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Thrawn author Timothy Zahn explains why he's against killing off classic Star Wars characters

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Jul 31, 2018

For many years, Timothy Zahn's version of what happened after Return of the Jedi was the version of what happened for Star Wars fans. Now, as he continues to write Star Wars stories in the new Disney canon, there's one thing he wishes the official sequel movie trilogy hadn't embraced so much: killing off characters.

In 1991, Zahn's Heir to the Empire was released, and quickly became a bestseller, reigniting Star Wars fandom with its version of what happened to Luke, Han, and Leia in the years after Return of the JediHeir was followed by two more novels in the "Thrawn Trilogy," Dark Force Rising and The Last Command, and on their heels came a host of new Star Wars novels that formed the bulk of what became affectionately known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe. 

When Disney purchased Lucasfilm, one of its key decisions was to scrap the EU in favor of a blank slate for the future of the franchise beyond Jedi. The old EU novels, including Zahn's seminal work, were rebranded as alternate stories as part of the Star Wars "Legends" imprint, and Lucasfilm's famed Story Group set about shaping new versions of what happened before, during, and after the central pillars of the Star Wars canon: George Lucas' films. 

Still, even as Disney moved away from the EU, much of what Zahn helped to establish remained, if only in the form of a faint outline of what Lucasfilm would do next. Zahn's Imperial Remnant became J.J. Abrams' First Order in The Force Awakens, and Han and Leia's Force-adept Jacen Solo became Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren. The most important part of Zahn's mythos to cross over from old to new stories, though, was something more direct: Grand Admiral Thrawn, the blue-skinned Chiss leader who won the favor of the Emperor through his mastery of tactics and combat, and became one of the chief antagonists of the Star Wars Rebels TV series.

Now, thanks to Thrawn, Zahn is back writing Star Wars novels focused on the character in the Disney era. In an interview with Yahoo! to promote his latest book, Thrawn: Alliances, Zahn discussed the process through which he began crafting Heir to the Empire all those years ago, why the Expanded Universe grew so complex, and what he would change about the Disney canon now. Specifically, Zahn isn't a fan of the tendency the sequel films have to kill off major characters.

“My philosophy before the sequels came out was that Star Wars was not the kind of thing where you killed off major characters,” the author says. “My logic on that one being if that was, we kill off major characters, either Wedge or Lando would not have survived the second Death Star [in Return of the Jedi]. It always seemed to me, this is the type where the heroes get into danger and you have to, they have to figure out a way out of it that you’ll be happy at the end.

“My vision always for the sequels would be, you would pick up with the children of our main characters,” Zahn continues. “[The original cast] would be the elder statesman type and not necessarily die on camera. They’d be off doing beekeeping like Sherlock Holmes allegedly did. You don’t have to kill off a character to get them offstage.”

In the Expanded Universe, Han, Luke, and Leia remained steadfast heroes, continuing to fight for the galaxy well beyond the original films even after their children began to grow up into powerful characters themselves. The big-screen sequel trilogy killed off Han at the end of The Force Awakens and Luke at the end of The Last Jedi, and now Star Wars: Episode IX will have to deal with the real-life death of star Carrie Fisher out of necessity. 

It's easy to see the power in both approaches. Zahn's way, keeping classic characters alive, suggests a continuation of the kind of fairy-tale feel Lucas established years ago, while the sequel films take a slightly more realistic approach in positing that, if the fight is going to continue for this long, casualties are inevitable. Zahn, for his part, is just going to keep telling his own stories in the Star Wars galaxy wherever they fit in.

What do you think? Do you prefer Zahn's way or the way set down by the new movie trilogy?