Here we are, on part two of the fantastic Thrawn Trilogy, Timothy Zahn’s epic and trailblazing book series set following the events of Return of the Jedi. If you remember back to the first of the series, the Empire is pretty desperate for warships, but the New Republic had thwarted their attempt to raid the Sluis Van shipyards. However, the top military commander Admiral Ackbar had been placed under arrest for treason…
Dark Force Rising picks up the story immediately, as Grand Admiral Thrawn exacts retribution against the smuggler chief Talon Karrde for harbouring Luke Skywalker. Karrde has abandoned his base on Myrkr, and in a narrow escape relocates to a new base on Rishi. Meanwhile on Coruscant, the New Republic is in more turmoil with the reaction that a Grand Admiral is on the loose. The ambitious Borsk Fey’lya is determined to bring Admiral Ackbar down, prompting Luke, Han and Leia to try to salvage his reputation. Discovering that the only planet the Bothans aggressively defended during the Rebellion years was New Cov, Luke and Han check it out while Leia and Chewbacca leave to keep their rendezvous with the Noghri commando Khabarakh, where Leia hopes to end their continued kidnapping attempts against her.
On New Cov, Han discovers Fey’lya’s top aide in some kind of arrangement with a mysterious faction. The Empire suddenly begins a raid as a covert form of taxation of the planet, during which time Han and Lando, who has met up with them on the surface, leave with this new group for their base. Luke, with nothing else to contribute, decides to head off to Jomark and investigate the rumours of the reappearance of Joruus C’baoth.
Leia and Chewbacca eventually arrive on Honoghr, the Noghri homeworld, to discover an utterly devastated world. However, their appearance coincides with Grand Admiral Thrawn’s decision to personally inspire his commandos in their hunt for Leia. Khabarakh manages to hide Leia and Chewie just before Thrawn arrives at his village, and the assassin is questioned about his failure on Kashyyyk. The Empire arrives at a partial truth, that the Noghri was captured by the Wookiees and then freed, and Khabarakh is sentenced to a public shaming before formal Imperial interrogation begins.
Han and Lando are taken to the mysterious base Peregrine’s Nest, where they are introduced to a ghost from the past, Senator Garm bel Iblis. The Senator was believed to have been killed on Anchoron years past, but it emerges that he went into hiding and has since been waging a private war against the Empire. Wondering why he didn’t join the Rebellion before now, it eventually emerges that bel Iblis was one of the key architects of the original Rebel Alliance – the Senator for Corellia, it was he who had postulated the idea of an alliance to Mon Mothma and Bail Organa, and the subsequent treaty formalising the group was called the Corellian Trilogy. Following the death of Organa on Alderaan, Mon Mothma began to pull more power to herself, leading to bel Iblis leaving what he thought would be just another dictatorship in time. While nothing of that sort has happened, his pride has stopped him from joining the New Republic, and Han and Lando leave empty handed.
Although… bel Iblis’ fleet consists of three dreadnaught-class heavy cruisers, which Lando suddenly realises are part of the lost Katana-fleet. Pre-Clone Wars ships linked together with a full-rig slave circuit system, the crews had all been infected with a hive virus and, insane, jumped into hyperspace together, nobody knowing where. The fleet had been thought lost…
However, if there’s one person who knows more about the goings-on in the galaxy, it’s Talon Karrde. On a smuggling run years ago, the ship he was serving on had made an emergency jump to escape the authorities and landed right in the middle of the fleet. Thinking it a trap, they’d made another emergency jump, but later Karrde had realised what it was they’d run into. With Grand Admiral Thrawn’s bounty on him, Karrde is convinced that Thrawn wants the fleet.
On Jomark, Luke finally meets Master C’baoth and is startled at his manner, but is still eager to learn from him. However, C’baoth’s casual disregard for so-called “lesser beings” brings some doubts into Luke’s mind as to whether he’s doing the right thing.
Mara arrives at Abregado-rae to collect one of Karrde’s ships, but is unfortunately captured by the Imperials. Deciding to try to bluff her way out, she uses her former Emperor’s Hand code clearances to get access directly to Thrawn, where she bargains the Katana-fleet in exchange for a pardon for Karrde’s entire organisation. Thrawn agrees, and lets Mara leave to get the location. However, the Imperials track her to Karrde’s base, and kidnap him anyway. Mara feels betrayed by Thrawn, and comes to realise that this is not the Empire she once served. She determines to rescue Karrde, with the help of her nemesis, Luke Skywalker.
On Honoghr, Leia feels helpless as the Noghri seem inflexible in their loyalty to the Empire. Years ago, a space battle devastated the planet, and it was Darth Vader who brought their salvation. However, when she realises just how long ago it was, Leia is furious – forty-four years of Imperial enslavement resolves her to liberate the species, and with Chewie’s help she manages to prove that the Imperial decontamination droids that have been supposedly helping to clean up the planet are in fact renewing the poison, keeping the Noghri people on the bare brink of survival while remaining firmly in their debt. The Noghri determine their debt has in fact been paid, and Leia leaves for Coruscant to get them some real aid.
Mara arrives on Jomark and manages to gain Luke’s support when she proves to him that C’baoth is working for the Empire. They head off to Thrawn’s flagship Chimaera to rescue Karrde, posing as a supply shuttle to gain entry on board. With Mara’s top-level access to the computer systems, they manage to spring Karrde from his cell, but when Thrawn realises they have intruders aboard, he orders the entire starship computer system shut down. The heroes manage to escape on the Millennium Falcon, which the Empire picked up from orbit around Endor where Leia left it, and head back to Coruscant.
Han and Lando receive a message “from Luke” to return to New Cov, where they find the starship thief Niles Ferrier waiting for them. He offers to team up to find the Katana-fleet, but Lando heartily mistrusts him based on past dealings. Ferrier’s real motive was to plant a homing beacon on their ship. Working for the Empire, Ferrier knows the name of the man who has been supplying bel Iblis’ ships, but not where to find him. Han and Lando, on the other hand, know where to find him but not the name. Ferrier tracks them to the Coral Vanda luxury submarine casino, where the Empire attacks. They successfully capture bel Iblis’ supplier, who turns out to have been Karrde’s former smuggling captain, and who likewise figured out what they had stumbled into on that botched smuggling run.
Everybody meets back on Coruscant, where Fey’lya attempts to salvage something of his reputation by casting doubt on Karrde’s story. Deciding they’ll send a tech team to check out the location, the New Republic commits a fatal error. Karrde requests that Leia send a team that night to try to salvage the fleet, but Fey’lya is livid when he finds out and sets out to follow them. Since Ackbar was accused of treason, Fey’lya has been gaining the support of the military while making not overt move towards the admiral’s position, but at the Katana-fleet, he makes a critical mistake and loses that support and his power.
At any rate, the New Republic arrived too late: of the original 200-strong fleet, only fifteen ships remained. After a short battle with the Empire, the New Republic forces return to Coruscant with the disturbing knowledge that the Imperial war machine now consists of armies of cloned stormtroopers.
As with Heir to the Empire, my synopsis here really doesn’t do the book justice. There is so much going on that it is really a feast for the senses! The subterfuge and political infighting is perhaps more pronounced in this one, as we learn more of what Borsk Fey’lya is up to, and we also learn a lot about the early years of the Rebellion. While the book is by no means light on action, it nevertheless is a classic middle-act, where we’ve seen most of the major players, and now we get the proper adventuring underway, as both sides move into position and get things ready for the final confrontation.
However, while we learn more about the characters introduced in the first book, we also get to meet a new one, Garm bel Iblis. By no means a bit-player, the senator is a really great addition to the lineup, not least because of the sense of history he brings to the series. One of the original leaders of the Alliance, we see a more nuanced history of the early years, adding increasing depth to an already well-filled-out story.
It all adds together to form a really believably story, where you get a real sense that these characters are alive in this universe. Whereas a lot of Star Wars books tend towards telling a grand story that is often really good, but ultimately not very far-reaching, Zahn’s work here has so much scope, it reaches back into the past, giving it a richness that has really been unrivaled since – even by my other favourite SW author, James Luceno.
Something that’s worth mentioning, though, is the whole Clone Wars business. I’ll most likely give this a full discussion when I get to The Last Command, but as it first raises the question here, let’s get it out in the open. Prior to Attack of the Clones being released in 2002, it seemed that nobody really knew what the Clone Wars were about, or when they really took place. Dark Force Rising puts the date roughly around 35 years before the Battle of Yavin, so before the events of The Phantom Menace, and while it is never overtly expressed, the general feel is that the war was about a group of clones that went bad and wreaked havoc in the galaxy. The fact that Lucasfilm signed off on this trilogy as being a legitimate sequel to the films suggests, to me, that Lucas didn’t really know what he wanted to do with the prequels back in 1991. But the whole point’s kinda moot now, I suppose. Anyway, a proper discussion of clones and stuff will be coming soon!
So, go get yourself a copy. And get lost in the galaxy far, far away…