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Timothy Zahn Talks A.I., Star Wars Canon, And Dream Projects.

This past weekend thousands of con-goers descended on the Ontario Convention Center in Southern California for Comic Con Revolution! Among many famous celebrity appearances from the voice cast of Avatar The Last Airbender, Power Rangers, and Cobra Kai there was one man present who Star Wars fans swoon for: Timothy Zahn. Zahn is considered by many to be the one responsible for kicking off the renaissance of Star Wars expanded material in the early 90s after the franchise cooled a bit around the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983.

He has written three separate trilogies about the enigmatic Grand Admiral Thrawn as well as a multitude of other standalone entries into the Star Wars universe. To say he is popular amongst the Star Wars faithful is an understatement as I saw with my own eyes that he had by far the longest line for autographs out of everyone present. Saturday afternoon he sat on a panel along with fellow Star Wars writer Amanda Deibert (Hyperspace Stories) and took some questions from the audience, including me.

Middle: Timothy Zahn, the legend himself, as he appeared from my seat. Left: Amanda Deibert, we will continue to watch her career with great interest!


Thrawn’s Live Action Portrayal

Once the Q&A portion opened up I raised my hand and asked Zahn about what kind of notes and consulting he might have done for Dave Filoni in regards to Thrawn’s live-action portrayal. He replied:

“Umm, well we have talked, we’re going to talk again. Next question.”

The audience then clapped and laughed at his witty response. Fortunately another attendee was in the front and sort of reworked my question and asked how possessive he feels about the character of Thrawn and his concerns about a live-action adaptation of said character. Zahn replied:

“Well I’m possessive of my characters as far as I can be. However when you write Star Wars the first thing you sign in the contract is everything you write is owned by Lucasfilm. It’s standard for all intellectual property, Star Trek does it, everybody else does it. And that’s only fair, it’s their property. So I have no say over what anybody does with Thrawn. That being said Filoni had a team that understood Thrawn in Star Wars: Rebels. I’m expecting that not to change.

He understands Thrawn, he understands how Thrawn thinks, and he understand how you defeat him. Which is you give him something he can’t control or something he can’t anticipate. And once you’ve got that- and you match that with Lars Mikkelsen who is with the character in the voice-acting for a couple of years, who’s got a leg up on understanding him more than somebody who was brought in cold. I think, unless some executive bean counter decides to spit in the soup, I think Filoni is going to pull this off pretty well.”



Zahn’s Dream Star Wars Book Pitch

One of the early questions, after mine, during the panel was what kind of Star Wars story would Zahn like to still do if given the creative liberty to do so. He responded with:

“I’ve got probably a dozen ideas that I can pitch at any time. [sic] Story group is free enough to actually sit down and talk with me-they’re up to their eyeballs in other stuff at the moment. But one of the ones I would pitch is Obi-Wan right after delivering Luke to Tatooine, baby Luke.

My assumption has always been he drops off the baby, then he goes a quarter-halfway across the galaxy and makes an absolutely loud nuisance of himself to draw attention there and let the trail go cold [sic] to Tatooine. I would love to write a book of Obi-Wan making a loud nuisance of himself *audience laughter*”

Zahn’s Feelings On Canon/Continuity

Midway through the panel an audience member poses the question about how Zahn feels regarding the mess of having “soft canon” and Legends material in light of the new canon being around. Zahn gives a satisfying answer regarding this:

“Ok, I think the Legends decision was-there are a couple of reasons behind it. One was “We’re going to do new movies and new shows and we do not want to be pinned down by everything everybody else has written”. And part of it was we’re getting into-we’re gonna redo everything. Everybody get off the stage while we decide what we’re doing, and then we’re going to invite people back on. […] The way to think of Legends, that’s not pejorative, is you’re sitting around the campfire. Coruscant’s a long way away, the Holonet breaks down a lot, you don’t get much news out here. You’re on your second set of smores when somebody says “Hey have you guys heard the story of Grand Admiral Thrawn and Luke Skywalker?”

And he proceeds to tell you this story. By the time you’re in your sleeping bag you don’t know if that story was complete fiction, was complete reality, based on a partial-, but you’re enjoying the story. Legends are Paul Bunyan, King Arthur, Robin Hood. They’re the stories we like to tell. And we don’t really care if they are real or not, real history. So that’s the way to think about it. These are stories to tell around the campfire. And if you enjoy them you don’t really care whether someone else says these are real or not.”


Grand Admiral Thrawn, created by Timothy Zahn, as he appears in Star Wars: Rebels.

Does A.I. Belong In Writing?

The best question was of course the very last question of the evening. And it was in regards to where both panelists believe A.I. writing software fits into modern story-telling (if at all). Zahn came back with:

“Ummm, I don’t know, I mean they got things now you can give an idea and it will write. I don’t know how good it is. I mean it is all going to be dependent on who is programming. I am not particularly concerned about my job at the moment. Maybe I should be. Maybe I am at the end of my career anyway, who knows? *turns to Amanda* You’re probably more worried than I am. You still have a career ahead of you.”

Amanda follows up with a wonderful response to this conundrum:

“Sure, A.I. can write a story based on a formula, and that is missing THE WHOLE THING! And the reason we will win, the reason human writers will […] is that! Because A.I. can’t do that, the heart and soul-and that goes for visual art as well! I think there are some cool A.I. images that I have seen, I’m also married to an illustrator so this is also personal to me, but it won’t ever have the heart and soul of something a human artists has created.”


Amanda Deibert. Writer on the Star Wars: Hyperspace Stories comics, she has also written for Marvel, DC, as well as Netflix. Image from Dynamite Entertainment.

And there you have it. This was my first time at an actual comic convention and I had a blast! For more opinion pieces, news, reviews, and general things about Star Wars be sure to follow Geek News Now on all our socials! Our Facebook page can be found here, and our Twitter can be found by clicking over here. As always, stay geeky!

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