Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Star Wars: The Last Command review


    The Last Command is the end of the Thrawn Trilogy and the start of the new Expanded Universe. While there had been spin-offs from Star Wars before, The Last Command ushered in a new age of regular books released every year or so. From the time I was twelve years old to about a year ago, I bought damn near every single book released for the Expanded Universe.

    The Expanded Universe of Star Wars has been hit and miss in places, including bad books like The Crystal Star alongside great ones like Shatterpoint, but overall it's been an impressive collection of stories. How does Timothy Zahn, the father of the modern SWEU, finish off the first major story arc?

    Moderately well.

    Ultimately, the end of the Thrawn Trilogy ends with a whimper as opposed to a bang. Grand Admiral Thrawn has been set up as such a cunning mastermind that the switch to lunatic Dark Jedi Joruus C'Baoth as the primary villain comes as a disappointment. Furthermore, the Imperial advance comes ridiculously swiftly but ends almost as quick. It seems like Timothy Zahn could have done at least four more books in the series without exhausting all of the story's potential.

    In addition to the abruptness of wrapping up the story, there's also a bit of Favorite Character SyndromeTM. This is where an author becomes overly enamored of a character and writes the story around them. It's something that Timothy Zahn becomes especially guilty of in later volumes but only slightly does here with Mara Jade. Mara Jade is Luke Skywalker's love interest (and future wife).

    Mara Jade gets to show off her burgeoning force skills, spy abilities, and intelligence perhaps a little too much. One of the major confrontations of the book is Mara Jade versus Joruus C'baoth and I think that whenever there's a Dark Jedi as the villain, Luke should be the person who confronts him. Timothy Zahn even introduces a silly element into the book that Luke is worried that killing a brainwashed cloned force user might lead him to the Dark Side. That's just an excuse for Luke not doing it and it rings false.

    Despite these flaws, The Last Command is one of my favorite Star Wars books. The merely good as opposed to great finish of a series of great books is still high praise. Zahn nicely wraps up all of his stories so there's no dangling loose ends and that's an all too frequent problem in recent books. He also manages something clever, tying in the ysalamiri to the cloning process in a way that makes perfect sense in the Star Wars universe.

    Part of what makes the Thrawn Trilogy so entertaining is that Timothy Zahn is very good at avoiding a lot of Star Wars-isms. He rarely resorts to super weapons, Dark Siders, and last-minute victories. Instead, his enemies primarily rely on intelligence and the kind of weapons we already saw in the movies. Grand Admiral Thrawn doesn't even have a Super Star Destroyer but he's capable of terrifying our heroes with 'just' an Imperial Star Destroyer. Joruus C'baoth is the exception to the Dark Sider rule but even he has more menace in his own pinky than the majority of later SWEU Sith.

    I also like the use of cloning in as a technology capable of changing the balance of power in the galaxy. Long before Attack of the Clones when the Clone Wars were just a one sentence aside in A New Hope, Timothy Zahn made it a central premise of his novels. In its own way, an inexhaustible supply of soldiers was every bit as intimidating as the Death Star. There's some continuity errors now, such as the fact the clones are assumed to have been on the side of the enemy rather than the Republic but that's something everyone assumed.

     Aside from the exaggerated prominence of Mara Jade, Timothy Zahn strikes an excellent balance between his newly introduced characters of Talon Karrde, the villains, the Smuggler's Alliance, and others. I think more authors should follow this balance of new characters existing alongside old ones. Too often authors don't bother to introduce any new characters at all and the narrative suffers for it.

    In conclusion, I am pleased to recommend The Last Command to readers wanting to get started in the Star Wars universe. The Thrawn Trilogy started it all and there's a reason people rarely heap anything but praise on it.

8/10

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