The 20th anniversary cover of 'Heir to the Empire'; author Timothy Zahn
November 02, 2012 at 08:42 PM EDT

Star Wars was in a black hole.

The beloved original franchise had ended with Return of the Jedi in 1983, and as the kids of that generation grew up, leaving their toys to gather dust in the attic or garage, no one was giving much thought to what was next.

Star Wars was over. Nostalgia had yet to kick in. Then, suddenly, three more stories appeared.

That was 1991, when sci-fi author Timothy Zahn popularized the so-called “Expanded Universe” with The Thrawn Trilogy – a series of novels about Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia that was set five years after the end of Jedi. As the books rose on The New York Times best-seller list, Star Wars climbed back to the top of the pop-culture mountain.

As word spread this week that The Walt Disney Co. had purchased Lucasfilm with the intention of making Episodes VII, VIII and IX, many fans began repeating something they’ve been saying for 21 years: Make the Zahn books!

Entertainment Weekly reached the author in his Oregon lair to find out what he knew about Lucas’ plans for the post-Jedi chronology, and what he hopes those films might take from his still-beloved books.


Although no one outside of Lucas and Disney executives know the content of the planned movie sequels, the first of which would come out in 2015, they will more than likely be original tales.

That means Zahn’s books won’t be directly adapted, but the author says that was always the case: “The books were always just the books.”

But years ago, he was briefed on Lucas’ plans for sequels, and how the Thrawn books would fit in. “The original idea as I understood it— and Lucas changes his mind off and on, so it may not be what he’s thinking right now – but it was going to be three generations. You’d have the original trilogy, then go back to Luke’s father and find out what happened to him [in the prequels], and if there was another 7th, 8th, or 9th film, it would be Luke’s children. The Thrawn Trilogy really would have fit into the gap,” the author said.

However, his books remain so popular they could still have a Force-like pull on the movies.

In many ways, they already have.


Zahn’s trilogy gets it’s name from the central villain, a blue-skinned, red-eyed Imperial general who cobbles together the remains of the vast, evil army after Vader and the Emperor are killed in Return of the Jedi.

The author gave a name to the galaxy’s capital planet – Coruscant – which Lucas kept for the prequels, and he introduced some beloved figures that any later Star Wars movie would be wise to remember.

Foremost among them was the femme fatale Mara Jade, an Imperial assassin who becomes a love interest for Luke Skywalker. (No more kissing your sister, bub.) And Han Solo and Princess Leia give birth to twins in the third Thrawn book, The Last Command.

“Another thing in the Thrawn trilogy was the catching of Force lightning with a lightsaber blade. Apparently, George thought that was a cool visual and put it in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, so he has been keeping a close eye on what has been done,” Zahn says.

“It could be an entirely new storyline, but if he picks and chooses bits and pieces from the expanded universe, we’d all be thrilled to death.”


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