Timothy Zahn, Thrawn Trilogy #2.
One of the major losses, I think, when Star Wars spin-offs became all the rage, was the wars part of things. The ANH crawl begins with “It is a period of civil war” — a statement that rings with American audiences on a deeper level than we realize, for the Civil War shaped our cultural mindset more than any other since the War for Independence — and not only are they talking rebellion the whole movie, there are tantalizing references to the Clone Wars as well. Space warfare needs must define the franchise, and most authors treat it as part of the window dressing they have to tuck in just to legitimize the sticker on the front. Sort of like a freshman who writes a paper and then inserts his references, those writers have no idea just how short they’ve sold themselves with it.
I just said that the Civil War had a strong impact on American sensibilities, and Timothy Zahn certainly uses that, drawing parallels between the honorable south and his extremely sympathetic Imperial command (source). And by refusing to leave his villains as token pieces, Zahn has created a follow-up trilogy even more dynamic than the Star Wars that was his inspiration. If you want Star Wars: Episode VII, VIII, and IX, you need look no further than the Thrawn trilogy — truth.
Luke has escaped Talon Karrde and had a near-miss with the Imperials and the mysterious Mara Jade who wants to kill him, but now that the New Republic knows there’s a Grand Admiral out there, their troubles are just beginning. Thrawn is more than an able commander, he is a military genius who can predict his adversaries eight out of nine times. His flagship, run by Captain Pellaeon, is a well-oiled machine, and his inside track to the New Republic — code named Delta Source — gives him more than everything he needs to be the Empire’s only hope.
There’s another thing out there — the eponymous “Dark Force,” also known as the long-lost Katana fleet that Karrde knows how to find. These powerful dreadnaughts would be a war-winning asset to either side, so it’s a race to claim them. Also, crazed Jedi clone Joruus C’boath may have successfully drawn Luke Skywalker into his web, and Leia has been convinced to visit the planet of the Noghri to discover her father’s legacy there.
I actually don’t think I’ve read this book since the turn of the century, and I was really impressed at the level of discipline evident in the writing, especially on the heels of Kevin J. Anderson. As I mentioned, these other writers “spend a good chunk . . . rehashing what happened” in earlier books, but not one of Zahn’s 400+ pages is dedicated to endless rehearsing of his own plot. He nips back to the OT plenty, quoting and self-referencing, but as I emphasized last week, that’s just to help weave his book with the films. (A New Hope does a fair share of back-referencing to E3, which is remarkable considering E3 didn’t exist yet.) Solid characterization, believable plot . . . In fact, reliving just how much I love Talon Karrde had me noticing just how much my view of the expanded universe is colored by the work in this trilogy, and also how closely these characters fit with Lucas’ original vision. Which, of course, was the point — so thumbs up!
If I didn’t make the case that this is an excellent book, well worth the read, highly deserving of canon, consider the point made. All I want to add here is that this trilogy is unique in one other aspect — its attempt at dating. Luke makes a very tongue-in-cheek reference to new regimes changing dates arbitrarily in the first book, and there’s more references to “year X” and “Y years ago” than I recall there being in other books. It’s a bold move, but he’s actually not too far off from my own timeline. (Note that the date I penned in my copy of the book is slightly off.) The battle that ravages Honohgr is dated “44 years ago,” which is 01103 by my reckoning, and while that’s a little bit early for the Clone Wars (just after E1 instead of just after E2), it’s not as wildly off as Lucas would’ve had it. My point is, Timothy Zahn doesn’t use random numbers, and a lot of work went into these books. I think I can confidently say, more work than any other Star Wars author has attempted to do, and pretty much on par with my own level of research (though he had access to Lucas papers and I don’t). So: another solid 4 stars for Mr. Zahn.