Sunday, June 12, 2011

Star Wars: Thrawn 01--Heir to the Empire (Zahn, Timothy)

Rating: 5
Year: 1991
Genre: Sci-Fi / Star Wars
Read again? Yes

I started on this book in late April; it's hard to concentrate on a novel when you're exhausted from kidney surgery, so it's no fault of Zahn's.

This was the first Star Wars novel I found in the years after "Return of the Jedi." I devoured it in a matter of hours, all 400-plus pages, and immediately wanted the next book in the trilogy. That one was only out in hardcover, but I gladly snapped it up and devoured it as well.

It's been 5 years since the Rebel victory against the Galactic Empire at the Battle of Endor. The second Death Star is gone, the Emperor and Darth Vader are dead. The remnants of the Empire still hold onto parts of the galaxy, but until recently they've been without a leader.

Grand Admiral Thrawn was a rarity in the Empire: he's not human. This blue-skinned man with glowing red eyes was one of the Emperor's master strategists. Now he's providing the leadership--and victories--the Imperial Remnant badly needs. Thrawn intends to bring down the New Republic and bring the Empire back to its former glory.

Meanwhile, the New Republic has established Coruscant as its capital planet, as it was for the Old Republic...and for the Empire. Luke Skywalker hasn't been able to sense any disturbances in the Force that would point to this being a bad decision, but he's uneasy.

Han Solo and Leia Organa are married; she's pregnant with twins. While her husband is out in the galaxy trying to scare up some of his old smuggling contacts with the offer of honest shipping jobs, Leia is up to her shoulders keeping the New Republic's government going.

Thrawn leads several lightning raids against minor Republic assets, forcing their overtaxed fleet to spread itself thinner and thinner and leading us to wonder why he needs stolen mining equipment and a deranged Dark Jedi. I won't spoil it, because it's pretty damn creative.

Unlike Alan Dean Foster and Brian Daley, Zahn's not giving us a crappy science fiction novel that uses Star Wars words. He's got a feel for the people that was sorely lacking in any of the movie novelizations or the early spinoffs by Daley and Foster. One nice touch is that the main characters--Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and Lando Calrissian--all have history with each other. Zahn uses this for inside jokes and tag-lines, as in one scene with Han, Leia and Luke:
"Yeah, as it happens, I do," Han said, his voice hardening. "I also have a pretty good idea what could happen if our late pals with the stokhli sticks brought friends with them."

For a long minute Leia stared at him, and Luke sensed the momentary anger fading from her mind. "You still shouldn't have left without consulting me first," she said.

"You're right," Han conceded. "But I didn't want to take the time. If they did have friends, those friends probably had a ship." He tried a tentative smile. "There wasn't time to discuss it in committee."

Leia smiled lopsidedly in return. "I am not a committee," she said wryly.

And with that, the brief storm passed and the tension was gone. Someday, Luke promised himself, he would get around to asking one of them just what that particular private joke of theirs referred to.

I really liked that callback to the argument between Han and Leia from "The Empire Strikes Back." Little moments like this add a lot to the "feel" of the characters.

About the only thing I didn't like is some of the euphemized slang terms that everyone in sci-fi seems to indulge in. Zahn uses "cloak-and-blade" in place of cloak-and-dagger, which isn't as bad as Daley's "howlrunner" in place of "Space Wolf." But given that a ship is a ship, and so many other common items have the same names (or are "translated" for us into English), why not call a dagger a dagger?

Maybe I should drop a point for it, but Zahn has done such a good job that I can cringe but let it pass.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was released while I worked at a Waldenbooks so I tried to read it. I was so offended by the assumption Leia would change her name on marriage I refused to finish it or to ever read another Star Wars book. If that sort of sexism was happily accepted by Lucas or whoever approved the stories, then I wouldn't waste my time on them. -- LR