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!