||Excellent, and while this may not be
the best Star Wars book ever, it is definitely in the top few.
This book was written back when there
were few Star Wars book available, and it was the first of the new
breed, setting standards for the authors who followed. Few authors could
live up to these standards. I have wondered, in the years since I first
read this book, if that is because the memory was better than the book,
or if this book really was so amazing that few could truly follow it up.
The best thing about this book is the
characterization. All of the movie characters behave exactly as we would
expect them to. The new characters are solidly built. However, the
character that everyone came away from this book talking about was the
new Imperial leader -Grand Admiral Thrawn. A master strategist, Thrawn
has information sources and tactical genius beyond just about everybody.
By studying the art of various cultures, he is able to make deductions
about how they will react to various situations. How he does this, I
don't know. Sometimes it is little better than having him come to the
conclusion just because the author wants him to. Most of the time,
though, the conclusions are justified by more than just the "artwork".
There are logical reasons, too, and knowing the culture in general, even
without their art, could give him the clues he needs.
However he comes to his deductions, he
is mostly correct, and he is a real nuisance to the fledgling New
Republic. The author makes Thrawn very mysterious, and the mysteries are
revealed throughout the book, as we gradually come to know the
character. Thrawn is very condescending, which makes him an ideal
Imperial, and the later Chiss are all modelled on him, making the trait
inherent to the species.
Dialog, however, is the author's weak
point in this book. I wondered if Thrawn's speech was stilted because he
lived among humans for so long, but much of the dialog from the other
characters is also stilted. Thrawn's "come along and learn" felt like
the author trying to tell the readers the same thing, as if we were as
naive as Captain Pellaeon. The author also uses a lot of quotes from the
movies, sometimes effective, other times too obvious.
We are introduced to several new key
concepts, which would resurface in future novels. One is the idea of the
Emperor taking control of the fleet through the Force. Even Pellaeon,
who was at the Battle of Endor, noticed that efficiency went way up when
the new Dark Jedi took control during some battles. C'Boath is a clone
of a Jedi Master, however, and proves to be suitably insane. The concept
of the Emperor's Hand, being Mara Jade, also takes hold here. This is a
cool concept, and the trials leading up to Mara's leave from the Empire
are well told in By The Emperor's Hand. Her mysteries are not revealed
until she is alone with Luke on Myrkyr. We also get to let go of the
spectral shadows that might impair Luke's judgement, and could be used
as a crutch by future authors. Ben here says goodbye for good, for which
I am glad. He was not used effectively in The Truce at Bakura, only
telling Luke to "go there". We are introduced to Page's commandos, whom I
didn't realize were available in concept so early in the series. They
have a really good history from Rogue Squadron all the way to
Unifying Force of the New Jedi Order.
Like everybody else, myself included,
the author obviously believed that the clone armies of the Clone Wars
were fighting against the Republic, so the characters' memories are
tuned to that. It seems to be a stretch to suggest that Pellaeon
initially fought for the Separatists. The clones seen in
Attack of the
Clones are obviously not unstable, contrary to what is said here. At
this point in the franchise, however, I wonder if even George Lucas knew
what to do with the clones.
From a character standpoint, I really
like the way Luke's fears are given form. Knowing that Ben failed to
keep Anakin Skywalker from the Dark Side, and Ben was a good teacher, he
is afraid of teaching Leia and her forthcoming twins, because he might
fail, too. It's no wonder that he seeks out C'boath. The author does a
fantastic job of showing us how lost Luke is, showing his very serious
doubts, while also providing him with the knowledge that he is not alone
as a Force-user. The author showcases his fighting abilities well, also,
when the Nogrhi attempt to capture them for the first time on Bimmissari.
Luke has real limits in this book, which tend to be ignored in future
books. In this story, the limits make a lot of sense. In future books,
his abilities are expanded or contracted to fit the author's desires.
I wonder if we'll ever get a detailed
storytelling of the Dark Jedi from the Sluis sector, near Bpfassh, and
of the one who made it to Dagobah. I was always under the impression
that Dagobah was not a commonly-known system, but if Leia brought it up
in passing, why would she not know about Luke's training there? I have
trouble believing that Luke would keep that from her. Luke travels to
the cave on Dagobah again, attempting to confirm the story that Yoda was
hidden by the Force because of his proximity to the essence of the Dark
Jedi who died there. They cancelled each other out, effectively.
When the Nogrhi fail to capture Leia
again (as potential students for C'boath), she and Han head out to see
Lando, only to witness an Imperial raid on his facilities. The way that
the characters managed to be at every major offensive in this book
struck me as being too convenient, something that I wish the author had
been more subtle about. Lando's mining complex was pretty cool,
especially with the giant heat-shield canopies used to get so close to
the star. Thrawn later uses the stolen mole miners to bore into New
Republic ships in an attempt to steal them. It is only fortunate for the
good guys that Lando ends up in the same system and is able to
reactivate them and disrupt the plan.
While Thrawn seems at times to jump to
correct conclusions with no logic, I liked the way he also accepts
suggestions from Pellaeon, that he can't think of everything by himself.
Thrawn's logic on the meeting of the Millennium Falcon and Lando's Lady
Luck was flawless, however. From the moment they mentioned the plan, I
knew that it was stupid to set up the docking offworld. Why didn't they
board the proper ships on the ground, and head their separate ways right
away, thus avoiding a time-consuming switch -even if they didn't
consider that Thrawn might be watching.
Luke gets ambushed by the Imperials on
his way to meet with C'boath, and ends up getting rescued because of a
feeling that Mara Jade had while piloting Talon Karrde's ship, obviously
using the Force. Han and
Lando take a roundabout way of reaching Karrde, also, not knowing about
Luke, and wanting some information. I think this was the first time we
had seen an interdictor Star Destroyer, and it was nice setup for what
comes at a later time, very casually done.
Grand Admiral Thrawn uses the ysalamiri
from Karrde's base-world, of course, to keep the insane Jedi Master in line,
and he coincidentally shows up at the same time as Luke is captured and
Han and Lando are visiting. He sends a squad down when he figures that
Luke must have been there and escaped. Luke and Mara spend a long time
injured in the jungle, where she explains how he ruined her life by
killing the Emperor. (A big deal is made here of how Luke didn't kill
the Emperor; Vader did. I don't find that it is much of a difference.
Vader did what Luke failed to do, but it was still his intention to kill
the Emperor. She also mentions the argument put forward in
the Empire that Vader's offer to rule the galaxy with Luke was genuine,
which I heartily disagree with, and Luke doesn't take seriously, either.
I have always thought of it as more of a lure and trick to get him to
surrender.) I have trouble believing that Luke losing his lightsaber to
Mara on Jabba's sailbarge in Return of the Jedi could have affected the
outcome much. He still had the Force -his lightsaber didn't do much that
another weapon could have done. After all, Leia did just fine inside the
barge, tied with a chain, and without a weapon of her own.
Luke and Mara escape Thrawn's army by
surrendering to them, and Luke innovatively takes down what was probably
a ceremonial and highly valuable (to the natives) archway onto the troop
carrier. The whole squadron of stormtroopers was destroyed, with help
from Karrde's people. Karrde is a difficult one to figure out. His
explanations are good though, in that he feels that the New Republic is
destined to win the war, but doesn't want to cross the Empire, which
also makes him profits. But he does seem to do more against the Empire
than for it, earning Thrawn's wrath in the end. Mara is right that his
decisions are somewhat emotional, but perhaps they are just long term.
Meanwhile, Leia and Chewie went into
hiding on Kashyyyk, though it didn't do them much good, as the Nogrhi got
there first, thanks to Thrawn's intuition. The entry into Kashyyyk was
beautifully written, and I really liked the Wookies that we met. When
the Nogrhi finally attack, Leia actually kills one of them. However,
these killers have a gene-sensing nose! Kabarach recognises her as the
heir to Darth Vader, their supposed savior. That was a pretty cool
twist, regardless, especially when we wonder how Leia could possibly get
out of that kind of situation yet again. If these creatures were so good
at their jobs, why would they fail three times? Usually because of the
Force, and then because of her heritage. The author uses excellent
arguments to separate Luke and Leia in the last two assassination
attempts. Unlike other situations, these don't seem fabricated in any
It's too bad other, later, authors made
the Nogrhi into cannon fodder. Here it took three Wookies to best a
party of assassins, and two even escaped. It seems that they are always
used as a comparison to show how capable the enemies in those books
were, when here nobody has even heard of them because they are so
secretive and good at what they do. It is also too bad that Leia simply
takes over Thrawn's tyranny over them, as she is always taking them away
from their homeworld, too.
The book finishes with a big battle at
the Sluis Van shipyards, where Thrawn tried to steal so many ships.
Thanks to Luke, Han and Lando, his plan failed.
There are many mysteries left in this
book, the biggest one being why Thrawn wants so many ships when he
doesn't have the manpower for them... It is a true first part in a
trilogy. There is very little closure in this book, which is what caused
me to start Dark Force Rising on the same day as I finished this one.
While this book may not be the best
Star Wars novel out there anymore (Star By Star did get a five star
rating a few years ago), it is still among the best of them. Some dialog
could have been improved, as well as character placements, and overused
sentences such as "they just sat there...", which sounds amateurish,
especially when compared to the excellently-plotted and well-written
narrative parts of the book.