Interview: Heir to the Empire Editor Betsy Mitchell


SW HEIR TO THE EMPIRE - coverThe Force is with us—some more than others.

Editor Betsy Mitchell is one of them.

Betsy has had a great career thus far, one that will continue to help shape the genre as we know it. She’s worked for some of the best publishers and, as a result, worked with some of the best authors. That’s not all. She is also responsible for working editorial on Star Wars: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, probably the most influential Star Wars novel ever written.

With the 20th Anniversary Edition of Heir to the Empire published and in fine bookstores everywhere, I thought it would be great to revisit Betsy’s time on the book and how things have changed over the years.


Shawn Speakman: Hi Betsy! You have worked on many bestselling novels during your editorship but HEIR TO THE EMPIRE by Timothy Zahn has to be one of the most gratifying and successful. What is it like for you, having seen this book grow in fandom and canon over the years?

Betsy Mitchell: I just came back from DragonCon in Atlanta, where oddly enough HEIR came up in conversation a number of times, and I was amazed at the number of people who said that it (a) was the best Star Wars novel ever and (b) that it should have been the basis of George Lucas’s fourth Star Wars film. That’s a compliment far more to Tim Zahn than to me, but it was certainly one of the high points of my career to have picked him for the job and to be able to edit the result.

SS: In your new Afterword for the 20th Anniversary Edition of HEIR TO THE EMPIRE you write you “knew Tim had the writing skills to handle a big-picture Star Wars plot. Not only that, but he could also recreate the interplay between George Lucas’s beloved characters as well as generate new ones who would capture readers’ interest.” How difficult is it finding the right person for a tie-in project and how does that process work?

BM: It can be difficult to find the right person for a tie-in project. We’ve learned through painful experience that the most important requirement of all is that the potential writer love, love, love the source material, be it game, TV show, or movie. A writer’s deep knowledge of the material, what about it appeals to its fans, the twists and turns that provide room for original storytelling–that can’t be feigned. It’s best, of course, when an author’s skill matches his or her love of the original property, but we’ll take deep knowledge over writing talent every time.

When we’ve gotten a short list of potential writers together, we present their bios and previous writing samples to the company who owns the property, since by contract they have approval over every aspect of the tie-in novel (writer, final manuscript, cover art, etc.). They approve a writer, the writer then submits an outline, and usually after a period of back-and-forth discussion, the writer goes to work. Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to sit down with the writer and the property developers and hammer out the ideas in person, or at least by means of an email conversation. That’s the preferred method, but many times the development team is so busy working on the project itself that we deal with licensing people instead.

SS: HEIR TO THE EMPIRE is filled with memorable characters. A fan favorite though is Mara Jade. What is it about the fiery redhead that struck a chord with Star Wars fans?

BM: Mara Jade is a complex character and one that took a while for readers to get to know–she’s got quite a history, and I think people enjoyed learning about it over time. She’s appreciated, I think, because she’s a strong female character who is both smart and gets into the thick of the action, with both her physical strength and her force powers. And as Luke’s wife, she’s supportive of him but also his full equal.

SS: Out of the six Star Wars films, which episode is your favorite and why?

BM: A New Hope, of course! I saw it a couple of times with friends when it first came out, and then fell in love with it again when my son got old enough to watch it over and over on DVD. It’s just a perfect balance of a great ensemble of characters caught up in major events against the backdrop of a detailed, highly imaginative universe.

SS: You are the Editor in Chief of Del Rey books, privy to Jedi secrets. Will the sequels to Heir to the Empire also receive the annotated and hardcover treatment?

BM: The Jedi Council tells me that if there’s a big enough demand for the anniversary edition of HEIR TO THE EMPIRE, we’d love to follow up with the others.

The 20th Anniversary Edition of Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn is in fine bookstores now!