Review of Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

13573427Title: Star Wars: Scoundrels

Author: Timothy Zahn

Rating: 3 star

Publisher: LucasBooks

Format: Hardcover

Review:

Let’s start at the beginning — the very beginning. You can’t help but love the cover of Scoundrels. A police lineup shows Chewie, Han, and Lando wonderfully rendered, bringing back the nostalgia of the original trilogy. But a simple heist with this trio would be much too simple and turning the cover to the back shows that Han has a much bigger plan in mind.

scoundrels_cover

I will refrain from making an obvious movie connection with the premise of this novel. Yes, it is true that Han is leading the ultimate heist to steal “cash” out of a vault. And yes, his crew does consist of eleven people. And once again, yes — each of these “scoundrels” has a unique and special ability that is required by Han to pull off this elaborate plan so he can finally pay back Jabba.

When I first saw the title, Scoundrels, I expected a few things. First, I expected to see the shady side of Han — the smuggling rebel who would talk back to a princess in order to get his reward. I also expected to see some camaraderie with his faithful wookie. As for Lando, I wasn’t sure he fit correctly into the continuity as I had always assumed the stunt Han pulled against him was stealing the Millennium Falcon. This book tells us otherwise.

I won’t go into details of the plot, but let’s just say that Han comes across an opportunity to break into the Black Sun crime sindicate to steal back what amounts to a fortune of credits. He reluctantly accepts this challenge and enlists a host of smugglers to accomplish the task. Several obstacles and missteps threaten to foil Han’s plans and what seems to be a typical caper ends with a twist that I never expected.

What frustrated me from the beginning of the novel was the effort in making Han to be such a good guy. I absolutely loved A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy, which told of his hard upbringing, giving us insight into his reluctance to getting in relationships and his strong connection with Chewie. In Scoundrels, Zahn goes to extremes to make Han a benevolent hero. When a bounty hunter comes to collect, Han shoots him with his familiar gun-under-the-table, but it is immediately justified by saying that the bounty hunter shot first. As for the fortune they are stealing, once again we are given a long explanation about how this is stolen money and Han needs to help return it to its faithful owner with the promise of a hero’s portion.

I appreciate that Han has a good heart, but part of the appeal of Han is that he doesn’t fit the typical Star Wars archetype of being wholly good or wholly evil. He’s a smuggler who’s out for himself, but also has a soft side.

Zahn is a talented writer and perhaps I am being a little harsh in my review (but given the many good reviews, I give myself liberty in sharing my qualms). For the most part, the novel is light-hearted and fun, filled with dialog and twists and turns that keep the action going. There are no Jedi or Sith Lords, which I appreciated and thought would distract from the point of the novel. I would have liked for more interaction between Han and Chewie, but overall Zahn handled the interactions between the many characters well.

The plot of the novel was well thought-out and creative, but I wasn’t as inspired by the story as I had hoped. At times it got bogged down with excessive dialog between characters that were essentially just filling a role in the heist without being particularly interesting. This wasn’t due to a fault in the writing. That is far from the truth. It’s just that adding character depth to a team of eleven is difficult with the limited amount of space to work with within a novel.

For Star Wars fans, particularly those wanting to fill in some empty pieces of the original trilogy, I think you may find this read a delight. Expect some action, some humorous and sarcastic banter from Han, and a few plot twists. For me, it was a decent read that was worth my time, but it doesn’t rise to the level of A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy. Nonetheless, I appreciate Zahn’s approach and it does add a little depth to explain Han and Lando’s troubled relationship in The Empire Strikes Back.

Review of Star Wars: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn

216422Title: Star Wars: The Last Command

Author: Timothy Zahn

Rating: 3 star

Publisher: Spectra

Format: Paperback

Review:

It’s always interesting to read a novel (or in this case, a series) for the second time. I was but a wee lad when it first came out — a middle schooler who had recently ventured into the world of adult novels, reading the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Star Wars, with a much greater sense of innocence, was still appealing with its heroism and magic of the force.

After reviewing the first novel, I was almost disappointed that I decided to reread the series. My review of the second novel was better, with Dark Force Rising displaying better character development and action. So here I am, reviewing the third and final novel in the series, The Last Command.

I’d love to write a glowing review. I’d love to say that it brought back the nostalgic fascination I once had with the series as it expanded the original Star Wars trilogy into the future. But the truth is that the trilogy’s impact on me seems to have lost some luster. In the third novel, Grand Admiral Thrawn is planning a large attack on the rebels. He has amassed a collection of ships and has a secret cloning lab where he plans to gain the manpower to rule the galaxy.

Leia gives birth to her twins and finds that they are even more difficult to protect outside of her womb. She has to trust her help in keeping them safe, but she learns that there is a leak from within the ranks of the rebel alliance.

Mara Jade still remains bipolar, desiring to assist the rebels against the overly-oppressive Empire; however, the remnant command of the Emperor still speaks to her: “Kill Luke Skywalker.”

Joruus C’Boath becomes crazier than ever, with grandiose visions of ruling the Empire with Luke, Leia, Mara, and the twins serving him. Thrawn puts up with him, claiming to need him for one purpose or another, but really C’Boath is mostly a nuisance.

Luke, Han, and Lando make frequent appearances, but by the third novel, they are ancillary characters, experiencing very little change or actions to drive the plot forward.

So all of this brings me to my review and I am trying to resist from saying such cliches as some stones are better left unturned. With the improvements of the second novel over the first, I had hopes that the third novel would continue the pace. But where the second novel improved, the third novel digressed. Luke’s internal conflicts with the dark side are now gone and he sees C’Boath for who he really is — an evil, psychopathic dark Jedi (which should have been obvious in the first place). Mara Jade’s character, who seemed so complex in my early memories, actually comes across as equally naive. Her actions and thoughts are all sympathetic to the rebels, yet she clings to this vestige command to kill Luke and is haphazard as she mentions it in conversation.

And then there’s Thrawn. A supposedly mastermind supervillain who continues to put up with C’Boath and the incompetence of his underlings with patience and fortitude. There were moments in the first and second novels where he lived up to his hype, but once again, this was lost in the third novel. I guess I was hoping for a more courageous and evil antagonist — one who would deal severe consequences for incompetence and would aggressively dole out his strength against the rebels.

As I paced my way through the novel, there were moments that I thought were clever. I really liked the manner in which Mara Jade overcame her duality of emotions toward Luke at the end. Also, the smugglers banding together against the Empire, while remaining somewhat neutral, seemed realistic to me.

Overall, the series was a decent read, but it’s magic resides back in my youth, before the expanded universe had reached its breadth. The pacing is quick and the ending, unfortunately is abrupt and anticlimactic. For Star Wars fans, this series is of course a must read. On it’s own, it just doesn’t hold up to today’s standards.

Review of Star Wars: Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn

SW2Title: Star Wars: Dark Force Rising

Author: Timothy Zahn

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Spectra

Format: Paperback

Review:

The first novel of the Thrawn Trilogy, Heir to the Empire, brought back the nostalgia of the original movie trilogy. Luke, Leia, Han, and the rest of the rebellion now face a formidable foe in Grand Admiral Thrawn. While I appreciated the new characters of this novel, I found it to be primarily a setup for the trilogy and incomplete as a stand alone (review here).

The second novel, Dark Force Rising, comes back with full force (forgive the pun). After nearly being assassinated by the Noghiri, a race loyal to the Empire, Leia travels to their home planet to try and establish them as allies. Luke heeds the call of a self-proclaimed Jedi Master named Joruus C’Boath. Han and Lando try to unveil treachery within the Rebellion and discover that there are a fleet of ships left over from the clone wars that could turn the tide for either the Rebellion or the Empire.

I enjoyed the second novel much more than the first. Dark Jedi C’Boath toes the line between evil and insane, but covets power nonetheless. He believes that he can convert Luke and Leia to his cause and devotes all of his energy to luring them into his self-righteous plans. His character is interesting and one wonders if the very able and almost clairvoyant leader, Grand Admiral Thrawn, is really in charge or if C’Boath controls the puppet strings.

Luke’s interaction with C’Boath is a tad naive, like he is back in training with Yoda before experiencing the struggles against the Empire. Han also falls short of his suave, but rugged self, constantly concerned for Leia’s welfare while he embarks on his own journey with Lando.

While it didn’t reach the same level of magic that it did the first time I read it, Dark Force Rising is an enjoyable read. Mara Jade is one of the better characters, complex in her loyalties and in her abilities. She struggles with her desire to kill Luke and her desire to form an alliance with him. She starts to display Jedi powers, but she has only touched the surface of the power of the force.

The Thrawn Trilogy is a definitive series in the expanded universe and even as I read it twenty years later, it still holds up fairly well.

Review of Star Wars: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn

Title: Star Wars: Heir to the Empire

Author: Timothy Zahn

Rating: 

Publisher: Spectra

Format: Paperback

Review:

 I was at my library’s book sale a couple of weeks ago and happened upon Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars: Thrawn Trilogy. Heir to the Empire was the first Star Wars novel I had read, some twenty years ago, and having remembered little about it, I thought it was high time I read the trilogy again.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve read quite a few books in the Star Wars expanded universe, but most of my reading has been prior to Episode IV. I’ve read the Han Solo trilogy, a few books during the era of Darth Vader’s rein, and a greater collection of books that take place before the rise of Emperor Palpatine. Heir to the Empire, on the other hand, takes place five years after the defeat of the Emperor in Return of the Jedi.

We learn early on in the novel that the Rebellion is still fighting what is left of the Empire. Leia and Han Solo have married and she has become pregnant with twins. Luke Skywalker, who remains one of the galaxy’s most eligible bachelors, is training Leia in the ways of the force. Admiral Ackbar leads the Rebel fleet and in the fringes of the galaxy lies Grand Admiral Thrawn, the Empire’s adroit and vicious leader who sets his eyes on squashing the Rebellion.

Zahn does a nice job of tying in the continued story to previous events, almost to a fault, as Luke almost incessantly reflects on past experiences. He recalls his confrontation with Vader, his near death experience at the pit of Carkoon, the Battle of Endor, nearly crashing his speeder bike, the mysterious cave in the Degobah system, … oh sorry, I got a little carried away there. Anyway, as I was saying, Zahn does tie the story well into the original trilogy, but it seems it was done much too carefully. I would have liked for the story to present something entirely new, but the novel is really just a set up for the rest of the trilogy. Grand Admiral Thrawn only begins to become aware of Skywalker’s presence and the dark Jedi that he recruits only plays a passing role in the story arc.

I certainly am eager to read the rest of the series (again), but the first novel by itself is incomplete. The Rebellion appears to be in greater power and Luke, Han, and Leia’s fates seem secure. I am hoping that their adversary grows to become a more formidable opponent and for new heroes to be born that will help keep a balance in the universe. Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy is often credited with birthing what is now known as the expanded universe, so in that regard it is to be held in high esteem. But for those who have read several other titles, the novel has a bit of a slow start as it tries to forge new ground while maintaining the connection to the previous stories.