Specter (sic) of the Past, by Timothy Zahn

January 22, 2011 at 11:28 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Highly Rated Books, Star Wars Saturday!) (, , , , , )


The release of this book cannot have been anything but good news for the Star Wars library: the long-overdue return of one of the only genuinely great storytellers in the Lucas fold, and the coup de grace to a half-dozen scattered and timid storylines that went nowhere, and expected to go nowhere. In his fêted duology, Zahn singlehandedly sideswipes the legs out from under the paltry teenage romances other writers had started with both Lando Calrissian and Luke Skywalker, firmly making up his own mind about them both. He dismisses almost everything written about a handful of petty villains (such as Isard and Daala) and gathers his readers expertly together: “Come,” you can hear him saying, “enough of this foolishness. Let me tell you what really happens in Star Wars.”

His choice to base the duology around his most successful villain was as ingenious only as his decision to leave Thrawn in the grave, and forego any resurrection attempts. Thankfully, Zahn is not so attached to his Spectre as all that, and instead of convoluted plot devices relying on unexplained and unnecessary “technology”, he comes up with a convincing and exciting plot, that spreads its focus pleasantly between his own excellent original characters, while still giving the celebrity favourites (the Skywalkers and Solos) something plausible with which to occupy themselves.

Pellaeon is the most mature character in this book, and in his musings and asides we catch a glimpse of Thrawn without the mystique and without the supercilious aloofness that limited the depth of that Admiral. It would have been so easy for Timothy Zahn to simply provide us with a facsimile of his successful creation; it would have been interesting for him to depart the formula entirely (and he does so ably, with Disra, Tierce, et al), but for him to take a detailed look at another, more human and believable version of Thrawn is a brave choice, and one that works brilliantly.

Zahn’s treatment of clones, as usual, verges on the brink of the same light horror that he explored in Dark Force Rising; sinister, but not outright evil. His throwaway quest for Luke, Lando and Karrde cannot distract from the most intelligent and realistic crisis that has ever surfaced in any Star Wars novel to date. Gone are the superweapons and the invasion fleets, the supernatural McGuffins and galaxy-threatening plagues. Instead, he offers a fresh plate of xenophobia, political unrest and agents provocateur. The fact that much of this book might easily be transposed by a Ludlum or a Le Carre and still make a great deal of sense speaks volumes for Zahn’s ability, but mostly for his integrity.

Related reviews:
Heir to the Empire

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