In early 1999 a group of writers gathered together at Skywalker Ranch, the headquarters for LucasFilm and the home of filmmaker George Lucas, to discuss a new series of Star Wars books. Since 1994 Star Wars had spun into a lucrative publishing franchise of expanded universe novels exploring the possible stories of the heroes of Star Wars after the events of Return of the Jedi. However, one of the problems with a massive publishing franchise like this is when you have dozens of writers writing several books, is that it is very easy for them to fall into a formulaic trap. With a few exceptions it seemed as though the Rebel Heroes always went up against some dormant Imperial Faction, or discovered some plans for another planet smashing super-weapon that Emperor Palpatine left hidden in his sock drawer.
With the Special Edition releases of the original trilogy and the Prequels reigniting interest in the franchise, something new was needed to make these books really pop. What was needed was a new threat that could be so powerful as to bring the factions of the Rebellion and the remnants of the Empire together and forge a lasting peace. This series, dubbed The New Jedi Order was going to raise of the stakes of the Star Wars universe and have serious repercussions on the books to follow. It was going to be, as the cliché goes, a real game changer. In order to do this, they would have to do something very difficult to raise those stakes.
As Lucy Wilson, the director of publishing at LucasFilm noted,
“ In the Star Wars novels published by Bantam, no preexisting Star Wars
character ever died. It was our policy that no author could kill anyone who originated first in a script written by George. However, we knew that for anyone to really take a new intergalactic war seriously, and to realize that the New Jedi Order was not just Star Wars fiction as usual, someone who mattered would have to die. This was a unanimous agreement. Who would die was the subject of much debate, however. Our first thought was that the death of Luke Skywalker would have the biggest impact on the readers. However, this was not okay with George Lucas! I think it was Randy Stradley from Dark Horse who said, “Kill the family dog—Chewbacca.” In our own emotional response to this suggestion (it made us unhappy just to come up with the idea), we knew Chewie’s death would generate the biggest reaction from the readers.”