June 27, 2004

Zahn's Star Wars Books

Meet the New Boss

As a certified Star Wars nut, I have read many of the novels that follow the original trilogy. With Lucas' blessing and the guidance of an overall editor who makes the rules to keep everything consistent, decide who gets to kill off major characters, etc., Del Rey books has a whole bunch of stories that follow the timeline of the Star Wars universe after "Return of the Jedi" (and now they've gone and allowed novels during lots of other times, including before "Phanton Menace", between movies and between trilogies).

The first such book I ever saw was Alan Dean Foster's "Splinter of the Mind's Eye", which I believe was first published before "Empire" came out in 1980 (even though Luke, Leia and Vader appear in the novel, there's no reference to family ties or Vader even thinking Luke or Leia have special significance). That one is more of an alternate history, and I do not think it is part of the official "canon". That's actually an advantage, because it makes it a lot more unpredictable. The plot involves Luke and Leia racing against Vader to find an ancient force-sensitive artifact on a jungle planet. I really enjoyed it, though I'll admit that only time I read it was when I was about 15. Back then, anything Star Wars was cool to me.

Well, it was a long time after that before any significant new Star Wars books came out, and one of the first was Timothy Zahn's "Thrawn Trilogy", first published in 1994. The novels are "Heir to the Empire", "Dark Force Rising" and "The Last Command". The setting is a few years after "Jedi", in which the Rebel Alliance (now just "The New Republic", I guess, since they're in charge) is trying to consolidate power and squash the remnants of the old empire. Much of the military force of the old Empire rallies under the command of the new Head Bad Guy (pictured above from a fan site), a creepy, blue-skinned military genius with seemingly psychic abilities named Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Much like you would find in the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, the plots and battles between Thrawn and the good guys are like elaborate chess matches, each side trying to set traps and counter-traps for the other, with lots of surprises thrown in. Thrawn is trying to rally and rebuild the Empire, and he's offering people a sense of order and continuity. The New Republic is trying to convince people that they really are better and different, but they're finding out that a lot of people thought the Empire wasn't half bad.

Remember when the Empire's military leader, Grand Moff Tarkin, is warned of the danger of the Rebel attack in Star Wars, and he scoffs at the idea of evacuation? You get the feeling that Thrawn would not only have had the sense to evacuate to cover all the bases, he would've figured out the planetary dynamics of the Yavin system ahead of time to come out of hyperspace well above the orbital plane of the rebel moon for instant targeting with the planet-destruction laser already warmed up. The battle never would've taken place.

It's that kind of series, where the obvious is countered, and the not-so-obvious is countered as well, and it is fun to follow. In a way, it is refreshing to see somebody in the Empire relying on his wits to win battles instead of a huge fleet, a huge battlestation, and too much overconfidence. There is a subplot in the series involving a dark Jedi, and while it was interesting for most of the trilogy, it pretty much fell flat for me at the end. The major confrontation between Luke and this dark force bad guy is totally anti-climactic, unlike the confrontations between Luke and Vader.

These books were written before the Star Wars pre-history was officially fleshed out by Lucas in the movie form of the prequel trilogy, but you really don't lose much as a result of that. Of all the Star Wars novels I've read (and not counting the novelizations of movies, that's over 25 books), this trilogy is the best. Maybe I'll talk about some of the other decent entries in the genre another time, but I lost the ability and desire to keep up with all the different books (surely there are now over 100) several years ago, after I made the mistake of reading a couple of execrable books for the sake of completeness.

Posted by Observer at June 27, 2004 08:07 AM

Comments on entries can only be made in pop-up windows while those entries are still on the main index page. Sorry for the inconvenience this causes, but this blocks about 99.99% of the spam the blog receives.

B used to work for William Dietz at his day job, and he had a great story about when he was allowed to write for the Star Wars universe. He got to go to Skywalker Ranch (which is chock full of original movie props) and gave him a HUGE freaking book of "Thou Shall Nots". They had heavy handed and ultimate editorial control over everything.

Amazing that they'd do that yet come out with the prequels.

I've heard heavy hints that Splinter of the Mind's Eye was more canon when it was written, but then Lucas changed his mind. After all, Foster ghostwrote the original Star Wars novel for Lucas. Funny how Foster has the novelization-of-scifi-movie genre completely sewn up. He's not always a bad writer on his own.

Posted by: Humbaba on June 27, 2004 10:40 AM