Star Wars by Timothy Zahn

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The Thrawn Trilogy

One of the best moves George Lucas ever made was the authorization of novels set in the Star Wars universe. The Thrawn Trilogy is the first group of books that were written after Lucas made his monumental decision. Timothy Zahn did a brilliant job of rekindling interest in the Star Wars universe. He did this by blending a fast action plot with engaging new characters. The sparks he lit with this trilogy rekindled the Star Wars mania, which ultimately led to the making of another three Star Wars movies.

Although the plot is snappy, with tightly woven sub-plots, the main contribution of this trilogy is the fascinating new characters that Zahn created. The characters are so well constructed that the other Star Wars authors routinely include these characters in their own Star Wars novels. The main new players are as follows:

Grand Admiral Thrawn – A blue skinned alien with red, glowing eyes, Thrawn is a master strategist who attempts to lead the remnants of the Empire to ultimate victory. Back after years of exile on the rim of the galaxy, Thrawn is a formidable foe whose uncanny knack for discerning the plans of his adversaries makes him the most dangerous threat the New Republic has had to face since the death of the Emperor.

Mara Jade – During the Emperor’s reign, Mara was know as the "Emperor’s Hand." Force sensitive, she was trained by the Emperor to carry out covert missions for him throughout the galaxy. Tuned to the Force, she was able to "hear" the Emperor’s commands from anywhere in the galaxy. Now second in command of the most powerful smuggling group in the galaxy, she fights against the final command issued to her by the dying Emperor: "Kill Luke Skywalker!"

Talon Karrde – Leader of the biggest smuggling group in the galaxy, Karrde is sophisticated, intelligent and urbane (but not in the cartoonish way that Lando is portrayed). More of an information broker than a smuggler, Karrde is torn between helping the New Republic (whom he thinks will eventually win the struggle against the Empire) or assisting the Empire (thereby improving his chances of short-term survival).

Provided these three live through the trilogy, you just know that they will be recurring characters in future novels. They are just too fascinating to be left behind.

Of course, all of your favorite characters (Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, C3PO, R2-D2, and Lando) are in this trilogy too! This trilogy makes an excellent choice for beginning your immersion into the expanded Star Wars universe created by the add-on novels. This trilogy is a must read for all Star Wars fans!

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Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn

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It is five years after the Emperor was defeated at the battle of Endor. The New Republic has made great strides in freeing planets from the tyranny of the Empire. Only twenty-five percent of the worlds that used to belong to the Empire are within its grasp now. And with the death of all the Grand Admirals, there appears to be no one left who could lead the Empire back to its former glory.

However, Grand Admiral Thrawn has survived! He is back from his exile on the rim of the galaxy and has taken control of the remaining forces of the once mighty Empire. He only needs to add warships to his fleet to stand a good chance of smashing the fledgling New Republic. Towards this end, Thrawn uncovers a hidden storehouse of technology and weapons that the Emperor had secreted on a remote planet. Thrawn also discovers a unique animal that produces a sphere of influence that negates the Force. Using these animals, he defeats the insane, Dark Jedi Joruus C’baoth who was left as guardian of the Emperor’s treasure-trove.

Thrawn makes a deal with C’baoth. In exchange for guiding Thrawn’s ships into battle, Thrawn will deliver Luke and Leia (now pregnant with Jedi twins) to C’baoth. C’baoth’s secret goal is to turn Luke, Leia and the children to the dark side and start a new order of dark Jedi knights that can rule the galaxy.

The first book is a little thin on action but only because extensive character development is necessary due to the introduction of all the new characters. Also, since the book is picking up five years after the battle of Endor, a bit of back filling of events is necessary. But the plot picks up speed toward the end of the book and accelerates in volumes 2 and 3.

[See notes above for more about the series]

Reviewed by: Alan

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Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn

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Prior to the Clone Wars, the Old Republic (precursor to the Empire) had constructed a fleet of 200 Dreadnaughts (huge forerunners to Imperial Star Destroyers) that were highly automated. This reduced their crew complement from 16,000 to 2,000 without diminishing their firepower. The flagship of this fleet was the Katana and hence became known as the Katana fleet. Unfortunately, a virus infected the crews of the entire fleet and drove them mad. The madness caused the crews to "slave" the controls of all the ships in the fleet to the Katana and then send the entire fleet into hyperspace towards some unknown destination. The Katana fleet was never seen again.

Through a lucky accident, which occurred years ago, Talon Karrde may be the only person alive who knows where the Katana fleet is located. Unfortunately, he and his smugglers have double-crossed the Empire and are currently under a death threat. Will Karrde sell the secret of the Katana fleet to Grand Admiral Thrawn to save his life and the lives of his staff? Or will he be noble and turn the location of the Katana fleet over to the New Republic who also desperately needs the warships?

Meanwhile, Thrawn works to make use of the storehouse of weapons and technology that the Emperor had hidden on the planet Wayland. The cache even includes a set of Spaarti cloning cylinders left over from the Clone Wars. No matter how Thrawn makes use of this technology, it will not bode well for the New Republic!

Elsewhere, Joruus C’baoth, the evil Jedi master, uses the Force to summon Luke Skywalker. Luke responds to the summons and begins instruction with C’baoth. Will Luke recognize that C’baoth follows the path of the Dark Side before C’baoth can turn Luke down that evil path?

There is non-stop action in this volume along with some excellent character development. Zahn deftly weaves the various sub-plots closer together in anticipation of their eventual convergence in the third volume.

A great deal is revealed about Mara Jade and her dealings with the Emperor. We also begin to see an attraction developing between Luke and Mara that will not be carried to its conclusion until the Hand of Thrawn Duology that takes place years after the events in this novel. Naturally, there are a great number of barriers to overcome in any such relationship since Mara is still pulled by the Emperor’s final command, "Kill Luke Skywalker!"

[See notes above for more about the series]

Reviewed by: Alan

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The Last Command by Timothy Zahn

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Grand Admiral Thrawn launches his offensive against the fledgling New Republic with great success. As if his uncanny knack for anticipating opponents’ strategy wasn’t enough, his forces are quickly being bolstered by Dreadnaughts from the Katana fleet crewed by cloned warriors. The New Republic fights back valiantly, but unless the production of clones is stopped, they may soon find themselves overwhelmed by a superior force.

Han, Chewbacca and Talon Karrde work to form an alliance of smugglers to assist with the New Republic defense. But realistically, the Republic’s only hope is to send a small band of saboteurs to infiltrate the Emperor’s cloning facility and destroy it once and for all. Mara Jade may be able to assist with determining the location of the cloning facility. But can she defy the final command of the dying Emperor and resist killing Luke Skywalker?

Meanwhile, the insane Jedi master (actually a clone), Joruus C’baoth, is gathering his strength at the cloning facility. He continues to plot to capture Luke, Leia and her newly born twins and warp them to the Dark Side. His goal is no less than seizing control of the Empire and controlling the galaxy with an evil legion of dark Jedis.

This book concludes the series in high style with non-stop action. Thrawn really does appear unstoppable, despite the fact that we know that somehow, the forces of good will prevail. Zahn does an excellent job of keeping us guessing until the very end. The battle with C’baoth towards the end of the book is full of clever surprises. In my opinion, these are the finest books in the Star Wars series.

[See notes above for more about the series]

Reviewed by: Alan

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The Hand of Thrawn Duology

Timothy Zahn renews our acquaintance with the characters he created in the original Thrawn Trilogy.  This series takes place 10 years after the original trilogy and features most of the standard Star Wars characters plus a handful of new ones.  Zahn is clearly one of the best writers of Star Wars novels.  This series contains a strong, plausible plot that is full of action.  Zahn keeps the story moving fast and furious throughout both volumes.  He has mastered the technique of switching the focus to the various plot lines pursued by each of the main characters.  The shifts from character to character are seamless and never feel forced.  Also, Zahn doesn't include characters just for nostalgic reasons (i.e., Chewbacca is not in this series at all).  If he doesn't need a character, he doesn't invent some lame reason to include them in his books.  A few of the other Star Wars novelists could learn from his example.

Although Zahn mainly focuses on plot and action in these books, there is some fine character development of Luke and Mara presented in the second volume.  The pair finally comes to terms with the feelings they have for each other and find a way to go forward to their mutual benefit.  Good, solid action and the excellent character development make this series a must read for all Star Wars fans.

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Specter of the Past by Timothy Zahn

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The Empire is a shadow of its former self and is no longer a significant threat to the New Republic.  Admiral Pellaeon, leader of the Empire's military forces, convinces the remaining Moffs of the Empire that entering into a peace treaty with the New Republic is the only avenue left open to the Empire.  Reluctantly, the Moffs agree.  However, a document soon comes to light that implicates the Bothans in a horrible genocide from years past.  Is it the truth or an elaborate hoax by the Empire?  It doesn't matter since the document provides an excuse for many planets in the New Republic to renew age old wars and conflicts with neighbors that had long since been put aside.  Moff Disra, most powerful of the remaining Moffs in the Empire, uses the unrest to unleash an even more sinister plot...the return of Grand Admiral Thrawn.  News of Thrawn's return inspires the Empire's military personnel while causing much unrest in the New Republic.  Too many people remember how close Thrawn came to defeating the New Republic before.  Investigations are begun to determine if this is really Thrawn or an elaborate hoax.

Meanwhile, Mara Jade and Luke Skywalker, with the help of Talon Karrde, the smuggler chieftain, begin to investigate the appearance of mysterious spaceships that have never been seen before.  The ships appear to be a blending of Empire and alien technology.  Could these be another secret weapon of the Empire that had escaped detection?  Or does this signify a new threat from beyond the Outer Rim of the galaxy?

[See notes above for more about the series]

Reviewed by: Alan

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Vision of the Future by Timothy Zahn

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The Empire continues to use the unrest of the Bothan genocide to sow discord amongst the members of the New Republic.  And now they plot an assassination attempt on Han and Leia that will also be blamed on the Bothans.  If successful, the New Republic will surely be torn asunder by civil war.  The "resurrected" Grand Admiral Thrawn begins to take control of the Empire's military forces.   Supported by Moff Disra and the mysterious Major Tierce, who can stop him from wreaking havoc on the New Republic once again?

Luke and Mara stumble onto a secret fortress manned by Thrawn's most fanatical followers.  They are awaiting Thrawn's call to arms to unleash their military might against an unsuspecting galaxy.   Meanwhile, Talon Karrde attempts to track down a former smuggling foe of his who might have information that will prove whether the rumors about the Bothan crimes are true.

Can the New Republic hold itself together and defeat the Empire one last time?  Time is running out.....

[See notes above for more about the series]

Reviewed by: Alan

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