Specter of the Past - Timothy Zahn "There are indeed some things that must never be forgotten"
Ten years have past since our daring trio has faced the masterful Thrawn. The New Republic is firmly established. Peace abounds...or maybe not? The Empire appears to want to negotiate peace, but a triumvirate within is working hard to continue the hostilities. And the New Republic may just destroy itself with the revelation of the Camaas Document, a document revealing the Bothans were involved in the destruction of Camaas many years before. Can Luke's new knowledge of the Force help him? Will Han and Leia be able to keep things from getting out of control? And what about this Hand of Thrawn?
To spice things up, I want to buck my typical book review format and go for something a little different. In this review, I'd like to give you the Three R's of Timothy Zahn's Star Wars: Refreshing, Reflective, and Erudite (in true Three R's fashion, one does not actually start with the letter "R").
Timothy Zahn's latest entry into Star Wars is REFRESHING. I've been reading/listening to the copious Bantam novels that come before this one chronologically in Star Wars EU and chronologically in publication date. And I can tell you this one is head and shoulders above its predecessors. Most of the previous Star Wars novels maul the characters, shoehorn non-Star Wars concepts, create cliched, over-the-top characters and events, or reuse the same concepts over and over and over again (Superweapons, anyone?). Zahn captures the essence of Star Wars from the characters (Luke, Han, and Leia finally returning to a semblance of the characters from the movies who have naturally grown over the 15 some odd years) to the galaxy (creating new worlds that feel in place in our Star Wars setting and revisiting old ones) to the plot (imitating the then-unseen prequels in a haunting parallel). And the sexual tension between Mara and Luke is so palpable...man, how did the two keep themselves off each other for so long?
Specter of the Past is a REFLECTIVE novel. It looks back on the events of the past, acknowledging other canon in ways that hadn't or couldn't have been done (for example, the Corellian Trilogy didn't acknowledge Callista or Akanah because it was published before Children of the Jedi and the Black Fleet Crisis). Zahn mentions the destruction of Coruscant from Kueller's bombings (The New Rebellion), Lando's stupid search for the Qella artifact (Black Fleet Crisis), and Callista (Children of the Jedi). Furthermore, Zahn also clarifies the inconsistencies of the previous novels. Luke often acted superior, while not really having much to back it up (if he is such a great Jedi, why can Exar Kun knock him on his back so quickly and yet Exar Kun is defeated with a bunch of Jedi circling him and going "Boo"?). He tended to use people and penetrate their minds pell mell, without any regard for their privacy (for instance, in The Crystal Star and the Black Fleet Crisis, he used the Force to penetrate people's minds and change his appearance and no one balked at his flagrant use of the Force). Here, Zahn whips Luke into shape, having Han and Mara (and even Callista, in a way) call Luke out on his decidedly un-Jedi behavior. He uses an Imperial to castigate Daala for acting out of rage with no plan and destroying all her force (Jedi Academy Trilogy). And he has not one but two people call out the stupid mission Lando went on in the Black Fleet Crisis. So Zahn not only gets to slam the books we've all wanted to, but he also gets to clean them up for us fans.
Lastly, Zahn's most recent book is ERUDITE. The Thrawn Trilogy really captured the feeling of the Star Wars original trilogy. It was smart, fun, and adventurous. The characters were good, the bad guys somewhat noble, and the action thrilling. Specter is much different. It is a much more mature novel, dealing more with causes, effects, rationality (okay, so I coulda used that "R" word too!), character growth, and the inner workings of a government. In fact, there really aren't that many action scenes in this novel at all, yet it is very interesting, exciting, and intense. This book truly is a political novel, taking time to think about what the New Republic is, how it is run, and how it isn't so clean cut "good" as every other book tended to paint it.
My complaints? Well, they are very few and far between. I would have liked Zahn to keep the triumvirate and the impostor Zahn plot secret, and yet, it works so well in the way he presented it. Shada Du'Kal comes perilously close to being yet another Mara (fortunately, there is enough that keeps her well away from that stereotype). Chewie is mostly used as a prop to keep the kids out of affairs. It's kinda sad to see him smashed away in a corner like that. And at one point, Lando disappears from the story for several pages, and I had to search for what had happened to him last time we saw him.
But overall, this is an impressive novel, one that more mature Star Wars fans will definitely enjoy. There is intrigue, there is reality (dang, yet another "R" word I could have used!), there is betrayal, there is love, there is thought, there is cohesion, there is just no reason why you shouldn't be reading this book instead of my review!