. “And speak Basic!”

C-3PO replied with a stream of flustered clicking. Han and Leia chuckled with appreciation; they knew how frustrating the droid could be when he was agitated. They sealed the pod and ejected it through the air lock. When they returned to the engineering station in the main hold and brought the tactical array up on the display, Chewbacca had already brought the Falcon around and was accelerating away, with the assault shuttle now squarely between them and the Chimaera.

The officer began to yell. “Halt! Halt, or we’ll open fire!”

“Open fire?” C-3PO said, still in the voice of a Gand but now speaking Basic. “Oh my!”

Chewbacca closed the channel and, laughing so hard his roars rumbled out the cockpit access tunnel, continued to accelerate. Unable to make good on the officer’s threats without risking her own assault shuttle, the Chimaera held her fire. The Falcon’s new bearing ran roughly parallel to Tatooine’s surface instead of toward it. But Leia knew that once they were beyond turbolaser range, or masked by the electromagnetic blast of the twin suns, Chewbacca would turn. Leia continued to watch the tactical display, expecting the Star Destroyer to maneuver for a clear shot or divert her shuttle, but she did neither.

“Good,” Han said. “They think we’re just spice runners. They’ll stop to collect our jettisoned cargo, and then we’re home free. The boarding officer won’t want prisoners around to tell Pellaeon what was really in the pod.”

“You’re sure about that?”

Leia watched with growing alarm as the three TIEs passed the cargo pod, now angling to put themselves between Tatooine and their quarry. As long as Chewbacca continued on a straight course, they would be unable to catch the Falcon–but the instant she turned toward the planet, the TIEs would be in good position to cut her off.

“They don’t look all that interested in a bribe.”

Han studied the display, his jaw falling a little more with each kilometer the TIEs put between themselves and the ejected cargo. For a moment, it looked as though the assault shuttle would also ignore the pod and stay behind the Falcon. Then a tractor beam activated in its stern, and it veered toward the bribe. Han sighed in relief, but grabbed Leia’s hand and started for the laser cannon access tunnel.

“C’mon.”

“Han, what happened to no shooting?” Despite her protest, Leia allowed herself to be dragged along. “ ‘If we shoot, we’re dead.’ You said that. I remember.”

“I say a lot of things.” They reached the access tunnel and Han jumped in, not climbing down so much as using the handholds to slow his descent. “But they’re trying to grab the pod on the fly. The boarding officer needs us to make this look good, or his commander won’t buy our escape.”

Leia was already climbing into the upper turret. “How good?”

“Good. That Pellaeon must be a real stickler.” The Falcon shuddered as Han test-fired his weapons. “Just don’t hit anything. Hit something and we’re–”

“Dead.” Leia buckled herself into the firing seat. “I know.”


From the Hardcover edition.
Troy Denning|Author Q&A

About Troy Denning

Troy Denning - Star Wars: Tatooine Ghost

Photo © Mark Wingham

Troy Denning is the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Tatooine Ghost; Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Star by Star; the Star Wars: Dark Nest trilogy: The Joiner King, The Unseen Queen, and The Swarm War; and Star Wars: Legacy of the Force: Tempest, Inferno, and Invincible–as well as Pages of Pain, Beyond the High Road, The Summoning, and many other novels. A former game designer and editor, he lives in western Wisconsin with his wife, Andria.

Author Q&A

A CONVERSATION WITH TROY DENNING: AUTHOR OF STAR WARS: TATOOINE GHOST

Del Rey:STAR BY STAR was your first book in the STAR WARS: THE NEW JEDI ORDER series. Now comes TATOOINE GHOST, a novel set many years earlier, just after Han and Leia's marriage. Were you able to apply any lessons learned from STAR BY STAR in writing TATOOINE GHOST? How was this experience different?

Troy Denning:I had a better idea of how the review process worked and knew how supportive it would be. The editors at Del Rey and Lucasfilm are focused on helping the writer tell the best possible story, and their support makes a huge difference. With STAR BY STAR, I was a worried about making continuity gaffs and a little hesitant to take detours that weren't in the outline; with TATOOINE GHOST, I felt free to do whatever the story needed because at worst someone would say, “That doesn't work because of X; maybe you should try Y instead.” And I knew that if I did make a continuity error, there would be a dozen pairs of very sharp eyes ready to catch it!

Obviously, I also had to adjust my thinking about Han and Leia. This story occurs in a much happier time for the Solos, before Chewbacca's death forces them to come to terms with their own mortality. In TATOOINE GHOST, they still have that youthful feeling of invincibility, and the confidence that everything will work out fine in the end. Obviously, it sets a little lighter tone; while the emotional stakes are still very high, the complications are not quite so shattering.

DR:How would you describe TATOOINE GHOST?

TD:The basic idea was pitched to me as a “Classic Bridge” novel, one that ties elements of the Prequel era to the Classic era, and I think that’s a pretty good description of how the book turned out. The story is basically an accident-adventure driven by the complex relationships between characters from two different eras. On the surface, it’s a classic quest—the heroes must recover a physical artifact in order to prevent a terrible harm from befalling their people. But success hinges on resolving the emotional and spiritual conflicts that arise from their relationship to the past; until they are able to reconcile themselves to their personal histories, they cannot save the day for the New Republic.

DR:That’s one of the things I enjoyed most about the book: the way that bits and pieces from the past keep popping up as important elements in the plot and in the growth of Han and Leia toward the people we know they will become. In a way, both the past and the future of these characters are known to readers, but not to the characters themselves. That must have made an interesting challenge! How did you find room for creativity with the demands of continuity pressing in from two sides?

TD:I enjoy tough writing problems because they demand creativity. One of my favorite projects is PAGES OF PAIN, where I was given the assignment of writing a novel from the viewpoint of an enigmatic character who never speaks, with the stipulation that the reader know less about her at the end than at the beginning. It required me to rethink the way I approach a story, and every book I've written since has benefited from that experience.

DR:Can you give us an example of how it changed your thinking?

TD:I’m more conscious of the narrator as a character, for one thing. Modern readers prefer to identify as closely as possible with the protagonists; and they really don’t want a third person filtering the experience for them. So, in much—probably most—modern fiction, the author strives to make the narrator invisible, to convince the reader that there isn’t a narrator at all. But somebody has to tell the story, choosing which details to pass along, hinting at whether a frown is angry or sad, deciding whether to pick up the pace with short sentences and punchy writing. Those choices create a personality, and that personality is the narrator. Even if the author tries to hide him, it is the narrator who gives the story its shape and feel. Try to imagine, for instance, how different STAR BY STAR would have been if I had envisioned a Yuuzhan Vong telling the tale instead of someone sympathetic to the Jedi. The book would have included all of the same events, but the story would have been an entirely different one.

But I’m straying pretty far from your question. It was a challenge to write a story in which the characters’ future is so well-known to the readers. I had to use the Solos’ relationship in Heir to the Empire as a sort of guiding beacon for Tatooine Ghost. Kathy Tyers did a wonderful job setting up Leia’s internal conflict over her heritage in The Truce at Bakura, and to a large extent it was my job to resolve that conflict and move the Solos to where they are at the beginning of the Thrawn trilogy. The challenge was to put something at stake in how they got there.

DR:Approaching this from the opposite direction, Episode III won't be in theaters for a while yet. But the events of TATOOINE GHOST happen after Episode VI, THE RETURN OF THE JEDI, so Han and Leia, as well as other characters, might very well know details from Episode III that are not known to readers. I imagine that you had to be careful not to give anything from Episode III away . . . while at the same being equally careful not to contradict anything. It makes me dizzy just to think about. How did you walk this tightrope in a novel that is so much a dialogue—almost literally in the case of Leia and Shmi’s palm diary—between past and present?

TD:Avoiding spoilers was easy—I don't know what happens in Episode III. I just focused on Episodes I and II and tried not to contradict anything there. Of course, I also had Del Rey and Lucasfilm looking over my shoulder, and presumably they know a lot more than I do.

DR:Who or what is the ghost of the title? Is it Shmi? Is it Anakin?

TD:As Han says somewhere in the story, it depends on how you look at it. To me, the ghost is something much larger than either Anakin or Shmi.

DR:Do you mean the Force?

TD:Yes and no. I don’t really want to say, because the ghost is going to be something different for everyone. You could even make a case for it being Obi-Wan or the Tuskens, and all of those interpretations might be valid.

DR:I thought it was interesting to see Leia wrestling with the same difficulty that troubles so many fans of the THE PHANTOM MENACE and ATTACK OF THE CLONES: namely, how to reconcile the immensely likeable young Anakin Skywalker with Darth Vader, the living embodiment of the dark side that he becomes.

TD:Yes, that's the heart of Leia’s struggle. You can’t reconcile the coexistence of good and evil unless you look beyond preconceptions.

DR:Of course, there’s always the danger that she’s inherited this propensity from her father.

TD:There is that danger, yes. In fact, as the novel begins, Leia has already started to follow in her father’s footsteps precisely because she has fallen into the trap of narrow thinking, of believing that a person is either one thing or the other.

DR:In Leia’s Force-visions, you give readers an unusual glimpse into the mysterious nature of the Force. We know that the dark side of the Force can be a terrifying thing, but here you show us that it's not just the dark side. Leia is resisting what the Force is trying to show her . . . and the Force doesn’t like to be resisted!

TD:This touches on a theme close to my heart, the idea that life is a current. You can either fight the current or go with it. If you fight it, life will be a battle, but you stand a good chance of ending up some place close to your goal (although you may be too tired and battered to enjoy it). If you go with the current, life will be easier, but you have no idea where you'll end up—it could be bad, it could be good. The compromise is to work with the current, to guide yourself within it to someplace you'll be happy. Leia, of course, has been a current-fighter all her life; the realization she reaches in TATOOINE GHOST is that her particular current is a very strong one.

DR:At one point, the Force seems to be warning Leia that her brother, Luke, may go over to the dark side. I know that this did in fact happen in the Dark Horse Dark Empire comic series, but I was wondering if this was a bit of foreshadowing for a future exploration of those events in book form?

TD:The vision you’re talking about is a direct reference to the comic story, but I doubt it will be explored any further in novel form. (In fact, I think Lucasfilm editors have said they have no plans to turn comic stories into novels.) I utilized that scene solely because it already existed in the STAR WARS continuity, so it would have been redundant to make up something similar.

DR:You’re probably best known as a fantasy writer from your work in the FORGOTTEN REALMS series. How different is it to write science fiction? Or do you consider STAR WARS fantasy as some writers and readers do?

TD:I go back and forth on this. I’m sure I’ve taken opposite positions in different interviews. At the moment, I guess I think of STAR WARS as space opera rather than fantasy—if for no other reason than it doesn’t feel like fantasy when I write it. There are certainly fantasy parallels: an epic plot, larger-than-life heroes, a concern for the spiritual element of the quest. But, at its heart, I think STAR WARS is very concerned with the relationship between technology and spirit, which fantasy is not. Besides, I just can’t bring myself to think of the Force as magic. Magic is beyond nature, while the Force is intimately connected to life and therefore very much a part of nature—even if it is beyond our understanding.

DR:How did you get your start as a writer? What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

TD:I started writing stories in 8th grade, when our English teacher assigned us the task of keeping a journal. At first, I don’t think he realized the entries were fiction). I've been at it since. Eventually—fifteen years later—I was able to put together a decent-enough story that TSR asked me to write one of the FORGOTTEN REALMS Avatar books.

The best advice I can give to any aspiring writer is to stop aspiring and start doing! You have to write every day. You have to ignore the little editor in your head that tells you to rewrite each paragraph before you move on to the next one. You have to study your craft by reading the fiction of other writers, but also books and magazines on how to plot, to create believable characters, to establish viewpoint, etc. Fiction really is an art, and it takes a lot of study to do it well.

DR:Which writers’ work was the most helpful for you as far as learning your craft?

TD:If I had to pick just one—and thankfully I don’t—it would be William Goldman. The things he did with THE PRINCESS BRIDE are just brilliant; I find myself going back to study the sword fight scenes every few months. He makes it looks so easy and spontaneous—which, of course, is a tribute to how long and hard he must have worked on that book. I think most writers would agree that the most difficult thing to do is make your prose look effortless.

But when I talk about studying the craft, I really do mean studying. My favorite books above all are books about writing: Rober McKee’s STORY, Wayne C. Booth’s THE RHETORIC OF FICTION, Joseph Campbell’s books THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES. It’s not enough just to read fiction; you have to step back and look at it from the outside.

DR:You've also written an eBook novella, A FOREST APART, that takes place immediately prior to TATOOINE GHOST and features Chewie, his life-mate, Mallatobuck, and their son, Lumpy. It's good to see Chewie again, and especially taking the starring role!

TD:One of the highlights of TATOOINE GHOST was that Chewbacca would be back, and I really wanted to do him justice. In my early drafts, I overdid his part a bit—he was appearing in scenes where he didn't belong, and in other places I was straining to give him a larger part than his role warranted. I fixed this before the editors saw the manuscript, but I loved writing him so much that I wanted to do more. So, when we talked about an eBook, I realized this was the perfect opportunity to explore his character. I have to say it's not easy to write an all-Wookiee story, but it was a lot of fun.

DR:What are you working on now? Will you be returning to that galaxy “far, far away” anytime soon?

TD:My next project is a Han and Leia story, tentatively titled NEVER TRUST A SQUIB, for the INSIDER. It should come out a month or so after TATOOINE GHOST. Then I’ll probably start work on an epic fantasy series that I've been putting together for a couple of years. Beyond the INSIDER story, I don’t have any current plans to return to the GFFA, but I’m definitely open to the possibility. I’m a STAR WARS fan from way back, and I love where the stories are going now.


From the Hardcover edition.


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