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A novel by Timothy Zahn (2007, Ballantine Books)
2 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

A group of rogue stormtroopers chase down a group of pirates, the same ones being tracked by the Emperor's Hand.



Read May 26th to June 5, 2008  
    Ho-hum. Boring. Uninteresting. There is little more to say about this book. It wasn't bad by any means, but there was so little to it that it didn't hold my interest.

All of the action takes place in the Sheklowna sector, a place we've never heard of, on a bunch of planets we've also never heard of (except perhaps in the short stories or Galaxy guides that I don't read, but I wouldn't know).

A group of stormtroopers, all of whom were sickened by the Intelligence Bureau's (ISB) orders to fire on unarmed civilians after the Rebel cell had pulled out, kill an ISB chief, and decide to desert their Star Destroyer rather than face the death squad. Incidentally, they are on Captain Ozzel's ship (I don't know what Vader thinks he would do with Ozzel as a punishment, as the next time we see him, he is an Admiral. Perhaps simply putting him on The Executor keeps him in Vader's sight. That Vader kills him in The Empire Strikes Back is unplanned).

The stormtroopers, who call themselves The Hand of Judgement afterwards, continue to serve the oath they made when they signed up to be troopers, to protect the citizens of the Empire. On the first planet they land, they tackle a group of swoop riders who were attacking unarmed farmers. I don't think they find out that the farmers were actually Rebels, and that they weren't transporting farm equipment, but weapons. Later, they land on a planet whose leaders took over the previous government and have created a climate of fear and embezzlement. They destroy the hold of this government over the people, and restore the true government. Both of these cases turn out to be the work of pirates linked to the same group, a group the sector governor has created in order to defend his territory when he calls for independence from the Empire. The stormtroopers track the pirates to a base, which has just been wiped out by Captain Ozzel's Star Destroyer, where they find the link to the governor.

Meanwhile, Mara Jade, Emperor's Hand, after noting very expensive artworks in a governor's safe on a mission from the Emperor, goes in search of their source, to find out who needs so much money all at once that they would selling them. She tracks down the pirate group, which has been hiring other pirate groups into a large force. She comes to the rescue of one ship carrying ATSTs, and calls the nearest Star Destroyer, Ozzel's Reprisal, for help. While on board, she notes the strange departure of one ship, but doesn't know about the deserting stormtroopers. Ozzel and the ISB colonel think she has come to investigate the deserters, and decide she must die instead of passing that information along. So they destroy the pirate base she was trying to infiltrate. She survives, but just barely. She also finds the trail to the governor's office, when the pirate leader starts to call for help.

At the same time, Luke and Han have gone to see what they can do about the pirates, who are attacking Rebel and Imperial and civilian targets indiscriminately. After coming to the aid of another rebel ship, they are picked up by the Hand of Judgment, who don't know they are rebels, and who take them to the pirate base. They arrive just about the same time that Mara is leaving. When they leave, it is for the stormtroopers to find the governor, and Luke and Han to find Leia, whom Luke knows is in danger after a warning from Ben Kenobi in the Force. She was on the capital of the sector to hear about a plan from one of the rebel cells to do something drastic. After the spaceports are locked down when they meet their contact, the treacherous Disra from Specter of the Past, they realize it was a setup. Disra calls Darth Vader, to tell him that Leia Organa was on his world.

So Han, Luke, Leia, Mara, Darth Vader and the Hand of Judgment all meet on the capital planet of the sector. Actually, they all have different missions there. Mara thinks the governor ordered the attack on her at the pirate base, so she wants to kill him. She meets the Hand of Judgment and co-opts them to join her. Luke uses the Force to find Leia, who is hiding as a waitress at a poor-neighborhood's restaurant. Her goodwill there made the people feel better about themselves and perhaps raised the standard of the entire neighborhood. Vader, of course, is searching for Leia.

I have two big problems with this book. The first is in how powerful Mara is in the Force. She had much more than a rudimentary knowledge, as she had in Heir to the Empire. There, Luke sensed that she had the raw energy, but no focused skill. Here, she puts her lightsaber (made with Mace Windu's crystal) through a series of very complicated maneuvers while trying to keep it out of sight while in a hovercraft! She is so refined that she has the same skill as in Vector Prime! She appears to be more powerful than Vader. I thought it was poor judgement to give her such skill at this time period.

The second problem I have is the use of Ben Kenobi. Whenever Luke is in a jam, Ben appears and gives him explicit instructions. He even heaves a great sigh when Luke answers like a four-year-old, wanting the next bit of information instead of thinking for himself. Ben even gives him a security code, and tells him that Leia is in danger, though I suppose he has a vested interest in Leia.

Other than those two problems, there is nothing plot-wise that is wrong with the book. The five stormtroopers are almost identical in their personalities, but that is not too surprising. The attack sequences are thoroughly described, but not very interesting, even the assault on the ATST in the city streets. The twist in the book is that Mara is after the governor because she thinks he ordered the Reprisal to kill her, but that was actually Ozzel. She stumbled onto his plan for secession just because of that error. Anyway, the Hand of Judgment does not kill the governor, because he is the uncle of one of them. But he does try to kill Mara after revealing his plan. Vader arrives with word of the treason, though, and takes the man into custody.

The only good point worth mentioning was the idea that somebody could work for the Empire and not be evil. Both Mara and the Hand of Judgement know there is corruption in the Empire, but both are trying to make it a better place. Mara doesn't realize how corrupt the Emperor actually is.

I can't say that I enjoyed reading this book, but I didn't dread picking it up night after night, either. It simply didn't interest me, and I am glad that it is over.


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