Timothy Zahn And The Birth Of The Expanded Universe


If you didn’t catch it in hardcover, Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars: Scoundrels was released in paperback a couple of weeks ago. In Scoundrels, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian and a veritable who’s who among the galaxy’s criminal underworld, join forces to infiltrate a Black Sun stronghold and crack a supposedly uncrackable safe. If they succeed, riches beyond their wildest dreams will be theirs. If not, they’ll be at the mercy of the galaxy’s most notorious organized crime syndicate.

Scoundrels is one of the almost hundred Expanded Universe novels, a series that has entertained all of us Star Wars fans for decades now. Zahn has contributed almost a dozen novels to the series, plus comic books and short stories. To say that Zahn has been a major force in the Star Wars Expanded Universe would be an understatement.

It’s hard to believe now, but without Timothy Zahn and his blockbuster novel Heir to the Empire (and its sequels) there might not have even been an Expanded Universe. Heir was more than just a Star Wars novel: It was the Expanded Universe Star Wars novel. There had been other novels before, but their place in the official canon was shaky at best. Heir to the Empire was different: It was a fully endorsed, direct sequel to Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, and this was at a time when that movie had come and gone years ago.

There wasn’t much Star Wars content available then, especially official stuff. Heir was something different. It was a new way of connecting with old characters, and a much-needed answer to the question of what had happened to them after the movies ended. It was also a huge risk. People loved (and still love) Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and the rest of the Star Wars cast of characters. Would they accept the events of a novel as readily as they would a new movie? Was the audience for these books even there? What if the book flopped? Would that kill the EU before it even had an opportunity to start?

That’s to say nothing of the risk that Zahn was taking. He was an established writer by the time that the opportunity to write Heir came along, but what would it be like for any author to take on such a beloved franchise? The pressure must have been immense. If Heir was well received, things would be great, but if the audience rejected it… well, how would you like to be known as the writer who flubbed up Star Wars and put a nail in the Expanded Universe series?

As we all know now, there was no reason to worry: Heir to the Empire received a warm welcome from readers and critics alike. It made the New York Times bestseller list, and Zahn’s creativity led to the introduction of several new entries into Star Wars canon that we now accept as a matter of course: Alien species such as the Noghri and Chiss, and the planet Coruscant among them. George Lucas himself used Coruscant in his prequel movies. It doesn’t get much more canon than that.

All of us who have enjoyed the EU over the years – be it in the form of novels, games, comic books, you name it – owe a debt of thanks to Timothy Zahn for his willingness to step into the void and resume building where Lucas left off.