Book by Timothy Zahn
Review by Nicholas Haberling
Only a few people may remember this but there was once a time when I supported the Rebel Alliance and its fight for freedom in the galaxy. Then one day I went to the library in search of a Star Wars book. In my younger years I wasn’t well versed in the events of the Star Wars universe outside the films so I picked a book called Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn. Within the pages of that book I soon became the most recent convert to the Galactic Empire. But it wasn’t the Sith Lords Darth Vader and the Emperor who convinced me the Empire was the team to represent. It was one of the greatest Star Wars villains: Grand Admiral Thrawn.
The Thrawn trilogy encompasses three books: Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command. Heir to the Empire takes place five years after Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. In the intervening years the Rebel Alliance has reformed itself as the government of the New Republic, all while pushing the Empire back to less than a quarter of its former territory. The novel begins shortly after Thrawn’s arrival from the edge of Imperial space where he takes control of the scattered Imperial Fleet and prepares it for the final destruction of the New Republic.
Throughout Heir to the Empire we meet new characters and have the chance to reconnect with our favorites from the Original Trilogy. Han Solo and Lando Calrissian go on a quest that ends with them meeting the most successful smuggler in the galaxy, Talon Karrde. And because Star Wars is full of coincidences, it just so happens that Karrde and his second-in-command, Mara Jade, had previously captured Luke Skywalker. After negotiating for Luke’s release, Han and the gang arrive at a New Republic shipyard in time to witness Thrawn and the Empire attack.
Dark Force Rising begins with Thrawn trying to capture Karrde in retribution for his betrayal in the previous novel. However, though Thrawn has a vendetta against the smuggler, his main focus is trying to acquire ships for his campaign against the New Republic. What unfolds over the next three hundred or so pages is a race to see which side can find the long lost Katana Fleet. If the Empire arrives first, the two hundred ships will be enough to swing the momentum of the war in their favor. Running alongside this plot is Luke’s search for an obscure Jedi Master located on a distant planet. Luke hopes this survivor of the Jedi Purge can mentor him and perhaps train Han and Leia’s children in the ways of the Force, but this Jedi’s motives may be darker than originally thought.
The Last Command brings the Thrawn Trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. Having recovered most of the Katana Fleet and staffed it with clone soldiers created using technology from the Emperor’s hidden fortress, Thrawn has launched a devastating campaign against the New Republic. With the prospect of defeat looming closer with each passing day, the New Republic begins to plan for a daring attack on the Imperial shipyards at Bilbringi. The only problem is that Thrawn has anticipated this move. Amidst the backdrop of galactic warfare, Luke, Han, and friends assemble a strike force to destroy the Empire’s cloning facilities. It is in the midst of the Emperor’s fortress on Wayland where Luke must have a final confrontation with the insane Dark Jedi Joruus C'baoth
The Thrawn Trilogy introduces us to a number of beloved Star Wars Legends characters. Talon Karrde plays the role of a smuggler who becomes one of the most influential leaders in the underworld after the demise of Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi. It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see that Han Solo could have ended up like Karrde if he hadn’t joined the Rebel Alliance. Next we have Thrawn’s protégé: Captain Pellaeon. Pellaeon is an example of the competent Imperial officer we didn’t really get to see in the Original Trilogy. He is a respected subordinate and during the events of the Star Wars Legends universe he eventually reaches the rank of Grand Admiral himself. It just so happens that he also helps establish peace between the New Republic and the Empire further down the line. In addition to competent officers, we learn a little more about how the Empire operated throughout the series. This includes our next character: Mara Jade. Before becoming Karrde’s second-in-command, Mara Jade was an assassin for the Emperor. Though Mara Jade spends most of the series trying to kill Luke Skywalker in an attempt to avenger her former boss, she actually ends up marrying him in later novels.
Finally, last but not least of the new characters, we have Grand Admiral Thrawn. Thrawn is a very well written and unique villain in the Star Wars franchise. Unlike many of our heroes’ past adversaries, Thrawn doesn’t have the ability to use the Force or possess a superweapon that can destroy planets. The only weapon he has to combat the New Republic is his strategic skill and ability to study his enemies through artwork. For many fans, myself included, it was great seeing Thrawn reintroduced into the new canon with Star Wars Rebels and a new book coming out next week. And maybe if we are lucky he might make an appearance in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
In addition to the new characters we meet throughout the series, Timothy Zahn did a great job at portraying the cast of the Original Trilogy. The interactions between Han, Leia, and Chewbacca seem like a natural progression from the last time we had seen them back on the forest moon of Endor. Though Luke defeated Darth Vader and the Emperor, without access to information on Jedi training he is still insecure about his ability to teach a future generation of Jedi. Even characters with minor roles such as Lando Calrissian seem to true to form with him once again trying to make money off risky business ventures.
Many times over the years people who are trying to jump into the Star Wars universe have asked me, “Nick, which books should I start with?” My answer has always been Thrawn Trilogy. The trilogy feels firmly embedded within the Star Wars universe and serves as an excellent progression from the events of Return of the Jedi. While the Thrawn Trilogy is no longer part of the official Star Wars canon, it is still an enjoyable read. I for one am thankful for the characters it brought to Star Wars and look forward to this month’s release of Thrawn.