Specter of the Past by Timothy Zahn (1997, Bantam)
Specter of the Past was Timothy Zahn’s first full-length Star Wars novel since The Last Command in 1993. It’s also the first entry in a two-part story known as the Hand of Thrawn Duology. Together, Specter of the Past and its sequel, Vision of the Future, set nearly twenty years after the events of A New Hope, comprise the final story in the Star Wars chronology to be published by Bantam Spectra. Appropriately, Zahn provides us with a big, climactic tale that serves as an appropriate conclusion to Bantam’s Star Wars saga.
Admiral Pellaeon, once Grand Admiral Thrawn’s right-hand man and now military commander of the Empire (or what’s left of it), has recognized the harsh reality that the Empire is dying. Pellaeon has decided to do what would have previously been unthinkable: surrender to the New Republic and seek a treaty with favorable terms for both parties. Pellaeon is able to get the eight remaining sector Moffs to acquiesce verbally to his plan to preserve what remains of the Empire, but one of them has other ideas.
The aging Moff Disra, with the help of a former Imperial Guard called Grodin Tierce, hatches a plan to bring about the collapse of the New Republic and the rebirth of the Empire. Using the talents of Flim, a highly skilled con artist, Disra and Tierce seek to convince the galaxy that Grand Admiral Thrawn, the greatest tactical genius the Empire ever knew, somehow survived his death ten years prior and has returned to lead the Empire to victory.
To make matters worse, Leia comes across a datacard near the Emperor’s old fortress on the planet Wayland that implicates Bothans in the devastation of the planet Caamas—one of the Empire’s earliest atrocities, about forty years prior. This throws the New Republic into chaos, with legions of its citizens and politicians demanding retribution against the Bothans. The choice between meting out retribution and showing mercy divides the Republic, giving many factions an excuse to rekindle and fight over other old disputes, leading to riots and a fair amount of bloodshed. The Republic’s only hope is to obtain a more complete Imperial record, the Caamas Document, containing the names of the specific Bothans who aided the Empire in the destruction of Caamas.
In Specter of the Past, Zahn delivers everything that was great about the Thrawn trilogy: spot-on characterizations, believably high states (many Star Wars books claimed in their tag-lines that the New Republic was on the brink of collapse, but only here does that actually seem true), and a gripping plot that explores what was then the mysterious history that came before the Star Wars Trilogy.
Zahn makes use of many of his own original characters, like Mara Jade and Talon Karrde, as well as a couple of Michael Stackpole’s Star Wars characters, like Corran Horn and Booster Terrik. Few (if any) do original Star Wars characters as well as Zahn and Stackpole, so to see all the best of them together in one book adds major points to what is already a great read.
Next week, we’ll look at the Hand of Thrawn Duology’s conclusion, Vision of the Future.
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