Ahhhh the Thrawn books. Honestly, is there anything more classic than Zahn’s trilogy when it comes to the Expanded Universe? If you’re here for the snark, you’ll have to wait a little bit longer because between these three books and another X-Wing novel? I have nothing but praise this go-round. (Shocking, I know.)
Heir to the Empire
One of the first things that occurred to me while I was reading this book is how much the Star Wars universe owes to Timothy Zahn. There is so much about the universe that I just take for granted that I’m now realizing/remembering is all thanks to Zahn. Coruscant? Zahn. Personalities for character who really only cameoed in the films but are integral parts of the EU? Zahn. Bringing Wedge Antilles to the forefront? Zahn. Introducing the best character ever, aka Winter? Zahn. I mean, I’m not saying that Zahn is god but the amount of canon he contributed is amazing.
What I love about this book and the entire trilogy is that the story still clearly feels like Star Wars but still has its own tale to tell. It’s not a rehashing of the Emperor or Vader because the villains have their own motivations and characterizations. (I’ll save my ‘Why I love Pellaeon’ ramble for another post.) Thrawn is most certainly his own character who takes a very different approach to winning the war than any other Imperial we’ve seen before. It’s pretty cool that he can study art and figure out how someone will react. And then you have C’boath who is just bonkers. His original model wasn’t much of a charmer to begin with so this probably shouldn’t be surprising.
And then we have the introduction of the ever fabulous Mara Jade. If there are people in our universe who dislike her, I don’t want to know about them. I positively adore everything about her and what she brings to the story. I’m also a huge fan of Talon Karrde and his smuggling organization that doubles as the best intelligence agency not controlled by a government. I’d happily read a book all about Karrde and his organization. Pretty please, Del Ray? Also, I will admit to also not really getting the Wild Karrde joke either until a few years ago because I pronounced the ‘e’ in my mind. Nanci isn’t alone here.
Of course, all the familiar characters are always great to read about. Zahn clearly gets Luke, Han, Leia, and Lando and writes them all quite well. Plus, I think he did a great job of bringing each of them five years forward from Endor so we see the same characters but we also get to see a logical progression for each one.
The story is good too. It’s a set up novel for the rest of the trilogy but never feels like it’s only there as exposition because it has its own tale to tell before the final page is turned. Enjoyable all around.
Dark Force Rising
While I always remember what a great trilogy this is, I think that I sometimes forget how much I love Dark Force Rising as an individual book. The pacing is great, it moves the overall story forward, and the ending is so deliciously middle film Star Wars with its “well crap” cliffhanger.
One of the highlights of the book is the introduction of Senator Garm Bel Iblis. If I could’ve had one character from the Expanded Universe included in the Prequel films, it would’ve been him. Think of how amazing that would’ve been especially since there were already political subplots in all three films! I just love everything about him. He’s an Old Republic Senator who obviously was good at his job and cared about Corellia AND he’s a pretty good General. I AM IMPRESSED, GOOD SIR. I also like getting a better idea of the early days of the Rebellion. The idea that the Rebellion was patched together from multiple groups and that all of those groups didn’t agree is just awesome and very realistic in its own way.
Oh. In case it was previous unclear, my opinion of C’boath doesn’t change with his clone.
Except now it’s more like two bags of cats because u crazy man. (One bag of cats for each u. Get it? GET IT?)
Another thing I like about these books is that Zahn doesn’t neglect any aspects of the story. We get to follow the storylines of the Big Three, of the villain, of Karrde and Mara. He also pays attention to both military and political aspects of the war without being heavy handed. Really, it’s just a nicely done job all around.
The Last Command
YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER. Can I just say that Mara killing Luuke was a really clever way of solving that? I swear, it gets me every time for some reason. Actually, the entirety of the last 100 or so pages is fantastic. It has a wonderfully cinematic feel to it between the space battle and then the final climatic battle between C’boath and our heroes. I think I can actually hear a John Williams score playing in my head while I read it. And then Thrawn’s death. “But it was so artistically done.” I’d give it the title of “Best Death/Best Dying Words” but I think a certain Jedi has claim to that so we’ll give him the runner up crown. Honestly, everything about the end is just perfect.
On a slightly more micro level, I’m rather fond of that moment during the attack on Coruscant when Mon Mothma and Bel Iblis both swallow their pride and decide to be allies again. It’s a small but yet important moment and I love that Zahn chose to let us see it through Leia’s eyes. Everything about it just works. The discovery of Delta Source is another nice little plotline. I love how casually Ghent hands over the encryption and then the whole elaborate scheme that he, Leia, Bel Iblis, and Winter pull off to finally discover where it is. Using a tree was pretty darn clever of the Emperor.
Another character that Zahn does a great job with is Mara Jade (shocker I know.) Obviously, he writes the best Mara but I think that what he does with her storyline is great. She is a well rounded character who can stand on her own and even though we all know that she and Luke are clearly meant to be, she’s not regulated to the usual love interest role. Their eventual relationship gets to evolve more naturally. Actually, can we get more books about Mara and Karrde and the rest of the organization? It’s been awhile since I’ve read the books between the Thrawn trilogy and duology but I seem to recall them being mostly ignored. Can this be fixed?
I love all three of these books. I really do. Everyone should read them more often because they are a joy to read. If anyone uses the continuity errors in them created by the Prequel Trilogy as a reason to dislike them, I will throw a trout at their head. I’d gush more about them but I’m still recovering from the amount of gushing I did over the Wraith books.
I feel like this book often ends up getting overlooked in favor of some of its other X-Wing counterparts. It’s certainly a much better book than Rogue Squadron and Stackpole is also the master of weaving in plotlines and occurrences in other books into his own novels and making them work brilliantly.
The book is one half starfighter battles and one half some good old sneaky intelligence work. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s basically my favorite thing in a book. Any time Wedge has to go undercover is a good time to read. Also, I think we should in fact all be terrified that Booster Terrik can think so much like Isard. No wonder Cracken didn’t want to let Booster get his hands on a Star Destroyer. Terrifying. TERRIFYING. Although this means that there is some alternative universe where Myri Antilles is being groomed to take over Booster’s new Empire.
One thing I’ve always been curious about is whether or not Allston and Stackpole coordinated this whole Isard thing. There’s a part in Iron Fist where Face Loran hypothesizes that Isard didn’t die above Thyferra and then in this book, it turns out that he was right and that she has a clone. The clone thing could’ve come off terribly but it works for Isard.
The end of this book never fails to make me roll my eyes at Wedge and Iella and yell “Just get married already!”. Good thing I know what happens in Starfighers of Adumar. I also make sad faces every time Asyr makes the decision to “stay dead” because poor little Gavin’s had his heart broken. Curse you Fey’lya!
And that’s it for this round of books! Next up are the Jedi Academy books where all of you are likely to have your opinion of me dip a little. Sorry not sorry. As always, you can follow my progress in real time on twitter @chaosbria or the hashtag #WaruExpress.