Tales from the New Republic edited by Peter Schweighoffer and Craig Carey (1999, Bantam)
Last month, I reviewed this volume’s predecessor, Tales from the Empire. Both books are collections of stories originally intended for publication in the Star Wars Adventure Journal, a periodical that included stories, interviews, and roleplaying game supplements. The introduction to this collection, in contrast to Peter Schweighoffer’s enthusiastic endorsement of Tales from the Empire, is tinged with a distinct melancholic hue. Tales from the New Republic was published in the wake of West End Games’ loss of the Star Wars license and the subsequent discontinuation of the Star Wars Adventure Journal. In fact, most of these stories never saw publication in the Journal and were published for the first time here. Furthermore, this was the last Star Wars book published by Bantam. Considering these things, combined with the release of The Phantom Menace (mentioned by Craig Carey in his introduction), it was, in a small way, the end of an era.
So, do Bantam and the Star Wars Adventure Journal go out on a good note? Let’s look individually at the stories collected here.
“Interlude at Darkknell,” another collaborative effort from Timothy Zahn and Michael A. Stackpole, kicks off this collection. Like their previous team-up, “Side Trip” (see my Tales from the Empire review), this story features characters previously established by both authors as fixtures in the expanded universe. This time, the protagonists are a dissenting Imperial Senator named Garm Bel Ibliss and Corellian Security Force officer Hal Horn. In the aftermath of his family’s death in an Imperial-engineered explosion meant for him, Ibliss must work to retrieve a disk containing information about a secret Imperial military project. The disk is stolen by a third party, and a young Ysanne Isard, daughter of the current director of Imperial Intelligence, is sent to retrieve it.
The result is a lot of cloak-and-dagger espionage, insight into the past of some of the best expanded universe characters, and a generally suspenseful tale.
Zahn’s “Jade Solitaire” features, as the title implies, Mara Jade operating on her own. Her mission is to rescue the daughter of a rich businessman. The story is a simple, swashbuckling adventure, but it’s a pretty good one, with a not entirely surprising but nevertheless enjoyable twist at the end.
In “Gathering Shadows” by Kathy Burdette, two prisoners, having endured torment at the hands of Imperial interrogators, bond with one another in the cell they share. Meanwhile, the mercenary partners of one of the prisoners seek to free him from imprisonment, and there are even reanimated corpses involved. Burdette switches between these two groups of characters, but despite the appeal of zombies (especially in ’99 before they were a fad), I think she would have done better to focus on the prisoners. In a pitch-black cell, they discuss the horrors of war, the tension between ideals and politics, and the pain of loss. The mercenary/zombie plot is entertaining, as far as it goes, but it really feels like it’s only there to hit obligatory action beats.
In “Hutt and Seek,” Chris Cassidy and Tish Pahl have created an interesting smuggler duo. Fenig Nabon is the more serious of the two and serves as the duo’s moral compass, while Ghitsa Dogder (pictured above), though prim and fashion-conscious, had fewer scruples and had worked in the past as a liaison to the Hutts. Their banter—particularly Ghitsa’s teasing Fen about an alleged crush on Han Solo—is useful in endearing these characters to the reader. Unfortunately, the story itself is a fairly color-by-number Star Wars short story plot, involving Twi’lek slaves and Hutt gangsters. It’s not an unpleasant read, but nothing to write home about.
Not much actually happens in Patricia A. Jackson’s “The Longest Fall.” A young Imperial officer, whose background is given in cursory detail, is killed by Imperial High Inquisitor Tremayne (above) for another officer’s mistake. Jackson manages to carry this brief moment out over thirteen pages and hold the reader’s interest. “The Longest Fall” is, of course, death, and the story, is a good reflection on how quickly, unexpectedly, and worst of all, meaninglessly death can come. It’s not one to read for a pick-me-up, but it is an engaging tale.
An undercover New Republic agent finds herself enamored of a man who turns out to be an Imperial double agent in “Conflict of Interest” by Laurie Burns. I’m a sucker for “love thwarted by war” plots, and this one was pretty enjoyable, as are the thorny situational ethics issues that come up.
In “No Disintegrations, Please,” Paul Danner tells the story of a man telling a story. The man is quite old, and his audience of young children has apparently been listening to him tell stories for some time. With no other stories to tell, the man decides to relate a tale about the notorious Boba Fett. It might not be hard to guess that the story is drawn from the man’s own experience, and it may be equally unsurprising when Fett himself shows up at the end. Nevertheless, the way this final encounter turns out is a heartwarming twist.
Jean Rabe’s “Day of the Sepulchral Night” is a sharp departure from the typical sort of Star Wars story. It follows a Weequay couple in their search for the buried treasure of shipwrecked merchant. This is not a wildly original plot, of course, but its unusual juxtaposition with the Star Wars universe makes it fun, and the mystery surrounding the treasure holds the reader’s interest.
“Uhl Eharl Khoeng” continues the story of Dark Jedi Adalric Brandl that Patricia Jackson began in the earlier tale, “The Final Exit.” Five years have passed since the events of that story, and it appears that no real redemption has come for Brandl. His son is older now and has taken up acting, like his father. When a young woman comes to Brandl for training against another Imperial Dark Jedi, she runs the risk of falling to the dark side and the tensions between father and son come to the surface. This story has all of the strengths of its predecessor, and it is a shame that Jackson never got to complete this character’s arc.
Paul Danner’s “The Last Hand” is a simple story about a kid trying to win a lightsaber in a sabaac game. It’s fun, but doesn’t stack up to Danner’s other story in this collection.
Chris Cassidy and Tish Pahl’s “Simple Tricks” also features Fen and Ghitsa from “Hutt and Seek.” In this story, Ghitsa is captured by Hutts. Fen teams up with a young Jedi to rescue Ghitsa. Things get interesting when this Jedi turns out to be Kyp Durron, a man who, though repentant, is responsible for a staggering number of deaths. Philosophical debate abounds here, and the theme of redemption, which I feel is central to the Star Wars saga, is heavily stressed.
Tales from the Empire is, without a doubt, a better collection than this one, but Tales from the New Republic is nothing to sneeze at. Stories like “Interlude at Darkknell and “No Disintegrations, Please” are enough to convince me that the Star Wars Adventure Journal should be revived.