First of all, I must say ***SPOILER ALERT!*** For those of you who haven’t read the books of the Star Wars Expanded Universe (now apparently not canon) the following will contain graphic information regarding plots, characters, twists and turns, as well as my favourite bits. ENJOY!
Despite reading Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye, Han Solo At Stars End etc, for me, it all started with Heir To The Empire. What a fantastic book, and a great start to a three part adventure. The introduction of some many great things. Thrawn (the blue skinned exotic alien with piercing red eyes) and Pellaeon (who would go on to have a much bigger role in the future) for a start. Typical Empire…..scheming and moving pieces into place, treating people and resources as if they were part of a giant chess board. I love the way Thrawn can deduce the actions of individuals and entire species from studying their art…….fabulous! Pellaeon has great survival instincts, and seems an excellent judge of character (particularly with the Noghri, something Thrawn seems blind to).
Ahhhh….the Noghri. A great introduction. I love the mystery surrounding them in this book. Portrayed as scary, deadly assassins, they’re relentless in their pursuit of Leia. The close calls where Luke, and then Han’s quick thinking save them are nothing to when they pursue her to Kashyyk. The capture of one gives a whole new dimension to what’s going on.
On the subject of villians……..C’baoth seems to add a chilling quality to everything else that’s going on. It’s interesting to see Thrawn keep him in line, albeit only just on occasions.
Mara Jade….where to start? This for me is the best part. Anyone who can organise the capture of Luke Skywalker must be something a little special…….and she is! Of course she goes on to have a huge part in things to come (more of that later). Her deep, seething hatred for Luke, combined with the fact that she’s desperate to either hand him over to the Empire or kill him, make things tick along at quite a pace, particularly after he’s captured and imprisoned on Myrkr, the most unsuitable planet in the galaxy for a Jedi it would seem. Both the vornskr and the ysalamiri play crucial parts in what happens, and yes you’ve guessed it, come back time and again much later in the expanded universe. Any creature that can block the force would no doubt attract much attention and be of use to both light and dark side users. Mara and Luke’s hike through the forest thrilled me. I couldn’t work out what would happen, particularly with Han and Lando back at Talon Karrde’s base, and figuring out that Luke was the escaped prisoner. Karrde constantly reminds you of Han, whether it’s what he could have become, or because of the decisions he makes, and his sense of honour (among smugglers).
The ending ties up well, and I love the fact that Wedge joins the action. The X-wing series are wonderful and I can thoroughly recommend reading them. The whole book makes you wonder what will happen next. At the time of buying it when it first came out, I can remember finishing it and being desperate to find out the next instalment, something that any good book in a series should aspire to.
On to Dark Force Rising, the second in the three book series, continuing from where the first one left off. This to me has a different feel, more kind of settling in. The treachery in the council is intriguing, while I was desperate to know how the Empire were getting their information. This is key to lots of things, and constantly has you thinking of ways the enemy could be spying. Han and Lando pairing up is great, and of course full of action as you’d expect from two ex-smugglers. Leia going to Honoghr was a surprise, particularly given that she’s pregnant with twins. The whole time she was there, especially on her arrival, I thought she’d be caught, but the fact that she turns the tables on the Empire with the Noghri and shows them exactly how they’ve been treated, and who their real enemy is really made that part of the story worthwhile. It was however criminal of her to leave the Millenium Falcon orbiting Endor, all on its own. That…..is no way to treat that spaceship. My favourite part was probably Mara and Luke (yes….the state of things to come) teaming up to rescue Talon Karrde from the imperials. Just as you think they’ve succeeded, Grand Admiral Thrawn plays the art card, and works out what’s happening, to make for a very tense piece of action. The interaction between Mara and Luke is great, while again it’s fantastic to see Karrde making the right decision about Mara, even though he’s got precious little to go on. The surprise when Luke discovers the Falcon in the deep storage part of the star destroyer, and then escapes on her is very fitting.
Finding out about the clones at the end, combined with the Katana fleet left me again begging for more when this came out, and the subsequent times that I’ve reread it.
The Last Command…..I couldn’t wait for it to come out, and got it on the day of its release. The third and last book in the series did, for me, live up to expectation. All these characters coming together to defeat the evil of the Empire and the deranged jedi C’baoth.
It’s great to watch Luke grow as a Jedi here, from backtracking the mysterious clones, to ending up inadvertently on Honoghr, to the trek through the dangers of Wayland and on to the predestined confrontation. Here he comes into his own, as well as showing what a great team he’d make with Mara. It would seem after this their pairing would be inevitable.
The best, and most chilling part of this book was when Imperial Intelligence entered the palace in search of Leia and her newborn twins….Jacen and Jaina. Now to give you some idea the impact this book had on me, (and to be honest, I’m not quite sure I should mention this) my eldest daughter is called…….JAINA! And yes, you read that right. Now the main reason for this is because I think it is such a lovely name, and the fact that it is unusual made it appeal as well. But the fact that Han Solo and I share a daughter with the same name makes me a little………..proud. Anyhow, the Imperials shooting up the palace in search of the newborns gave me the creeps quite frankly. I love the fact that primarily its Mara that saves the day, proves her allegiance (well, to Luke who never doubted her, but also to Han, Leia and Lando). This was for me a thrilling part of the book, and easily as good as the ending. The fact that they immediately (without Leia) bug out to Wayland (effectively springing Mara) is perfect.
The intrigue with Karrde trying to persuade all the smugglers keeps things going at a nice pace, and turns out wonderfully well when he’s proven innocent of betraying them.
Leia finding delta source (and what IT turns out to be) was a really compelling part of the book, and not in a million years could I have guessed about that, despite all the clues being there in the previous books.
With Karrde whisking Leia off to Wayland, and Luke teaching lightsaber technique to Mara on their Journey from the Falcon, as well as the Noghri teaming up with them all leads to a fascinating final encounter. I couldn’t get enough of it. Grand Admiral Thrawn’s fate is perfect, given what he and others from the Empire have done to the Noghri. A fitting fate to an interesting character.
All in all………..read these books. I don’t know if they’ll be phased out, or replaced. I find that hard to believe. But if you’re a Star Wars fan, and you enjoy reading, please, please, please read these books. They carry on from where Return of the Jedi finishes (well, pretty much…about five years afterwards I think), but they are all wonderful. If you don’t want to start there…..I can most certainly recommend ‘The Courtship Of Princess Leia’ which starts before then, and sees Han being a typical rogue and scoundrel………LOVE IT!
To be continued……….