Review: Specter of the Past

by Timothy Zahn. The Hand of Thrawn, Book 1.

The penultimate chapter
The penultimate chapter

Sixteen years after the battle of Yavin, and eleven years after Thrawn’s final defeat, Admiral Pellaeon looks out over the dwindling Empire and draws the only conclusion left to draw: it is time to surrender to the New Republic and seek compromise that will end the continual bloodshed but also preserve the Empire’s thousand remaining systems. There is no other way for the Empire to survive, and he knows it. He sets in motion his plan to surrender, but he is not the only one setting plans in motion.

Somewhere in the Empire, Moff Disra has a plan for restoring the Empire, and he’s confident he’s got a better shot than all his predecessors because he’s got something they don’t: Thrawn. Or at least, a very convincing replica of Thrawn that can be his Idiot’s Array if he plays his cards right.

Speaking of cards, Disra’s not the only one banding Thrawn’s name about — Leia has come across some disturbing datacards bearing the legend The Hand of Thrawn. Luke has had a disturbing vision of Mara floating deathlike in water, Han’s been accused of firing on unarmed protesters, and some Bothan chickens have come home to roost. The threads of a web more twisted than our heroes can imagine are beginning to converge and tangle.

The pleasantest of things.
The pleasantest of things.

What I remember about my first time through this book is “images, really, just feelings.” I’m not sure when it was — probably early 1999. I read it with Vision of the Future even though they came out sometime apart. There was a high sense of anticipation in the Star Wars universe at that time. And if there is one thing I knew, knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, it was that the Hand of Thrawn Duology would be the last story of the post-Return of the Jedi timeline. And if I knew two things, I knew that I would love Episode I with all my heart.

And both things continue to be true to this day, at least in my very comfortable realcanon. It was understood at this date that Lucas wanted the EU to focus on the newly-opened Before ANH era. He had requested Timothy Zahn to return to the Star Wars book scene to write a capstone. And I found no reason for the story of Luke Skywalker to continue past this point, which was good enough for Timothy Zahn and George Lucas, to be anything other than perfect and satisfying.

Of course the real focus is on Vision of the Future, almost double the length of this “companion volume,” but this book is nevertheless a gem. Especially making it worthy is huge chapters devoted to Pellaeon written by the only man who knows how to write him properly. I love Gilad Pellaeon. I just love that man. I also love this book: it truly deserves a place in realcanon as part 1 of Episode IX. The only TrEU Episode IX there will ever be.


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