Archive for Timothy Zahn

Review: Choices of One

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on 1 September 2016 by Megan

choicesofoneby Timothy Zahn.

It’s sad it took until the last years of the EU for them to do what I’d been telling them to do for a decade: populate the pre-ABY19 era with new stories!! Forming a loose duology with Allegiance, Choices of One takes place before The Empire Strikes Back and has the rebellion, Mara Jade and the Hand of Judgment, and Thrawn and Pellaeon all skirting around each other and a prospective traitor regional governor and a pirate warlord.

Let me get this bit out of the way immediately: I am not a fan of Zahn’s “Aha, gotcha!” twists. He did the same thing to me in Icarus Hunt and I’ve never forgiven him for it. It took this book from 4 to 3 stars for me. That being said: apart from the distracting and irritating climax, this is an excellent book. And if you like stupid “gotcha” twists, and if you liked Icarus Hunt, you will probably love this book and not be frustrated on any level the way I was.

Han Solo keeps hanging around with the rebels and doesn’t quite know why; it’s fun to see the flickers of friendship developing between him and Luke, so you can really understand how he went from “watch your mouth, kid, or you’ll find yourself floating home” to “The temperature’s dropping too rapidly and my friend’s out in it.”

As is typical, though, the rebellion treats its private contractors and new applicants like garbage and Han is routinely pushed around, pushed down, and left out. He flies taxi service for a snooty Alderaanian to a prospective rebel base being offered by a sector governor turned traitor to the empire. Or has he? Mara Jade is there, too, having recruited LaRone and his four mates to take care of this treasonous governor — but all is not as it seems.

Warming and delighting my heart, Gilad Pellaeon and the Chimaera make their first appearances as well, this time with Pellaeon serving as commander under a less-than-able captain as they follow the oblique orders of one mysterious Lord Odo. Pellaeon is the man, the only man, the greatest, and his presence alone will cause me to forgive Zahn for the stupid climax I’m not getting over any time soon.

A solid adventure, with Zahn’s usual precision characterization of these people we know and love so well. Definitely read it paired up with Allegiance; you can revisit my review of that here.

Zahn Plot First

Posted in Opinion with tags , , , , on 10 June 2016 by Megan

EU fans and realcanon warriors have been disappointed and upset by remarks made at Awesomecon last weekend by Timothy Zahn. (Daily Dot interview here.)

First of all, Timothy Zahn did miss the point. I have to tell you, the way he’s behaving is exactly how pretty much all Star Wars fans would be behaving if the reboot had not demanded the decanonization of all prior Star Wars. As I addressed in last week’s open letter to Lucasfilm: reboots are common and they don’t make people mad. They don’t make people mad because they don’t threaten what people love or have invested in.

Understand this, there would be no problem whatsoever about Thrawn appearing in Rebels (for example) if Lucasfilm had not gone out of its way to declare Heir to the Empire non-canon. Declaring the EU non-canon and then cherry-picking “cool stuff” from it is as if you took your car in for an oil change, the mechanic told you the vehicle was totaled, and then you saw him cutting parts out of it to repair other vehicles. If that scenario would infuriate you, understand that’s why we’re infuriated about the EU.

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Zahn, like so many other fans, simply doesn’t seem to understand that Disney canon didn’t merely restart the timeline the way Star Trek (2009) did. It seems that, like so many fans, he thinks it’s only been bypassed. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins kept Scarecrow and Batman’s parents being murdered without declaring every pre-2005 incarnation of Batman “never canon,” so it makes sense to people that Disney would restart Star Wars without having any ruling on prior material. But that’s simply not what happened. That is what we’re angry about, Mr. Zahn — we’re not angry that they might use Thrawn in Rebels; we’re angry that they said “Thrawn never counted in the first place (but let’s just rip him off for spare parts…).”

I hope you can see the difference.

Secondly, even if he does understand the level of total decanonization that took place, he’s not upset. And he doesn’t want fans to be upset. “Lucasfilm owns it,” he kept repeating. “They have total control.” And while this is something he’s been saying since the 90s — “We’re playing in George Lucas’ driveway; we can’t be mad when he backs over our toys” — how can he be so zen? So resigned?

Could it possibly be because Star Wars already executed the biggest betrayal on him they possibly could? When the EU killed off Mara Jade in Legacy of the Force’s incessant quest to murder every classic character they could think of, do you think that could possibly have caused him to stop caring what they do? “They own it, they have total control,” he could have muttered ceaselessly to himself after finding out — after publication. They didn’t even have the common decency to tell him before the book came out. Authorial collaboration seemed to go the way of the dodo after NJO.  Nobody even thought to ask him, “hey, would your character do this?”

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When I talked with him at a con last year, he brought up her murder himself. His politically gracious attitude really seemed to waver at that point, after half an hour of wishing fans well at The Force Awakens, thanking and acknowledging them for comments like, “That should’ve been about Thrawn!” When the conversation got to Mara Jade, it seemed to me that he was struggling with a lot of anger. They killed her. They didn’t even tell him.

And maybe in killing her, they killed his ability to care about what happens to Star Wars in the future.

And maybe, just maybe, if all those trashy books that killed her are decanonized, maybe Disney can fix it and bring her back.

I’m not defending Disney. I’m not attacking you, if you’re some giant FotJ fan. I’m just saying, what if? What if he doesn’t care about the worst they can do, because Lucasfilm before Disney already did the worst it could to him?

Don’t blame him for not being upset about something that upsets you. He doesn’t have to be.

Understand this. The authors and actors do not have to be on our side. That does not determine the legitimacy of our position. We are fans. Fanatics. By definition, we care way too much about stuff. It’s not external; it’s never been external. It’s internal. It comes from within us.

Please understand that the real reason we are angry is that Disney said “none of it ever mattered.” Zahn says they aren’t going to come into our homes and take our books; no one believes that. No one is afraid of that. What we are upset by is that by saying the EU doesn’t count, never counted, Disney/Lucasfilm is telling us that we don’t count and never counted. It’s personal.

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So I want you to learn two things from this post. One, that we are upset about the EU being declared “not canon,” not about its being set aside for new material. And two, that there is some stuff Zahn said that we need to take to heart.

Calm down, relax. I appreciate your loyalty and your passion. But really, relax. It’s OK. It’ll be OK.

With as upset as everyone has been over this interview, those are some words we need to take to heart. It will be okay. Because Star Wars is never going to change. Star Wars canon is never going to change. No matter what Disney/Lucasfilm ever does or does not do, they cannot alter the heart of what Star Wars is. If you never hold Sword of the Jedi in your hand, the trEU will still exist as the only realcanon, ever.

Yes, we want Disney/Lucasfilm to grant the EU the legitimacy it deserves. Yes, it would be super smart for them to start selling new material set in “Legendsverse” as well as “Disneyverse.” But the bottom line is that Star Wars is not determined by external influence. I’m angry that Disney lies and calls their stuff “Star Wars” when it isn’t, but as long as we have the truth, we are more powerful than they are. So take his words in the spirit with which they were offered, and not the spirit with which trolls want to needle you with them.

Accept that Timothy Zahn and George Lucas are the two who gave us Star Wars, and that Star Wars 1976-2014 can never change, no matter what some random rodent emperor does.

And above all, never stop telling the rodent emperor the truth about what Star Wars is to us. Because if they never change their minds, never do what we want, at least we will always be able to say we never stopped asking.

Review: Scoundrels

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on 17 January 2016 by Megan

by Timothy Zahn.

scoundrels

Okay, so we all know about Disney. And we all know that my Star Wars dates run 1977-2012 even though the official dates are 1976-2014. I’ve rejected everything published since the buyout (yes, I know Maul: Lockdown was a 2012, but as time passes, it becomes more and more likely I’m going to dismiss that from my canon).

So meet the exception to the rule: Timothy Zahn’s last Star Wars contribution, a fun little heist movie set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Featuring Han and Lando.

Wait, what? Han and Lando in an adventure set during the OT? You heard me . . .

It’s months after the Battle of Yavin. Han Solo’s not trying to be part of the Alliance, but he can’t get that princess off his mind. Which is awkward because the other thing he can’t get off his mind is money. Money he owes to Jabba the Hutt.

He can’t pass up the lure of a high-stakes heist — going up against Black Sun will be anything but easy, but with great risks come great rewards, and even split ten ways, a massive prize is a massive prize. So he assembles his team and goes out to lift 163 million credits from a gangster. Yes, it’s Ocean’s 11 in a Star Wars skin. Yes, I’m okay with that and it’s lots of fun.

There’s just not much else you can say about a heist novel. Han’s crew is drawn from a list of familiar faces and new names, and there’s some interesting stuff with Winter who does not yet know Leia survived Alderaan. My biggest problem was accepting that this wasn’t a pre-ANH novel and yet Han and Lando were together.

It’s closing on two decades that I’ve known Han’s “that was a long time ago, I’m sure he’s forgotten about that” refers to the raid on Ylesia. That Han and Lando hadn’t seen each other in a decade. Accepting that their last encounter was only a couple of years ago was tough and I resisted Lando’s appearance as being as forced as Obi-Wan and Anakin’s in Outbound Flight . . . but as usual, the man responsible for at least half if not more than half of Star Wars in its entirety knows better than I do.

This book is just “a day in the life.” It’s a few weeks of Han’s everyday existence before the Alliance. And while this date last year to me feels as close as yesterday, to these thieves and smugglers, to the guy who thought of Obi-Wan as “an old fossil,” something that happened a couple of years ago does qualify as “a long time ago.” The Ylesia business would be ancient history on their radar. In fact, that Lando and Han are seemingly always reuniting after a grudge goes a long way to show their relationship; if they’d spent a decade furious about Ylesia, would ROTJ really demonstrate such unconditional and unquestioning forgiveness? In the end, it works better.

So pick up this realcanon heist novel with confidence, but don’t expect it to be any more than that: it’s a standalone one-off that is meant to be fun, so if it doesn’t sound fun to you, don’t try to force it. If it does sound fun, enjoy away!

Review: Vision of the Future

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , on 7 June 2015 by Megan

by Timothy Zahn. The Hand of Thrawn, Book 2.

vision_coverIt’s nineteen years since the Rebellion’s first major victory against the Empire. The New Republic is fledgling no more, but an established government bearing all the responsibility for a galaxy of planets and beings — and suffering all the painful consequences of the same.

The Empire sees the Republic’s growing weakness, as the Caamas Document scandal continues to unfold, and some parties seek to exploit the weakness and bring the New Order back into power. Others, specifically Admiral Pellaeon, see that the time for civil war has passed and the time to negotiate for the coexistence of the two governments has come.

Seeking to put the Empire in power once more, a former Crimson Guard named Tierce works with Moff Disra and a con artist named Flim to convince the galaxy that Thrawn is back and ready to crush once and for all. Pellaeon strives for peace, doing all in his power to meet with Bel Iblis regardless of rumors. And in the caves of a mysterious planet, Luke and Mara come ever closer to the identity of the real Hand of Thrawn . . . and their feelings for one another.

This book has always held such a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf, because it is the last book in my timeline. This is it, the end, where it all goes down, and nobody could’ve done the job better than Timothy Zahn, the one who started the Expanded Universe in all its glory in 1991. Close to a decade later, with everyone hyped on the upcoming prequels and ready to explore the new era of timeline never before open, it was perfectly reasonable that the post-ROTJ line would end. People can’t live forever, so let’s see them off into the sunset! When this book ended in exactly the same way as 1993’s The Last Command, I was in love.

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Guys, something huge happened this week. I met Timothy Zahn. I drove to the Origins con in downtown Columbus and got to meet him and Michael A. Stackpole. Zahn and I talked Mara Jade and the horrors of the Legacy era. I told him that there would never be a story after Vision of the Future (and confessed with some embarrassment I was never able to read Survivor’s Quest because VotF ends too perfectly) — and he signed it on the last page for me. “So glad you enjoyed the ending,” he wrote, and I’m sure it’s not just my imagination that there’s a play on “ending” — end of the novel, end of the saga.

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The thing is, Vision of the Future is such a wildly good book. As usual, Zahn is steeped in the lore and motivation of the original trilogy and recreates it in a fresh, original way for his own story. His characters breathe alongside George Lucas’. There is no difference. This, this is Star Wars to its very essence.

Leia and Pellaeon negotiate terms of Imperial surrender at the Falcon‘s game table. Luke admits to Mara that his behavior has been strange — and she comes clean that she was never with Lando no matter what it looked like. Zahn takes the reins of the franchise and gently course-corrects where the EU had tried to go off the rails. As usual, the Star Wars canon self-heals and the story remains. This book is proudly, profoundly realcanon, and beautifully, expertly The End.

Review: Specter of the Past

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , , on 26 April 2015 by Megan

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.

Review: The Last Command

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , on 8 June 2014 by Megan

Timothy Zahn, Thrawn Trilogy #3.

First read 4/17/98

First read 4/17/98

I confess it was not until recently that I paid any attention to the order in which Star Wars books were published. Of course I knew the legendary status of this trilogy — which I had not read since the early 2000s — and that Zahn was first and how he had consciously deviated from the comics which had their genesis about the same time. But until this year, I’ve spent my passion on the stories without any thought whatsoever toward the authors of the stories (or at least not much thought, and that mostly hatred directed at James Luceno).

My point with that is I had never realized just how responsible for the realcanon Timothy Zahn was. Not paying attention to who wrote what first or in what order, I missed who was responsible for creating what. And it turns out that most of it comes back to Zahn. For example, in reading this book, I realized that even Moruth Doole, or at least Doole’s name and occupation, came from him as well.  (Other things Zahn was responsible for that any average Star Warrior should know are the planets Coruscant and Mykyr; the stroke of genius that is the Force-blocking ysalamiri; and the characters Gilad Pellaeon and Mara Jade.)

If you’re really reading a review for the third of Zahn’s blockbuster Thrawn trilogy, do you really need to be told these books are brilliant? Now, I’m not really a Zahnbie, and the guy has had a few flops — mostly the fault of being forced to write something he didn’t care to,  which even tripped up William Shakespeare — but the reputation of his Thrawn trilogy is absolutely deserved.

The cover of the book recalls Return of the Jedi in many respects. Once again, everything from the  cover to the last page seeks to tie the spin-off in with the beloved films and weave them together as part of the same tapestry.

Watching Thrawn strategize is a treat. The Empire may be shaken up, but they are not defeated, and they are determined to give the fledgeling New Republic a real run for its money. Smugglers, including Talon Karrde (wrested from his hideout but safe from Imperial custody for the moment), try to skate the thin line of neutrality. Leia gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl, amplifying the danger as Imperial agents try to capture Luke, Leia, and the newborn twins as fodder for the mad clone C’boath.

Timeline, 01147?

Timeline, 01147?

Mara Jade finds herself on Coruscant and once again helping the man she wants to kill, Luke Skywalker — who is the only one who wants to trust her as things begin to come to a head. Again, Zahn keeps the focus on the wars: Thrawn is threatening to unleash a second Clone War on the galaxy, an occurrence much to be dreaded. Rich characters working against a backdrop of new planets keep us waiting for and expecting the only ending a Star Wars story ought to have. No fluff. No filler. Just solid writing that creates fresh canon while establishing old . . . I think I can safely say it is a trilogy the like of which we’ll never see again.

And, well, maybe we don’t need to, because like the original trilogy, the magic of these books can be recaptured simply by snatching them off the shelf again for a thoroughly enjoyable re-read, as I’ve spent this last month doing. It’s good stuff and not to be missed.

Review: Dark Force Rising

Posted in Reviews, Spotlight with tags , , on 1 June 2014 by Megan
The real "Episode VIII"

The real “Episode VIII”

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.

Are you detecting a theme?

Are you detecting a theme? … cofffeeeee

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!

Dating is cool

Dating is cool

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.