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A novel by Timothy Zahn (2011, Ballantine Books)
2 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

The rebel alliance is offered a new base in the outer rim. While Luke helps with negotiations, Han and Leia discover a setup, and Mara Jade investigates the involvement of the local governor with an alien menace.



Read November 9th to 22nd, 2016, in hardcover  
    Another fun book featuring the original cast back when they were na´ve, but with the added fun of knowing what is to come in the future. The story didn’t strike me as more interesting, however, and it didn’t call me back to see what was going to happen.

Spoiler review:

I’ve liked most of Timothy Zahn’s novels, though some of them strain credibility for me in many ways. That doesn’t make them bad books, and as long as the characters are well written and the situations plausible, that’s okay. It’s kind of my new standard for Star Wars, with the new series and standalones coming out in the movies. It’s easy to forget how na´ve the characters were in the original Star Wars trilogy, but I think the author goes to too many pains to show us just how na´ve and inexperienced they are.

Take Luke, for example, who gets to do almost exactly nothing through the entire novel. He stands around hoping to look powerful, knowing that he’s not a Jedi, even though he has a lightsaber. The best part of the novel is how he feels like a fraud. The worst part is how he doesn’t get to overcome that feeling. I also wondered at how close he got to Mara Jade. It was always assumed that Jade learned about Skywalker’s threat when the Emperor told her to kill him as he and Vader killed him in Return of the Jedi. But she never met him before Heir to the Empire. It’s conceivable that she knew about him earlier, of course, but was not interested because he wasn’t her main focus.

Leia is similarly only in the plot to be a love interest for Han, though she doesn’t reciprocate his interest. She goes with him to install the caldorf missiles that the aliens will use to try and terrorize the planet later, and has an intuitive moment to destroy the roof to the cavern so that the fleet can be exposed to Han and the Imperials. But she isn’t part of the political plot, and she shows up randomly on Poln Minor, looking for supplies. Han keeps complaining that people keep him out of the loop, but when Reikan and Leia show up early to inspect the caverns, it doesn’t feel natural to the story.

Mara has come to Poln Major to assassinate an Imperial governor who is suspected of offering his planet to the rebels. But she finds that he was coerced into doing it because Nuso Evsa, an alien warlord, has his family. So Mara recruits the band of Stormtroopers that we last saw in Allegiance, and they investigate the alien plot. Mara’s part of the story was the one I looked most forward to.

Meanwhile, Thrawn is sent off to investigate Nuso Evsa, and follows the warlord back to Poln Major. We just get a tiny glimpse of the future Grand Admiral, and it appears that Nuso Evsa has a grudge against him for something that he did in the unknown regions.

Aside from Mara, Han has the most interesting part of the story. He gets to run around Poln Minor, searching the caves for the strange supplies that were left behind, and which the Rebels began secretly taking. He knows that something is wrong, and volunteers to install the missiles just to get a better feel for what's going on. Reikan tells him that they are looking for people with leadership attributes, and he decides to take the lead here. But Leia shows him up on several occasions, including the bus back as they try to escape. Then he and Chewie go to the Golan defense platform in time to attack the fleet that suddenly appears from the surface.

The stormtroopers from Allegiance also get to do a lot, though they are less interesting. Their sense of justice is what led them to break from the Imperial army in the first place, and they continue their vigilante justice here, saving a family of aliens from rivals, and earning trust that will come back to help them later in the book. It is these four who uncover the truth, that the governor is being blackmailed, and that the real traitor is the rebel negotiator, because he thinks he will get help from Nuso Evsa. But it's all a trap that has been laid so that Evsa can kill Thrawn, which backfires, obviously.

The most disappointing part of the book unfortunately goes to Pellaeon and his ship, led by a pathetic captain. It’s increasingly obvious to the reader that the masked man operating on the Emperor’s orders is Nuso Evsa. I guess it’s neat the way the author gave us the information little by little, but it made the crew of the Chimaera look stupid -or maybe it’s just the Imperial procedures that look stupid… It was clear from the start that Pellaeon didn’t trust the new guy, who was welcomed on board by his captain. It wasn’t even clear if there were orders to give him the leeway that was needed for his mission. But Pellaeon was too ingrained in the Imperial hierarchy to go against his captain, even when it was obvious that the tour of the engine room with the dancing mouse droids was a ruse. Sorry, but the entire crew of the Chimera looked really stupid.

While the book as a whole was fun, it was more of a light Star Wars story, and was fine as long as the reader didn’t think too much. But even the fun bits seemed to drag on for too long, or had some element that made me think that this could have been done better another way.

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