There were a lot of things to like about this book, but the writing style
had several drawbacks. After reading the dreary prequel novels, very few of
which I have actually enjoyed, getting back to Luke Skywalker, even without
Han and Leia, is a wonderful thing. The authors of the expanded universe,
especially Zahn, really know how to characterize the main characters. Zahn has
set up a very engaging and energetic tale, with lots of action, excitement,
deception, and internal politics among various groups of people.
While I like complex investigations, and characters trying to figure out
what is going on, all throughout this book there were way too many potential
solutions being discussed. Every time Luke or Mara are confronted by something
even remotely suspicious, they go through ten or twelve situations that could
explain what they encountered, and they go back and second-guess everything
later. This seems more like the author trying to give the fans every possible
solution to a potential problem, to mislead us, and to keep us from saying
"but couldn't they have done ... (whatever) ... instead?" I found that the way Luke and Mara
presented all of the possible information at once, offering up new theories
before the old ones were made, was rather annoying, especially at the
beginning, when they didn't know anything at all!
The plot begins by having Luke and Mara being called to Chiss space because
the Chiss have found the ship Outbound Flight, which Thrawn destroyed in the
days before even the Clone Wars. Luke wants to see the ship because its crew
consisted of several Jedi Masters and their apprentices, among others. The
plot gets interesting when an alien race comes aboard, to pay their respects
to the remains on the ship, because the Jedi freed them from their tyrannical
masters, the Vagaari. But things start going wrong on the ship, an Imperial
group also shows up (complete with stormtroopers), and everybody is suspicious
of everybody else. Also, there is the person who stole the original message to
Luke and Mara in the first place, Dean Jinzler, who shows up as an
"ambassador" from the New Republic.
I have always had a problem with the Chiss race as depicted in
the Past and Vision of the Future, and later in
Refugee. The Chiss are afraid
of an enemy that they have been tracking, and which they know are extremely
dangerous and will someday invade the galaxy. The reference is obviously to
the Yuuzhan Vong, first seen in Vector Prime. But they did nothing to prepare
for this except create a supposedly safe haven in a globular cluster. From
what we saw in Refugee, the Chiss were not in the vanguard of the battle, and
did nothing to stop the Vong, nor did they hinder their entry into the galaxy.
In addition, the Chiss are not written very differently than humans, in this
story. At least in Refugee, they were given different values. Here they were,
in effect, humans with blue skin and red glowing eyes.
My memory of the events that occurred on Niruaun in
Vision of the Future
are vague at best. A rereading of that book is highly recommended before
reading this one. It turned out that Soontir Fel was not working with the
Chiss at all, but the Empire of the Hand, a group of rebel Chiss who once
served under Thrawn. I can't figure out how Fel ended up on the Chiss
homeworld in Refugee. I wondered if the tension that we saw between the aristocra of the Fifth Ruling Family (Formbi) and the military might be a sign
of things to come in the Chiss near-future. I do not recall mention of the
Empire of the Hand in Refugee, so possibly it re-merged with the Chiss.
However, I do not see any reason that this would happen, by the end of this
book. I also argue against the idea that Thrawn only attacked the New Republic
to make them into a stronger fighting force, for the forthcoming invasion. The
Heir to the Empire trilogy is very clear about Thrawn's attitude towards the
New Republic. Luke and Mara spend too much time thinking about Invasion, when
in Vector Prime they were caught completely off guard.
Luke and Mara make a lot of assumptions of authority on the Chiss ship as
it approached the Outbound Flight. Every time there is a crisis, they contact
the command deck. If these were New Republic ships, I can see them doing this,
but even then, they would get in the way. But here they are guests and
passengers; why are they allowed to go into all sections of the ship and do
their own searching for saboteurs? The Chiss were supposed to be a very private
race, so why do they allow such freedom to aliens? I would have also liked to
see some sense that Luke and Mara became more intimate than simply cuddles at
some point on this trip of several days. Nothing explicit would ever show up
in a Star Wars book, but something more suggestive would be nice.
I suspected, after the Geroon was shot, that he did it himself, and that
perhaps they were actually out for revenge, rather than to pay their respects.
They just seemed to be too naive to actually be that naive! I did not suspect
that they were actually the Vagaari themselves, but I suppose I should have.
Luke, at one point, actually considers that a splinter group of the Chiss
might have been the Vagaari. It turns out that the Vagaari were essentially
destroyed by the Jedi on Outbound Flight, and wanted some of the weapons
systems and destroyer droids that were housed on board the ship.
Yes, destroyer droids! I liked all of the references to the prequel movies,
references that could not have been made in earlier novels for obvious
reasons. There is mention of Trade Federation, the appearance of two destroyer
droids, Luke wonders about intimacy among Jedi, and others.
Once they arrive on Outbound Flight and find survivors, the Vagaari reveal
themselves, and most of the mysteries from aboard the Chiss vessel are
resolved. However, two more problems crop up. The first, of course, is the
fact that the Vagaari are intent on destroying Outbound Flight and all aboard,
except for one intact dreadnaught, which they steal. They have a huge number
of troops, and it takes a significant portion of the book to overcome them.
The point of view is split between Luke and Mara, who demonstrate such
incredible Jedi powers, which completely amaze the Vagaari, and the Imperials,
four elite stormtroopers led by the officer Chak Fel. This section of the book
was very, very fun to read.
The other problem is the way the survivors treat the Jedi, and those who
were born with Jedi powers on their own ships. Palpatine's Empire lasted just
over twenty years, while the people on board Outbound Flight have had 50 years
to develop their own culture. The mysteries became more and more intense once
Luke and Mara boarded that cluster of ships, but a lot of it was never
answered. They obviously didn't like the Jedi's "holier than thou" attitudes,
and from what I've seen of the prequels, I agree. Mara, however, did not
reassure them that she and Luke were any different. From her Imperial military
training, she treated them like people who knew nothing: the Jedi give orders,
and non-Jedi follow orders. If gentle Luke had been in that room, they might
have had their beliefs shaken. However, he never had an encounter with the
council that we are aware of.
We never get a real answer for why the survivors dislike and distrust the
Jedi so much. The answer must obviously lie in the novel
Outbound Flight, and
the author does not want to give away too much by this first-published novel.
I also want to know why we did not see any aliens on board. Luke and Mara, who
are ever-conscious of things like that, didn't even pose that question. The
novel successfully does what it set out to do, however, as I really want to
know what happened, so will likely read the prequel to it soon! Related, but
not to the crew of Outbound Flight, is the question of who taught the Chiss
the Basic language in the first place. They called these people "the
visitors", who apparently arrived even before Outbound Flight.
While Luke, Mara and Fel are battling the Vagaari on Outbound Flight, which
was a nicely complex battle, reasonably written, the Vagaari leader Etosh was
stealing a dreadnaught. The next battle, as Luke and Mara board the stolen
vessel and take it over little by little, was pure Star Wars, although it also
had a complexity to it that would have been better seen on-screen. Several of
the tactics that they used required a lot of words, when a movie would have
just shown us a cool jump from one plate to another in a river of fire
(anticipation of Revenge of the Sith?), or the final destruction of the
destroyer droid. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan didn't have enough time to try all of the
stunts used here, when they encountered the destroyers in
The Phantom Menace.
Still, the New Jedi Order is definitely much stronger than the Jedi of the Old
Republic, probably because of a lack of limiting traditions. Luke didn't know anything
when he started the Jedi Academy. The new Jedi have incredible control over
the Force and can do really outrageous stuff! I liked how they were always
able to calmly figure ways out of their situations, without ever being
outgunned -only outsmarted at some points.
The title of the book could either refer to Jinzler, whose sister was
onboard Outbound Flight, or to the Vagaari, who now quest to dominate this
region of space once more. Likely it refers to both. Jinzler brings a non-Jedi
view to the ship, and actually does very well as an ambassador. He had great
suggestions for getting out of the situations with the wolvkils, though I am
surprised that he couldn't convince Evlyn to come to the New Republic, but
maybe he can give some education as he joins the Outbound Flight on their new
home (assuming that it survived the Yuuzhan Vong attack). Is knowing your
parents and sibling, and communicating with them also against the Jedi code? I
always thought so, but perhaps I am wrong. Anakin got to keep his last name,
after all, and I'm sure others did, also.
And the reason for all of this to take place at all? The Chiss knew that
the Vagaari were gaining strength again, but their code of ethics do not
permit them a first strike. This is why Thrawn was exiled in the first place:
he took action against an enemy before they attacked the Chiss.
So Formbi set up an elaborate plan to draw the Vagaari into attacking the
Chiss on the way to see the remains of the ones who defeated them fifty years
ago. Somehow Talon Karrde's friend from Vision of the Future, Car'das, had
seen the Vagaari and informed Formbi of what they looked like. Car'das' role
in all of this remains completely unclear, as he knew that Outbound Flight had
been found eight weeks before the message was sent. Why did he want Jinzler
there instead of Luke? I doubt we will find out in the prequel novel. Formbi's
plan worked even better than he hoped, and nearly cost him his life!
I did not find that there was enough of a denouement to the book. Luke just
lets the Force-sensitive girl go without learning why the others distrust her.
Did he at least rescue the two quarantined Force-sensitives?
I have some complaints about the writing style, as well. While the book was
a lot of fun to read, it did not have the grand and epic quality that
recent post-movie books have. Compare the dialog and action description here
to what we saw in Star By Star,
Destiny's Way, or The Final Prophecy, and this
one comes out lacking. Much of the dialog is very odd or stilted, with people
avoiding making full sentences. Still, as I have said, it was fully engaging, and I was
very happy to return to Luke and Mara, who are probably my favorite
characters, from here through the New Jedi Order. I also like the idea,
between this book and Tatooine Ghost, that not all of the characters need to
be present in a Star Wars novel.
My final comment is a huge amount of praise for the cover of this book.
Mara is drawn absolutely beautiful, and there is a lot going on. The busy ones
were always my favorites in the New Jedi Order, and this continues the trend.
Even the back cover has a lot of detail, which makes even the cover worth
staring at for some time, in addition to the story within.