This month has seen more than its fair share of Busy Signal Blues for residents of Manitoulin Island, so I’ve decided to review an entire series of books instead of just one. Actually, this isn’t entirely true. I had intended to just review Timothy Zahn’s newest Star Wars book Specter of the Past. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this book needed more than just a passing preface.
Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars Novels
I’ll start by declaring to the world that I’ve been a massive Star Wars fan ever since I saw the original Star Wars : A New Hope at the Gore Bay Community Hall with my Mother back in 1977. It must have been a purdy darn impressive movie to stick in the mind of a then-3 year old. All I can remember thinking is that “Maybe Darth Vader will win next time.” I think that he did a fairly admirable job in 1980 with The Empire Strikes Back, which I saw in Sudbury. 1983 brought Return of the Jedi, which had me chomping at the bit for months at the previews before it finally made its way to the Gore Bay Community Hall.
But then we were left hanging. Sure, the story of the Trilogy was concluded, but what happened after Jedi? And just what led to Anakin Skywalker’s betrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first three episodes? Well, the last part of that question is set to be answered in just over a year with the Thanksgiving 1999 release of the first Star Wars prequel.
The first part of that question was answered back in 1991 with Timothy Zahn’s superb trilogy of books, set approximately 5 years after Return of the Jedi. The first book, Heir to the Empire, introduced us to the world of the New Republic, as the heroes of the movie trilogy struggled in their new roles of politicians attempting to reform a shattered galaxy. I can’t gush enough about how great these books are– they really capture the feeling of the Star Wars universe. Timothy Zahn has a great writing style that pretty much set the standard for the slew of post-Jedi novels that were to come. This is actually a shame, because he seems to be the only writer capable of pulling it off. Where Zahn’s prose feels fresh, the other authors often come off as very flat and unoriginal. “Oh dear, a new super-weapon threatens the galaxy, who’s going to blow it up this time?”. In contrast, all of Zahn’s plot elements and characters are original and unpredictable.
His greatest new character is Grand Admiral Thrawn, the only non-human Grand Admiral to ever have served the Empire. It doesn’t take readers long to find out why. Zahn writes Thrawn as an utterly believable military genius, only outdone at the end of because of something that he could never have predicted.
The only problem with Heir to the Empire was that fans had to wait a year for the second part of the trilogy, Dark Force Rising, to come out in 1992, continuing the excellent story in even more unpredictable directions. Again, the only flaw was that readers had to wait another year until the final part of the trilogy, The Last Command, came out in 1993, finishing off all the plot threads in grand style. Zahn shows a deep knowledge of the movies not only in trivial details like the obscure Star Wars Quote “Many Bothans died to bring us this information” but also with grand-scale things such as the inner workings of the force. His version of the Star Wars world feels real. Everything down to Luke’s final conflict meshes beautifully with the movies and previous books in the trilogy.
Which brings us to Zahn’s newest Star Wars novel, Specter of the Past, part one of The Hand of Thrawn series. As I said before, Zahn’s renewal of interest in the Star Wars universe opened the floodgates and deluged the market with mostly post-Jedi Star Wars nvels, with which for the most part I’ve been severely disappointed.
The major exception to this rule has been the Star Wars Tales Series. They’re collections of short stories about the Star Wars universe that revolve around points in pre-Jedi history. For example, the first Tales novel, Tales from the Mos Eisely Cantina, takes place almost entirely around the single scene of Obi-Wan and Luke meeting with Han Solo for the first in the Mos Eisely Cantina. One of the most memorable stories in TftMEC is called “Hammertong: The Tale of the Tonnika Sisters”, written by none other than Timothy Zahn.
For the 4 ½ years between The Last Command and Specter of the Past the Star Wars Tales novels were our only connection with Zahn’s vision of the Star Wars Universe. Although he didn’t contribute to the second Star Wars Tales Novel, Tales of the Bounty Hunters, I understand that he was back in grand style with stories in both Tales from Jabba’s Palace and Tales from the Empire. I can’t confirm or deny this because I can’t find my copy of Jabba’s Palace and I haven’t read Tales from the Empire yet.
Ok, wasn’t I supposed to be talking about Specter of the Past? Right, right… Well, after so many disappointments with the novels that came after Zahn’s original trilogy, I was thrilled to find Specter of the Past the last time I made it to a book store. I was weary, thinking that perhaps Zahn had sold out, surely there must have been great pressure on him to write more Star Wars novels. It turns out that my fears were totally groundless– Zahn is back and in great style! Taking place about 10 years after Thrawn’s death, Specter unfolds slowly, reintroducing us to all our favorite characters from the movies and previous trilogy.
It’s nice to see Zahn’s characters again. He even finds ways to use characters that he introduced in his short story from Tales of the Mos Eisley Cantina. The biggest surprise, of course, is the reappearance of Grand Admiral Thrawn as a not-dead threat to the New Republic, a plot twist that Zahn executes perfectly, with none of the cheesy aftertaste that could have been expected. Even though we’ve seen the characters before, the plot is entirely fresh– no galaxy-threatening super-weapons here. Just a deep mystery, striking at the fragile core of the New Republic.
I hope that’s enough to keep you busy through this month’s Busy Signal Blues, see you all next month!
– Dylon Whyte