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A novel by Troy Denning (2003, Del Rey Books)
8 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

While trying to keep a painting with hidden security codes from Imperials on Tatooine, Leia discovers ties to her father's childhood everywhere she goes.




Read August 8th to 14th, 2005  
    A nice quiet book, and very different, for Star Wars. I don't mean that there isn't any action -there is plenty. However, the story is very local, with only a small handful of lives at risk, set on one planet, and Luke only barely has a few lines, never showing up physically.

I liked the tale we are presented with here. I like the way it was localized, and I loved the way we got to look at all sorts of continuity. For the first time since the word Padawan was used in Vector Prime, we get a real connection with the Prequel Trilogy.

My main complaint here, which I want to get out of the way early, is that the Force is used like a magical guiding entity. Causing feelings is one thing, but moving people around like chess pieces is not acceptable.

Han, Leia and Chewbacca are on Tatooine in order to purchase an Alderaanian painting, thought to be destroyed long ago. In a setup for the next book in the timeline, Heir to the Empire from the Grand Admiral Thrawn trilogy, we also have an Imperial bidder for the painting, who does things in the usual Imperial way: obtain what they want at all costs. The painting is of course intended for Thrawn's personal collection, because he studies cultures through their art- how, I never figured out. Nonetheless, Thrawn is there, on the Chimaera, at Tatooine, for the painting, though he is never named as such.

Han and Leia go in disguise, but everybody seems to know who they are, anyway, in this book. The auction was a lot of fun. I don't recall ever encountering Squibs before, but they were fun and annoying at the same time. Always angling for a deal, a bargain or a profit, they entered the story again and again, trying to get their hands on the valuable painting. I liked the arrogant intimidation of the Imperials and stealing credit chips by the Squibs, followed by the chaos of trying to destroy the painting rather than have it fall into Imperial hands, and then having it stolen.

Why destroy the painting? Because the real reason for buying the painting back is that it has an encryption decoder for the secret Shadowcast network that the New Republic, and the Rebel Alliance before it, used to communicate with spies in Imperial space. Indeed, this is the biggest question in the whole book, and the weakest part of the plot. Why hide an encryption key in a painting? What use could it be, then? Leia could possibly have hidden it from spies in her household at the time, I suppose, but the point is never addressed, and she makes it sound like the matter had been debated by the Alliance council, which makes my theory seem unlikely. Aside from creating the plot in this book, why was the Killik Twilight a good place to hide the code?

In one of the first links to the Prequels, we meet Kitster, who was a good friend of Anakin Skywalker until he left Tatooine in The Phantom Menace. He is the one who stole Killik Twilight before Han was able to destroy it. Kitster disappears, and we don't see him again until the end. But we learn a lot about him, and his desire to remember Anakin as he was as a child, even though he knew what became of his friend.

Han and Leia, trying to recover the painting to either escape with it or destroy it before the Imperials find Kitster, go from one safe harbor to another. Leia ends up at the Darklighter's farm, which includes Luke's old home. I don't know how they got there on the way from Mos Espa to Mos Eisley, as Watto said, in Attack of the Clones, that the Lars homestead was "on the other side of Mos Eisley". I also don't really understand what the Imperials were doing there- obviously looking for Kitster, but that means they were harassing every farmer on the planet? Still, it gives us the most important part of the story: the journal of Shmi Skywalker.

Leia uses the journal as a distraction, because Han is out in one of Tatooine's largest sandstorms, on a dangerous swoop bike. Han hasn't ridden a swoop since... when, exactly? I don't remember. He didn't even get a speeder bike in Return of the Jedi. I do have some trouble believing that he could control the swoop, given that it was a podracing engine to begin with. As it is, Han nearly dies when the storm takes out the engine, though he discovers that Kitster took refuge in a Jawa sandcrawler.

When the Darklighters rescue Han (Gavin greatly respected him when they served together in Solo Command), with some great interaction with the Imperials, Leia gets to nurse him back to health in a Mos Eisley hotel, the way Han gets to nurse Leia back in Recovery. I think Leia had an easier time! It also leads to one of the funniest moments in the book, when the two of them get ready to greet the Imperials with their blasters -stark naked!

The author treads a fine line here on several subjects. Leia and Han don't know about Thrawn, the new Grand Admiral, until Heir to the Empire. Here, they get to see his glowing red eyes, because Thrawn was masquerading as a stormtrooper. I wondered about that, but it makes sense, as he was not in much danger, and was assessing his troops. Shmi's journal does a good job of teaching Leia about Anakin, but saying nothing of Padmé, as does Beru's sister -I like the fact that Beru had a sister of whom we knew nothing. Luke and Leia know nothing about Padmé by the time of the Black Fleet Crisis, so it was inevitable. Somebody, in the post-New Jedi Order books, should find a link between Anakin and Naboo -not to mention C3PO. Leia learns that Anakin built a droid, but not who that droid was.

The most intriguing part of the story as far as I am concerned is the journal. The author does a great job of pulling almost all of the Episode I information from The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Leia has hated Darth Vader as long as she can remember, and refused to forgive her father in The Truce at Bakura, so it was nice to see her watch the opinions of others, especially Wald and Kitster, and especially how Anakin inspired them.

Leia's interpretations, and her progressive sympathy for her grandmother and her father, grew more and more interesting, and complex, as the book went on, as long as she was reading the journal, and interacting with those who knew him. I loved reading her reactions to the journal, most likely because I know the story already, at least the parts that Anakin participated in. Beru's sister was a key part of this, as well, as she identified Shmi by name, and could tell of her fate, as well as Anakin's last visit to the Lars farm. The only part I didn't like was Leia's realization of what Anakin did in the Tuskin ghost village. Better that it would have come from Kitster rather than the Force. I didn't believe Leia's revelations.

I enjoyed the treasure hunt as far as it went, but Han and Leia spent most of it simply hiding from Imperials, and recovering from their time in the heat. I would have liked to hear even more about them learning about Anakin, or about Leia slowly changing her mind about having children, as she learns that Anakin turned to the Dark Side of the Force due to some bad choices, not because he was inherently bad. Leia went into this story the way many fans went into The Phantom Menace, and has trouble accepting that Anakin could have been this kid who gave selflessly.

There is another Force-guided moment in the book that is just barely part of the plot. I accept that Leia would detour to Obi-Wan's hut and discover the Force had given her an uneasy feeling, because of the trap the stormtroopers had laid. But to have the Force guide them there to recover information about the Outbound Flight project, which is obviously setup for the Zahn novel Survivor's Quest, is not acceptable. How did Obi-Wan conduct research on that project, anyway? Would he have risked accessing the holonet or contacting Yoda? I always thought of him as becoming a true hermit, for the sake of safety.

In the end, they spring the Imperial trap, their own way, and destroy the encryption key in the painting, leaving it in the hands of the Squibs, who will likely sell it to Thrawn, thus buying them time to escape. Leia reverses her position on children, thus the pregnancy in Heir to the Empire.

I enjoyed the story quite a bit, especially since it didn't have galaxy-spanning implications. It was very well written, and had a banter between Han, Leia and Chewie that is not easily conveyed by other authors. I hope this author returns to the Star Wars universe with more character stories like this.

There is also a short story included in the paperback, called Corphelion Interlude, which I had read on-line before. It was a nice quiet honeymoon story, though way too short to have any substance. The e-book A Forest Apart is also included at the end of the paperback.


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