Carrying on from the look at “Heir to the Empire” a few months ago I continued onwards to Dark Force Rising (and finished it just in time for the new High Republic book to come out!) The middle story in the Thrawn Trilogy does what all good middle chapters do and moves the story on enough to keep things interesting but any kind of resolution to any of the introduced characters is left for the finale. Want to know more? Read on!
The dying Empire’s most cunning and ruthless warlord—Grand Admiral Thrawn—has taken command of the remnants of the Imperial fleet and launched a massive campaign aimed at the Republic’s destruction. With the aid of unimaginable weapons long hidden away by the Emperor on a backwater planet, Thrawn plans to turn the tide of the battle, overwhelm the New Republic, and impose his iron rule throughout the galaxy.
Meanwhile, dissension and personal ambition threaten to tear the Republic apart. As Princess Leia—pregnant with Jedi twins—risks her life to bring a proud and lethal alien race into alliance with the Republic, Han and Lando Calrissian race against time to find proof of treason inside the highest Republic Council—only to discover instead a ghostly fleet of warships that could bring doom to their friends and victory to their enemies.
But most dangerous of all is a new Dark Jedi, risen from the ashes of a shrouded past, consumed by bitterness…and thoroughly, utterly insane. Now he schemes to use his awesome mastery of the Force to summon young Skywalker, allay his misgivings, cunningly enthrall him, and ultimately corrupt him to the Dark Side.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
The original book cover. Very photo-heavy but I appreciate the space battle in the background!
After not being a big fan of how little Force and Jedi there were in the previous book I was happy with what we got here. Luke, after a period of time with Lando and Han on the planet New Cov, finally tracks down the former Jedi known as C’baoth, not knowing he was not only allied with Thrawn and the remnants of the Empire but was also quite insane. Luke began studying under him despite a feeling that his teachings were obviously off compared to what he’d learned from Obi-Wan and Yoda, though it’s heavily implied C’baoth was mentally influencing him with the Force so he wouldn’t actually realise how clearly un-Jedi he was. Luke’s old acquaintance / would-be assassin Mara Jade eventually arrives and thanks to the Force-cutting Ysalamir lizard she brought with her Luke realised C’baoth’s true personality and goals. The “Dark Jedi” attempts to attack them both and after a brief fight is knocked out by a laser blast from nearby R2D2. Mara goes to finish him off but Luke stops her, talking about how he saved his father from the Dark Side to there’s still a chance. So it was still the only Jedi/Force related bit of the otherwise quite long story, but it was a fun one at least (and again post ROTJ is pretty void of Jedi so I do understand the lack of them…)
The actual main plot of the book revolves around the mysterious Katana Fleet, a group of 200 Dreadnaught-class space cruisers that had vanished many years ago in a hyper-space jump gone wrong. It had long since become a rumour / legend but new “fun scoundrel” Talon Karrde from the previous book has its location and this puts him in a profitable situation. That being said he knows banking on the Empire would be a bad move so he goes to sell the information to the New Republic but he is later captured by Thrawn and placed on his ship, the Chimaera. After their adventure with C’baoth Luke and Mara Jade infiltrate the ship posing as TIE fighter pilots and rescue Karrde, the trio escaping on the Millennium Falcon, which Thrawn had captured at some point. As everyone re-gathers at Coruscant Karrde’s background makes the clearly corrupt council member Fey’lya hesitate to act on the information, which the smuggler says is costing them time because the Empire have captured his old superior who also knows the Katana Fleet’s location.
The cover of the comic adaptation. Love the shot of Han and Lando back-to-back!
Luke has enough and leaves alongside Han to the location with Rogue Squadron ahead of Fey-lya’s scouting party and sure enough they’re accused of treason by the soon-arriving council member. It’s all rather moot however as Grand Admiral Thrawn arrives with a couple of Star Destroyers and a large space fight breaks out. After a long battle one Star Destroyer is taken down and Thrawn leaves, but not before revealing that he’d already taken most of the 200 Dreadnaughts before they even got there. To make matters worse Luke finds out that the Stormtroopers they fought were Clones, meaning Thrawn also now had the army to pilot the near-200 frigates. Once again the middle chapter of a Star Wars trilogy ends with the villains very much on top!
There were plenty of other side-stories, obviously, and some were really fun. Leia made good on her promise from the previous story and travelled to the homeworld of the Noghri, the powerful race that Darth Vader had subjugated, and manages to convince them to turn against the Empire remnants using her title as “Lady Vader” to her advantage. Han and Lando meanwhile head off to find one of the founders of the original Rebel Alliance and old commander Garm Bel Iblis and in classic fashion he refuses to help (apparently he has a strong dislike of Mon Mothma) but then he and his fleet arrive in the middle of the final space battle to tip the odds in grand fashion. At the start of the book Thrawn take a group of people down to an old storehouse belonging to Emperor Palpatine and finds some forbidden technology, namely some ship stealth tech and, as we later find out, the technology to clone people. There are also some fun scenes with Thrawn and his bodyguard Rukh, where the latter’s undying loyalty is soon at odds with what the rest of his Noghri race do. Rukh doesn’t know what happened, but we as the reader do. This might be because the end of this relationship is something I already know the outcome of and therefore I’m projecting that knowledge onto what I’m reading, but it’s fun all the same.
The Legends re-release cover, focusing on Han and Leia and ignoring Luke entirely, for some reason. At least Thrawn is once again a key focus though!
Despite everything I’m still not a big fan of Timothy Zahn’s writing. It can be a bit heavy, especially when there’s a chapter with very little going on other than political movements or some smugglers having a chinwag.
There were definitely chapters that didn’t feel necessary early on, like the previously mentioned scenes with Luke, Han and Lando on New Cov, or some scenes with Karrde fleeing his new base or chatting with the New Republic. As much as I like the character and his extremely Star Wars-y name I do get the feeling that Zahn favours his own smuggler character over Han and Lando and therefore gives him a lot of page-time, sometimes to the story’s detriment. Did we really need a third charismatic smuggler? Couldn’t Lando or Han fill the same role in the story? Ah well…
Finally the “Essential Legends Collection” cover, which now not only focuses entirely on Han and Leia but removes Thrawn entirely. Bizarre!
I really enjoyed my time with Dark Force Rising. It was better paced than the still very good Heir to the Empire and once we got past some of the slower earlier chapters the book kept leaping forward until we reached a very fun big space war climax. Looking forward to the final part of the Trilogy, though as already mentioned that’ll be a couple of months away as the new High Republic book is the new top priority in my established sci-fi franchise book reading!