The Stolen Data Tapes
Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream by Aaron Allston (2002, Del Rey)
Aaron Allston, whose first Star Wars novels were the latter half of the X-wing series, made his foray into The New Jedi Order with a two-part series called Enemy Lines. Unsurprisingly (and much to my delight), the first book of this duology, Rebel Dream, reads a lot like one of Allston’s X-wing novels.

The book begins shortly after the fall of Coruscant in Star by Star. Rebel hero, two-time Death Star survivor, and all-around badass Wedge Antilles has withdrawn from Coruscant with a detachment of New Republic fighter squadrons to the (galactically speaking) nearby planet of Borleias. Long-time expanded universe readers will remember that, ironically, this is the planet from which Wedge and his pilots staged their push toward Coruscant in the first X-wing novel.  

After capturing and holding the planet and having a very unfruitful meeting with the New Republic’s remaining bureaucrats, it becomes readily apparent to Wedge, Lando, Luke, and other members of Wedge’s trusted “Inner Circle” that the Republic is as good as gone, and the task that remains is for a new rebellion to be established—a resistance against the now-dominant Yuuzhan Vong.

Allston does a good job of balancing and servicing quite a few characters in this book. We have Wedge and the original trilogy cast, Corran Horn, Kyp Durron, members of Allston’s Wraith Squadron, and, of course, Jaina Solo, who, with Anakin dead, is poised to become the main series protagonist of the younger generation.

Wedge and his group decide to make continued use of the ruse Jaina began in Dark Journey, in an attempt to trick the more gullible of the Yuuzhan Vong into believing that Jaina is an avatar of the Vong trickster goddess, Yun-Harla. Most of Jaina’s time is taken up with posturing as the goddess and leading the hodge-podge Twin Suns fighter squadron against repeated attacks by the Vong. However, now that she’s mostly out of the woods with the whole dark side thing, she finds that she has to wrangle with her feelings for Jagged Fel, the dashing, chivalrous, and sometimes arrogant pilot who has joined her squadron.

Of course, all of this is going on with a mind-controlled, unwilling traitor in the midst.

Most enticing, however, are Luke’s premonitions of a dangerous dark side presence on Coruscant. Because the Yuuzhan Vong are somehow invisible in the Force, this indicates something different altogether lurking on the former capital world. Lando risks his neck to bring Luke, some of the Wraiths, and a party of additional Jedi to Coruscant, but this plot is largely left to be explored in the next book.

Rebel Dream, while remaining firmly a part of the New Jedi Order storyline, injects a lot of the flavor of the old Bantam novels, and the X-wing books in particular. A large cast of colorful characters, plenty of excitingly depicted space dogfights, and an overall lighter and more recognizably Star Wars tone pervade this book. Allston also peppers this novel with his distinct brand of witty dialogue, which is especially apt in the mouths of Han and Leia, whose wry banter is especially enjoyable in this novel. Allston manages this lightness of tone without ever letting the reader forget that Anakin Solo’s death is still taking its toll on the protagonists.

In short, Rebel Dream is a very fun read that combines the sensibilities of the New Jedi Order with those of older entries in the Star Wars canon. Next week, we’ll check out the second part of Enemy Lines, Rebel Stand.

(Big props to Dave Seeley, by the way. That’s the best cover I’ve seen on one of these books in a while.)

Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream by Aaron Allston (2002, Del Rey)

Aaron Allston, whose first Star Wars novels were the latter half of the X-wing series, made his foray into The New Jedi Order with a two-part series called Enemy Lines. Unsurprisingly (and much to my delight), the first book of this duology, Rebel Dream, reads a lot like one of Allston’s X-wing novels.

The book begins shortly after the fall of Coruscant in Star by Star. Rebel hero, two-time Death Star survivor, and all-around badass Wedge Antilles has withdrawn from Coruscant with a detachment of New Republic fighter squadrons to the (galactically speaking) nearby planet of Borleias. Long-time expanded universe readers will remember that, ironically, this is the planet from which Wedge and his pilots staged their push toward Coruscant in the first X-wing novel.  

After capturing and holding the planet and having a very unfruitful meeting with the New Republic’s remaining bureaucrats, it becomes readily apparent to Wedge, Lando, Luke, and other members of Wedge’s trusted “Inner Circle” that the Republic is as good as gone, and the task that remains is for a new rebellion to be established—a resistance against the now-dominant Yuuzhan Vong.

Allston does a good job of balancing and servicing quite a few characters in this book. We have Wedge and the original trilogy cast, Corran Horn, Kyp Durron, members of Allston’s Wraith Squadron, and, of course, Jaina Solo, who, with Anakin dead, is poised to become the main series protagonist of the younger generation.

Wedge and his group decide to make continued use of the ruse Jaina began in Dark Journey, in an attempt to trick the more gullible of the Yuuzhan Vong into believing that Jaina is an avatar of the Vong trickster goddess, Yun-Harla. Most of Jaina’s time is taken up with posturing as the goddess and leading the hodge-podge Twin Suns fighter squadron against repeated attacks by the Vong. However, now that she’s mostly out of the woods with the whole dark side thing, she finds that she has to wrangle with her feelings for Jagged Fel, the dashing, chivalrous, and sometimes arrogant pilot who has joined her squadron.

Of course, all of this is going on with a mind-controlled, unwilling traitor in the midst.

Most enticing, however, are Luke’s premonitions of a dangerous dark side presence on Coruscant. Because the Yuuzhan Vong are somehow invisible in the Force, this indicates something different altogether lurking on the former capital world. Lando risks his neck to bring Luke, some of the Wraiths, and a party of additional Jedi to Coruscant, but this plot is largely left to be explored in the next book.

Rebel Dream, while remaining firmly a part of the New Jedi Order storyline, injects a lot of the flavor of the old Bantam novels, and the X-wing books in particular. A large cast of colorful characters, plenty of excitingly depicted space dogfights, and an overall lighter and more recognizably Star Wars tone pervade this book. Allston also peppers this novel with his distinct brand of witty dialogue, which is especially apt in the mouths of Han and Leia, whose wry banter is especially enjoyable in this novel. Allston manages this lightness of tone without ever letting the reader forget that Anakin Solo’s death is still taking its toll on the protagonists.

In short, Rebel Dream is a very fun read that combines the sensibilities of the New Jedi Order with those of older entries in the Star Wars canon. Next week, we’ll check out the second part of Enemy Lines, Rebel Stand.

(Big props to Dave Seeley, by the way. That’s the best cover I’ve seen on one of these books in a while.)

Star by Star by Troy Denning (2001, Del Rey)
At roughly the mid-point of the New Jedi Order series, Star by Star serves the role often provided by the second act in a play, or the middle installment of a trilogy: it’s the chapter of the story wherein evil triumphs and all appears to be lost for the heroes. …Of course, that’s basically what’s been going on, to one extent or another, in the majority of the NJO books thus far, but things get really dark in this one. By the way, there’ll be some major New Jedi Order spoilers in this review, so if, unlike me, you were able to avoid finding out what happens in this book before reading it, you may want to come back to this review after you’ve read Star by Star.



Using their genetic engineering capabilities to manipulate the DNA of the Force-sensitive predatory animal known as the vornskr, the Yuuzhan Vong have created the voxyn: a beast that hunts and kills Jedi. When it’s discovered that the voxyn are cloned from a single source, Luke reluctantly agrees to send a strike team that includes all three of the Solo kids to destroy the voxyn genetic template, or queen.

Meanwhile, the Vong muster their forces and invade Coruscant. A massive, pitched space battle ensues above the planet while former senator and now open traitor Viqi Shesh tries and fails to kidnap the infant Ben Skywalker. The space battle is particularly exciting, as we get most of it from the perspective of Luke in an X-wing cockpit—a place few expanded universe writers have elected to put the character. It’s also troubling, as the New Republic military splits apart over whether or not to fire on the refugee ships the Vong are using as shields.

Neither of these plotlines ends well for those involved. Sure, the voxyn queen is destroyed, but at a huge cost, and the most shocking character death since Chewbacca’s in Vector Prime: Anakin Solo, leader of the Jedi strike team, sacrifices himself for the good of the mission. Anakin has thus far been my favorite of the three Solo children, so it was a bummer to see him killed off. Despite that, I didn’t hate this the way I’d expected to when I first heard about it. Chewbacca’s death was a device to make the reader feel as though characters were no longer safe, and as such, it rings false in the narrative. Anakin’s death, by contrast, serves a clear purpose in the narrative and in the arcs of several other characters. Perhaps more importantly, the dramatic, self-sacrificial death is worthy of Anakin.


The Vong invasion of Coruscant, meanwhile, is successful. Troy Denning really hammers home the unraveling of everything previously established in the expanded universe’s status quo, the tragedy of Coruscant’s destruction, and the death of countless innocents. Han even refers to it as “the end of the world.” I had fallen out of reading Star Wars books by the time this one was released, but I can imagine the events of Star by Star, released at the end of October in 2001, might have carried some baggage for readers at the time. There are no direct parallels, but the destruction of an urban landscape likely reminded American readers of the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. More interestingly, many characters in the book refer to the Yuuzhan Vong by xenophobic epithets and several scenes involve Jedi who, as they fall to the dark side, casually and even gleefully discuss killing their alien enemies. Intentional or not, this bears some unsettling parallels to the racist and xenophobic attitudes that were disturbingly and openly prevalent in America in the months following those attacks. It will be interesting to see if this is explored at all in subsequent NJO novels (either intentionally or through unintentional cultural osmosis).

Star by Star engages in everything I’ve been complaining about in the New Jedi Order series. Two major characters—Anakin and Borsk Fey’lya—bite it. Yet another feature of the Star Wars galaxy that makes it recognizable as the Star Wars galaxy falls to the Yuuzhan Vong, presumably to be altered beyond recognition. And yet… I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As I said at the beginning of this review, Star by Star feels a lot like a second act, despite its place as the ninth book in a nineteen-book series. It’s NJO’s Empire Strikes Back, and, while nowhere close to being that good, it fills that role pretty well. All of the bad shit that goes down in this book serves a purpose beyond being shocking/grim/dark. All of it either advances the plot (the Vong have all but won the war, Jacen is captured) or advances character arcs (Anakin’s death brings Han and Leia closer together, while it drives Jaina to the brink of the dark side). And like Empire, Star by Star ends with a glimmer of hope in a situation that seems hopeless. I still feel a bit as though Anakin would have served the story better alive than dead, but Star by Star is, nevertheless, a wonderfully executed story, and one of the best of the New Jedi Order thus far.

The paperback edition of Star by Star also includes an e-book by Troy Denning called Recovery.



The story is set shortly after the events of Balance Point, wherein the planet Duro falls to the Yuuzhan Vong and Leia sustains a serious injury to her legs. The plot involves a group of Jedi who figure into the story of Star by Star, as well as an attempt to discredit traitorous senator Viqi Shesh. However, the real story is tightly focused on Leia and Han, who spend some time together while Leia recovers from her injury. Recovery’s title carries a double meaning; it’s really about Han and Leia patching up the damage that Chewbacca’s death, and Han’s reaction to it, did to their marriage.

As in Star by Star and his 2003 novel Tatooine Ghost, Denning demonstrates a firm grip on Han and Leia’s relationship; few writers get it more right than he does. The result is an exciting, amusing, and ultimately heartwarming tale.

Next week, we’ll continue on to the next installment of The New Jedi Order, Dark Journey.  

Star by Star by Troy Denning (2001, Del Rey)

At roughly the mid-point of the New Jedi Order series, Star by Star serves the role often provided by the second act in a play, or the middle installment of a trilogy: it’s the chapter of the story wherein evil triumphs and all appears to be lost for the heroes. …Of course, that’s basically what’s been going on, to one extent or another, in the majority of the NJO books thus far, but things get really dark in this one. By the way, there’ll be some major New Jedi Order spoilers in this review, so if, unlike me, you were able to avoid finding out what happens in this book before reading it, you may want to come back to this review after you’ve read Star by Star.

Using their genetic engineering capabilities to manipulate the DNA of the Force-sensitive predatory animal known as the vornskr, the Yuuzhan Vong have created the voxyn: a beast that hunts and kills Jedi. When it’s discovered that the voxyn are cloned from a single source, Luke reluctantly agrees to send a strike team that includes all three of the Solo kids to destroy the voxyn genetic template, or queen.

Meanwhile, the Vong muster their forces and invade Coruscant. A massive, pitched space battle ensues above the planet while former senator and now open traitor Viqi Shesh tries and fails to kidnap the infant Ben Skywalker. The space battle is particularly exciting, as we get most of it from the perspective of Luke in an X-wing cockpit—a place few expanded universe writers have elected to put the character. It’s also troubling, as the New Republic military splits apart over whether or not to fire on the refugee ships the Vong are using as shields.

Neither of these plotlines ends well for those involved. Sure, the voxyn queen is destroyed, but at a huge cost, and the most shocking character death since Chewbacca’s in Vector Prime: Anakin Solo, leader of the Jedi strike team, sacrifices himself for the good of the mission. Anakin has thus far been my favorite of the three Solo children, so it was a bummer to see him killed off. Despite that, I didn’t hate this the way I’d expected to when I first heard about it. Chewbacca’s death was a device to make the reader feel as though characters were no longer safe, and as such, it rings false in the narrative. Anakin’s death, by contrast, serves a clear purpose in the narrative and in the arcs of several other characters. Perhaps more importantly, the dramatic, self-sacrificial death is worthy of Anakin.

The Vong invasion of Coruscant, meanwhile, is successful. Troy Denning really hammers home the unraveling of everything previously established in the expanded universe’s status quo, the tragedy of Coruscant’s destruction, and the death of countless innocents. Han even refers to it as “the end of the world.” I had fallen out of reading Star Wars books by the time this one was released, but I can imagine the events of Star by Star, released at the end of October in 2001, might have carried some baggage for readers at the time. There are no direct parallels, but the destruction of an urban landscape likely reminded American readers of the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. More interestingly, many characters in the book refer to the Yuuzhan Vong by xenophobic epithets and several scenes involve Jedi who, as they fall to the dark side, casually and even gleefully discuss killing their alien enemies. Intentional or not, this bears some unsettling parallels to the racist and xenophobic attitudes that were disturbingly and openly prevalent in America in the months following those attacks. It will be interesting to see if this is explored at all in subsequent NJO novels (either intentionally or through unintentional cultural osmosis).

Star by Star engages in everything I’ve been complaining about in the New Jedi Order series. Two major characters—Anakin and Borsk Fey’lya—bite it. Yet another feature of the Star Wars galaxy that makes it recognizable as the Star Wars galaxy falls to the Yuuzhan Vong, presumably to be altered beyond recognition. And yet… I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As I said at the beginning of this review, Star by Star feels a lot like a second act, despite its place as the ninth book in a nineteen-book series. It’s NJO’s Empire Strikes Back, and, while nowhere close to being that good, it fills that role pretty well. All of the bad shit that goes down in this book serves a purpose beyond being shocking/grim/dark. All of it either advances the plot (the Vong have all but won the war, Jacen is captured) or advances character arcs (Anakin’s death brings Han and Leia closer together, while it drives Jaina to the brink of the dark side). And like Empire, Star by Star ends with a glimmer of hope in a situation that seems hopeless. I still feel a bit as though Anakin would have served the story better alive than dead, but Star by Star is, nevertheless, a wonderfully executed story, and one of the best of the New Jedi Order thus far.

The paperback edition of Star by Star also includes an e-book by Troy Denning called Recovery.

The story is set shortly after the events of Balance Point, wherein the planet Duro falls to the Yuuzhan Vong and Leia sustains a serious injury to her legs. The plot involves a group of Jedi who figure into the story of Star by Star, as well as an attempt to discredit traitorous senator Viqi Shesh. However, the real story is tightly focused on Leia and Han, who spend some time together while Leia recovers from her injury. Recovery’s title carries a double meaning; it’s really about Han and Leia patching up the damage that Chewbacca’s death, and Han’s reaction to it, did to their marriage.

As in Star by Star and his 2003 novel Tatooine Ghost, Denning demonstrates a firm grip on Han and Leia’s relationship; few writers get it more right than he does. The result is an exciting, amusing, and ultimately heartwarming tale.

Next week, we’ll continue on to the next installment of The New Jedi Order, Dark Journey.  

Edge of Victory II: Rebirth by Greg Keyes (2001, Del Rey)
In Greg Keyes’s second New Jedi Order novel, the Jedi are in dire straits. Yavin 4 has been taken over by the Yuuzhan Vong, the collaborationist organization known as the Peace Brigade is hunting the Jedi at the bidding of their future overlords, and now the Republic itself has turned its back on the Jedi, with Chief of State Fey’lya calling for the arrest of Luke and Mara.

Again, much of the book follows Anakin, along with Tahiri—who struggles with implanted Yuuzhan Vong memories—and Corran Horn, who discover a Vong fleet on what was supposed to be a simple supply mission for the Jedi Academy in exile.

Meanwhile, Jacen Solo clashes with his father over the use of violence and deception in wartime situations, while Jaina deals with Kyp Durron. You remember Kyp, right? Blew up a star system, repented, but is still apparently arrogant as hell? He has all but broken away from Luke’s Jedi Order in favor of a group of Jedi that are directly waging war against the Vong. He informs Jaina that the Vong are building a superweapon (which, as you might imagine, immediately elicited a groan and an eyeroll from me) and convinces Jaina to get Rogue Squadron involved in the attempt to destroy it.

In a fantastic reversal of the reader’s expectations, we discover that Kyp lied about the nature of the target. What they destroyed wasn’t a superweapon at all, but a Yuuzhan Vong worldship—a vessel housing both military and civilian personnel.

Keyes ends his duology on a happy note, however. Mara, whose disease has reemerged to threaten her unborn child, is purged of the contagion through the power of the Force, and the child, Ben Skywalker, is born.

The strengths of Conquest carry over to this book. Another subplot in the novel follows Keyes’s Yuuzhan Vong scientist, Nen Yim, whose concerns and sacrifices are all for the sake of her people’s survival. I hope that subsequent New Jedi Order writers continue in this more nuanced approach to the extragalactic invaders. The best element of the book was the aforementioned twist regarding the Yuuzhan Vong “superweapon.” It was a clever move on Keyes’s part to play with a tired expanded universe trope to add a new dimension to the overarching New Jedi Order storyline.

Both Edge of Victory novels are a potentially huge improvement to the overall trajectory of the series. They make the baddies more interesting and carry a less relentlessly dark and dingy tone, resulting in books that feel a lot more like what I want out of a Star Wars book that most of the NJO titles have thus far. Having read these, I am cautiously optimistic about the remainder of the series.

That said, we are going to take a break from New Jedi Order next week to talk about some of the most controversial books among Star Wars fans—the Republic Commando novels by author Karen Traviss. 

Edge of Victory II: Rebirth by Greg Keyes (2001, Del Rey)

In Greg Keyes’s second New Jedi Order novel, the Jedi are in dire straits. Yavin 4 has been taken over by the Yuuzhan Vong, the collaborationist organization known as the Peace Brigade is hunting the Jedi at the bidding of their future overlords, and now the Republic itself has turned its back on the Jedi, with Chief of State Fey’lya calling for the arrest of Luke and Mara.

Again, much of the book follows Anakin, along with Tahiri—who struggles with implanted Yuuzhan Vong memories—and Corran Horn, who discover a Vong fleet on what was supposed to be a simple supply mission for the Jedi Academy in exile.

Meanwhile, Jacen Solo clashes with his father over the use of violence and deception in wartime situations, while Jaina deals with Kyp Durron. You remember Kyp, right? Blew up a star system, repented, but is still apparently arrogant as hell? He has all but broken away from Luke’s Jedi Order in favor of a group of Jedi that are directly waging war against the Vong. He informs Jaina that the Vong are building a superweapon (which, as you might imagine, immediately elicited a groan and an eyeroll from me) and convinces Jaina to get Rogue Squadron involved in the attempt to destroy it.

In a fantastic reversal of the reader’s expectations, we discover that Kyp lied about the nature of the target. What they destroyed wasn’t a superweapon at all, but a Yuuzhan Vong worldship—a vessel housing both military and civilian personnel.

Keyes ends his duology on a happy note, however. Mara, whose disease has reemerged to threaten her unborn child, is purged of the contagion through the power of the Force, and the child, Ben Skywalker, is born.

The strengths of Conquest carry over to this book. Another subplot in the novel follows Keyes’s Yuuzhan Vong scientist, Nen Yim, whose concerns and sacrifices are all for the sake of her people’s survival. I hope that subsequent New Jedi Order writers continue in this more nuanced approach to the extragalactic invaders. The best element of the book was the aforementioned twist regarding the Yuuzhan Vong “superweapon.” It was a clever move on Keyes’s part to play with a tired expanded universe trope to add a new dimension to the overarching New Jedi Order storyline.

Both Edge of Victory novels are a potentially huge improvement to the overall trajectory of the series. They make the baddies more interesting and carry a less relentlessly dark and dingy tone, resulting in books that feel a lot more like what I want out of a Star Wars book that most of the NJO titles have thus far. Having read these, I am cautiously optimistic about the remainder of the series.

That said, we are going to take a break from New Jedi Order next week to talk about some of the most controversial books among Star Wars fans—the Republic Commando novels by author Karen Traviss. 

Choices of One by Timothy Zahn (2011, Del Rey)
Choices of One is Timothy Zahn’s follow-up to his 2007 novel, Allegiance. Set a few months after that book, it follows Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewbacca as they attempt to broker a deal with an apparently sympathetic Imperial governor. At the same time, however, Mara Jade seeks to dispense the Emperor’s justice to that same traitor, and enlists the help of the Hand of Judgment, the rogue stormtrooper unit from Allegiance, to help her in that task. Of course, not everything is as it seems; secret identities, betrayals, and shifting alliances keep the reader guessing throughout.

Furthermore, most of the strings here are being pulled by an alien from the Unknown Regions, whom current Senior Captain Thrawn has been tasked with combating. Zahn is even able to drop in Gilad Pellaeon for a part of the action, as he tries to ascertain the identity of the mysterious, masked “Lord Odo” who has taken command of the Star Destroyer Chimaera on the Emperor’s authority.

As before, Zahn handles all of the characters present in this book admirably. The dynamics between the classic cast are pitch perfect; the romantic tension between Han and Leia particularly stands out. Zahn writes dialogue for them that parallels their dynamic in The Empire Strikes Back, but stops short of completely mirroring that dynamic, which clearly has come to a boiling point in that film.

Luke is separated from the rest of the crew throughout most of the book, but he’s given a lot to do in the story and a compelling internal conflict over whether or not he has the Jedi chops to pull off what’s being asked of him in this mission. Here, as well as in all of his other Star Wars books, Zahn taps into an aspect of Luke that most expanded universe writers seem to have missed while watching the movies: he’s a clever kid. In Choices of One, Luke realizes and rues his shortcomings when it comes to the Force, but he repeatedly comes up with clever ways around that which still accomplish his goals.

It’s always good to see Zahn’s original characters again, with Thrawn’s presence in this book a welcome surprise. Interactions between him and his current companion, Jorj Car’das, serve to reveal a little of Thrawn’s philosophy of peace, order, and even justice through benevolent fascism. This political philosophy of Thrawn’s has been alluded to a few times, and I’d really like to see it explored in more depth by Zahn in the future.

The crew of stormtroopers Zahn established in his previous Star Wars novel, while not on my roster of all-time great Star Wars characters, was nevertheless fun to read about, and I was satisfied with their ultimate fate. I’d gladly read about them again.
Choices of One is a much more tightly plotted book than Allegiance. As you’ll see in my review of that novel, I liked it very much, but upon later reflection, its plot feels a little more tied together by convenience than in this novel, where everything is solidly and very plausibly connected. The story here is much leaner, with fewer disparate threads, making for a generally more fast-paced and exciting read.

Next week, I’ll get back to my trek through The New Jedi Order with James Luceno’s Hero’s Trial.

Choices of One by Timothy Zahn (2011, Del Rey)

Choices of One is Timothy Zahn’s follow-up to his 2007 novel, Allegiance. Set a few months after that book, it follows Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewbacca as they attempt to broker a deal with an apparently sympathetic Imperial governor. At the same time, however, Mara Jade seeks to dispense the Emperor’s justice to that same traitor, and enlists the help of the Hand of Judgment, the rogue stormtrooper unit from Allegiance, to help her in that task. Of course, not everything is as it seems; secret identities, betrayals, and shifting alliances keep the reader guessing throughout.

Furthermore, most of the strings here are being pulled by an alien from the Unknown Regions, whom current Senior Captain Thrawn has been tasked with combating. Zahn is even able to drop in Gilad Pellaeon for a part of the action, as he tries to ascertain the identity of the mysterious, masked “Lord Odo” who has taken command of the Star Destroyer Chimaera on the Emperor’s authority.

As before, Zahn handles all of the characters present in this book admirably. The dynamics between the classic cast are pitch perfect; the romantic tension between Han and Leia particularly stands out. Zahn writes dialogue for them that parallels their dynamic in The Empire Strikes Back, but stops short of completely mirroring that dynamic, which clearly has come to a boiling point in that film.

Luke is separated from the rest of the crew throughout most of the book, but he’s given a lot to do in the story and a compelling internal conflict over whether or not he has the Jedi chops to pull off what’s being asked of him in this mission. Here, as well as in all of his other Star Wars books, Zahn taps into an aspect of Luke that most expanded universe writers seem to have missed while watching the movies: he’s a clever kid. In Choices of One, Luke realizes and rues his shortcomings when it comes to the Force, but he repeatedly comes up with clever ways around that which still accomplish his goals.

It’s always good to see Zahn’s original characters again, with Thrawn’s presence in this book a welcome surprise. Interactions between him and his current companion, Jorj Car’das, serve to reveal a little of Thrawn’s philosophy of peace, order, and even justice through benevolent fascism. This political philosophy of Thrawn’s has been alluded to a few times, and I’d really like to see it explored in more depth by Zahn in the future.

The crew of stormtroopers Zahn established in his previous Star Wars novel, while not on my roster of all-time great Star Wars characters, was nevertheless fun to read about, and I was satisfied with their ultimate fate. I’d gladly read about them again.

Choices of One is a much more tightly plotted book than Allegiance. As you’ll see in my review of that novel, I liked it very much, but upon later reflection, its plot feels a little more tied together by convenience than in this novel, where everything is solidly and very plausibly connected. The story here is much leaner, with fewer disparate threads, making for a generally more fast-paced and exciting read.

Next week, I’ll get back to my trek through The New Jedi Order with James Luceno’s Hero’s Trial.

Allegiance by Timothy Zahn (2007, Del Rey)
…Aaaand we’re back. Again, apologies about the hiatus. Reviews will continue as normal for the next month and a half or so, and I’ll likely have to slow down again once the next semester begins.

Alleigiance is Timothy Zahn’s first Star Wars novel set during the events of the original trilogy.  This was of particular interest to me when I picked up the book; I’ve always felt that Zahn’s characterization of the main Star Wars cast was spot-on, but he was always writing versions of those characters that were extrapolations of what they’d be like five, ten, or fifteen years after the original trilogy. 

Unsurprisingly, Zahn proves just as adept at writing a still largely inexperienced Luke Skywalker, a Han Solo still reluctant to fight for the Rebel cause, and a young Leia Organa already knee-deep in politics. As usual, Zahn doesn’t neglect any of the characters, giving everyone something interesting to do. Leia must attempt to iron out a conflict between squabbling factions of the Alliance, while Luke and Han try to get to the bottom of some pirate attacks on Rebel supply lines. The character dynamics feel just right for a story set less than a year after the events of A New Hope.

Allegiance wouldn’t be a Zahn Star Wars novel if it didn’t include one of Zahn’s recurring original creations. Here, we get to see Mara Jade in action as the Emperor’s Hand, one of Palpatine’s deadliest agents. He’s referred to it before, but here, Zahn shows us an interesting contrast within Mara: she’s a hardened Imperial agent, fighting relentlessly and without pity against the Empire’s enemies; on the other hand, she is kept entirely naïve by Palpatine, believing the Empire and its Emperor to be a good, legitimate government with the best interests of its citizens at heart. There is a significant “cool” factor to every passage that follows her on one of her missions, but her tense interactions with Darth Vader were my favorite thing about this book.

Zahn adds some new protagonists in this story, as well. Five Imperial Stormtroopers, when confronted with the choice between a career of slaughtering innocent civilians and holding fast to what they’d believed the Empire stood for, choose the latter, eventually killing an Imperial Security Bureau agent and fleeing their command in a stolen ship. Rather than simply lying low, however, they begin to enforce justice in the name of the Empire as the Hand of Judgment.

These three disparate stories are connected through a web of piracy and political corruption that proves to be classic Zahn. Allegiance is another notch in Zahn’s running tally of rock-solid Star Wars books. His characteristic blend of political intrigue and nail-biting action sequences is in full force here.

More importantly, however, Zahn is still at the height of his powers in terms of characterization. The characters from the films behave exactly as I’d expect them to behave at this point in the saga. Zahn naturally manages to write Mara Jade well in this context, giving us a glimpse into a part of her life that we most often only hear about. He successfully introduces a new group of characters and slowly develops them throughout the course of the novel so that, by the time I closed the back cover, I was eager to hear more about their adventures.

As with all of Zahn’s novels, I’d recommend Allegiance to any hardcore Star Wars fan. Aside from Heir to the Empire, it is the most accessible of Zahn’s Star Wars novels for fans new to the expanded universe. While you’ll probably appreciate it more if you’re familiar with Zahn’s other Star Wars books, it isn’t a bad entry point, either.

Allegiance by Timothy Zahn (2007, Del Rey)

…Aaaand we’re back. Again, apologies about the hiatus. Reviews will continue as normal for the next month and a half or so, and I’ll likely have to slow down again once the next semester begins.

Alleigiance is Timothy Zahn’s first Star Wars novel set during the events of the original trilogy.  This was of particular interest to me when I picked up the book; I’ve always felt that Zahn’s characterization of the main Star Wars cast was spot-on, but he was always writing versions of those characters that were extrapolations of what they’d be like five, ten, or fifteen years after the original trilogy. 

Unsurprisingly, Zahn proves just as adept at writing a still largely inexperienced Luke Skywalker, a Han Solo still reluctant to fight for the Rebel cause, and a young Leia Organa already knee-deep in politics. As usual, Zahn doesn’t neglect any of the characters, giving everyone something interesting to do. Leia must attempt to iron out a conflict between squabbling factions of the Alliance, while Luke and Han try to get to the bottom of some pirate attacks on Rebel supply lines. The character dynamics feel just right for a story set less than a year after the events of A New Hope.

Allegiance wouldn’t be a Zahn Star Wars novel if it didn’t include one of Zahn’s recurring original creations. Here, we get to see Mara Jade in action as the Emperor’s Hand, one of Palpatine’s deadliest agents. He’s referred to it before, but here, Zahn shows us an interesting contrast within Mara: she’s a hardened Imperial agent, fighting relentlessly and without pity against the Empire’s enemies; on the other hand, she is kept entirely naïve by Palpatine, believing the Empire and its Emperor to be a good, legitimate government with the best interests of its citizens at heart. There is a significant “cool” factor to every passage that follows her on one of her missions, but her tense interactions with Darth Vader were my favorite thing about this book.

Zahn adds some new protagonists in this story, as well. Five Imperial Stormtroopers, when confronted with the choice between a career of slaughtering innocent civilians and holding fast to what they’d believed the Empire stood for, choose the latter, eventually killing an Imperial Security Bureau agent and fleeing their command in a stolen ship. Rather than simply lying low, however, they begin to enforce justice in the name of the Empire as the Hand of Judgment.

These three disparate stories are connected through a web of piracy and political corruption that proves to be classic Zahn. Allegiance is another notch in Zahn’s running tally of rock-solid Star Wars books. His characteristic blend of political intrigue and nail-biting action sequences is in full force here.

More importantly, however, Zahn is still at the height of his powers in terms of characterization. The characters from the films behave exactly as I’d expect them to behave at this point in the saga. Zahn naturally manages to write Mara Jade well in this context, giving us a glimpse into a part of her life that we most often only hear about. He successfully introduces a new group of characters and slowly develops them throughout the course of the novel so that, by the time I closed the back cover, I was eager to hear more about their adventures.

As with all of Zahn’s novels, I’d recommend Allegiance to any hardcore Star Wars fan. Aside from Heir to the Empire, it is the most accessible of Zahn’s Star Wars novels for fans new to the expanded universe. While you’ll probably appreciate it more if you’re familiar with Zahn’s other Star Wars books, it isn’t a bad entry point, either.

You may have noticed, if you read this blog regularly, that I haven’t updated on schedule in a few weeks. 
I’ve been extremely busy lately, with very little time for anything not school/work related, let alone time to keep up with The Stolen Data Tapes. I thought, before this month started, that I’d be able to keep up, even with the extra responsibilities. I was wrong. I’m sorry that I didn’t anticipate this earlier.
I’m writing now to let you know that I’m not going away permanently. This semester ends on December 14th, and I expect to be able to resume regular reviews either on that day or, at the latest, the following week. Things will then continue as normal throughout my winter break.
The following semester, I’ll most likely have to slow things down again, but rather than go on a complete hiatus like I did this semester, I’m going to try for one or two reviews a month. 
In the meantime, I still have time to check my Tumblr account, so if you have any questions or comments you’d like me to address, feel free to drop me a line.
Otherwise, I’ll see you in December. May the Force be with you!
-Dan

You may have noticed, if you read this blog regularly, that I haven’t updated on schedule in a few weeks. 

I’ve been extremely busy lately, with very little time for anything not school/work related, let alone time to keep up with The Stolen Data Tapes. I thought, before this month started, that I’d be able to keep up, even with the extra responsibilities. I was wrong. I’m sorry that I didn’t anticipate this earlier.

I’m writing now to let you know that I’m not going away permanently. This semester ends on December 14th, and I expect to be able to resume regular reviews either on that day or, at the latest, the following week. Things will then continue as normal throughout my winter break.

The following semester, I’ll most likely have to slow things down again, but rather than go on a complete hiatus like I did this semester, I’m going to try for one or two reviews a month. 

In the meantime, I still have time to check my Tumblr account, so if you have any questions or comments you’d like me to address, feel free to drop me a line.

Otherwise, I’ll see you in December. May the Force be with you!

-Dan

Dark Tide II: Ruin by Michael A. Stackpole (2000, Del Rey)
The conclusion of Michael Stackpole’s two-book New Jedi Order story-arc has the New Republic, along with forces commanded by Gilad Pellaeon of the Imperial Remnant, desperately scrambling to defend the planet Ithor against the Yuuzhan Vong.
Ithor, a lush jungle world that has figured heavily into other expanded universe tales, is also the native world of a particular pollen that has been discovered to have a lethal effect on the Yuuzhan Vong’s living armor. It is also a strategic point in the Vong’s invasion that, if taken, would allow their forces access deeper into the galaxy.

Of at least as much interest is Luke, Mara, and Anakin’s quest to hunt down Daeshara’cor, a Twi’lek Jedi who is convinced that the superweapons of the old Empire are needed to defeat the Yuuzhan Vong. The theme of weighing ends against means is prominent in this book, and is driven home in Luke’s assertion that, if the Jedi used superweapons against the Vong, “in their place we would have a hundred Darth Vaders.”
Stackpole builds toward the battle for Ithor with his usual skill, juggling a large cast of characters and delivering a series of edge-of-the-seat space battles. He also writes melee combat very well, with several duels between Jedi and Yuuzhan Vong brandishing amphistaffs, which are basically snakes that can become rigid and are tough enough to resist a lightsaber (somehow).

Stackpole continues to handle characters well, letting the Solo kids begin to mature through self-reflection, contemplating the reasons for their feelings and actions. This is a theme common to all of Stackpole’s Star Wars work. I think that, in this regard, his books have a valuable lesson to teach about conflict resolution. 

This book also introduces us to Jagged Fel, son of Baron Soontir Fel and future love interest to Jaina Solo. In this book, Jaina and Fel are clearly intrigued by one another, but we see as many differences between them as similarities. In contrast to Jaina’s generally upbeat attitude, Jag’s normal state of being is grim determination. This leads to some interesting and, at times, amusing interaction between them.
Even the Yuuzhan Vong, of whom I’ve not been the biggest fan so far, are handled well here. Stackpole introduces Shedao Shai and his subordinate Deign Lian. Their views are quite different, with Shai willing to learn about the “infidels” in order to better conquer their galaxy, and Lian believing that any dealings with them are blasphemous. Simply by introducing some complexity and variation among the ranks of this new enemy, Stackpole manages to make them a little more compelling. He increases interest further by giving Shedao Shai a personal grudge against Corran Horn for having killed two of his relatives in the previous book, culminating in a one-on-one duel.

The book ends on a pretty dark note, with biological life on Ithor destroyed by the Vong and the blame being unjustly placed on Corran Horn by the New Republic media. Unlike in Vector Prime, the tragic and cataclysmic events in this novel, while still shocking, feel as though they emerged naturally from the plot, rather than blindsiding the reader for the sake of blindsiding the reader.
Dark Tide II: Ruin is a typically entertaining Star Wars adventure from Stackpole. It’s sad to know that he hasn’t written any more Star Wars, but at least he left the expanded universe on a high note, giving the authors that would go after him a lot of material to work with and doing a lot to increase my interest in The New Jedi Order.

PLEASE NOTE: A lot of work has been piling up for me lately, and it’s been causing me to get a little behind in my reading for this project. I’ve had to rush to get the last few reviews done in time. To remedy this, I’m going to take a week off of reviewing a novel next week to get myself a little bit ahead in my reading again. I may still review something on Friday, but it probably won’t be a full-length novel. 
I apologize, but considering that this is only my second lapse from consistency in nearly a year and a half, I don’t feel too terrible.

Dark Tide II: Ruin by Michael A. Stackpole (2000, Del Rey)

The conclusion of Michael Stackpole’s two-book New Jedi Order story-arc has the New Republic, along with forces commanded by Gilad Pellaeon of the Imperial Remnant, desperately scrambling to defend the planet Ithor against the Yuuzhan Vong.

Ithor, a lush jungle world that has figured heavily into other expanded universe tales, is also the native world of a particular pollen that has been discovered to have a lethal effect on the Yuuzhan Vong’s living armor. It is also a strategic point in the Vong’s invasion that, if taken, would allow their forces access deeper into the galaxy.

Of at least as much interest is Luke, Mara, and Anakin’s quest to hunt down Daeshara’cor, a Twi’lek Jedi who is convinced that the superweapons of the old Empire are needed to defeat the Yuuzhan Vong. The theme of weighing ends against means is prominent in this book, and is driven home in Luke’s assertion that, if the Jedi used superweapons against the Vong, “in their place we would have a hundred Darth Vaders.”

Stackpole builds toward the battle for Ithor with his usual skill, juggling a large cast of characters and delivering a series of edge-of-the-seat space battles. He also writes melee combat very well, with several duels between Jedi and Yuuzhan Vong brandishing amphistaffs, which are basically snakes that can become rigid and are tough enough to resist a lightsaber (somehow).

Stackpole continues to handle characters well, letting the Solo kids begin to mature through self-reflection, contemplating the reasons for their feelings and actions. This is a theme common to all of Stackpole’s Star Wars work. I think that, in this regard, his books have a valuable lesson to teach about conflict resolution. 

This book also introduces us to Jagged Fel, son of Baron Soontir Fel and future love interest to Jaina Solo. In this book, Jaina and Fel are clearly intrigued by one another, but we see as many differences between them as similarities. In contrast to Jaina’s generally upbeat attitude, Jag’s normal state of being is grim determination. This leads to some interesting and, at times, amusing interaction between them.

Even the Yuuzhan Vong, of whom I’ve not been the biggest fan so far, are handled well here. Stackpole introduces Shedao Shai and his subordinate Deign Lian. Their views are quite different, with Shai willing to learn about the “infidels” in order to better conquer their galaxy, and Lian believing that any dealings with them are blasphemous. Simply by introducing some complexity and variation among the ranks of this new enemy, Stackpole manages to make them a little more compelling. He increases interest further by giving Shedao Shai a personal grudge against Corran Horn for having killed two of his relatives in the previous book, culminating in a one-on-one duel.

The book ends on a pretty dark note, with biological life on Ithor destroyed by the Vong and the blame being unjustly placed on Corran Horn by the New Republic media. Unlike in Vector Prime, the tragic and cataclysmic events in this novel, while still shocking, feel as though they emerged naturally from the plot, rather than blindsiding the reader for the sake of blindsiding the reader.

Dark Tide II: Ruin is a typically entertaining Star Wars adventure from Stackpole. It’s sad to know that he hasn’t written any more Star Wars, but at least he left the expanded universe on a high note, giving the authors that would go after him a lot of material to work with and doing a lot to increase my interest in The New Jedi Order.

PLEASE NOTE: A lot of work has been piling up for me lately, and it’s been causing me to get a little behind in my reading for this project. I’ve had to rush to get the last few reviews done in time. To remedy this, I’m going to take a week off of reviewing a novel next week to get myself a little bit ahead in my reading again. I may still review something on Friday, but it probably won’t be a full-length novel. 

I apologize, but considering that this is only my second lapse from consistency in nearly a year and a half, I don’t feel too terrible.

Dark Tide I: Onslaught by Michael A. Stackpole (2000, Del Rey)
The New Jedi Order series continues directly from the events of Vector Prime into a two-book arc called Dark Tide. The planet Dubrillion, which successfully repelled an attack by the nefarious Yuuzhan Vong, doesn’t prove quite as resilient to the second wave of the Vong invasion, triggering a large-scale evacuation.
Meanwhile, Anakin Solo accompanies Mara Jade to Dantooine, where she and Luke hope some rest will slow the progress of her disease. On separate missions, Luke and fellow Jedi Knight Corran Horn discover that the Vong have made thralls of many citizens of the Outer Rim—and already have a significant foothold in the galaxy.
All of this leads to a decidedly pyrrhic victory and a few loose threads to be picked up again in the second Dark Tide.
If you read my review of Vector Prime last week, you’ll recall that I was underwhelmed by the plot developments of the NJO series thus far. On the other hand, if you’ve been reading these reviews for a while, you might remember that I’m generally very fond of Michael Stackpole, whose last two Star Wars books were this novel and its sequel.
So, does Stackpole manage to pull me in and keep me invested in a story about which I have some pretty big misgivings? More or less.
In Stackpole’s X-wing novels, primary characters from the Star Wars films make appearances, but do not figure heavily into events. Here, he has an opportunity to play with those characters a little more, and handles them well, emphasizing Luke and Leia’s leadership abilities and giving us a small glimpse into Han’s grief over Chewie’s death, which he appears to be dealing with primarily through drink.
Stackpole makes good use of other expanded universe characters like Mara and the Solo kids, continuing the development of their stories that began in Vector Prime. Anakin learns not to use the Force as a tool of convenience, Jacen finds himself in doubt about his future as a Jedi, and Jaina joins Rogue Squadron.
Unsurprisingly, Stackpole also checks in on some of his own characters. Corran Horn is now a fully realized Jedi Knight, and Gavin Darklighter has become the commander of Rogue Squadron. For someone who has been following the expanded universe for a while, it’s great to see all of these characters interact in the same book.
One of my biggest complaints about Vector Prime was that the Yuuzhan Vong were uninteresting, un-Star Wars-like villains, the individual members of which were lacking in distinctive personalities. While I enjoyed Onslaught, it does little to solve this problem. No Vong are featured prominently in this book as anything other than a relatively faceless enemy, with the exception of Shedao Shai, a Yuuzhan Vong commander who Stackpole introduces in an epilogue. I assume Shedao Shai will figure heavily into Dark Tide II: Ruin.
Dark Tide I: Onslaught is a solid effort from Stackpole, eminently readable for its hightly competent character work and, as always with Stackpole, a load of nail-biting space dogfights. While the Yuuzhan Vong still aren’t very interesting, the aforementioned elements make the book worth reading, and the novel’s ending has me curious about the next one.

Dark Tide I: Onslaught by Michael A. Stackpole (2000, Del Rey)

The New Jedi Order series continues directly from the events of Vector Prime into a two-book arc called Dark Tide. The planet Dubrillion, which successfully repelled an attack by the nefarious Yuuzhan Vong, doesn’t prove quite as resilient to the second wave of the Vong invasion, triggering a large-scale evacuation.

Meanwhile, Anakin Solo accompanies Mara Jade to Dantooine, where she and Luke hope some rest will slow the progress of her disease. On separate missions, Luke and fellow Jedi Knight Corran Horn discover that the Vong have made thralls of many citizens of the Outer Rim—and already have a significant foothold in the galaxy.

All of this leads to a decidedly pyrrhic victory and a few loose threads to be picked up again in the second Dark Tide.

If you read my review of Vector Prime last week, you’ll recall that I was underwhelmed by the plot developments of the NJO series thus far. On the other hand, if you’ve been reading these reviews for a while, you might remember that I’m generally very fond of Michael Stackpole, whose last two Star Wars books were this novel and its sequel.

So, does Stackpole manage to pull me in and keep me invested in a story about which I have some pretty big misgivings? More or less.

In Stackpole’s X-wing novels, primary characters from the Star Wars films make appearances, but do not figure heavily into events. Here, he has an opportunity to play with those characters a little more, and handles them well, emphasizing Luke and Leia’s leadership abilities and giving us a small glimpse into Han’s grief over Chewie’s death, which he appears to be dealing with primarily through drink.

Stackpole makes good use of other expanded universe characters like Mara and the Solo kids, continuing the development of their stories that began in Vector Prime. Anakin learns not to use the Force as a tool of convenience, Jacen finds himself in doubt about his future as a Jedi, and Jaina joins Rogue Squadron.

Unsurprisingly, Stackpole also checks in on some of his own characters. Corran Horn is now a fully realized Jedi Knight, and Gavin Darklighter has become the commander of Rogue Squadron. For someone who has been following the expanded universe for a while, it’s great to see all of these characters interact in the same book.

One of my biggest complaints about Vector Prime was that the Yuuzhan Vong were uninteresting, un-Star Wars-like villains, the individual members of which were lacking in distinctive personalities. While I enjoyed Onslaught, it does little to solve this problem. No Vong are featured prominently in this book as anything other than a relatively faceless enemy, with the exception of Shedao Shai, a Yuuzhan Vong commander who Stackpole introduces in an epilogue. I assume Shedao Shai will figure heavily into Dark Tide II: Ruin.

Dark Tide I: Onslaught is a solid effort from Stackpole, eminently readable for its hightly competent character work and, as always with Stackpole, a load of nail-biting space dogfights. While the Yuuzhan Vong still aren’t very interesting, the aforementioned elements make the book worth reading, and the novel’s ending has me curious about the next one.

Vector Prime by R. A. Salvatore (1999, Del Rey)
Vector Prime is the first novel of a nineteen-book series called The New Jedi Order. These were the first post-Return of the Jedi books published under the current Del Rey license. The basic idea behind this lengthy series was that, in contrast to the Bantam Star Wars novels, the Del Rey books would be a series of ongoing, chronologically sequential events with an overarching narrative, rather than a loose conglomeration of trilogies and stand-alone novels.

The marketing push for The New Jedi Order was arguably the biggest an expanded universe storyline ever received. Popular fantasy author R. A. Salvatore was chosen to write the inaugural entry in the series, and a commercial was released for Vector Prime narrated by Mark Hamill, reprising his role as Luke Skywalker. I’d embed the video, but Tumblr doesn’t seem to want to let me do that, so you can check it out here.
In terms of plot, Vector Prime is a lot like the pilot episode of a TV series: mostly expository, establishing character relationships, introducing new characters, and generally setting up a new status quo. It’s been twenty-one years since Return of the Jedi (that’s 25 ABY, if you’re keeping track). Leia has reduced her role in New Republic politics, Luke is considering reestablishing the Jedi Council as it was under the old Jedi Order, and Han and Leia’s children are now quite close to being full-fledged Jedi. On a gloomier note, Luke’s wife Mara is suffering from a mysterious and, in all other cases, terminal disease.
The disease, we learn late in the novel, is a weapon of the New Jedi Order series’ antagonists: the Yuuzhan Vong.



The Vong are a race of aliens from beyond the galaxy. They are followers of a religion revolving around a pantheon of bloodthirsty deities, the belief that technology is an abomination… and the notion that it’s their destiny to conquer a certain galaxy far, far away. The story of Vector Prime details the events leading up to, and the initial battles of, their invasion.
The book also includes the first death of a major character from the Star Wars films. Chewbacca sacrifices himself in favor of Han’s son Anakin Solo, stranding himself on a planet about to be decimated by its own moon.
It’s a lot of momentous stuff with a lot of impact on the expanded universe chronology packed into one book.
So, is it any good? Well, yes and no.
R. A. Salvatore is a good writer, capable of conveying powerful emotional catharsis— and that’s evident in this book. Mara’s quiet struggle through her illness; Luke’s efforts to support his wife without taking away her dignity; the debate between Anakin and Jacen over the role of the Jedi in the galaxy; and especially Han’s profound grief after Chewie’s death, all ring true. Old and new characters, and their relationships to one another, feel exactly as they should, and there are many emotionally touching passages to be found here.
Salvatore’s action passages, including one-on-one duels, narrow escapes, and sprawling space battles, succeed at holding the reader’s interest and conveying a sense of intensity. A few of them are among the best I’ve read in a Star Wars book so far.
For me, though, the major plot elements leave a lot to be desired. From what I can gather, the book was basically plotted by a committee comprised of editors, authors, and Lucasfilm advisers. George Lucas himself even got involved a little bit, but mostly only to veto ideas that would too closely resemble the upcoming prequels, and to shut down some truly god-awful proposals, like killing Luke Skywalker.
As it is, Salvatore purportedly received death threats from crazed fans over the death of Chewbacca. That’s absolutely deplorable, and would be even if he’d actually had anything to do with the decision to kill the character. If you’re that sort of fan, you want to go home and rethink your life.
Being a relatively sane person, I don’t harbor any ill-will toward anyone involved in Chewbacca’s death, but I do think it was very poor storytelling. The idea behind killing Chewbacca was that, with a main character dead, the reader would get the impression that nobody was safe, and that anything could happen in this new series. I suppose that Chewbacca’s death accomplished this, but getting rid of a character that was already underused in previous books, and getting rid of him a relatively unceremonious fashion, was a cheap and uninspired way to do it. I love the work of Joss Whedon, but Star Wars is not Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Firefly. In this interview, Timothy Zahn points out (and I happen to agree with him), that Star Wars isn’t some parable about the grim realities of war and death; it’s “an old-fashioned good-versus-evil saga,” and killing characters for no better reason than to keep readers guessing isn’t consonant with that thesis. Unlike Zahn, I’m not against killing off major characters, period, but they certainly deserve deaths of a more heroically significant order than the one Chewie got.
Perhaps more problematic than my issues with the shock-death of Chewbacca are the Yuuzhan Vong. I’m far from sold on these villains, and they’re going to have to carry a nineteen-book series. Pumping up the Vong on the back cover as “an even darker enemy” than the Empire was an unwise comparison to invite, given that they don’t come anywhere close to being as compelling as Palpatine or Vader. These aliens have some interesting characteristics, like their religious fanaticism and their biotechnology, but these concepts do nothing to overcome the fact that the Yuuzhan Vong characters in Vector Prime share utterly interchangeable personalities.
In Vector Prime, there is a lot of good writing on display, and the characters feel right. The idea of a more cohesive series of Star Wars novels is a good one, and despite my misgivings, Salvatore did leave me interested in what will happen next. It would be unfair to judge such a long series on just its first entry, in the same way that it would be unfair to judge a lengthy television series on its pilot; that said, The New Jedi Order has its work cut out for it if it’s going to impress me.

Vector Prime by R. A. Salvatore (1999, Del Rey)

Vector Prime is the first novel of a nineteen-book series called The New Jedi Order. These were the first post-Return of the Jedi books published under the current Del Rey license. The basic idea behind this lengthy series was that, in contrast to the Bantam Star Wars novels, the Del Rey books would be a series of ongoing, chronologically sequential events with an overarching narrative, rather than a loose conglomeration of trilogies and stand-alone novels.

The marketing push for The New Jedi Order was arguably the biggest an expanded universe storyline ever received. Popular fantasy author R. A. Salvatore was chosen to write the inaugural entry in the series, and a commercial was released for Vector Prime narrated by Mark Hamill, reprising his role as Luke Skywalker. I’d embed the video, but Tumblr doesn’t seem to want to let me do that, so you can check it out here.

In terms of plot, Vector Prime is a lot like the pilot episode of a TV series: mostly expository, establishing character relationships, introducing new characters, and generally setting up a new status quo. It’s been twenty-one years since Return of the Jedi (that’s 25 ABY, if you’re keeping track). Leia has reduced her role in New Republic politics, Luke is considering reestablishing the Jedi Council as it was under the old Jedi Order, and Han and Leia’s children are now quite close to being full-fledged Jedi. On a gloomier note, Luke’s wife Mara is suffering from a mysterious and, in all other cases, terminal disease.

The disease, we learn late in the novel, is a weapon of the New Jedi Order series’ antagonists: the Yuuzhan Vong.

The Vong are a race of aliens from beyond the galaxy. They are followers of a religion revolving around a pantheon of bloodthirsty deities, the belief that technology is an abomination… and the notion that it’s their destiny to conquer a certain galaxy far, far away. The story of Vector Prime details the events leading up to, and the initial battles of, their invasion.

The book also includes the first death of a major character from the Star Wars films. Chewbacca sacrifices himself in favor of Han’s son Anakin Solo, stranding himself on a planet about to be decimated by its own moon.

It’s a lot of momentous stuff with a lot of impact on the expanded universe chronology packed into one book.

So, is it any good? Well, yes and no.

R. A. Salvatore is a good writer, capable of conveying powerful emotional catharsis— and that’s evident in this book. Mara’s quiet struggle through her illness; Luke’s efforts to support his wife without taking away her dignity; the debate between Anakin and Jacen over the role of the Jedi in the galaxy; and especially Han’s profound grief after Chewie’s death, all ring true. Old and new characters, and their relationships to one another, feel exactly as they should, and there are many emotionally touching passages to be found here.

Salvatore’s action passages, including one-on-one duels, narrow escapes, and sprawling space battles, succeed at holding the reader’s interest and conveying a sense of intensity. A few of them are among the best I’ve read in a Star Wars book so far.

For me, though, the major plot elements leave a lot to be desired. From what I can gather, the book was basically plotted by a committee comprised of editors, authors, and Lucasfilm advisers. George Lucas himself even got involved a little bit, but mostly only to veto ideas that would too closely resemble the upcoming prequels, and to shut down some truly god-awful proposals, like killing Luke Skywalker.

As it is, Salvatore purportedly received death threats from crazed fans over the death of Chewbacca. That’s absolutely deplorable, and would be even if he’d actually had anything to do with the decision to kill the character. If you’re that sort of fan, you want to go home and rethink your life.

Being a relatively sane person, I don’t harbor any ill-will toward anyone involved in Chewbacca’s death, but I do think it was very poor storytelling. The idea behind killing Chewbacca was that, with a main character dead, the reader would get the impression that nobody was safe, and that anything could happen in this new series. I suppose that Chewbacca’s death accomplished this, but getting rid of a character that was already underused in previous books, and getting rid of him a relatively unceremonious fashion, was a cheap and uninspired way to do it. I love the work of Joss Whedon, but Star Wars is not Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Firefly. In this interview, Timothy Zahn points out (and I happen to agree with him), that Star Wars isn’t some parable about the grim realities of war and death; it’s “an old-fashioned good-versus-evil saga,” and killing characters for no better reason than to keep readers guessing isn’t consonant with that thesis. Unlike Zahn, I’m not against killing off major characters, period, but they certainly deserve deaths of a more heroically significant order than the one Chewie got.

Perhaps more problematic than my issues with the shock-death of Chewbacca are the Yuuzhan Vong. I’m far from sold on these villains, and they’re going to have to carry a nineteen-book series. Pumping up the Vong on the back cover as “an even darker enemy” than the Empire was an unwise comparison to invite, given that they don’t come anywhere close to being as compelling as Palpatine or Vader. These aliens have some interesting characteristics, like their religious fanaticism and their biotechnology, but these concepts do nothing to overcome the fact that the Yuuzhan Vong characters in Vector Prime share utterly interchangeable personalities.

In Vector Prime, there is a lot of good writing on display, and the characters feel right. The idea of a more cohesive series of Star Wars novels is a good one, and despite my misgivings, Salvatore did leave me interested in what will happen next. It would be unfair to judge such a long series on just its first entry, in the same way that it would be unfair to judge a lengthy television series on its pilot; that said, The New Jedi Order has its work cut out for it if it’s going to impress me.

Survivor’s Quest by Timothy Zahn (2004, Del Rey)
Survivor’s Quest serves as a kind of companion piece to Troy Denning’s Tatooine Ghost. As that novel focuses on Han and Leia’s relationship, Survivor’s Quest features Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker, as they attempt to unravel the secrets of Outbound Flight, a Republic-sanctioned exploratory expedition sent to the fringes of the galaxy, where it met with destruction fifty years prior to the novel (set three years before the New Jedi Order series).

Like Tatooine Ghost, this book draws a number of connections to the (then-new) Star Wars prequels. Plenty of references to the Trade Federation, the “Naboo incident,” and the Battle of Geonosis are in evidence, and the novel’s climax features a confrontation with an antique droideka.

More interesting, however, are the connections Timothy Zahn makes to history he’d established in his own previous Star Wars tales. Here we learn more about the rest of the Chiss (the late Grand Admiral Thrwan’s species), and the ultimate fate of the Outbound Flight project.



The Chiss contact Luke and Mara about turning the remains of Outbound Flight, which they’ve located, over to the Jedi for study. Also along for the ride are a group of aliens who claim the crew of Outbound Flight saved their people from destruction fifty years ago, and members of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion, affiliated with Thrawn’s less malevolent incarnation of the Empire.

Repeated sabotage and murder attempts, the discovery that Outbound Flight isn’t full of dead people after all, and sudden betrayal from an unexpected source all make Survivor’s Quest an engrossing read. Zahn also spends plenty of time on character drama. He doesn’t lay the romance between Luke and Mara on very thick, but convincingly writes a relationship build on love, trust, and cooperation that is heartwarming in its simplicity. The ending, in particular, made me smile.

Zahn also provides plenty of new and interesting protagonists, my favorite of whom is Dean Jinzler, an old man seeking answers about his long-dead Jedi sister and trying to cope with his feelings of resentment over having been overshadowed by her in his parents’ eyes.

Fans who have read and enjoyed other Timothy Zahn Star Wars fiction will find this book very satisfying. The great characterizations and original characters, tight pacing, and wide scope one would expect from Zahn are all here. Additionally, this novel pays off on hints and references made throughout all of Zahn’s previous Star Wars books. Survivor’s Quest raises a lot of questions, too, teasing his subsequent Star Wars novel, Outbound Flight.

Also included in the paperback edition is “Fool’s Bargain,” also by Timothy Zahn and originally published as an e-book.



The story takes place prior to the events of Survivor’s Quest, following the Aurek-seven unit of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion as they prove they’re not like their predecessors in white armor by liberating a world from an oppressive tyrant. In the process, they pick up a nonhuman recruit, destined to surprise the pants off of Luke in Survivor’s Quest.

While it doesn’t stack up to its full-length companion, “Fool’s Bargain” is entertaining and keeps the pages turning. Zahn has the germ of some pretty interesting characters in the story’s stormtrooper protagonists; it’s a bit of a shame that they fade mostly into the background in Survivor’s Quest.

Survivor’s Quest by Timothy Zahn (2004, Del Rey)

Survivor’s Quest serves as a kind of companion piece to Troy Denning’s Tatooine Ghost. As that novel focuses on Han and Leia’s relationship, Survivor’s Quest features Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker, as they attempt to unravel the secrets of Outbound Flight, a Republic-sanctioned exploratory expedition sent to the fringes of the galaxy, where it met with destruction fifty years prior to the novel (set three years before the New Jedi Order series).

Like Tatooine Ghost, this book draws a number of connections to the (then-new) Star Wars prequels. Plenty of references to the Trade Federation, the “Naboo incident,” and the Battle of Geonosis are in evidence, and the novel’s climax features a confrontation with an antique droideka.

More interesting, however, are the connections Timothy Zahn makes to history he’d established in his own previous Star Wars tales. Here we learn more about the rest of the Chiss (the late Grand Admiral Thrwan’s species), and the ultimate fate of the Outbound Flight project.

The Chiss contact Luke and Mara about turning the remains of Outbound Flight, which they’ve located, over to the Jedi for study. Also along for the ride are a group of aliens who claim the crew of Outbound Flight saved their people from destruction fifty years ago, and members of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion, affiliated with Thrawn’s less malevolent incarnation of the Empire.

Repeated sabotage and murder attempts, the discovery that Outbound Flight isn’t full of dead people after all, and sudden betrayal from an unexpected source all make Survivor’s Quest an engrossing read. Zahn also spends plenty of time on character drama. He doesn’t lay the romance between Luke and Mara on very thick, but convincingly writes a relationship build on love, trust, and cooperation that is heartwarming in its simplicity. The ending, in particular, made me smile.

Zahn also provides plenty of new and interesting protagonists, my favorite of whom is Dean Jinzler, an old man seeking answers about his long-dead Jedi sister and trying to cope with his feelings of resentment over having been overshadowed by her in his parents’ eyes.

Fans who have read and enjoyed other Timothy Zahn Star Wars fiction will find this book very satisfying. The great characterizations and original characters, tight pacing, and wide scope one would expect from Zahn are all here. Additionally, this novel pays off on hints and references made throughout all of Zahn’s previous Star Wars books. Survivor’s Quest raises a lot of questions, too, teasing his subsequent Star Wars novel, Outbound Flight.

Also included in the paperback edition is “Fool’s Bargain,” also by Timothy Zahn and originally published as an e-book.

The story takes place prior to the events of Survivor’s Quest, following the Aurek-seven unit of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion as they prove they’re not like their predecessors in white armor by liberating a world from an oppressive tyrant. In the process, they pick up a nonhuman recruit, destined to surprise the pants off of Luke in Survivor’s Quest.

While it doesn’t stack up to its full-length companion, “Fool’s Bargain” is entertaining and keeps the pages turning. Zahn has the germ of some pretty interesting characters in the story’s stormtrooper protagonists; it’s a bit of a shame that they fade mostly into the background in Survivor’s Quest.