Star Wars: Outbound Flight

Outbound Flight

Continuing the Great Prequel Re-Read, yesterday I finished reading Outbound Flight, by Timothy Zahn. The storyline was expanded out of a paragraph included in Dark Force Rising, where Luke is researching the Jedi Master Jorus C’baoth and learns he was part of the Outbound Flight expedition.

The book takes place before the outbreak of the Clone Wars, in 27BBY, and focuses on the efforts of Jedi Master Jorus C’baoth to launch the Outbound Flight venture, an attempt to reach a new galaxy for colonisation. Six dreadnoughts, tethered together around a central storage core that carries enough provisions to last for generations, on a mission of exploration. The project has languished for many years for a variety of reasons, but following a successful negotiation between the Barlok and the Corporate Alliance, C’baoth is able to ride the wave of popularity to force his project through. It turns out that C’baoth has foreseen dark days ahead for the Jedi (it is hinted that he has foreseen Order 66) and so wishes to take as many Jedi with him as possible. He eventually gets 16, along with a number of techs and families who wish to leave the corruption of the Republic behind and start a new life in the Unknown Regions or beyond.

However, the Council don’t especially trust C’baoth, and so assign Obi-Wan Kenobi to keep tabs on him, both during the mission to Barlok and the initial test flight for Outbound Flight. Kenobi is quite concerned by some of the practices C’baoth introduces on the dreadnoughts, such as practicing the Jedi mind-meld technique, and training Force sensitive children much older than the infants normally trained by the Jedi. He eventually wishes to remain aboard for the full project, which is anticipated to return to the Republic within 10-15 years, but Supreme Chancellor Palpatine himself intervenes to ensure Obi-Wan and Anakin return to Republic space before Outbound Flight heads into the Unknown Regions.

Kenobi isn’t the only one concerned with C’baoth however, and many of the families and workers aboard the vessel grow increasingly disaffected by what they perceive to be C’baoth’s tyranny. C’baoth is convinced that his insight from the Force makes him the one able to know what is best for those non-Force-sensitives, but many see this as crossing the line into Jedi rule.

Meanwhile, a smuggler group that includes a very young Jorj Car’das find themselves on the edge of Wild Space, where they are apprehended by a Chiss task force led by Commander Thrawn. The Chiss keep them as uneasy guests for months on end, and Thrawn and Car’das form an unlikely friendship as they each learn the others’ language. Thrawn is part of the Expansionary Defence Force, whose remit is to patrol the space around the Chiss Ascendancy to watch for potential intruders, but never to act as an aggressor. However Thrawn, who subscribes to the maxim that the best defence is a good offence, is able to use Car’das to effectively neutralise the threat of the Vagaari raiders who have been coming ever-closer to the Ascendancy.

During his patrols, he comes across a Trade Federation/Techno Union battleforce lying in wait for somebody, and with meets with Kinman Doriana, who has assembled the warships in that region specifically to destroy Outbound Flight when it arrives. Doriana, working for Darth Sidious, believes Outbound Flight could jeopardise the Republic, and specifically Sidious’ plans for a new order, by coming into contact with an extra-galactic group referred to as Far Outsiders. Sidious had foreseen these invaders cutting a swathe across the galaxy, and intended to stall this until he had more firm control over the galaxy. Thrawn meets with Doriana, after the Chiss have effectively neutralised their task force, and realises Thrawn would be more than capable of destroying Outbound Flight. He introduces Thrawn to Sidious, who approves of the Chiss joining the conspiracy, and so the trap is set.

Car’das travels to the Vagaari last-known position and succeeds in tempting them to a strike against the Chiss, but they are diverted to the area of space where Outbound Flight is being held. Thrawn is able to manipulate the Jedi into using the Force to attack the minds of the Vagaari, before he then uses Doriana’s droid starfighters to disable Outbound Flight. Finally, he uses radiation bombs on Outbound Flight to ensure all crews aboard the six dreadnoughts are killed. However, a small group of dissidents against C’baoth’s “tyranny” were being held in the storage core, and survive this bombing. When the Chaf family arrive in an attempt to claim Outbound Flight and its technology for their own, these survivors are able to escape, only to crash-land on an unknown planet.

I was surprised by this book. I remember reading it when it came out, back in 2006, but my memory of the plot is just so hazy that it was like reading a new book! I do recall some aspects from the start, but the action with the Chiss, specifically Car’das and Thrawn, and the denouement as Outbound Flight is destroyed, was like uncharted territory! Which is just as well, in some respects, because the beginning on Barlok and Coruscant almost feels like it was shoehorned in as a compulsory element to force Anakin and Obi-Wan to have a role in yet another story.

Once we leave Barlok behind, and particularly once Obi-Wan and Anakin leave, things take a bit of a turn as we focus in on Zahn’s trio of Thrawn (and Car’das), C’baoth, and Kinman Doriana. Doriana was first introduced by Zahn in Vision of the Future, but has somehow become a firm part of Palpatine’s inner circle in my mind, so it’s nice to see the man himself again here. Part of the Trade Federation task force, there was an element of cognitive dissonance at first for me, as we have Thrawn on the Springhawk (which is familiar from the Ascendancy trilogy) attacking C’baoth and Outbound Flight (which has been a part of the lore since Dark Force Rising), while Kinman Doriana watches from the bridge of a Trade Federation battleship… worlds truly collide!

I always appreciate seeing more of Palpatine’s direct underlings like Sate Pestage and Kinman Doriana, so I did like getting to see him work to further Darth Sidious’ plots. It’s interesting that Doriana doesn’t know that Palpatine and Sidious are the same person, but he serves both individually. I believe it was some time during the Clone Wars that he eventually caught up to speed.

Jorus C’baoth behaves almost exactly as we would expect him to, from the behaviour of his mad clone in the original Thrawn trilogy. It’s almost too on-point, however, and you have to wonder how he was able to get away with being so overbearing during a time when he would have been in fairly regular contact with the likes of Mace and Yoda. I suppose it’s similar to Dooku, though (can you imagine getting the pair of them together?!) C’baoth’s actions aboard Outbound Flight, however, become increasingly reprehensible, though, and I was left wondering just how he could justify these to anybody, when he is quite clearly taking over the whole enterprise and ruling over the others aboard. Towards the end he is said to have fallen to the dark side, but it seems that he spends most of the novel on that path, anyway. Although it’s entirely possible also that he is simply meant as a different kind of Jedi, separate from the serene space monks that we otherwise get during the prequels. Hm.

The Chiss storylines I was particularly surprised by, because of how they fit in with the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy. I hadn’t realised that Admiral Ar’alani had a presence in the EU that went quite as far back as this! I think the only thing that felt a bit wrong was how the Chiss ships are able to get into hyperspace with no mention being made of the sky-walkers. As these parts were invariably being told from Car’das’s point of view, I suppose it’s easy to assume he just wasn’t paying enough attention, or maybe was too focused on Thrawn, or maybe even the caregiver was instructed to keep that side of things especially hidden from the humans on the bridge. Whatever. It’s a tiny niggle in a storyline that otherwise I did enjoy a great deal. Though much as with C’baoth, I did find myself exasperated by how short-sighted the Chiss are, but I suppose Thrawn has to shine…

All in all, a good book, though one that I wouldn’t say is particularly necessary to read during the Prequel re-read, per se. It fits in far more closely with Zahn’s later EU work, especially Survivor’s Quest, which was written to tie in with this book while it was still in the planning stages. But I’ll get to that book later in the year… It’s a shame that Anakin and Obi-Wan were shoved into the mix, because their storyline could pretty much be excised without losing anything from the main plot, but I’m not the first to point out that it’s probably a bad editorial choice.

Up next, we have The Approaching Storm!

Star Wars: Thrawn – Ascendancy: Lesser Evil (a review)

Hey everybody,

At the end of February, I finished the third book in the Ascendancy trilogy, Lesser Evil. What a monster of a book that was! I thought the second book was a sprawling epic, but this one really took that idea and ran with it!

The book picks up almost immediately after the end of Greater Good, and we see Jixtus almost come out into the open this time, as he brings news of a dangerous alliance between some of the Chiss families, first to the Mitth, and then to the Clarr – a calculated move, as one of those families purported to be in alliance is the Dasklo family, deadly rivals of the Clarr, and so the wedge is driven further as internecine family politics begin to take over everywhere, including the navy.

Thrawn, always above family politics and forever putting his service to the Chiss Ascendancy first, does what he thinks he needs to do in order to end what he clearly sees is an attempt to drive his species to a disastrous civil war.

I’m finding it almost impossible to adequately provide a summary of the plot here, because there’s just so much of it, so let’s cut to the chase – spoilers ahead! Thrawn gathers his allies, Ar’alani etc, to Sunrise for a final showdown against Jixtus, and initially it seems the Chiss have indeed defeated themselves. However, Thrawn uses a gravity well projector to keep the Grysk ships in-system and trap them, which allows the comparatively lighter Chiss warships to virtually destroy the aliens. The Grysks self-destruct before being caught, as they are paranoid about anybody finding out about them. However, despite the fact that Thrawn was able to devise a plan to thwart this attempt on Chiss supremacy, it is decided that he is to be exiled, and draw all of the political heat from his colleagues.

Of course, the exile is a ruse for a fact-finding mission, as Thrawn has discovered a group of Neimoidians who have entered this region of space, fleeing the fallout of the Clone Wars and the emergence of the Empire. Thrawn determines to find out more about the Empire, and on it goes, roll credits.

This was a hell of a book, and the level of political in-fighting and back-and-forth was off the charts at times, as I was trying to keep up with which families were represented on which ships, etc! Sometimes, the level of selfish idiocy in the upper echelons of the Chiss did begin to astound me, particularly the actions of the Clarr patriarch! Thurfian seems to have moderated himself a little, now that he’s the Mitth patriarch, although I have read the entire trilogy and still don’t buy the reasoning for his wanting to bring down Thrawn.

There was a whole side quest with Thalias and gaining more understanding of the sky-walker program that I found really interesting, although some of it did seem a little bit like an info-dump just before the end, like it had been planned to be peppered more throughout the trilogy as a whole, but got forgotten and had to be wedged in somewhere. It was interesting, though, and while there was a part of me that felt it an unnecessary inclusion, the fact that Thalias meets Thrawn’s sister, and she has no desire to meet him because it would be pointless as she doesn’t know who he is, I did find quite emotional. Like, that’s a genuine reaction that I could imagine someone in her position having.

On a side note, the fact that Chiss core names appear to begin with the ending of their family name, so Thurfian from Mitth, for example, I did find quite silly at times. It was more pronounced in the last book, with the Xodlak family, I suppose, but I found it interesting that, if you’re at a family gathering, everybody’s name will begin the same way. Starting with a Th- might not be so distracting as starting with a Lak- of course, but it did make me wonder if a family could ever grow so large that they might conceivably run out of names?

I loved the inclusion of the Neimoidians at the end – a throwaway mention only, but it opened up a whole vista of possibility for me! I love the idea that other species who were caught up as perpetrators of the Clone Wars, like the Muun and the Koorivar, might also be going into exile at this time, and what that might mean.

Thrawn’s exile tiles very nicely into the next Thrawn trilogy, of course, which I’ve previously read (here, here and here!) It’s also worth mentioning that the plotline of Admiral Ar’alani pursuing any possible Grysk hideouts isn’t wrapped up until this trilogy, which I thought was quite interesting, especially as I’d forgotten about it until I’d finished reading this book!

Overall, I really enjoyed this trilogy, and I think I benefited a great deal by reading them back to back as I have. If I had tried to read them when they came out, I would most likely have forgotten a lot of details, because these books are literally dripping in the small stuff. It all very much needs a close reading to get the most out of it, I would say.

Star Wars: Thrawn – Ascendancy: Greater Good (a review)

Hey everybody,
Earlier this week, I finished reading the second novel in the Thrawn Ascendancy series. You can check out my thoughts on the first book here. The second book in the Ascendancy trilogy is quite the sprawling epic, I have to say! It definitely takes a more leisurely pace than the first book, and I think it does seem to suffer a little bit under its own weight.

We start the novel with Admiral Ar’alani in charge of the task force clearing out remaining Nikardun bases, alongside Senior Captains Thrawn and Lakinda. Thrawn has been tasked with a separate mission though, involving refugees on Rapacc, which brings us back to some elements from the first novel, although it seems that this is all tangled up in Thurfian’s plot to take Thrawn down. The refugees are led by the Magys, who has demanded her people join her in some ritual mass-suicide as a result of the attack on their world, but Thrawn tries to convince her otherwise, taking her to her home planet to see if the world really is beyond saving. Lakinda is asked to find Thrawn and help, but both ships come under attack at the planet, although of course Thrawn is able to ensure both Chiss ships escape unharmed. Without a clear idea of what was going on, Admiral Ar’alani takes over mapping the planet to assess the devastation while Thrawn continues his mission, which involves the Vagaari pirates.

There is a whole other plot that involves the alien Haplif and his attempts to bring down the Chiss Ascendancy for Jixtus, which is a really slow burn and is built through both present-day and Memory chapters. Haplif and his crew convince the Xodlak family they have control of a nyix mine, the metal from which the Chiss make their warship hulls. The Xodlak see this as their chance to gain more political power, and so declare a family emergency, recalling all of their personnel – including Lakinda – for the task. Things come to a head with two other families that have also had the aliens playing their con game, but Thrawn has naturally discovered the ruse and is trying to diffuse the situation. He is able to destroy the mine without the families losing face.

As I said, it was a very sprawling book, and I think it could have used a bit more space, particularly towards the end. The story seems to be fairly well balanced between the various elements, even if there seems to have been a lot of time spent with Haplif and his scheme. However, there is a significant lack of Thrawn for the middle act, and when he does re-appear, things seemed a little bit rushed, to me, to get to the end. Though interestingly, it was around the 350-page mark (the book is 410 pages long) where suddenly the light is seen at the end of the tunnel, when it all seems to coalesce and I finally understood how all the elements fit together, so maybe the crashing realisation that I came to at that point led to me feeling that!

As I said, a lot of the story seemed to involve Haplif and the Agbui scheme, including the Memories, and it did strike me as being a bit odd how the pace really seemed to slacken when compared with the first book. This shadow war is in direct contrast to the plotline with General Yiv in the first book, though, and I suppose it will by necessity feel different. It was an interesting book, I have to say, but I think there is a very different feel to the first one, and if you go into this thinking it’s going to continue the story of the first, it will feel very different.

I mentioned last time how this didn’t feel like Star Wars, and the fact this time we don’t even have a minor appearance from Anakin Skywalker to anchor it into the GFFA does seem to cut this book adrift. It feels so divorced from Star Wars as we know it, and yet it’s still a very compelling story. I find this quite fascinating, because I’m reading this as a Star Wars novel, but it hardly feels like a Star Wars novel. Does that make sense?

There is also the continuation of the plotlines about trying to take Thrawn down. Thurfian’s plot against him still feels a bit daft, but Samakro, his first officer, has more of a legitimate grievance as he was removed from command of the Springhawk to place Thrawn there. Samakro also seems to have it in for Thalias, thinking her a spy for Thurfian and he is convinced she’s going to confuse the command structure in favour of family politics, despite so much evidence to the contrary. It definitely feels like it’s there simply to provide conflict, and doesn’t really have a believable basis. But it’s a minor complaint in an otherwise really good series.

Star Wars: Thrawn – Ascendancy: Chaos Rising (a review)

Hey everybody,
Shortly before New Year, I started reading the first book in the Ascendancy trilogy by Timothy Zahn, and I have really enjoyed this book. It surprised me, because I have been feeling a bit of Thrawn burnout where Zahn is concerned – I mean, the man’s list of Star Wars books at this point is quite impressive, and almost all of them feature the Chiss in some form! We seem to be at that point where we’re at peak Thrawn saturation, only missing out on Thrawn: The Toddler Years to really complete the picture. But I digress!

The novel is set almost exclusively in Chiss Ascendancy space, and aside from a couple of pages, it features no movie characters whatsoever. It feels so oddly divorced from mainstream Star Wars, that it surprised me as I read through it, how established Thrawn now is in the canon, that he can carry so much story, etc. But almost all of the technology is also different to the established Star Wars stuff – the Chiss use plasma weapons instead of ion weapons, for instance. It’s very alien, and I kinda like that.

The story starts with an attack on Csilla itself, and follows Thrawn and Admiral Ar’alani as they uncover a military force that is seemingly making its way to Ascendancy space, conquering peoples en route. The Nikardun Destiny are led by General Yiv “the Benevolent”, who has conquered many of the systems and political regimes on the borders of Chiss space, but due to the rules the Chiss hold themselves to, they are unable to launch pre-emptive strikes against him. Cue Thrawn, manoeuvring himself and his forces to allow for such a strike to come off and thus defend the Chiss.

I mean, that’s the nugget of the story. There is a lot to take in, and as usual, there is a lot going on behind the scenes that we only start to see unravel as the book takes its course. Interspersed within the main narrative, we have a series of Memories, which run back to the time when Thrawn was a cadet (although they aren’t purely Thrawn’s memories). It got confusing (for me) somewhere in the middle where the Chiss are going up against a race of people they had previously had contact with, and so the memories and present-day narrative were both referring to the same species and people and so on, and I had a moment where I wasn’t sure what was happening! But in the main, it’s a really interesting way to tell the story, as we get a lot of foreshadowing while also getting more insight into the Chiss.

And that’s really what this book is predominantly about. Thrawn, we know, is never in any danger, and neither is Ar’alani, as both appear in chronologically later novels. We’re pretty assured that Thrawn will triumph, even when we’re being told he’s put a foot wrong or made an error, or something. However, we get to learn so much about the Chiss and their culture, we’ve really never had this level of insight into an enclave of the galaxy before. We do get some sense of the history of the Chiss, and the planet Csilla, though more weight is definitely given to the military and political structuring, and the family thing was quite interesting. I particularly liked the idea of someone giving up their family name when they had achieved a certain rank in the military, when their family becomes the military. The whole thing with the sky-walkers that comes up in the middle book of Zahn’s previous Thrawn trilogy is greatly expounded upon, as well (and we get the other side of the conversation Thrawn has with Anakin in that book, which is the only anchor point we have, really, to help date this book to the existing Star Wars chronology).

Overall, it was a very strong book, and I think the story, even if I did get confused in the middle, was really good. The one thing I just couldn’t seem to get my head around was the character of Thurfian. A leading member of the Mitth family (Thrawn’s adopted family), he seems to have it in for Thrawn basically to provide him with some character conflict. Thrawn’s continued military successes should surely throw reflected glory onto Thurfian, but he is instead scheming with a senior member of another of the Ruling Families to bring Thrawn down. I feel like it would have made sense for the Irizi to make their offer to him, he rebuffs them, and then they are the ones scheming to bring him down. It felt a bit weird, to me, and a little cheap.

But that’s pretty much a minor thing, in the general scheme of it all! I really enjoyed this one, and I have already launched myself into the second book to continue the story, so stay tuned for that one!!

Star Wars: Thrawn – Treason (a review)

Hey everybody,
So I’m trying to catch up here with all of the books that I’ve read so far this autumn (although there haven’t been all that many, truth be told!) and today it’s time for the conclusion to the new Thrawn trilogy, Treason!

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After the events of the second book, I had decent hopes for the third. Any book with the Emperor on the cover has got to be worth reading, right?

The novel takes place sometime after a raid on the TIE Defender assembly line on Lothal by Hera Syndulla and Kanan Jarrus, which I believe was featured in an episode of Rebels. Thrawn is desperate to secure funding for the project, but unfortunately Director Krennic’s Stardust project is eating up Imperial resources, and Tarkin informs the Grand Admiral that there isn’t enough to go around. Stardust has been put back a little by the problem of grallocs – larger cousins to mynocks – attacking the shipping points, so to settle the problem of funding, Tarkin suggests a wager – if Thrawn can solve Krennic’s problem within one week, the Defender project will receive funding. If not, any additional funds will be plowed straight into Stardust. Tarkin and Grand Admiral Savit both approve the plan, and Tarkin, who has designs to take over the Stardust project one day, quietly tells Savit to help Thrawn however he can.

Krennic leaves Thrawn with his aide, Ronan, to effectively try to ensure the problem is resolved, but outside of the week stipulated by Tarkin. This felt a bit weird to me, if I’m honest, as it seemed like quite the flimsy premise for a book, although in retrospect I suppose it was quite indicative of how irresponsible the upper echelons of the Imperial military can be…

There is a lot of politicking between the moffs and grand admirals that pepper the book, with each trying to claim credit over the other. Krennic admits to Ronan that he wants to claim the credit for solving the gralloc problem for himself, which is perhaps symptomatic of the man himself, as we see him in Rogue One: Catalyst pretty much using Galen Erso’s scientific prowess to bolster his own position.

Meanwhile, however, Thrawn manages to deduce that the grallocs are not eating ships, but that the attacks appear to be a ruse to steal their cargo. The Chimera follows one such lost ship’s vector, and the Imperials find the ship and its crew murdered on an abandoned space station.

The Imperials have attracted the attention of a Chiss patrol ship under the command of Admiral Ar’alani, under whom is serving none other than Eli Vanto. While their reunion is far from friendly, Thrawn and the Chiss begin to work together to get to the bottom of the larger threat, that of the Grysks. Backtracking further along the ship’s vector, they find a cloaked warship at an asteroid base and engage in a brief skirmish, destroying the Grysks and discovering a young Chiss navigator named Un’hee being used by them. Ar’alani believes that Un’hee can allow the Chiss to discover the location of the Grysks’ base, and destroy the alien threat once and for all. Despite Ronan’s protests that the Grysks have nothing to do with the grallocs, and calling Thrawn’s loyalty into question, Thrawn believes that the Grysks pose a very real threat to the Empire, having already penetrated far into Imperial space, and so continues on with Ar’alani.

Vanto is given the task of sifting through data on the missing Stardust supply ships, and deduces that the contents of 28 of these ships had enough parts to make a total of eight complete turbolaser batteries. Suspicion falls on Governor Haveland, the governor in charge of the sector, and Thrawn dispatches Vanto and Ronan to the Aloxor system in an attempt to find out what Haveland is up to.

The mission uncovers that local smugglers are moving goods through the system on orders of Grand Admiral Savit. Vanto and Ronan are almost captured as spies, but rescued by an ISB operative sent by Colonel Yularen as a favour to Thrawn. They learn that the smugglers are moving the gas used as bait for the grallocs, adding a further dimension to the proceedings.

Meanwhile, Thrawn and Ar’alani track the Grysks to a communications hub, and manage to defeat the aliens and rescue some of the original pirates behind the Imperial thefts. Thrawn and Ar’alani manage to destroy the Grysk threat, before Thrawn then travels to the Sev Tok system to rendezvous with Savit. There, he confronts the corrupt Grand Admiral with proof of his illicit dealings, all encrypted on a data card that uses an encryption key reserved for sole use by the grand admirals. Savit, under pressure, admits that Stardust has been bleeding the Imperial navy dry, and his principle concern was to ensure vital supplies could find their way to the navy. Savit attempts to defeat Thrawn, but the nature of his treason loses him command of his men, and Thrawn prevails.

Ronan’s report to Krennic and Tarkin is that Thrawn failed to eliminate the grallocs in time. Tarkin promises to divert funding to Thrawn once Stardust has been completed. Thrawn determines to return to Lothal, and Tarkin assigns Captain Pellaeon to the Chimera to assist him.

The new Thrawn trilogy has been a bit uneven, for me. While each book has its good parts and bad, there is always that nagging feeling at the back of my mind, that this isn’t the Thrawn trilogy that I know and love so much. That said, the trilogy did get better as it moved along, reaching a high point with the second book, and then seeing a slight falling-off in the third (in my opinion).

See, Treason is based on a bet that Thrawn cannot solve the gralloc problem for Krennic within a week. That feels like such a flimsy premise for a story, especially when you look at how that story unfolds, with the fight against the Grysks. As I said earlier, it does reveal perhaps more than I’d first thought about the upper echelons of the Empire, and how a lot of this stuff is like a game for them. But it just felt a little bit off, somehow.

Thrawn is much as we know him to be, once more, which was heartening after the Thrawn-at-school that we had in the first book. Eli Vanto is back, so we get to see a bit of what has been going on with him, though I felt the payoff between him and Thrawn felt a little bit lacking, somehow. Vanto seems to have embraced his life among the Chiss a little too limply, for me. I don’t know – I kept expecting more from that part of the story, and didn’t really get it in the end.

There is a lot going on in this book, and for that, I really liked it. The stuff with the Chiss added an extra layer to the story, which made this book feel like more than just the general Empire vs Rebels stuff we’re used to seeing for this timeframe. The sub-plot with Vanto and Ronan was almost like a return to the Zahn books of old, as we see the fringe through his eyes like nobody else seems able to capture. I do like Thrawn, but maybe we could get more Zahn books in the vein of Scoundrels? Far-flung, dusty worlds with battered and worn cantinas, street-toughs and crime bosses are all realised in a very Zahn-esque way, and I do love it!

Seeing Krennic and the Stardust project once more was a bit of a surprise, as it has almost begun to feel like he might be the sort of character we’ll never really get to now that his story has basically been told through Catalyst and Rogue One, so that was nice.

All in all, I think Treason was a decent end to the series, managing to continue the story, wrapping up some aspects while – potentially – setting up the future. Thrawn is now with Pellaeon on the Chimera, do we think that Disney means to make the Thrawn Trilogy canon, after all? Who the hell knows…

What we do know, however, is that Zahn will be back with The Ascendancy Trilogy, starting next May…

Star Wars: Thrawn – Alliances (a review)

After reading a lot of Black Library novels of late, I’m back in the GFFA with Thrawn – Alliances! And I made a video too!

This book picks up a number of years after the first, and we find Thrawn and Vader tasked by the Emperor to undertake a mission on the edge of Wild Space, starting on the planet Batuu. As it turns out, Thrawn has previously undertaken a mission on the very same planet back during the Clone Wars, when he partnered up with Anakin Skywalker while the Jedi General was trying to rescue his wife from the hands of the Separatists, and the novel is told as much in flashbacks as it is in the “present” time.

The second Thrawn book is a lot better than the first, in my humble view. Whether it’s just down to the fact that it isn’t really showing Thrawn as a military cadet, or whether because the story is a lot more established this time around, it’s just a lot better.

Thrawn is pretty much Thrawn during both storylines, although I thought it was interesting seeing how he plays along with the subservient role to Vader despite almost always pushing his luck there. As it turns out, Thrawn is well aware of who Vader is, something that I have always been quite fascinated about in the lore, as not many people really make the connection in-universe. It’s almost a bargaining chip that he has, and just when Vader is beginning to perhaps throw his weight around a bit too much, Thrawn just reminisces about the time he met Anakin Skywalker. Even though Thrawn has to play along with being intimidated by him, even if it is only up to a point, you get the impression that Thrawn is really the one in charge, and Vader is at his best when he’s just an intimidating thug.

Which, of course, is a shame, because Vader has been portrayed in this manner a number of times now in the new canon, yet he is just so much more than that – or, at least, he should be. While I’m not about to go into a massive critique of this here, I do feel a bit that Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side in Revenge of the Sith was just so very poorly executed, and ever since he has come across a bit like a gullible idiot.

But anyway!

In the Clone Wars-era timeline, Thrawn is a little more self-assured, as he teams up with Anakin in an attempt to gather information about the Clone Wars as a whole. This was perhaps my favourite part of the book, as it turned out, despite being laden with the reason why Jedi should never marry. Indeed, Anakin being trained as a whole was just a big mistake, as we can see quite glaringly from how impetuous he is. That he was even made a Knight, let alone a General, is quite beyond me. It’s frustrating, because at times he does come across with some military nous. But I suppose that is a product, in part, of having multiple authors write him.

There is much more a sense of mystery to the earlier storyline, however, which is why I think I prefer it. It’s also interesting to see Padme in action, however flimsy the premise, so I appreciate that as well. I did like the fact that the storyline almost had a damsel-in-distress feel to it but, very much like Luke Skywalker’s rescue of Princess Leia from the Death Star, we see the damsel is actually a lot more capable of looking after herself than anybody gives her credit for.

The book is notable for taking place on Batuu, specifically at Black Spire Outpost – remember L3 making the comment in Solo about Lando needing her to fly there? This is going to be the next huge thing for Star Wars and Disney (not counting episode ix, I guess, though the lack of any info on that is getting me a little concerned now!) A “Star Wars Land” within the resorts at Anaheim and Orlando, I believe, Black Spire is the setting not only for theme park rides, but also a comic book series and at least one novel. For a while now, we’ve been seeing a tendency for Disney’s new canon to look more at the Unknown Regions than perhaps we’re used to from the old EU, most blatantly at the end of the Aftermath trilogy with the relocation of the Imperial Remnant there, and it makes me wonder whether there’s something afoot to maybe re-establish some of the old EU stuff but then move the action to the Unknown Regions so they can continue telling their own tales. Who knows. The exciting thing about all of this, though, is that the galaxy is feeling fresh once more – rather than feeling a bit lost in the wilderness, with new books attempting to establish new planets for the sake of it, or else rehashing the movie stuff as if there is no wider galaxy to acknowledge, we’ve got a genuinely unknown area of space to explore here, with some significant stories to tell if the Imperial Remnant is in fact still out there. I think it’s this aspect of it all that has got me the most excited, so I can’t wait to see what’s coming from this! I just hope it’s good Star Wars storytelling, you know?

At any rate, I thought Thrawn: Alliances was a great deal better than the earlier novel, and while I still mourn for the loss of the original Thrawn trilogy, I still have high hopes for the third book in the series, Thrawn: Treason.

The Hand of Thrawn

Hey everybody!
I’ve been rambling a lot in my recent blogs about Warhammer stuff, but it’s time for a change of scenery today as I switch over to my other obsession, Star Wars, and the Tim Zahn duology from 1997-8, The Hand of Thrawn!

The Hand of Thrawn

I first read these novels years ago now, completely out of sequence as I had just finished Zahn’s seminal trilogy, the Thrawn Trilogy, and was hungry for more! It was the summer after my GCSE exams had been finished, and I was free to read whatever I wanted, rather than trying to catch chapters of The Last Command in between revising physics, or whatever.

Specter of the Past begins with the discovery of a badly damaged copy of The Caamas Document – a datacard that details the Bothan saboteurs involved in the destruction of the planet Caamas long before the Clone Wars. The planet’s inhabitants, the Caamasi, were well-known peacekeepers and valued mediators, and the destruction of their world was cause for galactic outcry back in the day. The discovery that there were Bothans involved leads the New Republic almost to civil war, as several species come down either on the side of wanting to make the Bothans pay for their crime, or else on the side of those who believe a more peaceful solution is needed. Of course, plenty of folks are just using the discovery of the document to reignite old hatreds and resume petty conflicts that the Empire had pretty much put on hold.

While Leia attempts to keep the New Republic from fracturing too much, Luke is off trying to discover who is backing the Cavrilhu Pirates into attacking New Republic shipping, with what he believes to be clone pilots. His investigation almost leads to his death at their asteroid base, but Mara Jade manages to rescue him and, as they’re leaving the system, they notice an odd type of TIE-fighter lurking in the asteroid field.

Turns out, the renegade Imperial Moff Disra has been using the Pirates as part of his plan to restore the Empire to greatness, a plan that involves resurrecting Grand Admiral Thrawn through the use of the con artist known as Flim, and the tactical acumen of a Major Tierce, former Imperial Guardsman to the Emperor. He sets a plan in motion to cause said civil war above Bothawui, using elements from Imperial Intelligence to forment riots and general dissension over the Caamas issue, leading our heroes to try and find an intact copy of the Caamas Document, and name those Bothans responsible for destroying the shield generator, rather than holding the entire species accountable.

This is the background, and the duology takes us through the sort of galaxy-spanning epic that we expect from Zahn in his Bantam era. It really has that sort of feel that we know from the earlier trilogy – our heroes flying across the galaxy, visiting planets we have never heard of and encountering a whole load of weird aliens along the way. While Admiral Pellaeon is trying to sue for peace with the New Republic, Disra’s plans lead to a more subtle conflict with the Empire at first, which is a different change of pace for pretty much any Bantam novel. There is a lot of the shadow war with Imperial Intelligence, and while Flim’s Thrawn impersonation is seemingly flawless, he is nevertheless kept almost hidden from view, with merely the rumour of his return being cause enough to send the New Republic into a frenzy. The civil war is balanced along a knife edge that almost runs on too long, but is nevertheless built up really very well.

One of my earliest gripes with this novel was the fact that Zahn seemingly felt the need to bring Thrawn back from the dead. Of course, the book is pretty much from the off about a con game and we know it, but it did feel a bit like he couldn’t think up a more convincing villain for the heroes to go up against, so he just brought the earlier one back. Of course, when you get to the end of the book, and reflect on the story as a whole, it actually works really well.

We get to meet Thrawn’s people, the Chiss, and learn that Thrawn had in fact set up a clone of himself to return to known space ten years after his death, should that come to pass. Irony of ironies, it’s been ten years and now Disra puts his plan into action. The Chiss almost enter the war on the side of the Imperial Remnant, but by the end of Vision of the Future, it appears that they’re content instead to sit this one out, keeping their focus on the myriad threats of the Unknown Regions.

I find it interesting to go back and re-read these old novels, and compare them with what we have now from Disney. While I don’t feel that The Hand of Thrawn has held up as well as The Thrawn Trilogy, I still think there is a lot of good stuff in here, and it’s a shame to see so much of it just thrown out, really. The idea of the Unknown Regions holding some unimaginable threat was never really picked up on, of course, Vision of the Future was one of the last novels Bantam got to publish before Del Rey got the licence back and started the New Jedi Order off. However, the Aftermath trilogy does feel a bit like it’s picking up on this idea of the Unknown Regions and the threats there, having the Imperial Remnant following the Battle of Jakku head off there. What is going on, I wonder? Of course, Disney has managed to open up so much of the Star Wars galaxy once more, and really make it feel like a huge place, so we’re probably fine for now to leave the Unknown Regions as they are…

Naturally, given when this duology was published, Zahn has got a lot more Star Wars lore to pull from this time around, rather than having to make the whole lot up for himself, and there are a lot of references to Mike Stackpole’s work, particularly the Rogue Squadron comics. Baron Fel makes an appearance, and Corran Horn is something of a major second-tier character. Zahn and Stackpole are friends, of course, so that isn’t unexpected, but it does feel weird that we get that sort of detail this time around. There is also reference made to both the Black Fleet Crisis books and the Callista trilogy, though these do feel a little forced at times.

In the midst of all the chaos, we of course get to catch up with Talon Karrde and his organisation, and get to see a lot of the smuggler chief’s history. It was interesting to see this sort of thing expanded upon, and we get a lot of links back to The Thrawn Trilogy and some of the plot points that were left hanging from that series are wrapped up. Notably, Mara Jade leaves the Karrde organisation at the end of the duology, although Karrde has already had an almost-replacement for her in the form of Shada D’ukal, the Mistryl Shadow Warrior from The Last Command. There is a lot of weaving of threads from earlier Zahn stories throughout the pair of books here, but I suppose Shada shows how far this goes when we get an almost synopsis of the short story Hammertong that Zahn wrote for Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina. I wouldn’t say the references are particularly necessary to enjoy the books – I certainly did enjoy them when I first read them back in the day, having only previously read Zahn’s trilogy and Crimson Empire up to that point. But there is another layer that can be enjoyed if you have indeed read through the myriad offerings of short stories in this way.

Prior to reading the pair this time around, I re-read Jade Solitaire from Tales of the New Republic, which merely serves to show why Talon Karrde has a Togorian working on his crew now, as well as giving Mara Jade her ship, Jade’s Fire, which is featured in a somewhat significant plot point in Vision of the Future. It’s not necessary, for sure, but does add a layer or two that can be enjoyed. For me, I think it just helps to harken back to those days when the narrative was keen to explain away every single point in the movies and beyond, and brings back a lot of nostalgia for me. Talon Karrde’s journey into the Exocron system has even got me wanting to dig out my copy of The DarkStryder Campaign! Maybe that can be the subject of another blog here soon…

Don’t get me wrong, of course – it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Far from it, I was actually surprised to discover that I didn’t rate this duology nearly as highly as I remembered. I think a lot of that is down to the fact that I have such fond memories of reading these books as a sixteen year old, that now I’ve come to expect more from my literature in general, I found them to be a bit lacking. There is quite an effort made, I feel, to recapture the spirit of the Thrawn Trilogy, almost to the point where it becomes annoying, and I find myself wishing that Zahn had branched out into a completely new direction. Elements of the storyline such as Karrde’s plot were a lot more refreshing, because they had the hint of the earlier trilogy without rehashing it as much as, say, the Luke and Mara trek through the caverns of Nirauan – which Luke actually explicitly compares with their trek through the forest on Myrkr. There are also some vaguely silly scenes, particularly around the Caamas Incident politics. It’s nice that we get reference to the senate being rebuilt following the Almanian Uprising, that does help to make the universe feel really coherent, but the fact that the senate is populated by weird senators, one of whom is jabbering on about needing to sit on her eggs, just feels too out there. Weird.

There were also a lot of elements that felt a lot more like fan fiction than perhaps they should have been. I probably need to elaborate a lot more on this, so here goes. Any movie tie-in like this can of course fall under the heading of fan-fiction, as that’s basically what it is. However, for official licensed media by Lucasfilm, novels like these should feel more like a continuation of the storyline, and while new characters of course need to be introduced to keep the narrative fresh, the way that new characters interact with movie ones is usually where these things fall down. During the Thrawn Trilogy, the interaction was superb, and it felt like these people truly inhabited the same universe as the movies. But when you get a character (or characters) being made into something “better” than the movie heroes, the whole situation can quickly devolve, and it feels a lot like that happens in the scenes where Mara is berating Luke for his actions over the last few years. I know why it was included, of course, as the Bantam novels did have a tendency to make Luke into a kind of demigod at times, but it smacks of something I particularly dislike from Stackpole’s novel I, Jedi, where Corran tells Luke off in such a manner that makes Corran out to be a much better person – maybe even a better Jedi – than Luke is. It makes me cringe so much, and unfortunately that does happen a couple of times in the course of Vision of the Future. It feels very much like Zahn is trying to re-set the narrative by taking Luke away from the god-like portrayal of other novels, and instead set him up for the next stage (which may or may not have involved fighting the unnamed threats of the Unknown Regions), but has the end result of almost returning him to the sort of farmboy he was in A New Hope.

That was a bit rambly, but hopefully you can follow my point!

There is still a tremendous amount to enjoy from these books, and I can definitely recommend you getting a hold of them if you can and giving them a read. While they pretty much have no bearing on the Star Wars narrative post-Disney, of course, they’re nevertheless some of the better books to come out of the Legends canon, and are still some of my favourites!

I bought a new camera

Welcome to my latest blog, a little bit of odd jollity for a Saturday! You know you love it.

It’s been another exciting week, as you may have seen from my blogs posted over the past few days. Perhaps the most exciting event was finishing the Thrawn trilogy, which is always good. In case you hadn’t picked it up by now, I’m a really big fan of Tim Zahn’s work! This morning I finally got round to the short story Heist that was published in the Star Wars Insider magazine. A prequel of sorts to the novel Scoundrels, which I read just before Easter, it features the ghost thief Bink Kitik and her sister Tavia on a job. It’s all pretty standard stuff, nothing earth-shattering or anything, but it’s a good tale, and well worth it if you can still find it.

The most exciting thing to happen this morning, though, was the massive delivery of another of the huge ships for the X-Wing miniatures game: Tantive IV!


This ship really is huge! Remember the last one that arrived? Well this one is even bigger:

X-Wing Tantive IV
“Look at the size of that thing!”

Wedge may have been referring to the Death Star, but it still holds true here! It does look pretty spectacular, I have to say. Of course, as I mentioned last time, sadly I never get to play this game nowadays, so there’s no telling when I’ll ever get to actually give this a go, but hopefully soon…

I bought a new camera last week as well, it’s about time as I’ve had the last one for about six years now. I popped over to Anglesey, which is one of my absolute favourite places in the country, to give it a proper try and whatnot, but no sooner had I got there than it began to rain. Gah! But I did get some good shots at Red Wharf Bay:

Red Wharf Bay

Red Wharf Bay

Ah, marvellous!

Remember Yig, the new Ancient One in the expansion for Eldritch Horror that I received just over a week ago? Well in addition to reading the classic Lovecraft Call of Cthulhu the other day, I also read the Curse of Yig collaborative tale. It’s a pretty good story, actually – unlike quite a few of the Lovecraft tale I’ve read, this one feels very much like a modern horror story when we come to the end. The tale of a couple who move out west to start a new life, where they encounter the local stories of a snake-god who punishes anyone who kills the indigenous snakes, it very much reminded me of the sort of horror films that begin pregnant with expectation, and culminate in something truly horrible at the end. It’s available in The Horror in the Museum, a collection of other collaborative stories, definitely worth investigating! Especially for fans of the many Cthulhu-themed games.




Some cracking news this week, the Carcassonne android app has been updated, and finally we have some of the expansions! Not all of them, sadly, but hopefully this will be the start of seeing more available soon!

It’s a bank holiday weekend in the UK here, and as per tradition, it’s been pouring with rain all day. Also as per tradition, I’m having a bit of a boardgame weekend with that old favourite, Arkham Horror! Stay tuned for more on that soon!

The Last Command

The Last Command

Phew, it’s been a roller-coaster of a ride through the Thrawn trilogy! I’m quite surprised that I finished it so quickly, I normally like to savour these things… Well, anyway, I’ve now finished the final book in the trilogy, so will have a look back at how awesome it was!

As you may remember, we left out intrepid heroes having lost the Katana-fleet to Thrawn, who has been generating clone troopers to crew this new fleet with. In the month since that skirmish, the Grand Admiral hasn’t wasted any time in launching the next phase of his plan to take back the galaxy. Luke is busy trying to track down the source of the clones, though he doesn’t realise he’s following a carefully-laid trail designed to throw the New Republic off the real clone factory.

On Coruscant, Leia finally gives birth to her twins – Jaina and Jacen – but not long after the event there is a break-in by an Imperial Intelligence team determined to capture them for Joruus C’baoth. Mara Jade, who had been injured during the battle at the Katana-fleet, is recuperating on Coruscant and manages to help thwart the kidnap attempt – however, the lone survivor from the team implicates her as colluding with the Empire, and she is promptly placed under house arrest. Thrawn had been concerned that Mara might know the location of the cloning facility on Wayland, and intended to silence her just in case.

As it happens, she had been to Wayland only once, but when Leia reveals the news that Thrawn has been cloning troopers, she feels she must cast her lot in with the New Republic and put a stop to it, lest another round of Clone Wars is unleashed on the galaxy. Luke, Han, Lando, Chewie and Mara set off for Wayland, leaving Leia protected by a group of Noghri, determined to repay their debt to her.

Following a series of attacks against New Republic systems that sees tremendous gains in territory for the Empire, Thrawn launches a siege of Coruscant itself, with a cluster of cloaked asteroids released into orbit around the planet. The Grand Admiral manages to convince the Republic that they have launched a total of 287 of the asteroids, when in actual fact the number is much lower. However, fear of letting even one through the planetary shield puts the capitol world out of the war.

Talon Karrde, doing some snoop work of his own, attempts to form a coalition of smugglers to act as unofficial intelligence operatives for the New Republic, though unfortunately the ship thief Niles Ferrier is invited to the gathering and later reports back to Thrawn. Determined not to stir up the fringe against him at this time, Thrawn decides to leave the smugglers alone, even after one of them attacks the Imperial shipyards at Bilbringi. He does, however, manage to implicate Karrde as being responsible for a raid against the smugglers, one which Ferrier had actually organised – Karrde manages to expose Ferrier for the double-dealing thief that he is, and in the confusion, the ship thief is killed. When Karrde decides to return to Coruscant to collect Mara and Ghent, he brings the New Republic confirmation that the Empire had only cloaked 22 asteroids, which is the number that the government had actually found. However, Leia has had a Force-vision of Luke being attacked by C’baoth on Wayland and enlists his help in going to her brother and husband’s rescue.

The New Republic decides to obtain a crystal gravfield trap in order to confirm that the asteroids have indeed been cleared, but unfortunately the only known traps are held in Imperial space. Colonel Bren Derlin therefore begins preparations for a feint at Tangrene, while Admiral Ackbar organises the real assault for Bilbringi. The smugglers’ coalition decide to try to get their hands on a trap to sell to the New Republic, and with all the evidence pointing to an assault on Tangrene, begin their own preparations to infiltrate Bilbringi. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Thrawn determines that Bilbringi is the real target and prepares to trap the New Republic forces when they arrive at the shipyards.

C’baoth, increasingly unstable, decides to return to Wayland, where he takes personal charge of the cloning facility. When Han and his group arrive, they trek through the forest and come across two groups of natives, who they manage to enlist the aid of in their assault on the facility. Infiltrating the Emperor’s storehouse, the group splits up, with Lando and Chewie trying to destroy the cloning facility with detonators while Luke and Mara try to find a self-destruct button in the Emperor’s royal apartments.

However, they find C’baoth waiting for them. He forces Luke to duel with a clone he has had produced from the hand Vader severed at Cloud City, in an attempt to turn him to the Dark Side. Leia and Karrde arrive on Wayland and, together with Han, attempt to rescue Luke, but the insane Jedi clone manages to fend them off with Force lightning. Mara eventually manages to take hold of Leia’s lightsaber and kills the clone of Luke, finally fulfilling the Emperor’s last command to her. C’baoth, enraged, nearly kills them all by bringing down the mountain, but is eventually killed by Mara. The heroes manage to escape just as Chewie and Lando have set the facility to blow.

At Bilbringi, the battle between the Empire and New Republic is going decidedly in the Empire’s favour when the smugglers start causing havoc within the shipyards themselves accompanied by Rogue Squadron. Forced to split their task forces to defend the shipyards as well, the Empire suffers a massive blow when Thrawn’s Noghri bodyguard Rukh fulfills his people’s desire for vengeance by killing the Grand Admiral. Captain Pellaeon orders the Imperial forces to retreat before they are annihilated.

As with my synopses of the previous two books, this really doesn’t do the story justice. I would go so far as to say that The Last Command is the most complex, and most richly rewarding of the trilogy. Seeing how the story works itself out is, itself, a work of art.

I do, however, have a fairly large criticism of this book – it’s just too much like Return of the Jedi. A strike team under Han’s leadership treks through a forest in order to sabotage an Imperial facility with the help of the primitive natives, to say nothing of Luke’s confrontation of C’baoth in what is pretty much an identical setting to the confrontation with the Emperor on the second Death Star. Part of me thinks it’s a bit lazy, and part of me thinks Return of the Jedi might have been so much better had Zahn written it. But anyway.

Something new about this book is the increased level of detail. I mean, the previous two books are detailed enough, but all of the characters introduced by Zahn are his own creations. Here, however, we see the benefit of the box of West End Games’ RPG materials Zahn was sent by Lucasfilm in order to further entrench the story into the overall saga. Pash Cracken, son of Alliance Intelligence chief Airen Cracken, gets some face time, and some of the planets created by WEG are mentioned.

Something that I love in any Star Wars story is the fringe element. Mos Eisley, Jabba’s Palace – all these wretched hives of scum and villainy hold an eternal appeal for me. Zahn seems to have a particular affinity for creating memorable fringe types. In the last book we were introduced to the ship thief Niles Ferrier, but in this book we get to meet a whole host of other smuggler chiefs and mercenaries, some of whom had been mentioned in passing earlier in the trilogy. What I like most about this is how Zahn shows us a room with about half a dozen smugglers in it, and with a few short paragraphs manages to make each one distinct and individual to the point where we feel like we know them as well as Han and Chewie – or even Karrde himself.

I’ve mentioned the clone thing in connection with the last thing, but it’s here that the issue becomes, well, an issue. Of course, given that this book was released in 1993, Zahn cannot possibly be faulted for the continuity errors that appeared in light of the prequel trilogy that began in 1999. However, as I said last time, I find it odd that Lucasfilm signed off on the trilogy if the plan for the prequels had been there all along. That aside, the prequels really mess with these books perhaps more than any other. Dark Force Rising dates the Clone Wars to 35BBY, and The Last Command has Mara specifically state that the clones were trying to take over the galaxy. We now know that the Clone Wars took place between 22-19BBY, and that the clones were actually the good guys (well, kinda). Furthermore, Zahn provides all sorts of details about maturation cycles, the fact that the Force has an impact on mass-produced people, and also details that clones were produced in something called Spaarti cylinders. No mention of Kamino whatsoever. All of this isn’t Zahn’s fault, he merely pitched a story that was subsequently approved by the people who alleged to have all of the details. We know, for example, that the original idea of an insane clone of Obi-Wan was rejected, and yet the folks in charge agreed that the clones were the bad guys? Hm. The whole point is moot now, of course, because technically speaking, none of the Thrawn trilogy actually ‘happened’. But I find it annoying, all the same.

As Zahn wrote history, the prequels sound a lot more interesting. Yeah, Palpatine was elected constitutionally, and the gradual reformation of the Republic into the Empire seemed to happen a lot earlier than Lucas later decided it did. The Clone Wars sound a lot more interesting in Zahn’s version, but this would have required the Republic to have had a standing army at the time, something Bail Organa later tells us they didn’t have before the clones were created. The idea of clonemasters as an antagonist force seems better than the separatists, though I suppose clonemasters would have been kinda like mad scientists? Perhaps not the most theatrical of villains.

This book, however, still has so much to commend it. I particularly liked the fact that Zahn leaves one fairly major plotline dangling at the end of the story, something that isn’t actually resolved until Specter of the Past – just why is Borsk Fey’lya so damn keen to see Mount Tantiss destroyed? Hmm!

I cannot recommend this trilogy enough! Go on, get yourself a copy and see what I mean!

1. Heir to the Empire
2. Dark Force Rising

Dark Force Rising

Dark Force Rising

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.

Garm bel Iblis

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.

Borsk Fey'lya

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…

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