In the world of Star Wars publishing, there's one name that towers above the rest: Timothy Zahn. Though a number of Star Wars novels had been published prior to Zahn's involvement in George Lucas' space opera, it was the runaway popularity of his Heir to the Empire in 1991, the first of three #1 New York Times bestselling books commonly referred to as the Thrawn Trilogy, that set off a flurry of novels set in that galaxy far, far away.
What made Heir to the Empire so unique was that it was the first story that had ever been told set after Return of the Jedi — five years after the events of that movie, if you want to be specific. But though the prospect of a new adventure with Luke, Han, and Leia was the initial hook, Zahn entranced readers with the vivid new charaters of his own creation like the master strategist Grand Admiral Thrawn and the Imperial assassin turned Mrs. Luke Skywalker known as Mara Jade. He's written plenty of books since, novels which usually pivot around ideas first presented in the "Thrawn Trilogy" like the prequel-set Outbound Flight and the Original Trilogy-set Rebels vs. Imperials yarns Allegiance and Choices of One. His latest is Scoundrels, a heist novel starring Han Solo, Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca, due Jan. 1.
We talked to Zahn about his creative process, why we keep coming back to Luke, Han, and Leia, and what he hopes to see from the new Star Wars trilogy. Plus, throughout the interview we have exclusive concept art of Scoundrels' characters, along with a select quote from each of them that's found in the book.
Hollywood.com: How did you come up with the concept for Scoundrels?
Timothy Zahn: Well, you’ve got a bunch of scoundrels in the Star Wars universe. I’ve always enjoyed Ocean’s 11 and The Sting. That kind of heist or con game where you don’t have to worry about the participants stabbing each other in the back afterward. A nice frothy entertainment. And it just seemed like a natural for Han and Chewie and Lando and their crowd of like-minded people.
HW: It’s a departure for you as well, because it feels more like a one-off, standalone adventure. It doesn’t feature some of the characters that recur in your work like Thrawn or Mara Jade.
TZ: Actually, that was part of the goal with this. Shelly Shapiro, the Del Rey editor, and Sue Rostoni, who was handling these things for Lucas Licensing at the time, were looking for a story that could appeal to Star Wars fans who weren’t necessarily Star Wars readers. There are 150+ Star Wars novels out there and for someone who isn’t already familiar with them the whole thing can look a little intimidating. So my goal was to do a story that could draw in fans who don’t know anything about the Expanded Universe. What kind of story could do that? That story is Scoundrels. If you’ve seen the Original Trilogy, you’re good to go.
HW: I've read dozens of Star Wars novels, but even I feel a bit daunted at times by the sheer amount of material out there. Do you think the literal expansiveness of the Expanded Universe can be a barrier to new readers?
TZ: Whenever you have anything that’s too huge, it’s like “Where do I start? Where do I jump in to this?” I have friends who say, “These books are wonderful, but how do we start? Chronologically, with the Old Republic? Or in the order they were written, with Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and the old Han Solo/Lando Calrissian books? Do I start with the Thrawn Trilogy, with Legacy of the Force? What do I need to know to get into this and not completely lose my way? There is an intimidation factor now. It’s just too huge. And that’s a shame because there are a lot of really good books out there in the Expanded Universe, but if you look at it like climbing Mt. Everest it’s hard to get into them.
HW: You haven’t written a Star Wars novel set any further than 15 years after Return of the Jedi. Have you decided that you always want to stay relatively close to the events of the Original Trilogy?
TZ: It’s partly that, but it was also that starting with The New Jedi Order they started doing long, long series—New Jedi Order alone is a 19 book series—and they had to have a whole bunch of authors to coordinate and work together on these things. I am not all that interested in that kind of collaboration, partly because I always come up with new ideas midway while writing a book, and if I’m book three of nine, I can’t incorporate those new ideas without screwing up everything down the line. So I think it would be frustrating for me to think that I had a great idea but have to stay within the confines of the outline. I’ve played around instead in my own little corner of the Star Wars universe, which, aside from Outbound Flight is A New Hope plus 19 years or so.
HW: You basically invented the juggernaut that is Star Wars publishing with the Thrawn Trilogy. Now that we’re 20 years after the publication of Heir to the Empire, how has your experience of writing in the Star Wars universe changed?
TZ: The first thing that comes to mind is that it’s a lot more complicated. There are so many more books and writers working. When I wrote Heir to the Empire, set five years after Return of the Jedi, I had essentially a blank canvas to work with. Obviously I had Lucasfilm making sure I didn’t do anything completely off the wall, but there was never a worry about running into some other author’s storyline or finding out that you’ve accidentally placed a major character in two different places in the Galaxy at the same time. It’s much harder to keep track of what you’re doing, except that thankfully we have Wookieepedia and the Lucasfilm Holocron. But you will probably step into something that somebody else created unless you’re very, very careful.
This year's Toronto International Film Festival, the 37th of its kind, announced its award recipients today. With a variety of awards at stake, Festival highlights such as Silver Linings Playbook and Seven Psychopaths took home big honors. In a ceremony that took place at the Intercontinental Hotel in Toronto, eleven awards were handed out for their achievements. The full list of winners is below.
Best Canadian Short Film
Deco Dawson for Keep a Modest Head. The jury--comprised of journalist and author Matthew Hays, journalist Katrina Onstad and filmmaker Reginald Harkema--remarked: "For the winner of this year’s best short, we chose a film that expands the boundaries of documentary, one that perfectly reflects its surreal subject. The award offers a $10,000 cash prize. The honourable mention goes to Mike Clattenburg’s Crackin’ Down Hard for its unpredictable zaniness."
The City of Toronto + Canada Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature Film
Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways. The jury--comprised of producer and filmmaker Jody Shapiro, CPH PIX Festival Director Jacob Neiiendam, actor and filmmaker Valerie Buhagiar and director, writer and producer Patricia Rozema--remarked: "For its breathless cinematic energy and its entirely new love story, the jury felt honoured to watch such unfettered genius at play." This award is made possible thanks to the City of Toronto and Canada Goose and comes with a cash prize of $30,000.
The SKYY Vodka Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film
A tie between Brandon Cronenberg's Antiviral and Jason Buxton's Blackbird was announced. The jury--comprised of producer and filmmaker Jody Shapiro, CPH PIX Festival Director Jacob Neiiendam, actor and filmmaker Valerie Buhagiar and director, writer and producer Patricia Rozema--remarked: "For Best Canadian First Feature Film, we have made a decision that reflects the broad spectrum of Canadian styles and voices. The prize this year has been split between Blackbird, for its authenticity and clear-eyed social conscience, and for its ambitious commentary and visual sophistication, Antiviral." Generously supported by SKYY Vodka, the award carries a cash prize of $15,000. TIFF takes great pride in our role of supporting championing emerging filmmakers and as such, TIFF will be doubling the prize, so that both Brandon and Jason will receive a cash prize of $15,000 each.
The BlackBerry People's Choice Award
The BlackBerry People's Choice Award is voted on by Festival audiences. This year’s award goes to David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook. TIFF explained in a press release that "the film is an intense, loving, emotional and funny family story from the director of The Fighter, David O. Russell, in which Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence find themselves partners in a secret arrangement to rebuild their broken lives. Robert De Niro yearns to get closer to his son (Cooper), as he tries to keep the family afloat with his compulsive bookmaking. The award offers a $15,000 cash prize and custom award, sponsored by BlackBerry. First runner up is Ben Affleck’s Argo. The second runner up is Eran Riklis' Zaytoun.
The BlackBerry People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award
Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths. First runner up is Barry Levinson's The Bay, and second runner up is Don Coscarelli's John Dies at the End.
The BlackBerry People’s Choice Documentary Award
Bartholomew Cubbins for Artifact. First runner up is Christopher Nelius and Justin McMillan's Storm Surfers 3D. Second runner up is Rob Stewart's Revolution.
NETPAC Award for the Best First or Second Feature World or International Asian Film Premiere
Sion Sono's The Land of Hope. The jury--made up of Laurice Guillen (Philippines), Shelly Kraicer (Toronto/Beijing) and Azize Tan (Istanbul)--remarked: "For its subtle, complex and artful account of the social and political aspects of a national trauma that ends in hope and love, the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival NETPAC Award for best feature film is given to The Land of Hope by Sion Sono."
Grolsch Film Works Discovery Award
The inaugural award went to Rola Nashef for Detroit Unleaded.
For the 21st consecutive year, TIFF welcomed an international FIPRESCI jury for the competition. The jury members consist of jury president Peter Keough (United States), Jon Asp (Sweden), Ashok Rane (India), Louis-Paul Rioux (Canada), Juan Manuel Dominguez (Argentina) and Brian McKechnie (Canada). The following awards were decided upon by the above jury.
The Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI Prize) for Special Presentations
Francois Ozon's Dans la maison (In the House). The jury remarked: "For achieving an exquisitely crafted entertainment that blurs the distinction between the storyteller and the story told, and that assuages with playful complexity the tragedies of life with the consolations of art, the FIPRESCI award for Special Presentations goes to Francois Ozon's In the House."
Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI) for the Discovery Programme
Mikael Marcimain's Call Girl. The jury remarked: "With an intense sense of cinema reminiscent of the American thrillers of the 1970s, Mikael Marcimain’s debut feature achieves a portrait of an obscure world involving women’s rights and political corruption. Marcimain deals with his sensitive subject with immense ease and craftsmanship. Because of these accomplishments the FIPRESCI Award for Best Film in the Discovery Programme goes to Mikael Marcimain’s Call Girl."
[Photo Credit: TIFF]
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