Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Book Review: Dark Force Rising

book cover for Dark Force RisingThe 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 New Republic's destruction. Meanwhile, Han Solo 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.

Yet most dangerous of all is a new Dark Jedi, risen from the ashes of a shrouded past, consumed by bitterness, and scheming to corrupt Luke Skywalker to the dark side.

It's funny. When I started this series, I thought that the titular heir to the Empire was supposed to be Grand Admiral Thrawn when, in fact, it's the windbag-pretending-to-be-a-Jedi Joruus C'baoth. In my defense, C'baoth's storyline tends to take a backseat to all the other storylines that run through the first two books of this series. So it didn't click in my head until this book drew to its conclusion.

Zahn's characters continue to be better developed than the familiar characters from the Star Wars original/middle trilogy of films. They still seem off to me. I think that they're stuck in Return of the Jedi mode. Luke tries to treat C'baoth like Vader. Leia thinks that she can broker diplomacy with the Noghri like she did with the Ewoks. Han and Lando aren't the rogues that they used to be, but they think they still are. Chewie is still Chewie though. And they all get away with it because, well, they do. I guess I'm expecting too much. It's been 40 years for me, but these books are only a couple years removed from the battle of Endor.

As I said, Zahn's original characters are better. Mara Jade struggles with her hate/he's ok relationship with Luke. Captain Pellaeon dutifully serves Grand Admiral Thrawn, who is always a step ahead of everyone else. It comes close to straining credulity at times, but I let it slide. Talon Karrde remains the likeable smuggler. Fey'lya demonstrates that Bothans are really frenemies, and former Senator Bel Iblis reveals some history about the early days of the Rebellion that would make for a great addition to Andor.

As for the storylines, after the surviving special ops Noghri, Khabarakh, informs Leia that he knows she's Vader's daughter, she agrees to accompany him to the Noghri homeworld in hopes of clearing things up and putting these attempted kidnappings to bed. I admit that while this started off like a fool's errand, Zahn built up Noghri society rather well.

Han and Lando try to uncover proof that Admiral Ackbar was set up and find a lost fleet of ships that could turn the tide of the war. I wasn't sure that they were doing anything more than stumbling around from one planet to another, but they eventually got there.

Luke seeks out the rumors of a Jedi Master in hopes of continuing his education, but as this storyline involved C'baoth it was pretty much a nothing burger. Luke eventually leaves to rescue someone and things pick up from there.

So despite my complaining, I am enjoying this series. It's good popcorn fare or a beach read.

3.5 stars