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A novel by Timothy Zahn (1998, Bantam Spectra)
Book 2 of The Hand of Thrawn
19 years after Star Wars: A New Hope

While New Republic forces try to recover the Camaas Document, Luke and Mara discover a threat from beyond the rim, and Luke has several revelations about the Force.



2 stars

Read August 21st to 30th, 1999  
    A lot of people thought the ending of The Last Command was a cop-out, with Thrawn's Noghri bodyguard killing him, and Pellaeon realizing he couldn't win, and so pulling out of the battle.  Personally, I loved it.  I saw the betrayal coming the moment it was mentioned that the Noghri would take revenge.  I also thought Pellaeon should remain alive.  I'm glad he did, for he showed an evenness that Admiral Daala couldn't in Darksaber.  And he was a good leader here.  Unfortunately, he wasn't smart enough.  In order for him to gain the upper hand, he needed to be presented with a gift from an unknown person who dabbles in the Force (even though he has no Force sensitivity), and who has never-before-seen allies who can use the Force to teleport their ships instantly.  To me, that's the sign of an author who has built up the conflict so high that the good guys can't win on their own.  I don't like that. 

  But the intense politics were great.  That is something that Zahn does very well, in the original Thrawn trilogy, in his Conquerors Trilogy, and in this, the two Hand of Thrawn books. 

  The story picks up almost immediately from where Specter of the Past left off.  Pellaeon is waiting for a response from the New Republic to his peace proposal.  He knows the pirate attack on his ship was of Imperial origin, and he soon finds out where that origin is located.  He just has to catch a certain Moff in the act.  The dynamics between the Imperials is once again terrific.  This is the stuff I love reading.

  A lot of the rest of the book seems like a waste of time. 

  I'm all for romances, and I know a real one needs time to grow, but most of the Luke/ Mara scenes were very dull.  And unless the fortress and the "big threat" from the Unknown Regions is going to be addressed in the upcoming series of coordinated novels, then it was a complete waste.  Almost a complete waste, anyway.  It certainly advanced Luke's character.  Maybe it has put him on a different path.  I think it advanced Mara's character, too.  Only time will tell.

  Talon Karrde's plotline meanders so long that I wanted to skip all the chapters that dealt with it.  In the end, it matters to the overall plot, but there must have been another, more interesting way to get the information.

  Han and Lando's trip to Bastion (the Empire's capital) seems to have simply been to give more evidence of Thrawn's return, and to give false hope.  But neither lasts for more than a few hours, so why bother, really.  It wasn't even as interesting as Lando's exploits on the Qella ship in that unrelated and unnecessary plot thread to the Black Fleet Crisis.  At least that one was exciting and interesting at the same time. 

  Rogue Squadron and Bel Iblis were wasted, though without knowing the end, at least it was entertaining and interesting.  Knowing the end, however, makes it seem very wasted.  Perhaps the sense of futility was trying to be conveyed.  That might work.

  Leia wasn't used much; she was mostly used as a point of view, then to hatch a revelation at the end. 

  The most interesting scenes took place on the Star Destroyers, as mentioned, or on the surface of Bothawui, among the bad guys there.  I love the strikes, and the counter-strikes.  These are what makes the whole book worth reading. 

  All in all, this series feels too much to me like setup, and not enough story of its own.  The New Republic has changed, Luke has changed, and seems to be in love.  Can that last?  As far as I recall, Mara wasn't in any of the Young Jedi Knight books, though that is as easily explained by her being off-planet as it is to remember that those books were written years before this one. 

  I think Zahn was wise to send the kids off to Kashyyk with Chewbacca.  While I missed Chewie, the kids have only been written well as teenagers, and even then, that's debatable.  Nobody seems to know what to do with them, or how much power they should have.  Best to leave them out completely.

  As I keep mentioning, the politics were great.  Much of the character work was also well done, the battle scenes were well written (both in space and hand-to-hand), and there was great continuity through the mention of so many events and characters (such as Tendra, from the Corellian Trilogy) from past books.  But the pacing was slow, much of the storyline goes out the window in terms of relevance by the end, and the Force seems to plan too many coincidences for my taste.


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