A very happy Saturday to you all!
You’ll remember, I’m sure, that I said I’ve been reading some Star Wars literature in chronological order? Well, I watched Return of the Jedi last weekend, which means I’m now firmly into EU-territory. Despite what Disney would have me believe, I’m unwilling to give up on a lot of this stuff, so have been enjoying more short stories set in the post-RotJ period, all five of them by my favourite Star Wars author, Timothy Zahn.
To begin, I read Sleight of Hand, which is published in Tales from Jabba’s Palace. For those of you who don’t know, Mara Jade was the Emperor’s Hand, which is basically a sort of Black Widow of the Star Wars universe, but with Force powers augmented by the Emperor’s will. When Palpatine got wind of Vader’s offer to Luke near the end of Empire, he dispatched Mara to Jabba’s Palace to assassinate Luke and end the whole sorry affair, but obviously she failed and Luke survived. Sleight of Hand is a tale detailing most of this, anyway. The whole anthology of short stories tells the tales of a lot of the background characters in the Jabba’s Palace scene of the film, which is a really great idea, but one of the biggest failings when you read the book from cover to cover is that you’re going to read descriptions of the same scenes over again, as the background characters stumble into all sorts of situations and so on. However, I still like it, and if you can grab yourself a copy, I highly recommend it! While Sleight of Hand is essentially redundant, because we know pretty much exactly what happened from Mara’s reminiscences in Heir to the Empire, it’s always good to see familiar characters and whatnot, so I can’t really hold that against it too much.
For those of you interested, the story also features in comic-form, in Mara Jade: By the Emperor’s Hand. A pretty decent story, it takes up Mara’s story from her failure at Jabba’s Palace to her next mission, and sees her experience the Emperor’s death that is later described in Heir to the Empire. I didn’t read the comic this time around, but have in the past, and it’s a pretty decent read!
The next entry in the Zahn-fest is Handoff, a short story that was published in issue 10 of the Star Wars Gamer magazine. The magazine was published by Wizards of the Coast when they held the licence to produce Star Wars games, and was a tie-in to their RPG line. In many respects, it was analogous to West End Games’ Adventure Journal, featuring articles and RPG adventures as well as short fiction. Handoff sees Mara down-on-her-luck and a bit lost in the aftermath of the events that happened over Endor. As well as seeing Mara again, we get our “introduction” to another of Zahn’s creations, the computer slicer Ghent. Mara is a little confused over where her loyalties lie, as Ysanne Isard has made it clear in the comic that she no longer has her vaunted place in the Empire, but Mara is unwilling to abandon her training and purpose completely, bringing the Emperor’s Justice to a renegade Imperial official. Ghent is a fish out of water, and by the end of the story hooks up with Talon Karrde, in whose organisation we will see him again shortly. The ending is a bit too cheesy for my liking (yes, Karrde and Ghent, I’m very sure you will be seeing Mara again some day, stop trying to be clever and overshadow stuff!), but the story itself is enjoyable enough, so I can’t not recommend it. However, finding a copy might prove to be a bitch, as Gamer magazine is obviously now-defunct; the story was published on starwars.com’s Hyperspace premium site for a while, but now that has been abandoned it’s pretty much impossible to come across through, er, legitimate means…
Onwards, to Buyer’s Market, a short story printed in Star Wars Insider issue 126 (or 102 if, like me, you’re in the UK). While pretty much all of Zahn’s work feels like it forms a prequel or sequel to his Thrawn trilogy, Buyer’s Market is especially so. It sees Lando Calrissian on an adventure to buy an AT-AT walker. Yes, you read that right. In actual fact, he wants forty of them – and if you’ve read Heir to the Empire, you’ll know why. While it’s even more unnecessary than Sleight of Hand, I can’t help but like it simply because it’s Zahn and Lando!
First Contact is a short story first published in issue one of the aforementioned Adventure Journal, and reprinted in Tales from the Empire. The same anthology that features Side Trip, which I’ve already mentioned, First Contact is yet another prequel to Heir to the Empire that functions in much the same way as Handoff. However, rather than being Mara-centric, here Talon Karrde is the star. We see him on safari, where he is attempting to cut himself into the action, but things go horribly wrong and he’s forced to make a quick getaway, with the help of Mara, who has been eking out a living as a hyperdrive mechanic. The story ends with Karrde giving Mara a job in his smuggling/information-brokering operation, and thus the stage is set for Heir to the Empire.
Taken as something of a trilogy, Sleight of Hand, Handoff and First Contact form what I suppose could be called an essential bridge between Choices of One and Heir to the Empire, and without them we’re left to fill in a lot of the blanks between seeing Mara as an Imperial agent in one book, and a smuggling chief’s aide in the next. However, you’re not going to be missing anything if you don’t read them, as these blanks are pretty much explained in the (chronologically) later novel, but all the same, they’re pretty great, so I certainly wouldn’t discourage you from reading any if you get the chance!
Another tale that forms a bridge between Choices of One and Heir to the Empire is Crisis of Faith, a novella that was printed in the 20th anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire. Choices of One details a plot by the warlord Nuso Esva to expand his territory from the Unknown Regions into Imperial space, and we see Thrawn working behind the scenes to thwart this plot, which he does. However, the story is definitely unresolved in that book, and Crisis of Faith picks up the tale around seven years later. Thrawn has been promoted from Senior Captain to Grand Admiral, which I felt was a pretty important plot-point that was completely overlooked, but maybe one day Zahn will get to write that story (or then again, maybe not). We’re out in the Unknown Regions, on the Admonitor, and not only do we have Thrawn and Voss Parck, but we also have Baron Soontir Fel! The novella is a really nice addition to the canon, and resolves the Nuso Esva plot line as well as sets the wheels in motion to bring Thrawn back to the Empire and Pellaeon, where we’ll next see him in the opening chapter of Heir to the Empire.
So I’m right up to the point now where I’ll be opening Heir to the Empire. Prepare for the onslaught, because this book – indeed, this whole trilogy – is awesome!