Once George Lucas began setting the stage for a second Star Wars trilogy, set prior to the original movies, he also authorized a series of books to continue the saga of Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and all the others we met during those movies. The first of these novels was Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. Dark Force Rising picks up right where that one left off.
Although the Emperor was destroyed on the second Death Star at the end of Return of the Jedi, the Empire itself is far from crushed. Into the power vacuum comes Grand Admiral Thrawn. An oddity as a choice fro Grand Admiral, since he is not human and it was well-known that the Emperor preferred to only have humans in high positions of power. Thrawn is cold, calculating, and shrewd. His mind is that of an expert strategist as he races to beat the New Republic in locating a fleet of 200 Dreadnought ships – the Dark Force in the title – lost a half century ago.
Princess Leia, married to Han Solo and expecting twins, has committed to meet with a race serving the Empire, known as the Noghri. The Noghri’s home planet was decimated after being pelted by debris from a space battle. Darth Vader moved in to save them, and the Noghri race has felt that they owed a debt to the Empire ever since. Leia is given deference only because she is Vader’s daughter, but her safety is not assured. Her motive going to the planet is to try to get the Noghri kidnappers away from her and her family.
Luke Skywalker, meanwhile, is battling his own set of troubles. Caught between a woman who was once the Emperor’s Hand and would like to kill him for destroying everything she once had and a slightly psychotic clone of a deceased Jedi Master, he must walk a line that keeps him alive and able to stay in control of the situation without following a path down the dark side of The Force.
Han Solo, meanwhile, has teamed up again with Lando Calrissian to make contacts among the smugglers to try to learn the location of the mysterious Katana Fleet before Thrawn. Can the New Republic government get there before the Imperials? Or will the fledgling government lose out due to their own internal political struggles?
Zahn has once again done a terrific job in weaving a story together that involves all the characters and brings them together at times in ways that don’t feel forced following their separate adventures. He also creates interesting new characters such as Thrawn. Zahn’s descriptions of Thrawn down to the smallest detail make him seem all the more like at least as big a threat as Vader was, if not bigger. The way Zahn describes his mannerisms is so great that at times I could really envision him on the bridge contemplating his next move, always seemingly one step ahead of his adversaries.
However, his ultimate downfall might have been the resurrection of Joruus C’Boath, Jedi Master. An insane clone of the original Dark Jedi, C’Boath’s insanity coupled with his abilities may give Thrawn more than he bargained for when he brought C’Boath into the Imperial fold.
There are other fascinating new characters such as Mara Jade; the former Emperor’s Hand who harbors a hatred of Luke Skywalker, yet fate seems to continually force them to work together; Talon Kaarde, the shrewd smuggler who wants the best deal, but also wants to stay alive; Senator Bel Iblis, long believed dead by the rebel forces; and Bothan Councillor Fey’lya, determined to have the government of the New Republic work to his best interests.
Zahn also develops underused characters from the original trilogy as well. X-Wing Commander Wedge Antilles is a prominent figure here, someone loyal whom Han and Luke count on and turn to time and time again. The characters from the original trilogy are all depicted well – Zahn seems to have a good feel for how they would behave in the events and circumstances he sets up in this novel.
There are some terrific battle scenes in the novel. Zahn’s descriptions are so well done that I found it easy to picture the battles in my mind as I was reading. They are as complex and interesting as anything depicted on the screen – far more interesting than anything I saw in the most recent Star Wars films.
Zahn manages to keep the events connected even as he jumps around, giving the sense of events happening simultaneously, then drawing together the characters as needed at various intervals. The new characters are also there for a purpose: the smuggler Kaarde who knows the location of the Katana Fleet is the perfect foil for Fey’lya as he does not have to succumb to the politics of diplomacy that Luke, Han, Leia, and the others do.
Leia’s journey to the Norghi homeworld also puts her in a difficult situation. For the first time, she must rely on her relationship to her dead biological father to protect her. I had the feeling it was something she was not comfortable with. At the same time, she seems to sense something is not right with the story she is told by the Norghi, and must get to the bottom of what occurred on the planet all those years ago. When Thrawn’s Star Destroyer arrives at the planet, the lives of Chewbacca, herself, and her unborn twins hang in the balance.
For Star Wars fans who would like to see more adventures from those in the original trilogy, I highly recommend these books. Zahn was a perfect choice to continue the story, and I look forward to finishing out this trilogy as well as reading more of his work. Yes, it’s that good!
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