Exclusive: 16 pages of Dark Empire author Tom Veitch’s new Star Wars book!
It may be hard to imagine for some people, but around 1988 Star Wars was ‘dead’. There were no new movies on the horizon, the Marvel comic series had stopped in 1987 and the Kenner toys were also something from the past. This changed when Lucasfilm hired author Timothy Zahn to write a new book trilogy and comic artist Cam Kennedy and Tom Veitch (writer) for a new comic book series called Dark Empire.
These three men had a very important part in what I like to call the ‘Star Wars renaissance’ that took place in the late 80’s/early 90’s.
For Dark Empire Tom Veitch created a continuation of the Star Wars saga. We saw what happened after Return of the Jedi: Han and Leia together, Luke more powerful than ever and the return of old enemies…
In the years that followed Tom Veitch continue doing great things for the Star Wars franchise: he created the stories for Dark Empire II, Empire’s End and Tales of the Jedi. Together with his wife he would even write a short story about Greedo for the Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina anthology.
A while ago I got into contact with Tom and I was pleasantly surprised when he told me he was writing a book about his Star Wars experiences. This book (he wishes to keep the title a secret) will be released later this year, but I am very proud to say that Tom allows me to present an exclusive preview of no less than 16 pages.
In this special preview he tells how Dark Empire was created, why bringing back the Emperor was a great idea, why Timothy Zahn criticized his work…a real treat for every Star Wars fan I would say!
The following is a section from my new book about my experiences creating expanded universe Star Wars comics in the 1990s. (Dark Empire & Tales of the Jedi). The book will be released later this year. ~ Tom Veitch
A LONG TIME AGO IN A GALAXY NOT TOO FAR AWAY…
For about five years in the early 21st century I owned a bookstore in Bennington, Vermont. We specialized in old and rare books. But our shop also had lots of interesting books in every category, about forty thousand books altogether.
One of the highlights of those years was a series of talks I gave on the Star Wars movies and my experiences working on Star Wars comics. Guests at these talks generally numbered about ten, sitting in captain’s chairs around a big rustic mahogany table that was a replica of a table where Ernest Hemingway entertained guests at in his house in Key West.
These were free-wheeling talks, focused mainly on my ideas about the Jedi Knights and the two sides of the Force — light side and dark side. The talks also morphed into question and answer sessions in which my “students” would argue Star Wars trivia. And frankly, that was a lot of fun!
What follows is based on a transcript of a session in which we discussed Tim Zahn (author of the best-selling Star Wars novel Heir to the Empire) and the back-and-forth he and I had while we were writing our respective works.
Q: So how did Dark Empire evolve, from your first proposals to when it was finally published by Dark Horse Comics?
TOM: As I already mentioned, I first approached Mr. Lucas in November of 1988. After a year of discussion, negotiation, and story treatments, on September 25, 1989 I submitted to Lucasfilm a 50 page synopsis for 144 pages of Star Wars comics, to be drawn and painted by Cam Kennedy and published as three 48 page books.
Q: This was before Tim Zahn proposed his novels?
TOM: Yeah. In terms of the creative timeline, the basic concepts for Dark Empire were proposed and accepted a year before Tim was hired by Bantam. And our project was fully outlined and plotted and approved by Lucas about a month before Zahn came on board.
Q: Can you give us more detail?
TOM: Sure. The way it went was like this: After our outline for three 48-page issues was approved, in October 1989, Lucasfilm told me they were going to approach Bantam about doing a new Star Wars novel, and they asked me if I would like to write a novelization of Dark Empire. I said sure, absolutely, and got very excited about the prospect.
Then, when they talked to Bantam, the editors there said they would love to do a new Star Wars book, but they would prefer to have one of their contract writers invent his own Star Wars story. In fact they had somebody in mind — Timothy Zahn, who was a rising star in the world of science fiction.
Zahn is quoted as saying, “It was just after four o’clock on November 6, 1989, and I was three days into writing my first novel for my new publisher, Bantam Books, when the phone rang. It was my agent. ‘Tim,’ he said after the usual pleasantries, ‘we have a very interesting offer here.'”
After that, Lucasfilm called me and said that Bantam had hired Zahn to do a book, also post-ROTJ, but different from Dark Empire. I was disappointed, but I offered to talk with the new writer and co-ordinate ideas and plotlines.
That didn’t happen. Instead, as I gather, somebody at Bantam suggested to Lucasfilm that they be allowed to generate their own comics and graphic novels, beginning with an adaptation of Zahn’s book! At the time it was public knowledge that graphic novels were making a lot of money — DC’s Arkham Asylum (by Grant Morrison, published October 1989) reportedly grossed $4.5 million in direct market sales.
Thankfully Lucasfilm honored our agreement. Besides, they were already in contract negotiations with Marvel at that point, so Bantam’s suggestion was a non-starter.
Q: So Dark Empire was still at Marvel at that point?
TOM: Yes it was. Archie Goodwin was our editor and we were rolling. …But then a curious chain of events began.
Bantam decided to keep Zahn in the dark about the existence of Dark Empire until he had finished plotting Heir to the Empire. My suggestion that we collaborate on the post-ROTJ timeline fell on deaf ears.
Indeed, when he turned in his own synopsis for Heir to the Empire, he was apparently unaware that the comics project even existed. Then, once his synopsis was approved, somebody got the idea of asking him to critique the story treatment I had written for Dark Empire.
Q: That sounds like one of those situations that people in the movie industry like to get into – everybody “giving notes” on projects that are already in motion. …Was that a big problem for you?
TOM: Not really. It was just a pain in the ass. And it reminded me that the “carte blanche” we had received initially had caveats – even after our outline was fully approved!
Anyway, one fine day I received a copy of Zahn’s detailed notes on Dark Empire. Along with it, I received a copy of his synopsis of Heir to the Empire. And Lucasfilm asked if I would respond to Tim’s critique and as write my own comments on his plot!
TOM: One problem was that neither Archie Goodwin nor Cam and I liked Tim’s plot. It seemed rather pedestrian and unexciting. It wandered through a lot of scenes that were a rehash of the movies, but the pacing was non-cinematic and not much fun, visually speaking. Worse yet, the new characters were clearly knock-offs of characters from the films. For example, the character “Talon Karrde” was a Han Solo/Lando Calrissian clone. And “Admiral Thrawn” was a substitute for Darth Vader and Peter Cushing (as Grand Moff Tarkin). Another character, the dark Jedi “Jorus C’baoth” shared the qualities of both Vader and The Emperor.
Substitute villains who are similar to well-known villains can be o.k., but usually you have to spend a lot of time making people believe in them. Our idea was to build on the tremendous power that the Emperor, Jabba the Hutt, and Boba Fett already held over the viewer’s imagination. And rather than having a new character try to convert Luke to the Dark Side, we would show that the very essence of the Dark Side — the Emperor — still lives, more powerful than ever.
Q: And Luke falls under his spell. Which is cool, but as you know, some people didn’t like that you brought back the Emperor.
TOM: I sympathize…but these folks were probably unfamiliar with the history of movie serials and comics, where great villains never completely die — they always return. Star Wars, as you know, was partly based on Flash Gordon, a movie serial and comic strip in which the principal villain, the evil emperor Ming the Merciless, is never completely killed off. For instance, consider the 1980 Flash Gordon movie where Max von Sydow as Ming is impaled by his own war rocket (of which Flash had taken control). After a vain attempt to stop Flash attacking him, Ming ultimately points his ring at himself and he vanishes. Then, just before the credits begin, his ring is retrieved by an unknown individual, and the words “The End” and a question mark appear, as Ming’s evil laughter plays in the background, hinting he isn’t really dead. (from Wikipedia)
Q: Zahn said in an interview that bringing back the Emperor goes against the story of Return of the Jedi, where we see the Emperor destroyed by Darth Vader.
TOM: Zahn misses something essential about that ROTJ scene: When the Emperor dares Luke to “strike me down”, he seems utterly indifferent to his own death! He feels that whatever the outcome of this confrontation with Luke, he, Palpatine, will conquer:
EMPEROR:Good. I can feel your anger. I am defenseless. Take your weapon! Strike me down with all your hatred, and your journey towards the dark side will be complete.
It was my thesis that in ROTJ the Emperor chose this moment to come out of his deep seclusion in the Imperial City, because he no longer feared for the safety of his physical body. His mastery of the Dark Side had become such that he was now ready to make a transition he had been working toward for many years — namely the replacement of his aging, diseased, and crippled body with a young clone! Tempting Luke to strike him in anger with a lightsaber could thus accomplish two things: It would bring Luke over to the dark side…and it would mark the moment when Palpatine made the transition to his clone body.
Luke, as we know, resisted the temptation to kill the Emperor. Then Vader hurled the Emperor down the deep reactor shaft, and we saw a series of blue flashes marking the Emperor’s demise. The blue flashes represented the Emperor’s living energy, his conscious dark force, leaving his body. And according to our story, his consciousness was translated across the Galaxy almost instantaneously and entered a new youthful body. Using cloned bodies Palpatine could live forever…and rule the Empire for thousands of years!
Q: It’s interesting, I think Palpatine alludes to living forever in the prequels.
TOM: That he does. Here’s a quote from Revenge of the Sith:
ANAKIN:Just help me save Padme’s life. I can’t live without her. I won’t let her die. I want the power to stop death.
PALPATINE:To cheat death is a power only one has achieved, but if we work together, I know we can discover the secret.
I believe Palpatine is referring to his own Sith master, Darth Plagueis, a canonical character who is supposed to have manipulated the midichlorians to achieve immortality and even create life.
Q: If the Emperor was going to continue to rule the Galaxy, he obviously was going to have to do something about his aging flesh.
TOM: Exactly. And if you ask me, the films nicely foreshadow Dark Empire and the Emperor’s scheme to live and rule the Galaxy … forever.
GALAXY IN CHAOS
Q: Are you going to cover any more of Zahn’s criticisms?
TOM: Sure. He raised a few interesting points, as did some of the readers of the finished comic. I’d especially like to address the question of “Force Storms”, which appear right in the first chapter of our story.
Q: I thought the “Force Storm” worked, because it cuts to the chase regarding Luke and the Emperor confronting each other. But if the Emperor can make these energy storms, what does he need a Deathstar for? He could control the Galaxy by striking with raw Force energy!
TOM: Exactly. And that was one of the questions that Tim Zahn raised as well. But as a logical writer, he should have realized that since the Empire built two Death Stars, obviously the “Force Storm” must have limitations as an instrument of destruction!
In fact, in the Dark Empire Glossary which we provided to Lucasfilm (and to West End Games, for their Dark Empire Sourcebook), a Force Storm is defined thus:
Tornado of energy released by great disturbances in the Force. Also called Energy Storm. Unpredictable, but powerful Dark Side adepts have had limited success in purposely creating such storms.
And in my response to Zahn, I said:
“What is the mechanism of a Force Storm? I would suggest that it is a function of two powerful minds focused on each other: Luke and the Emperor. It’s as if a wormhole in the Force has opened between them, causing a massive release of energy. The Emperor, unlike Luke, has learned how to use this rare event to his advantage.”
That’s the explanation we used in the finished comic book. But in my letter to Zahn, I also mentioned there could be other explanations, equally as valid — for instance having to do with something (such as a Sith holocron) Luke found in the Imperial Palace. That’s just part of the fun, you know — dreaming up imaginative special effect sequences — and then figuring out the logic of how and why they can happen. If the logic can’t be found, then yes, the effects should be jettisoned.
Q: What if the use of the Force in this way was a recent discovery by the Emperor? He might have unearthed that bit of sorcery from ancient Sith archives, or from powers locked in Sith temples.
TOM: Sure. That works. And speaking of logic, I’ll tell you something else. In the films the Death Stars are portrayed as the ultimate technological weapon you would use to control a Galaxy of thousands (or even millions) of inhabited star systems. But did you ever consider that the logic of the Death Star is deeply flawed?
Q: You mean it was vulnerable to being destroyed by a tiny X-Wing?
TOM: No, not just that. The Death Star is an extremely impractical use of hyperspace travel. The realistic way to control a Galaxy (if I may use the word “realistic” relative to a science fiction fantasy) is by firing hyperspace missiles from stationary bases. You can build an untold number of such projectiles, each capable of destroying a planet. And when a system gets uppity or joins the Rebellion, you simply launch one of these faster-than-light missiles and they are obliterated.
Q: That sounds like your “Galaxy Gun” from Dark Empire!
TOM: Yes. My theory is that Lucas was so focused on the Death Star idea, that he missed the flawed logic and the impracticality of it.
Q: But so did everybody who saw the movie. I mean, it was so cool. And so big.
TOM: Definitely awesome. But once the Galaxy Gun concept hit the light of day in our comics, Death Stars became obsolete. In fact, in the J.J. Abrams film, The Force Awakens, they used our concept as the basis for the hyperspace superweapon mounted on Starkiller Base. This weapon is described as “capable of destroying entire star systems halfway across the galaxy.” It is also described as the result of an evolution in “hyperspace tunneling.”
Q: Then it’s really an adaptation of the Galaxy Gun?
TOM: Yes it is. But it’s not that difficult to understand that all kinds of hyperspace weapons are inevitable, once you posit hyperspace travel. Lucas overlooked that fact because he was hypnotized by the Death Star idea.
Q: You could say the same about Star Trek. I don’t think they have used lightspeed weaponry yet, but they could. If they haven’t, it might be because they are more about characters than technology.
TOM: I believe phasers and photon torpedoes can be fired while a warp speed. But as far as I know nobody has fully explored the implications of that. …The fact of the matter is that faster-than-light missiles or projectiles could truly master a galaxy. But they would also result in galaxy-wide wars between competing technological cultures. Sort of like the situation we have on earth right now, with a number of countries already armed with nuclear-tipped missiles. Extrapolate that situation to a galaxy – or THE Galaxy – and you have a truly explosive situation.
As a matter of fact, that’s another of the built-in flaws of the Star Wars saga. Thousands upon thousands of independent planetary systems would be functionally autonomous and hidden from the prying eyes of “the Empire”. It would take an unthinkably massive surveillance and control network to bring a Galaxy under a central government. You think we have trouble with Iran or North Korea developing nuclear weapons deep inside a mountain? Imagine the technologies of war being developed in secret — or even in the open — by independent civilizations on thousands, or perhaps millions, of planets!
Q: And then there is the “illegal” arms trade. Out of sight out of mind. The possibilities are mind boggling.
TOM: Yes, I can imagine that in a real Star Wars Galaxy hyperspace weapons would be developed and traded all over the place. And every peaceful planet would have to worry about planet-busting missiles popping out of hyperspace at any time…with nobody knowing who launched them!
Q: I wonder if anybody on Star Trek ever thought a beaming a bomb aboard the Enterprise or from the Enterprise to another vessel?
TOM: I believe the concept was used at least once on Star Trek Voyager. Google “Star Trek transporter bomb” for lots of discussion on this.
Q: With the proliferation of nukes here on earth, what do you think is going to happen?
TOM: Oh, I think there is going to be a nuclear war. A big one. I have no idea when, but I think it is inevitable. Probably in this century. …Did you know they are already developing autonomous submersible nuclear torpedoes that will circle the earth’s oceans undetected? Imagine a coastal city suddenly demolished, and nobody knows who did it!
Q: That’s terrible.
TOM: And we are all praying it doesn’t happen. But it will. And we need to believe that, in order to do something to prevent it. …Now, can we get back to Star Wars?
Q: Definitely. Real life is too scary! … Can you say more about Zahn’s plot for the post-ROTJ Galaxy?
TOM: Sure. What’s especially interesting, from my point-of-view, is that Zahn’s plot provides a basis for saying that without the thousands of Jedi Knights who once formed the backbone of the Old Republic, the new confederation is a precarious one and “long years of struggle ensued.”
Q: I liked that you have the Rebels using captured Star Destroyers against the remnants of the Empire.
TOM: That idea was original with us. One of these captured Star Destroyers, commanded by Luke Skywalker and Lando Calrissian, crashes on the Imperial planet (now named Coruscant by Tim Zahn). And as our book opens, Princess Leia and her husband Han Solo, together with the Wookiee Chewbacca and the protocol droid C-3PO, are on a mission to rescue Luke and Lando.
Q: Tim didn’t like the idea that you could crash land a Star Destroyer?
TOM: Right. In his critique of my 50-page synopsis, he took a proton torpedo to that idea:
“A Star Destroyer is a mile long. If something that size crashed into the Imperial City, the city and more of the surrounding county would be gone, devastated by a combination of the direct impact, the ground and atmospheric shock waves, and the firestorm and probably earthquake. There most certainly wouldn’t be any fighting going on around it.”
TOM: Tim’s critique was interesting, but I strongly disagreed. I explained to Tim that hugely expensive Star Destroyers would be equipped with anti-gravity devices (also called “repulsor lift”) for emergency touch-downs and surviving crash-landings. The technology is widely available, and the ship designers would use it. Deflector shields (and even tractor beams) could also be incorporated into braking devices.
Q: I guess he hadn’t seen The Force Awakens. (laughs)
TOM: Or Rogue One. My main point, however, was that the image of a Star Destroyer lying broken and helpless on the surface of a planet is just too cool not to use. All that technological power — now become so much junk. The creators of The Force Awakens clearly agreed, for the opening scenes of the 2015 movie show the heroine, Rey, scavenging parts for resale off a crashed Star Destroyer.
Q: And in Rogue One we see a Star Destroyer hovering over a city. That means they were definitely deploying anti-grav technology on those giant ships.
TOM: Tim had another argument about ships of very large size having to stay in space “well away from planet-sized bodies.” As he put it, “It takes an incredible amount of energy to move a quarter cubic mile of metal up and down a gravity well.”
Q: That sounds rational.
TOM: It’s based on the physics of energized propulsion and repulsion. …Nobody knows how anti-gravity will work, once it is discovered or invented. But it is very easy to theorize that it will involve some yet to be understood law of physics that allows you to reverse an existing gravity field. So, if you are over a planet, you potentially have the planet’s entire gravity field as your “power source”.
Q: Right. It also seems like Tim was inclined to give precedence to old-fashioned Newtonian physics over imagination!
TOM: Keep in mind nobody yet knows what we will ultimately learn about gravity waves. Will they be manipulated like electromagnetic waves?
Q: Yeah, and what about all the strange possibilities of quantum physics?
TOM: To give Tim his due, not every Star Destroyer would be able to survive a crash-landing. For example, can you imagine a ship that size hitting a planet point first!
Q: Cool Star Destroyer crashes have been used all over the place, in games, animated films, comics… I think I saw one or two in your comics.
AGING THE CHARACTERS
TOM: Since Dark Empire takes place five or six years after the end of Return of the Jedi, the characters have matured quite a bit. Luke is now a fully realized Jedi, manly and battle-hardened.
Han and Leia are married. We wanted to move beyond the kind of teenage feuding that characterized their earlier years and bring out a new theme: the never-ending war has given them little time to enjoy their relationship. Indeed, months pass where they don’t see each other at all, and the brief reunions are intense and passionate. They care about each other.
Q: That’s interesting. They kind of used that in The Force Awakens too.
TOM: To good effect, I thought. These are people who have been fighting a never-ending war. They are both battle-hardened and battle-weary.
Q: But Han and Leia were estranged in The Force Awakens. I didn’t care for that.
TOM: Me too. …In any case, in Dark Empire Leia’s Jedi powers, under the guidance of Luke, have begun to develop — although she has yet to take up the lightsaber. My plan was to give Leia more intuitive and mental or psychic powers rather than the athletic abilities that Luke demonstrated. She didn’t really take to the idea of cutting off arms and legs in battle. That said, she would come to own a lightsaber, bestowed upon her by the “fallen Jedi” Vima Da Boda.
Tim Zahn complained about this too, saying that Leia should have a lightsaber at the beginning of Dark Empire, and be fully trained in its use. He also objected to Leia using the Force “to blow up droids”. I explained to him that the Jedi don’t “blow up” things, but they do use telekenisis to move the inner components of droids and assault weapons, causing them to self-destruct.
This is the same power Yoda used to raise the X-Wing in The Empire Strikes Back. So it follows that Luke doesn’t blow up AT-ATs. He uses his lightsaber to deflect and return their fire. Then he uses telekinesis to tip them over.
Q: I wonder if using the Force to blow up stuff should be totally off limits?
TOM: The question of “blowing up” came up in meetings I held early on with a local Star Wars club — a group of enthusiastic guys and girls who were deeply into the West End Star Wars roleplaying game. As we discussed and agreed, the Light Side of the Force is not explosive — although it is likely it could initiate a powerful concussion wave.
Q: O.K., but what about the Dark Side? The Emperor’s lightning bolts ought to be able to blow up a few things.
TOM: Agreed. The electrical discharges emitted by the Emperor, which seem to be a major power of the Sith Lords, could easily ignite rocket fuel or even start a fire in garbage compactor! So let me ask everybody here today — can the Dark Side “blow things up”?
Q: Well, we know that Luke blew up the Death Star using the Force to guide a torpedo. Does that count?
Q: Concussion waves are good. A Jedi of the Light Side could hit something with one of those.
Q: Dark Jedi Exar Kun killed people with “Force blasts” in Tales of the Jedi, as I recall. I don’t know if good Jedi ever did that.
TOM: Not to my knowledge.
Q: I am thinking that the Dark Side of the Force could interfere with matter at the atomic level … maybe even cause a small nuclear explosion. Why couldn’t advanced Light Jedi do that?
TOM: Maybe a Jedi could do that in special circumstances, with highly focused meditation. Or by mastering the physics of Force Storms. This goes along with the idea that Dark Side powers are available to very advanced Jedi, if the need arises. Since the Force “surrounds and penetrates us”, terrible things may be possible to one who learns the Dark Side of the Force.
Q: There’s a rumor going around that Luke will create Force explosions in Star Wars VIII. But that is just fan speculation at this point. [Note: He didn’t.]
CHILDREN OF THE JEDI
TOM: To continue, our plan from the get-go was that Han and Leia would have a child. The Jedi lineage will continue! As it turned out, Zahn beat us to it, giving Han and Leia two children, Jacen and Jaina. So our Solo child was the third, a son named after his grandfather Anakin.
Q: Ah, the famous Jedi Anakin Solo! …Why did you name him Anakin?
TOM: My idea was to call him “Anakin” because he would embody both the light and dark aspects of the Skywalker lineage and suffer great inner conflict in his life. As it turned out, this was how Kasdan and Abrams came to visualize Han and Leia’s son Ben aka Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. In their story, the Dark Side takes over the personality of Ben Solo.
Q: That doesn’t happen to Anakin.
TOM: My plan was that the Light Side would win out in Anakin after inner battles between the two sides of his being. As I understand it, subsequent Expanded Universe writers chose to make the Light Side consistently strong in Anakin, and that he died a hero. I have no problem with that, but a lot of stories about Anakin’s inner conflict didn’t get told!
Q: What about Chewbacca?
TOM: Our intention was that Chewie would appear essentially the same as he did in the films. So would Boba Fett for that matter! And the R2D2 and C3PO are in good shape, and fully functional, although C3P0 would complain about his “aging joints”.
Q: Did Tim Zahn have any more complaints about Dark Empire?
TOM: A few. One thing he didn’t like was my statement that “the power of all the Jedi who have gone before is focused in Luke Skywalker.” …Now, I can see how one could argue with that statement. But Tim’s critique was, I thought, curiously out of touch with the nature of both the Force and the Jedi. He said: “Knowledge of the Force is a highly individual and personal thing, coming from one’s OWN talent and efforts to develop that talent. To say that dead Jedi can pass on their power is to infinitely cheapen the concept, reducing it to little more than a spiritual bank account with transfer privileges…”
Q: And you disagreed?
TOM: I certainly did. Here’s my full response, which was passed to Tim. I’d be happy to argue it here, if you like:
MY RESPONSE TO TIM
Now Tim doesn’t like the idea of “the power of all the Jedi who have gone before” being focused in Luke. I think it follows logically from the fact, shown in the films, that the Jedi don’t break off communication when they die. There would be a tremendous need, among the fallen Jedi, to right the great wrong done to their Company. They wouldn’t just drift off to the Elysian Fields (as Zahn shows Obi-Wan doing in his plot outline).
Thus the idea of focusing on Luke, the last of their kind — the last hope for the Jedi.
I disagree that knowledge of the Force is merely “a highly individual and personal thing”, a kind of talent that one develops. Indeed, we know the Force is “an energy field created by all living things that binds the universe together”. The Jedi Knights were trained to tap into this collective energy, and use it in combat or for other magical purposes.
Yes, that takes a certain talent and skill — and an individual relationship to this vast well of power… But the ultimate talent for using the Force comes not from the ego or “one’s own efforts”, but from “letting go” the ego’s need to control. The Force then “becomes strong in you”, suggesting a kind of mystical sharing, through feeling — a conscious relationship to this collective and all-pervasive energy.
I think it’s Tim who misses the mark when he reduces knowledge of the Force to a “highly individual and personal thing, coming from one’s OWN [his caps] talent and efforts to develop that talent.” He would (it seems) reduce what is essentially an Eastern idea to the ordinary Western struggle for heroic identity.
Needless to day, Tim’s idea contradicts the way Luke learned to let go of the need to control and to “feel the Force” in the very first Star Wars film.
Q: Hard to argue with that. Luke gives up his personal effort when he battles the remote aboard the Falcon … and when he destroys the Death Star.
Q: It sounds like Tim was on a mission to change Star Wars into an old-fashioned outer space shoot-em up.
TOM: I have no comment on that. But I would remind folks that the idea of “collective mind” goes back to the beginnings of science fiction, and was wonderfully expressed in the movie Forbidden Planet — a movie that had a big effect on George Lucas.
Q: You mean with the planetary machine that brings to life your unconscious demons?
TOM: Exactly. And who can forget all the stories of super-brained aliens whose shared consciousness is far beyond the knowledge and talent of earth’s greatest scientists. …Tim apparently wanted to reduce everything back to a safe and highly predictable level in which spiritual or transcendent forces are no longer part of the picture.
Q: Did you guys argue about any other things?
TOM: There were a few minor points, such as whether the spires on the Pinnacle Moon were geologically possible. And there was another big dispute about the Dark Side and the relationships of “dark Jedi” on planet Byss — the secret throne-world of the Emperor in the Galactic core, permeated with the Dark Side of the Force. Again, according to Zahn:
“The dark side of the force is a path of selfishness, a seeking for personal gain above all else. There cannot be, by definition, any kind of genuine friendship or cooperation between Dark Jedi; only mastery and subservience based on power. A stable society of them simply cannot exist. …An entire world of dark-side adepts would be embroiled in continual, violent war with itself as each member sought for power over all the others. There would be temporary alliances which, after achieving power, would disintegrate in internal battle and in turn be overthrown by a new temporary alliance of its enemies. Given that, there are only two ways that the Emperor could hold onto any kind of permanent power: either he is so powerful that NO combination of the others is stronger (which seems unlikely with a whole planet full of them to choose from) — or else he must be powerful enough to destroy all the others, in which case the whole concept of Byss goes out the window. …[Veitch] ignores the reality of what the dark side is. The “adepts of the dark side” would never have helped the Emperor get a new body and thus regain power over them.”
Q: I guess Tim never heard of Nazi Germany!
TOM: Yeah, in fact there are so many historical precedents of stable societies permeated by evil, what he says just seems silly.
Q: And who can forget Lord of the Rings, for godsakes! The One Ring holds a mystical dark power to bind whole populations. In a way, a Dark Lord of the Sith, such as Palpatine, is a mirror of Sauron, ruler of Mordor.
TOM: We could have a long discussion about the parallels of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars …In any case, Tim and I disagreed. And I tried to ground my answer to him in the Star Wars movies themselves, which, curiously enough, are built around the idea of a stable society ruled by the Dark Side — a society called “The Empire”!
Q: Whoops. Sorry, Tim. No Death Stars for you!
TOM: To complete the discussion here’s a portion of my long response to Tim:
RESPONSE TO TIM ON COOPERATION OF DARK JEDI
Tim says there cannot, by definition, be any kind of cooperation between Dark Jedi, and a stable society of them cannot exist.
I disagree. The attempt to create a stable society based on the power of the Dark Side is what the Emperor — and STAR WARS — is all about.
The Emperor clearly has an ongoing relationship with Vader (”my friend” he calls him). The Emperor also confers with other strangely garbed figures in Return of the Jedi. Like all “dark side politicians”, he is a man of relationships — when he needs them.
The respect the Emperor shows for anyone who can use the Force is based on the hope that these powerful people will capitulate to his will and become useful to him.
The same principle would be behind the “society of Dark Adepts” on Byss.
Now, why would a whole group of Adepts submit to the Emperor, when they could overthrow him, etc., as Tim suggests?
Why did the Assassins Guild submit to Hassan I Sabbah? Whey do the dark angels serve Satan? Why did the Gestapo serve Hitler? Why did Caligula reign over Rome? What about Genghis Kahn, Alexander the Great, the Pharoahs, etc. etc.?
A dark magician can have trusted servants. Lesser power users will serve one who is clearly their superior. Sometimes, yes, they will scheme against him, attempt to bring him down, and so forth. But from the three existing STAR WARS films we get a distinct impression that the Emperor is secure in his inner circle. And it is this security that gives him the confidence to reach out to control a galaxy.
A strange peace reigns on Byss … the peace of satiated vampires. All rewards flow from the center — and each Adept receives exactly what he desires. If he should desire too much, then yes, then he can be eliminated.
It’s all written in human history. Byss can be nothing more than the experience of men. (And, it should be noted, not everyone on Byss uses the Force, although all (or most) are under the spell of the Dark Side. Most of the inhabitants of the Emperor’s throne world are ordinary galactic citizens who have “earned the privilege” to move to Byss … or else were lured here by the promise of an “idyllic refuge”.)
THE SECRETS OF THE FORCE
TOM: Tim had what I considered to be a conflicted understanding the hero and his quest. For him, being a Jedi came down to “individual talent and effort”. But Tim also understood that “learning dark side secrets” meant surrendering to the dark side of the Force:
“The dark side has no ‘secrets’ that Luke can learn and use, not unless he goes to the dark side himself. The dark side is about motivations and ethics, not something as simple and neutral as technique. It would be like Luke deciding to learn judo from the Emperor…”
Q: I get the feeling Tim wouldn’t approve of the blind warrior monk Chirrut Îmwe, the character in Rogue One who takes on opponents with his staff, with great skill, despite being blind.
TOM: Good point. It seems that for some writers, Eastern martial arts are “techniques” separate from a spiritual and moral core. The opposite is the case, of course. And that’s the essence of Star Wars. That connection between inner and outer worlds was what our story is about. It was always about mental and spiritual conflict — not simply learning tricks and techniques.
Q: But in your story, Luke believed he could apprentice himself to the Emperor and not “surrender to the dark side”.
TOM: Exactly. But Luke also knew that he carried the heritage of Darth Vader in his blood. From The Empire Strikes Back onward, his struggle was very much about human psychology and “the inner war with the Shadow” — the Shadow being an aspect of himself !
Q: Who can forget Luke’s confrontation with himself in the Dark Side Tree on Dagobah? He saw his own face inside Darth Vader’s helmet!
TOM: It’s all there in the films, in the relationship of Luke and his father, and the teachings of Yoda. The war of good and evil is as much inner as it is outer. If it is only outside yourself and your “techniques”, there is only endless combat and numberless deaths.
Star Wars is as much about a war in the mind and spirit as it is about ships blasting each other with death rays. That’s what makes it the films the huge success they are. Star Wars is about the use of cosmic energies — the Force — through the awakening of intuitive knowledge.
Q: One thing your exchange with Zahn proves to me — Star Wars is many things to many people. Everybody finds what he wants in it.
TOM: That’s very true. And in fact, if you read a lot of the Expanded Universe stories, you can see how most writers project their own psychology and personal narratives into the work.
LIGHT MIND / DARK MIND
TOM: At the time I sent in my original proposal, I didn’t quite know how the story would end, except that Luke and Leia would overpower the Emperor by joining their minds in the Force. Tim had a problem with that, of course. He said my idea was “an insult to the Star Wars philosophy”. He said that the idea that Luke and Leia would use mental power to destroy the Emperor was “completely and absolutely WRONG.” [his caps]
TOM: Well, I think he might have misunderstood what I wrote in the proposal, about “whole areas of the dark mind falling to the light side of the Force…” I also said that at that moment “everything Luke has learned about the dark side is transmuted and turned against the Emperor.”
Q: He must have missed the word “transmuted”.
TOM: I don’t know. He accused me of violating the code of the Jedi by “tampering with the very soul” of the Emperor — as if Palpatine had a soul!
Q: You know, your feisty exchange with Tim Zahn makes me think of a couple of twelve-point bucks battling for dominion in the forests of Endor. (laughs)
TOM: No doubt there was some of that in it. But basically it was a clash of two different views of life … and of Star Wars. Readers will have to decide the argument for themselves.
Q: And did you write a critique of Heir to the Empire?
TOM: I wrote a short critique. I really didn’t like the idea of subjecting Tim to a long list of “notes”. Overall, I was disappointed with his book. As a story it seemed derivative and uninspired. But my main problem, which I wrote to Lucasfilm, was that I found his book curiously uncinematic. I felt (and still feel) that all Star Wars novels need to be highly visual and give you the impression you might be sitting in a theater. I told him Heir to the Empire didn’t feel at all like watching a movie. Fortunately Tim took that criticism to heart and his subsequent work was a definite improvement.
Q: You saw those books before publication?
TOM: Yes, they sent me the manuscripts, so that I’d make sure our stories were coordinated. But I wasn’t asked to give any more notes — nor was he. The one good thing from our spirited exchange in 1990 was that everybody backed off and let Cam and I finish Dark Empire. A couple years later somebody at LucasArts complimented me on my responses to Zahn’s critique. “Boy, you two guys really got into it,” she said. “It was like a lightsaber duel. He was out to destroy you, but your comebacks to Tim were spot on.”