We start our tale, as we always do, on an Imperial Star Destroyer. Pellaeon, in command of the Chimaera under Grand Admiral Thrawn, is preparing to coordinate an assault on Myrkr. Specifically, coordinating an assault on Talon Karrde’s former base. Thrawn is certain Karrde crossed them by not handing over Luke Skywalker, and he isn’t having any of that.
Because Karrde is smart, he’s already abandoned his base, and Thrawn, of course, knows that. Because he knows everything, apparently. But he still wants to attack Karrde’s base, both to give the ground crews much-needed combat practice, but also to see if any of Karrde’s contacts in Hyllyard City attempt to get ahold of Karrde and, in turn, lead the Empire to his new base of operations.
The attack proceeds, and we get the point of view of General Covell on the ground. Of course, the Empire finds nothing.
We switch to Mara Jade’s point of view–always a delight, that gal–onboard the Wild Karrde. They’re hiding behind an asteroid, watching the assault on Myrkr from afar. Karrde gets a tad misty, knowing he’s about to truly lose his home, but Mara doesn’t have time for sentiment. She’s lost much more than that and is doing fine.
But are you really, Mara? You’re getting these urges, thoughts, and feelings that plague you once a year, forcing you to reveal yourself as a Force sensitive and then leave whatever meager life you’ve managed to carve out for yourself. That can’t be a good life, can it?
Mara keeps asking Karrde if they can leave now. She’s got a terrible feeling that something is going to go wrong, and she doesn’t know why.
We, of course, know why. It’s because Thrawn can predict everything and he knows that Karrde is skulking behind that asteroid. During the beginning of the battle he sends out a signal to call in the Constrainer, and interdictor cruiser. Thrawn reveals this plan and Pellaeon thinks that Thrawn is both cuckoo and amazeballs.
Soon Mara can’t stand it any longer and brings the Wild Karrde to power, alerting the Imperials to their presence. Not long after the Constrainer arrives and Mara is proven right. The Wild Karrde escapes unharmed, and everyone is super happy and thanks Mara for getting them out of that mess.
But Mara isn’t happy, because she knows what this means. The Force is back, and with it come nightmares, voices, and all those other unhappy things. This time, though, she can do something to stop it all. She can find Luke Skywalker again, and kill him. Maybe then she can live in peace.
Ha, like that’s going to happen. You’re going to find him, start a very long and complicated courtship, and then fall in love and get married. Deal with it, Mara–you’re stuck with that man.
It’s interesting to analyze how Mara thought of the Force at this time. It wasn’t something she embraced, and it wasn’t something she could control. Many people say this contrasts with her portrayal in novels such as Allegiance and Choices of One, and perhaps they are right. However, I’ve always liked the idea that her bond with Palpatine made her stronger in the Force, and once he died, she lost a lot of her abilities. Not only that, but both her life and confidence were shattered, making it difficult for her to use the Force to her full potential.
We end the chapter with the Imperials, smarting over Karrde’s escape but ready to move on to more important matters, like finding more warships for the fleet. Pellaeon informs Thrawn that C’baoth has been contacting them again, wanting to know when he’ll get his Jedi twins. Oh, yay, C’baoth is back. I missed him so much.
insert side-eye here
To be honest, I could have done without C’baoth for the rest of the trilogy, he’s just so annoying. But he does serve a purpose. Thrawn assures Pellaeon says he’ll be taking a personal matter in Leia’s abduction from now on, which is kind of ominous.
Then we get to C’baoth in the high castle on Jomark, which he doesn’t like as much as Mount Tantiss but will do for now. He’s kind of insane and just sitting around, waiting for Luke Skywalker to show up. I’d like to say that never happens, but, well, we all know how brash our farmboy can be. The interesting part of this scene is that C’baoth can sense a disturbance in the Force that’s similar to disturbances he’s felt over the past several years. The idea that he can sense Mara is both alarming and intriguing.
In Chapter 2 we head back to Sluis Van, where Wedge Antilles is no help at getting Luke’s X-wing repaired. He’s a civilian, and not a Sluisi, so he’s far down on the priority list. Luke being Luke won’t accept Wedge’s offer to take his X-wing, despite his eagerness to get back to Coruscant and help Admiral Ackbar. (Remember, we ended Heir to the Empire with Fey’lya having accused Ackbar of treason.)
Unsure of what else to do, Luke goes to visit Lando, who was injured in the attack. They begin to chat when Lando gets a whiff of some strange odor coming off Luke that reminds him of someone he once knew–Niles Ferrier, an all-around nasty guy. Lando thinks Ferrier is trying to steal ships and wants to try to find him, even though Lando is unarmed and Luke doesn’t have a spare blaster because he stopped carrying one.
WHAT?! YOU STOPPED CARRYING A BLASTER? THAT IS THE STUPIDEST THING YOU’VE EVER DONE, LUKE SKYWALKER. I DON’T CARE THAT YOU’RE A JEDI KNIGHT, YOU SHOULD STILL CARRY A BLASTER. GAH.
Sorry Mr. Zahn, I’m side-eying hard at you right now for that one.
A fight breaks out and because Luke is awesome (even without an extra blaster grumble mutter), he is victorious. Lando tells Ferrier that the handsome gentleman with him is Luke Skywalker, the guy who took down Darth Vader. (So that’s common knowledge, even if Vader being Luke’s father isn’t. Interesting.) Ferrier admits that he’s trying to steal ships because the Empire has put out a call for warships. Lando tells Ferrier he should go check out the Amarris system and the Cavrilhu pirate gang. (The Cavrilhu pirates later show up in the Hand of Thrawn duology!) Ferrier finally agrees to leave, and gives Lando some codes he’s stolen. Lando’s going to turn them over to the Sluissis, but first he wants to use them to boost Luke’s ship to the top of the priority list. Oh, Lando, you dog. Luke reluctantly agrees to use the codes to their advantage, and is one step closer to getting back to Coruscant.
This chapter is kind of filler, but it does provide some interesting moments with Luke. Particularly when he thinks that one of the downfalls of being a Jedi is being able to see all sides of a situation. Yeah, it’s great for negotiations, but it’s not good for trying to get what you want. Nor is it good for politics. I’d actually disagree with that, Luke. I think being able to see both sides of a situation is pretty necessary for politics. But, he’s smart at leaving the nasty politics business to Leia.
Chapter 3 starts with Han arriving on Coruscant after spending six days in hyperspace with Threepio. Oh, Han, I am so so so sorry. Han reunites with Leia after not seeing her for weeks, and this is a reminder that Zahn is not very good when it comes to romance scenes because all they do is hug. Or perhaps Han’s just not that romantic. I mean, he is the guy who said “I know.”
And then, instead of having some nice one-on-one time, Leia drags Han into a Council meeting. He’s the first person back from the Sluis Van attacks and Mon Mothma wants to hear his report of the battle. Poor, poor Han. You can’t catch a break!
Han does as requested and reports on the battle. He’s not happy about having damaged the New Republic ships at Sluis Van, but it was better than letting the Empire get a hold of those ships. Fey’lya, to Han’s surprise, agrees with him. BOO HISS, FEY’LYA. I HATE YOU. Fey’lya’s still pushing the treason angle, pointing out that Ackbar was the one who ordered the ships to Sluis Van in the first place and accusing him of being responsible for the leak in the Palace.
Han’s had enough of that Bothan (yay!), much to Leia’s chagrin, and lets Fey’lya have it. Han is really enjoying not being an officer anymore. And then he lets the hammer drop that the Empire’s got a new grand admiral running the show.
Cue gasps of disbelief!
Mon Mothma says that can’t be true, because they accounted for all the grand admirals. Plus, the guy Han described isn’t human, and we all know the Emperor wasn’t fond of non-humans. (Imperial xenophobia was a very early idea in the Expanded Universe. While Imperial sexism is no longer canon, the xenophobia issue is still ambiguous. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops over time.) Mon Mothma orders an investigation into the new grand admiral.
Han and Leia go to visit Ackbar, who’s under house arrest. They tell Ackbar about the Sluis Van attack and how the Empire snuck in troops in a freighter that had registered empty. Ackbar realizes this means the Empire has a working cloaking shield. Even with the restrictions that come along with using cloaking technology, a working cloaking shield in the hands of a grand admiral is bad news indeed.
During this scene it becomes really clear that Zahn likes to explain scientific concepts and battle tactics by having his characters discuss every single nuance, thereby playing proxy to reader questions like “but why don’t they do that?” or “what does this mean for the characters?” It’s not bad, per se, but it gets really easy to tell when he’s doing that as you read more of his books.
The guard says their visit time is over, and Han and Leia are finally on their own. They briefly discuss why Ackbar is so cold to Han (because Han resigned his commission, and Ackbar thinks everyone should be fighting against the Empire, which creates some weird kind of guilt because the Mon Calamari are inherently peaceful people), and what happened on Kashyyyk (don’t worry Han, there was an attack on Leia’s life but she survived, she’ll tell you all about it later when you’re not on the corridors of the Imperial Palace where security is kind of crap lately).
So there you have it. The first three chapters of Dark Force Rising aren’t super exciting, but put all the pieces in motion for the second installment of the trilogy. Let’s see what happens next week. Will Nanci want to kill Fey’lya or C’baoth? Will she impatiently drum her fingers until Luke and Mara’s next meeting? Will she wonder when awesome people like Winter and Karrde might ever show up in the new canon? Find out in our next edition of the Thrawn Trilogy retrospective!