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'The general rule has been that no one can kill off somebody else's character without their permission. Everything I do is owned by George Lucas, so technically [Lucas Films doesn't] need our permission to do anything, it's more of a courtesy," says bestselling author Timothy Zahn. On Saturday, February 25, Zahn will sign and discuss his seventh novel in the Star Wars universe, Outbound Flight, at Mysterious Galaxy Books. Zahn first entered the Star Wars genre with the "Thrawn Trilogy": Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command. Then came the "Hand of Thrawn duology" with Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future. Next was Survivor's Quest, a story that begins shortly after Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade, a character of Zahn's creation, are married. In this novel, the newlyweds are invited to investigate the wreckage of Outbound Flight, "a project to send an expedition to another galaxy in the days before the Clone wars. "

"When asked to do Survivor's Quest, it occurred to me that since there would be a year or two between books, I could take a page from George Lucas and do Outbound Flight as a kind of prequel. [In Survivor's Quest], I could have the story of the end of Outbound Flight and leave some mysteries as to what went on. Then, years later, Outbound Flight would come out, [set] fifty years earlier, and show how [the flight] had gotten in that position," explains Zahn.

There are over 70 authors of Star Wars novels and short stories. Each story must go through the "Lucasfilms editorial process" to be approved, and each author must stay true to the Star Wars story line, characters, and time line. With hundreds of books in print it became necessary to develop a method to assist authors in keeping track of Star Wars information. "Now we have the Holocron, a word taken from one of the books, meaning 'holographic encyclopedia.' Lucasfilms has one of these things and keeps it as up to date as they can with a listing of planets and characters."

The Database Content Administrator, or "Keeper of the Holocron," is Leland Chee. Chee is responsible for cross-referencing Star Wars novels, comic books, games, trading cards, and any other form of merchandising. In a recent interview for the gaming company Wizards of the Coast, Chee explained how he determines which "truth" to accept when he comes across contradictory information: "Everything is looked at on a case-by-case basis. Among the factors we consider: In how many sources does this particular fact appear? Which source has the largest audience? Which explanation is the coolest? Have we been told by George Lucas to avoid this topic? If, after weighing all those variables, the answer isn't yet clear, the issue is presented to an internal group that makes the final determination as to which source is 'correct.'"

When the publishing company asked Zahn to write the Hand of Thrawn duology, he said he would agree on two conditions: He wanted to end the war between the New Republic and the Empire and to marry Luke Skywalker to Mara Jade. When his conditions were approved, other writers were required to keep the path clear for these events. On scifi.com Zahn writes, "...it was highly amusing to hear the speculations as to why Luke's girlfriends kept vanishing offstage. It was a wonderfully well-kept secret, and I tip my hat to all the people who kept it that way."

For the booksigning, Zahn will be escorted by stormtroopers from Vader's First 501st Legion into the Kearny Mesa bookstore, which boasts the tagline, "Of Martians, Murder, Magic & Mayhem." According to the Legion's website, the group "spread[s] the magic of the Star Wars genre through authentic-looking costumes."

"The only problem for stormtroopers is I don't think they can sit down in their armor," says Zahn. "Because of the way the armor's put together, if you sit down, you're going to crack it, so they're basically standing up as long as they're in the outfit." Zahn has worked with members of the 501st before. "They add panache to any event. It just feels cool to have stormtroopers with you, and they are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. So polite."

Fans may dress up as well. "You get the costumers -- people who like to dress up at a convention who are very much into their outfits and get in character as Jedis or bounty hunters -- but when a convention is over, they put away the lightsaber and go back to their jobs." Aside from one encounter with a woman who believed she truly was Mara Jade, Zahn insists that all of his fans "have a perfectly good grip on reality. It's just a fun thing to do, like being on Broadway and pretending to be the Phantom of the Opera. The acts are very convincing." -- Barbarella

Booksigning and discussion: Star Wars: Outbound Flight Saturday, February 25 2 p.m. Mysterious Galaxy Books 7051 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard #302 Kearny Mesa Cost: Free Info: 858-268-4747 or mysteriousgalaxy.booksense.com

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