The Stolen Data Tapes
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.

Scourge by Jeff Grubb (2012, Del Rey)
If you and your friends have ever played through the 2002 Star Wars Roleplaying Game module Tempest Feud, Scourge may give you a sense of déjà vu. This book, published earlier this year, is a novelization of that gaming module. The expanded universe has, for most of its existence, drawn heavily on Star Wars RPG material for alien races, spacecraft, technology, and the like, but this is the first time, to my knowledge, that an entire roleplaying adventure has been adapted into novel form.

Both Tempest Feud and Scourge revolve around a dangerous form of spice called “tempest” that triggers blinding rage in its users and around a family of Hutts. Popara the Hutt is a rarity among his species—a relatively honest business-being. Popara asserts that he does not deal in hard spice, and is thus not responsible for the tempest. Of his sons, one of them, Mika, apparently takes after his father and is perhaps even more mild-mannered. The other, Zonnos, is a more typically power-hungry Hutt.

In adapting Tempest Feud, author Jeff Grubb (probably best known for his hand in developing the Forgotten Realms campaign setting) had to create a cast of original characters to stand in for the generic party of player characters for which the adventure had originally been designed. Here, he does a great job. Grubb doesn’t give us an onion’s worth of layers in these characters, but each is distinctive, and their dialogue really pops. Mander Zuma, a Jedi archivist, is totally out of his element in any combat situation, let alone dealing with drug cartels and backstabbing crimelords; Reen Irana, brother to Mander’s apprentice Toro, who was killed by the tempest spice, moves from a desire for vengeance to a concern for the greater good; and Eddey Be’ray fills the “dependable wise-ass” archetype quite nicely. The interactions between these characters are punchy, fun, and occasionally moving; most of all, they remind me of the dynamics that develop between characters in a great roleplaying campaign.

The story of Scourge is mystery-based. Who’s behind this new drug? Who keeps trying to foil Mander, Reen, and Eddey at every turn? Who wants Popara the Hutt dead? In this aspect of the book, I was disappointed. While I didn’t have all the details figured out, I saw the mastermind’s identity coming from miles away, and found the result much less interesting than it could have been.

That’s not to say that, just because I knew the destination, the journey wasn’t worthwhile. As I already said, the characters are pleasant to read. Also, Grubb writes action with a frantic pace that makes an already short book move along at a steady clip. Scourge is very light and very breezy, but it’s a pretty good time, too, and it’s worth picking up if you’re looking for a way to pass a rainy day.

Scourge by Jeff Grubb (2012, Del Rey)

If you and your friends have ever played through the 2002 Star Wars Roleplaying Game module Tempest Feud, Scourge may give you a sense of déjà vu. This book, published earlier this year, is a novelization of that gaming module. The expanded universe has, for most of its existence, drawn heavily on Star Wars RPG material for alien races, spacecraft, technology, and the like, but this is the first time, to my knowledge, that an entire roleplaying adventure has been adapted into novel form.

Both Tempest Feud and Scourge revolve around a dangerous form of spice called “tempest” that triggers blinding rage in its users and around a family of Hutts. Popara the Hutt is a rarity among his species—a relatively honest business-being. Popara asserts that he does not deal in hard spice, and is thus not responsible for the tempest. Of his sons, one of them, Mika, apparently takes after his father and is perhaps even more mild-mannered. The other, Zonnos, is a more typically power-hungry Hutt.

In adapting Tempest Feud, author Jeff Grubb (probably best known for his hand in developing the Forgotten Realms campaign setting) had to create a cast of original characters to stand in for the generic party of player characters for which the adventure had originally been designed. Here, he does a great job. Grubb doesn’t give us an onion’s worth of layers in these characters, but each is distinctive, and their dialogue really pops. Mander Zuma, a Jedi archivist, is totally out of his element in any combat situation, let alone dealing with drug cartels and backstabbing crimelords; Reen Irana, brother to Mander’s apprentice Toro, who was killed by the tempest spice, moves from a desire for vengeance to a concern for the greater good; and Eddey Be’ray fills the “dependable wise-ass” archetype quite nicely. The interactions between these characters are punchy, fun, and occasionally moving; most of all, they remind me of the dynamics that develop between characters in a great roleplaying campaign.

The story of Scourge is mystery-based. Who’s behind this new drug? Who keeps trying to foil Mander, Reen, and Eddey at every turn? Who wants Popara the Hutt dead? In this aspect of the book, I was disappointed. While I didn’t have all the details figured out, I saw the mastermind’s identity coming from miles away, and found the result much less interesting than it could have been.

That’s not to say that, just because I knew the destination, the journey wasn’t worthwhile. As I already said, the characters are pleasant to read. Also, Grubb writes action with a frantic pace that makes an already short book move along at a steady clip. Scourge is very light and very breezy, but it’s a pretty good time, too, and it’s worth picking up if you’re looking for a way to pass a rainy day.

Vision of the Future by Timothy Zahn (1998, Bantam)
Vision of the Future continues and concludes the story begun in Specter of the Past. With the New Republic divided on how best to deal with Bothan involvement in the destruction of Caamas, a complete copy of the document implicating those individuals responsible appears to be the only way to avoid fragmentation or even civil war.
This novel’s plot consists of multiple (mostly failed) attempts to retrieve a complete copy of this document; the scheming of Moff Disra and his triumvirate to expand the Empire and exacerbate the Republic’s situation; and Admiral Pellaeon’s quest to make peace with the Republic and get to the bottom of Thrawn’s apparent return.
The aforementioned failed missions for the Caamas Document don’t lack for excitement. A rendezvous with a man Talon Karrde has reason to believe wants him dead; an infiltration of the Imperial Remnant capital of Bastion; and a daring raid on a heavily defended Imperial base all make for an engrossing read, and it helps that Zahn never tips his hand regarding the outcome of these missions, leaving the reader in suspense until the end.
In Pellaeon, Zahn has created arguably the most sympathetic and even heroic Imperial character in the Star Wars canon, and that really comes through in this novel. As an aging military officer weary of a war well past its expiration date, he serves as a good foil for the more typically jingoistic Moff Disra.

There’s a lot to hold a reader’s interest in Vision of the Future (at nearly seven hundred pages, this one is meaty for a Star Wars book), but the novel’s most captivating passages follow Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade on their mission to the remote world of Nirauan. Here, the two of them find out just what the Hand of Thrawn is: a fortress established by Thrawn on the border of the Unknown Regions of the galaxy. Its current custodian reveals that its purpose is to guard the known galaxy against outside threats, making some oblique references to what would later become the Yuuzhan Vong of the New Jedi Order series.
In addition to the Hand of Thrawn, Luke and Mara discover their feelings for one another. In one passage, Mara admonishes Luke for the mistakes he’s made over the past ten years. This also reads a little like a critique of some of the expanded universe’s more regrettable storylines, like the Emperor’s clones or Luke’s surprising ineptitude at running the Jedi Academy. Luke’s acknowledgement of his mistakes, however, allows both of them to become more open with one another, making for some effectively romantic passages; they don’t quite reach the level of Han and Leia’s kiss in The Empire Strikes Back, but they ain’t too shabby.
The Hand of Thrawn Duology is a perfect conclusion to an era of Star Wars novels that simultaneously paves the way for the next phase of the expanded universe. Timothy Zahn delivers the same suspense, excitement, mystery, and grandeur he first brought to the Star Wars universe in the Thrawn trilogy, and this two-part series is at least the equal of those novels. I happily recommend both of these books without any reservation. 

Vision of the Future by Timothy Zahn (1998, Bantam)

Vision of the Future continues and concludes the story begun in Specter of the Past. With the New Republic divided on how best to deal with Bothan involvement in the destruction of Caamas, a complete copy of the document implicating those individuals responsible appears to be the only way to avoid fragmentation or even civil war.

This novel’s plot consists of multiple (mostly failed) attempts to retrieve a complete copy of this document; the scheming of Moff Disra and his triumvirate to expand the Empire and exacerbate the Republic’s situation; and Admiral Pellaeon’s quest to make peace with the Republic and get to the bottom of Thrawn’s apparent return.

The aforementioned failed missions for the Caamas Document don’t lack for excitement. A rendezvous with a man Talon Karrde has reason to believe wants him dead; an infiltration of the Imperial Remnant capital of Bastion; and a daring raid on a heavily defended Imperial base all make for an engrossing read, and it helps that Zahn never tips his hand regarding the outcome of these missions, leaving the reader in suspense until the end.

In Pellaeon, Zahn has created arguably the most sympathetic and even heroic Imperial character in the Star Wars canon, and that really comes through in this novel. As an aging military officer weary of a war well past its expiration date, he serves as a good foil for the more typically jingoistic Moff Disra.

There’s a lot to hold a reader’s interest in Vision of the Future (at nearly seven hundred pages, this one is meaty for a Star Wars book), but the novel’s most captivating passages follow Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade on their mission to the remote world of Nirauan. Here, the two of them find out just what the Hand of Thrawn is: a fortress established by Thrawn on the border of the Unknown Regions of the galaxy. Its current custodian reveals that its purpose is to guard the known galaxy against outside threats, making some oblique references to what would later become the Yuuzhan Vong of the New Jedi Order series.

In addition to the Hand of Thrawn, Luke and Mara discover their feelings for one another. In one passage, Mara admonishes Luke for the mistakes he’s made over the past ten years. This also reads a little like a critique of some of the expanded universe’s more regrettable storylines, like the Emperor’s clones or Luke’s surprising ineptitude at running the Jedi Academy. Luke’s acknowledgement of his mistakes, however, allows both of them to become more open with one another, making for some effectively romantic passages; they don’t quite reach the level of Han and Leia’s kiss in The Empire Strikes Back, but they ain’t too shabby.

The Hand of Thrawn Duology is a perfect conclusion to an era of Star Wars novels that simultaneously paves the way for the next phase of the expanded universe. Timothy Zahn delivers the same suspense, excitement, mystery, and grandeur he first brought to the Star Wars universe in the Thrawn trilogy, and this two-part series is at least the equal of those novels. I happily recommend both of these books without any reservation. 

Assault at Selonia by Roger MacBride Allen (1995, Bantam)
This second book of the Corellian Trilogy, like most second installments in Bantam’s three-book Star Wars tales, reads more like the second chapter of a single story than a novel unto itself. Assault at Selonia picks up where the first book, Ambush at Corellia, left off, and spends much of its time setting up events for the conclusion.



Han, captured by his malevolent cousin and the anti-alien Human League, is forced to fight a Selonian for the amusement their amusement. This attempt at demoralization backfires, however, as Han and the Selonian, Dracmus, team up and escape.

Leia escapes her own imprisonment as well, with the help of Mara Jade. Prior to the New Jedi Order books, not many authors other than Timothy Zahn used his pet character very extensively. Unfortunately, Allen seems to use her here mostly as a device to advance the plot. On the other hand, she and Leia work well together in these passages, with complementary resourcefulness and dry wit.

Lando and Luke, having discovered the interdiction field that surrounds Corellia, head back to Coruscant to inform the authorities of the situation. It turns out, however, that the New Republic’s fleet is currently underprepared, with the majority of ships under maintenance. One would think that the New Republic’s military would know how to stagger maintenance schedules to keep a situation like this from arising…

To augment the Republic fleet, Luke must go to the planet Bakura and enlist the help of one-time love interest Gaeriel Captison.



Captison first appeared in The Truce at Bakura and went on to only appear again in this novel and Showdown at Centerpoint. She’s already married, had a child, and lost her husband at this point, and in her first meeting with Luke in fourteen years, Allen captures the initial discomfort of reconnecting with a lost love. He really drops the ball, though, in not having Gaeriel interact at all with Mara Jade. An obvious opportunity to put characters through the emotional wringer like that should never be overlooked, especially in the case of a short novel like Assault at Selonia, whose plot would in no way have been bogged down by a little extra pathos.

Assault at Selonia is the weakest of the three Corellian Trilogy novels, with missed opportunities for character development and an improbable scenario that is essential to the plot. Despite these flaws, the book is fun to read, with good characterizations of Han, Luke, Leia, and Lando and an interesting and mysterious plot. Allen continues to write the Solo children well, and their part of the story—the discovery of giant planetary repulsor systems that ancient alien architects used to move the planets of the Corellian system into place—is the most compelling aspect of the novel. At fewer than three hundred pages, Assault at Selonia is worth plowing through if you liked Ambush at Corellia and want to see this story out to its conclusion—which we will look at next week.

Assault at Selonia by Roger MacBride Allen (1995, Bantam)

This second book of the Corellian Trilogy, like most second installments in Bantam’s three-book Star Wars tales, reads more like the second chapter of a single story than a novel unto itself. Assault at Selonia picks up where the first book, Ambush at Corellia, left off, and spends much of its time setting up events for the conclusion.

Han, captured by his malevolent cousin and the anti-alien Human League, is forced to fight a Selonian for the amusement their amusement. This attempt at demoralization backfires, however, as Han and the Selonian, Dracmus, team up and escape.

Leia escapes her own imprisonment as well, with the help of Mara Jade. Prior to the New Jedi Order books, not many authors other than Timothy Zahn used his pet character very extensively. Unfortunately, Allen seems to use her here mostly as a device to advance the plot. On the other hand, she and Leia work well together in these passages, with complementary resourcefulness and dry wit.

Lando and Luke, having discovered the interdiction field that surrounds Corellia, head back to Coruscant to inform the authorities of the situation. It turns out, however, that the New Republic’s fleet is currently underprepared, with the majority of ships under maintenance. One would think that the New Republic’s military would know how to stagger maintenance schedules to keep a situation like this from arising…

To augment the Republic fleet, Luke must go to the planet Bakura and enlist the help of one-time love interest Gaeriel Captison.

Captison first appeared in The Truce at Bakura and went on to only appear again in this novel and Showdown at Centerpoint. She’s already married, had a child, and lost her husband at this point, and in her first meeting with Luke in fourteen years, Allen captures the initial discomfort of reconnecting with a lost love. He really drops the ball, though, in not having Gaeriel interact at all with Mara Jade. An obvious opportunity to put characters through the emotional wringer like that should never be overlooked, especially in the case of a short novel like Assault at Selonia, whose plot would in no way have been bogged down by a little extra pathos.

Assault at Selonia is the weakest of the three Corellian Trilogy novels, with missed opportunities for character development and an improbable scenario that is essential to the plot. Despite these flaws, the book is fun to read, with good characterizations of Han, Luke, Leia, and Lando and an interesting and mysterious plot. Allen continues to write the Solo children well, and their part of the story—the discovery of giant planetary repulsor systems that ancient alien architects used to move the planets of the Corellian system into place—is the most compelling aspect of the novel. At fewer than three hundred pages, Assault at Selonia is worth plowing through if you liked Ambush at Corellia and want to see this story out to its conclusion—which we will look at next week.

Ambush at Corellia by Roger MacBride Allen (1995, Bantam)
Bantam was certainly fond of publishing its Star Wars books in trilogies. Whether this was intended to echo the structure of the Star Wars trilogy or (more likely) to hook readers into buying two more books than they’d originally planned, I’m not sure, but regardless, I’ll have reviewed each of Bantam’s Star Wars novel trilogies after I’m done with this one.

Ambush at Corellia, the Corellian Trilogy’s first entry, takes Han Solo back to his homeworld when he and his family decide to take a vacation there. In one quietly moving passage, Han walks down Treasure Ship Row, a once thriving district in Corellia’s capital city of Coronet, only to find that the streets are quiet and that signs of economic decline are everywhere. Having moved around a lot during my childhood, I can relate to the feeling of returning to a place you once lived, only to find that it’s now completely different, and author Roger MacBride Allen captures that unique melancholia pretty well here.

This, of course, isn’t the worst thing that happens to Han on his vacation. The Human League, an anti-alien hate group, begins to move against to the New Republic, seeking independence for Corellia and the power to deport aliens who live there. The group makes demands to this effect, providing a list of stars that will be detonated if they are not met—the first star on the list having already exploded.

The novel also includes a B-plot involving Lando’s search for a wealthy wife. He drags Luke along on his quest, reasoning that the Jedi Master’s reputation will increase his chances. Lando is very upfront with the women he pursues that what he’s looking for is at least partially a business relationship. This honesty keeps him from looking too sleazy to the reader, but he puts on just enough of that scoundrel’s charm to be endearing. A short string of misadventures results from this quest.



This is a very funny subplot, though it unfortunately ends a little too abruptly in a conventional romance that I would have liked to have seen explored in more detail. Tendra Risant, who, in later books, is married to Lando, has a number of likeable characteristics here, many of which suggest that she is in fact compatible with Lando, but we are unfortunately told more than shown how the two of them hit it off.



The book ends by revealing that the leader of the Human League is none other than Thrackan Sal-Solo, a sadistic cousin from Han’s childhood, who subsequently has him captured and imprisoned.

The book suffers from a few instances of improbable expository dialogue. In one passage, for example, Han and Leia, while en route to Corellia, explain the complexities of Corellian politics to their seven- and nine-year-old children in such a way that makes it quite clear that the information is more for the reader’s benefit than the kids’.   



Some new characters are added in this book as well. Some, like New Republic Intelligence agent Belindi Kalenda (pictured above) and Ebrihim, a tutor Leia hires to teach her children about the Corellian System, at first seem to exist primarily for the purpose of plot propulsion. While I maintain this complaint to a certain extent even after finishing the Corellian Trilogy, I think that Allen manages to make these characters likable and give them enough personality to justify their existence beyond plot advancement.

Despite any flaws it may have, Ambush at Corellia is fast-paced and entertaining, with a good sense of the main Star Wars cast and an equally good sense of fun—something often lacking in Star Wars novels. Han and Leia’s kids, often written poorly in their childhood years, are fun to read about in this novel. Allen, unlike most prior writers who have attempted to write these characters, gives them clearly defined personalities that are unique from one another. Overall, this book is a quick, fun read that’s worth a look if you don’t mind a three-book commitment. 

Ambush at Corellia by Roger MacBride Allen (1995, Bantam)

Bantam was certainly fond of publishing its Star Wars books in trilogies. Whether this was intended to echo the structure of the Star Wars trilogy or (more likely) to hook readers into buying two more books than they’d originally planned, I’m not sure, but regardless, I’ll have reviewed each of Bantam’s Star Wars novel trilogies after I’m done with this one.

Ambush at Corellia, the Corellian Trilogy’s first entry, takes Han Solo back to his homeworld when he and his family decide to take a vacation there. In one quietly moving passage, Han walks down Treasure Ship Row, a once thriving district in Corellia’s capital city of Coronet, only to find that the streets are quiet and that signs of economic decline are everywhere. Having moved around a lot during my childhood, I can relate to the feeling of returning to a place you once lived, only to find that it’s now completely different, and author Roger MacBride Allen captures that unique melancholia pretty well here.

This, of course, isn’t the worst thing that happens to Han on his vacation. The Human League, an anti-alien hate group, begins to move against to the New Republic, seeking independence for Corellia and the power to deport aliens who live there. The group makes demands to this effect, providing a list of stars that will be detonated if they are not met—the first star on the list having already exploded.

The novel also includes a B-plot involving Lando’s search for a wealthy wife. He drags Luke along on his quest, reasoning that the Jedi Master’s reputation will increase his chances. Lando is very upfront with the women he pursues that what he’s looking for is at least partially a business relationship. This honesty keeps him from looking too sleazy to the reader, but he puts on just enough of that scoundrel’s charm to be endearing. A short string of misadventures results from this quest.

This is a very funny subplot, though it unfortunately ends a little too abruptly in a conventional romance that I would have liked to have seen explored in more detail. Tendra Risant, who, in later books, is married to Lando, has a number of likeable characteristics here, many of which suggest that she is in fact compatible with Lando, but we are unfortunately told more than shown how the two of them hit it off.

The book ends by revealing that the leader of the Human League is none other than Thrackan Sal-Solo, a sadistic cousin from Han’s childhood, who subsequently has him captured and imprisoned.

The book suffers from a few instances of improbable expository dialogue. In one passage, for example, Han and Leia, while en route to Corellia, explain the complexities of Corellian politics to their seven- and nine-year-old children in such a way that makes it quite clear that the information is more for the reader’s benefit than the kids’.   

Some new characters are added in this book as well. Some, like New Republic Intelligence agent Belindi Kalenda (pictured above) and Ebrihim, a tutor Leia hires to teach her children about the Corellian System, at first seem to exist primarily for the purpose of plot propulsion. While I maintain this complaint to a certain extent even after finishing the Corellian Trilogy, I think that Allen manages to make these characters likable and give them enough personality to justify their existence beyond plot advancement.

Despite any flaws it may have, Ambush at Corellia is fast-paced and entertaining, with a good sense of the main Star Wars cast and an equally good sense of fun—something often lacking in Star Wars novels. Han and Leia’s kids, often written poorly in their childhood years, are fun to read about in this novel. Allen, unlike most prior writers who have attempted to write these characters, gives them clearly defined personalities that are unique from one another. Overall, this book is a quick, fun read that’s worth a look if you don’t mind a three-book commitment. 

Tyrant’s Test by Michael P. Kube-McDowell (1996, Bantam)
The final book of The Black Fleet Crisis has a lot of loose ends to wrap up: Lando, Lobot, and the droids are trapped aboard an ancient and mysterious starship; Leia and the rest of the New Republic must contend with the threat of the genocidal Yevetha; Luke is engaged in a lengthy search for a woman who may be his mother; and Han Solo has been captured and imprisoned by the leader of the Yevetha, Viceroy Nil Spaar.

This dark and unpleasant state of affairs affords Han and Leia both a chance to shine. Han meets the torment of his captors with his signature style of defiant wisecracking, while Leia is forced to make the difficult decision to attack the Yevetha, weighing the lives of millions against that of her husband. Many folks who’ve written Star Wars books don’t write a great Leia, and McDowell’s characterization of her in these books is a little shaky at certain points, but here, he shows an acute understanding of her greatest strength: her absolutely unwavering commitment to her ideals.

Chewbacca, mostly absent from the first two Black Fleet novels, catches wind of Han’s plight and, with several members of his family and his son Lumpawarrump, mounts a rescue operation.

The amount of good material that McDowell and other writers have managed to wring out of characters that originated in the Star Wars Holiday Special continues to surprise me. The mission to rescue Han becomes a rite of passage into adulthood for Chewbacca’s son, and some of the moments between the two of them are mildly touching.

Most effective here is the result of Luke’s quest for his mother, which turns out to have been a well-intentioned deception on the part of his guide, Akanah. One of Luke’s most admirable traits is his capacity for understanding and forgiveness, but the pain resulting from Akanah’s deception renders Luke unable, at least at present, to forgive her for what she’s done. McDowell manages to give the situation the degree of pathos it calls for.

The greatest failing of this book is the Lando plot. Told through a series of “interludes” in this novel, the story of the “Teljkon Vagabond” fails to connect very strongly to the primary story of the Yevethan crisis. McDowell writes Lando’s banter and conflicts with Lobot and the droids well, making it fun to read, but without a solid connection to the “A-plot” of The Black Fleet Crisis, I’m left with the feeling that Lando’s story could (and perhaps should) have been its own book.

Overall, though, The Black Fleet Crisis is a strong series, with an antagonist somewhat more unique than your standard-issue Imperial revivalist and a number of very interesting thematic elements. Tyrant’s Test is a decent conclusion to this trilogy, providing satisfactory resolutions to character (if not plot) arcs.

Tyrant’s Test by Michael P. Kube-McDowell (1996, Bantam)

The final book of The Black Fleet Crisis has a lot of loose ends to wrap up: Lando, Lobot, and the droids are trapped aboard an ancient and mysterious starship; Leia and the rest of the New Republic must contend with the threat of the genocidal Yevetha; Luke is engaged in a lengthy search for a woman who may be his mother; and Han Solo has been captured and imprisoned by the leader of the Yevetha, Viceroy Nil Spaar.

This dark and unpleasant state of affairs affords Han and Leia both a chance to shine. Han meets the torment of his captors with his signature style of defiant wisecracking, while Leia is forced to make the difficult decision to attack the Yevetha, weighing the lives of millions against that of her husband. Many folks who’ve written Star Wars books don’t write a great Leia, and McDowell’s characterization of her in these books is a little shaky at certain points, but here, he shows an acute understanding of her greatest strength: her absolutely unwavering commitment to her ideals.

Chewbacca, mostly absent from the first two Black Fleet novels, catches wind of Han’s plight and, with several members of his family and his son Lumpawarrump, mounts a rescue operation.

The amount of good material that McDowell and other writers have managed to wring out of characters that originated in the Star Wars Holiday Special continues to surprise me. The mission to rescue Han becomes a rite of passage into adulthood for Chewbacca’s son, and some of the moments between the two of them are mildly touching.

Most effective here is the result of Luke’s quest for his mother, which turns out to have been a well-intentioned deception on the part of his guide, Akanah. One of Luke’s most admirable traits is his capacity for understanding and forgiveness, but the pain resulting from Akanah’s deception renders Luke unable, at least at present, to forgive her for what she’s done. McDowell manages to give the situation the degree of pathos it calls for.

The greatest failing of this book is the Lando plot. Told through a series of “interludes” in this novel, the story of the “Teljkon Vagabond” fails to connect very strongly to the primary story of the Yevethan crisis. McDowell writes Lando’s banter and conflicts with Lobot and the droids well, making it fun to read, but without a solid connection to the “A-plot” of The Black Fleet Crisis, I’m left with the feeling that Lando’s story could (and perhaps should) have been its own book.

Overall, though, The Black Fleet Crisis is a strong series, with an antagonist somewhat more unique than your standard-issue Imperial revivalist and a number of very interesting thematic elements. Tyrant’s Test is a decent conclusion to this trilogy, providing satisfactory resolutions to character (if not plot) arcs.

Shield of Lies by Michael P. Kube-McDowell (1996, Bantam)
Before the Storm, the first book of The Black Fleet Crisis, leaves the New Republic on the brink of war with the Yevetha, an alien race that believes itself superior to all others and plans to assert superiority by “cleansing” their sector of space of all other “vermin.”

Curiously, Michael P. Kube-McDowell lets the New Republic—and the reader—dangle on that brink for the first two thirds of the second book, Shield of Lies. In my experience, books that are part of the same series usually follow the same structure. Before the Storm, like most Star Wars novels, was written in third person limited fashion, with character perspectives changing between chapters and page breaks. Shield of Lies isn’t very different from this, but instead of changing which character he follows whenever it seems appropriate, McDowell has divided the novel into three sections: “Lando,” “Luke,” and “Leia,” respectively.

The “Lando” section follows Lando, Lobot, Artoo, and Threepio as they attempt to unravel the mysteries of the Flying Dutchman-esque spaceship on which they’re stranded as it skips around through hyperspace. The ship’s many strange and mysterious qualities, when taken with Lando’s constant quipping, remind me a little of some delightfully oddball passages from L. Neil Smith’s The Lando Calrissian Adventures. The fact that McDowell makes good use of Lando is a point in favor of The Black Fleet Crisis; many expanded universe authors neglect him.

The “Luke” portion of the novel has Akanah, who has promised to help Luke learn more about his mother, leading the Jedi from planet to planet, searching for the nomadic and secretive Fallanassi tribe. Luke begins to become suspicious of Akanah and her motivations, and Akanah continues to question Luke’s methods, but the two of them wind up developing a certain level of affection for one another nonetheless.

The third and final section of Shield of Lies, “Leia,” finally revisits the conflict that ended the previous book. Leia is faced with making a decision as to how to address the aggression of the Yevetha, all while battling political wheedling and manipulation from within. Throughout this trilogy, Leia’s idealism butts heads with the more pragmatist approach of the New Republic’s military and covert operations personnel.

I’m not against the idea of changing up the structure of novels within a series as described above, but in this case, I think the decision was a mistake on McDowell’s part. Each portion of the book is enjoyable on its own, but dividing the action into sharply delineated thirds gives Shield of Lies a less cohesive feel. More importantly, it disrupts, to a certain extent, the feeling of continuity between the first and second books of this trilogy. I imagine that having the reader wait until the last third of the book to find out more about the Yevethan crisis was meant to build suspense and anticipation. This isn’t a bad idea, but the payoff here isn’t enough to justify the buildup. This may have been a better option for the trilogy’s third installment.

This does mess with the pacing, but ultimately, this flaw doesn’t prevent Shield of Lies from being a good read. The book retains most of the strengths of its predecessor, and ends on a cliffhanger that had me immediately reaching for the next book upon completion.

Shield of Lies by Michael P. Kube-McDowell (1996, Bantam)

Before the Storm, the first book of The Black Fleet Crisis, leaves the New Republic on the brink of war with the Yevetha, an alien race that believes itself superior to all others and plans to assert superiority by “cleansing” their sector of space of all other “vermin.”

Curiously, Michael P. Kube-McDowell lets the New Republic—and the reader—dangle on that brink for the first two thirds of the second book, Shield of Lies. In my experience, books that are part of the same series usually follow the same structure. Before the Storm, like most Star Wars novels, was written in third person limited fashion, with character perspectives changing between chapters and page breaks. Shield of Lies isn’t very different from this, but instead of changing which character he follows whenever it seems appropriate, McDowell has divided the novel into three sections: “Lando,” “Luke,” and “Leia,” respectively.

The “Lando” section follows Lando, Lobot, Artoo, and Threepio as they attempt to unravel the mysteries of the Flying Dutchman-esque spaceship on which they’re stranded as it skips around through hyperspace. The ship’s many strange and mysterious qualities, when taken with Lando’s constant quipping, remind me a little of some delightfully oddball passages from L. Neil Smith’s The Lando Calrissian Adventures. The fact that McDowell makes good use of Lando is a point in favor of The Black Fleet Crisis; many expanded universe authors neglect him.

The “Luke” portion of the novel has Akanah, who has promised to help Luke learn more about his mother, leading the Jedi from planet to planet, searching for the nomadic and secretive Fallanassi tribe. Luke begins to become suspicious of Akanah and her motivations, and Akanah continues to question Luke’s methods, but the two of them wind up developing a certain level of affection for one another nonetheless.

The third and final section of Shield of Lies, “Leia,” finally revisits the conflict that ended the previous book. Leia is faced with making a decision as to how to address the aggression of the Yevetha, all while battling political wheedling and manipulation from within. Throughout this trilogy, Leia’s idealism butts heads with the more pragmatist approach of the New Republic’s military and covert operations personnel.

I’m not against the idea of changing up the structure of novels within a series as described above, but in this case, I think the decision was a mistake on McDowell’s part. Each portion of the book is enjoyable on its own, but dividing the action into sharply delineated thirds gives Shield of Lies a less cohesive feel. More importantly, it disrupts, to a certain extent, the feeling of continuity between the first and second books of this trilogy. I imagine that having the reader wait until the last third of the book to find out more about the Yevethan crisis was meant to build suspense and anticipation. This isn’t a bad idea, but the payoff here isn’t enough to justify the buildup. This may have been a better option for the trilogy’s third installment.

This does mess with the pacing, but ultimately, this flaw doesn’t prevent Shield of Lies from being a good read. The book retains most of the strengths of its predecessor, and ends on a cliffhanger that had me immediately reaching for the next book upon completion.

Before the Storm by Michael P. Kube-McDowell (1996, Bantam)
Before the Storm is the first book in a trilogy called The Black Fleet Crisis. For me, this book earns a lot of points for its focus on the lives of Luke, Leia, and Han in peace-time. It’s a rare peek into what these characters’ lives are like when they’re not dealing with some nut who wants to revive the Empire or assert supremacy in the Force, or what have you.

Han receives an assignment as advisor to the President—which allows him to stay at home and take care of the kids. Several passages are spent reflecting on how Han has changed over the years because of his responsibility to his family. Leia, as President of the New Republic, faces political opponents and other stresses of her job. Luke decides he needs some time alone to grow in the Jedi arts. He builds a retreat for his mystical contemplations, leaving Leia to fend for herself in the Force training of the children—something she’s not used to doing. Lando seeks out a special assignment chasing after a mysterious wandering spaceship. The reason he does so seems to me exactly right for Lando: he’s bored.

McDowell builds the plot slowly, allowing the reader to spend a lot of quiet time with the characters. This might be a problem for the reader who’s into Star Wars primarily for action sequences, but for readers who appreciate good character development, this shouldn’t be an issue. For me, it was a refreshing difference.

As the plot develops, three separate stories begin to unfold.



Luke is approached by a woman called Akanah, who explains to Luke that she is a member of the Fallanassi order, a group of Force-sensitives who refer to the Force as the “White Current” and who, unlike the Jedi, teach a doctrine of absolute pacifism. Akanah claims that Luke’s own mother was one of the Fallanassi, and that she can lead him to her. Had I read this book when it was released in ’96, the outcome of the quest Luke embarks on with Akanah would not have been plain. However, reading it after the prequels and knowing that The Black Fleet Crisis is still canonical in the expanded universe, I knew right away that this wasn’t going end well for Luke. The most interesting element of this story is the way that Luke, one of the most principled and morally unimpeachable characters in the saga, has his ideology called into question. Through Akanah, McDowell poses the question: is killing ever the right thing to do?

For help on his mission to investigate the mysterious “Teljkon vagabond,” Lando tricks R2-D2 and C-3PO into coming with him by telling them it was Luke’s idea for Lando to get them from Luke’s Jedi Academy on Yavin 4. Much to my delight, Lando also enlists the help of Lobot, his cyborg assistant at Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back (incidentally, Lobot is now Cloud City’s administrator). Lando’s clashes with the rest of the New Republic task force sent to investigate the ship and his interactions with the quiet, reserved Lobot and the droids provide a lot of this book’s amusement.



It’s Leia’s interaction with Nil Spaar, however, that provides the core of this trilogy’s plot. Nil Spaar comes from the Koornacht Cluster, an isolated area of space that was once beholden to the Empire, but was able to deal with those oppressors without the Rebellion’s help. Leia spends most of this book negotiating with Spaar in hopes of having the Koornacht Cluster join the Republic, only to discover that the negotiations were part of a plot to undermine Leia’s credibility while he and his species, the Yevetha, fulfill what they believe to be their manifest destiny, expanding their empire and conquering worlds through mass genocide, with the aid of a secret fleet of captured Imperial warships.

Before the Storm, as its title suggests, is comprised largely of the rising action of a larger story. As I indicated earlier, I think this works very well. This structure allows us to spend a lot of time with the characters, and Michael McDowell writes them in such a way that the core of each character as portrayed in the Star Wars films remains, but it never feels as though he is simply trying to replicate the dialogue or interactions of the films—these are characters that have clearly grown and changed since the events of Jedi.

That is likely the book’s greatest strength, but it also addresses some weighty ideological issues (When, if ever, is it necessary or acceptable to take a life? How does a democratic, egalitarian government handle dissent? When is military force justified?) without coming across as didactic. Furthermore, an antagonist that isn’t affiliated with the remains of the Empire is a refreshing change of pace.

In short, Before the Storm is an excellent start to The Black Fleet Crisis and one of the better examples of what a good Star Wars novel looks like.

Before the Storm by Michael P. Kube-McDowell (1996, Bantam)

Before the Storm is the first book in a trilogy called The Black Fleet Crisis. For me, this book earns a lot of points for its focus on the lives of Luke, Leia, and Han in peace-time. It’s a rare peek into what these characters’ lives are like when they’re not dealing with some nut who wants to revive the Empire or assert supremacy in the Force, or what have you.

Han receives an assignment as advisor to the President—which allows him to stay at home and take care of the kids. Several passages are spent reflecting on how Han has changed over the years because of his responsibility to his family. Leia, as President of the New Republic, faces political opponents and other stresses of her job. Luke decides he needs some time alone to grow in the Jedi arts. He builds a retreat for his mystical contemplations, leaving Leia to fend for herself in the Force training of the children—something she’s not used to doing. Lando seeks out a special assignment chasing after a mysterious wandering spaceship. The reason he does so seems to me exactly right for Lando: he’s bored.

McDowell builds the plot slowly, allowing the reader to spend a lot of quiet time with the characters. This might be a problem for the reader who’s into Star Wars primarily for action sequences, but for readers who appreciate good character development, this shouldn’t be an issue. For me, it was a refreshing difference.

As the plot develops, three separate stories begin to unfold.

Luke is approached by a woman called Akanah, who explains to Luke that she is a member of the Fallanassi order, a group of Force-sensitives who refer to the Force as the “White Current” and who, unlike the Jedi, teach a doctrine of absolute pacifism. Akanah claims that Luke’s own mother was one of the Fallanassi, and that she can lead him to her. Had I read this book when it was released in ’96, the outcome of the quest Luke embarks on with Akanah would not have been plain. However, reading it after the prequels and knowing that The Black Fleet Crisis is still canonical in the expanded universe, I knew right away that this wasn’t going end well for Luke. The most interesting element of this story is the way that Luke, one of the most principled and morally unimpeachable characters in the saga, has his ideology called into question. Through Akanah, McDowell poses the question: is killing ever the right thing to do?

For help on his mission to investigate the mysterious “Teljkon vagabond,” Lando tricks R2-D2 and C-3PO into coming with him by telling them it was Luke’s idea for Lando to get them from Luke’s Jedi Academy on Yavin 4. Much to my delight, Lando also enlists the help of Lobot, his cyborg assistant at Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back (incidentally, Lobot is now Cloud City’s administrator). Lando’s clashes with the rest of the New Republic task force sent to investigate the ship and his interactions with the quiet, reserved Lobot and the droids provide a lot of this book’s amusement.

It’s Leia’s interaction with Nil Spaar, however, that provides the core of this trilogy’s plot. Nil Spaar comes from the Koornacht Cluster, an isolated area of space that was once beholden to the Empire, but was able to deal with those oppressors without the Rebellion’s help. Leia spends most of this book negotiating with Spaar in hopes of having the Koornacht Cluster join the Republic, only to discover that the negotiations were part of a plot to undermine Leia’s credibility while he and his species, the Yevetha, fulfill what they believe to be their manifest destiny, expanding their empire and conquering worlds through mass genocide, with the aid of a secret fleet of captured Imperial warships.

Before the Storm, as its title suggests, is comprised largely of the rising action of a larger story. As I indicated earlier, I think this works very well. This structure allows us to spend a lot of time with the characters, and Michael McDowell writes them in such a way that the core of each character as portrayed in the Star Wars films remains, but it never feels as though he is simply trying to replicate the dialogue or interactions of the films—these are characters that have clearly grown and changed since the events of Jedi.

That is likely the book’s greatest strength, but it also addresses some weighty ideological issues (When, if ever, is it necessary or acceptable to take a life? How does a democratic, egalitarian government handle dissent? When is military force justified?) without coming across as didactic. Furthermore, an antagonist that isn’t affiliated with the remains of the Empire is a refreshing change of pace.

In short, Before the Storm is an excellent start to The Black Fleet Crisis and one of the better examples of what a good Star Wars novel looks like.

The Crystal Star by Vonda N. McIntyre (1994, Bantam)
Drew Struzan’s cover art for this novel, with the swirling black hole behind Luke Skywalker, lightsaber drawn and wearing a knowing expression, promises the adventure, danger, mystery, and wonder one might expect from a Star Wars story and, indeed, any good space opera. The title—The Crystal Star—also speaks to those sensibilities.

Well, you know the old adage…

The Crystal Star begins with a fundamentally flawed premise.  The Solo children—Jaina, Jacen, and Anakin, are kidnapped. This doesn’t seem like an inherently bad idea until it’s revealed that the planet they’re taken from—the planet to which Leia knowingly took her children—has a tradition of carrying out abductions for honor and prestige. The notion that Leia, the intelligent, capable woman we met in the Star Wars Trilogy, now the New Republic’s Chief of State, would not think twice before bringing her children to such a world, is absurd.

It makes matters worse that this is a more or less unnecessary detail, since a “traditional” Munto Codru kidnapping isn’t what happened at all.



The kids’ abductor is Hethrir, a former Imperial official who (shocker) wants to turn back the clock to the bad old days. Author Vonda McIntyre draws a few parallels to Hitler and the Third Reich with Hethrir, whose growing army consists of what he calls the “Empire Youth.” Hethrir and his underlings have kidnapped many children, and they spend most of their time verbally abusing, neglecting, and training the kids to mistreat one another in bids for power and superiority. This allows for some decent moments with the kids, but I only believe McIntyre’s portrayal of small children a little more than Kevin Anderson’s in The Jedi Academy Trilogy.

Meanwhile, Han and Luke visit a remote space station poised on the brink of a black hole. Here they encounter Han’s old girlfriend Xaverri and a cult centered around the miraculous healing claims of a being known only as Waru.



Waru, of course, turns out to be far more sinister than he seems. In fact, in a stroke of wild coincidence, Waru and Hethrir turn out to be in cahoots. That may be this novel’s greatest failing: it relies on coincidence for plot advancement at virtually every turn. Aside from the aforementioned coincidental alliance between villains, Leia allies herself with a woman who just so happens to have a son in Hethrir’s custody. Furthermore, it just so happens that she had that son with Hethrir himself. What a coinky-dink.

At least as bad, however, are the weak characterizations we see here. Luke, with shaky evidence and only the excuse of being unable to access the Force (not his first time in that situation), decides that Han must be fooling around with Xaverri behind Leia’s back. Leia, while undercover, starts to lose herself in her cover identity, as if she’s never pretended to be someone else before.

Han and Threepio are written competently here, and Waru is a decent Lovecraftian-style antagonist. There were some alright ideas in this book (most of which are done better in Ann Crispin’s Han Solo Trilogy). With an extra draft or four, it might even have been halfway decent. As it is, though, The Crystal Star kind of sucks. It’s four hundred or so pages of fairly large print that seem twice as long. I’d recommend saving yourself the slog.

The Crystal Star by Vonda N. McIntyre (1994, Bantam)

Drew Struzan’s cover art for this novel, with the swirling black hole behind Luke Skywalker, lightsaber drawn and wearing a knowing expression, promises the adventure, danger, mystery, and wonder one might expect from a Star Wars story and, indeed, any good space opera. The title—The Crystal Star—also speaks to those sensibilities.

Well, you know the old adage…

The Crystal Star begins with a fundamentally flawed premise.  The Solo children—Jaina, Jacen, and Anakin, are kidnapped. This doesn’t seem like an inherently bad idea until it’s revealed that the planet they’re taken from—the planet to which Leia knowingly took her children—has a tradition of carrying out abductions for honor and prestige. The notion that Leia, the intelligent, capable woman we met in the Star Wars Trilogy, now the New Republic’s Chief of State, would not think twice before bringing her children to such a world, is absurd.

It makes matters worse that this is a more or less unnecessary detail, since a “traditional” Munto Codru kidnapping isn’t what happened at all.

The kids’ abductor is Hethrir, a former Imperial official who (shocker) wants to turn back the clock to the bad old days. Author Vonda McIntyre draws a few parallels to Hitler and the Third Reich with Hethrir, whose growing army consists of what he calls the “Empire Youth.” Hethrir and his underlings have kidnapped many children, and they spend most of their time verbally abusing, neglecting, and training the kids to mistreat one another in bids for power and superiority. This allows for some decent moments with the kids, but I only believe McIntyre’s portrayal of small children a little more than Kevin Anderson’s in The Jedi Academy Trilogy.

Meanwhile, Han and Luke visit a remote space station poised on the brink of a black hole. Here they encounter Han’s old girlfriend Xaverri and a cult centered around the miraculous healing claims of a being known only as Waru.

Waru, of course, turns out to be far more sinister than he seems. In fact, in a stroke of wild coincidence, Waru and Hethrir turn out to be in cahoots. That may be this novel’s greatest failing: it relies on coincidence for plot advancement at virtually every turn. Aside from the aforementioned coincidental alliance between villains, Leia allies herself with a woman who just so happens to have a son in Hethrir’s custody. Furthermore, it just so happens that she had that son with Hethrir himself. What a coinky-dink.

At least as bad, however, are the weak characterizations we see here. Luke, with shaky evidence and only the excuse of being unable to access the Force (not his first time in that situation), decides that Han must be fooling around with Xaverri behind Leia’s back. Leia, while undercover, starts to lose herself in her cover identity, as if she’s never pretended to be someone else before.

Han and Threepio are written competently here, and Waru is a decent Lovecraftian-style antagonist. There were some alright ideas in this book (most of which are done better in Ann Crispin’s Han Solo Trilogy). With an extra draft or four, it might even have been halfway decent. As it is, though, The Crystal Star kind of sucks. It’s four hundred or so pages of fairly large print that seem twice as long. I’d recommend saving yourself the slog.

X-wing: Starfighters of Adumar by Aaron Allston (1999, Bantam)
Starfighters of Adumar is the ninth book in the X-wing series, and Aaron Allston’s fourth book therein. Unlike his other X-wing novels, this one doesn’t chronicle the adventures of Wraith Squadron. In fact, despite its being labeled as the ninth book in a series, it is a stand-alone novel that a reader with little to no knowledge of the expanded universe would have no trouble with.
When the planet Adumar is discovered after years of isolation from the galaxy at large, Wedge Antilles, of all people, is sent to oversee the New Republic’s diplomatic relations there. The reason for this is that Adumari culture honors starfighter pilots over people of any other profession. Honor, in fact, is very important in Adumari society—after a fashion. The Adumari are fond of dueling to the death, either in aerial dogfights or the through use of rather impractical weapons called “blastswords,” in order to accumulate prestige.

Wedge and his companions—Tycho Celchu, Wes Janson, “Hobbie” Klivian, and a documentarian named Hallis Saper, who wears a camera-equipped 3PO head on her shoulder—arrive on Adumar without having been briefed on any of this. Furthermore, Adumar is not a planetary government, but is rather comprised of many nations with contentious relationships. To top it all off, four pilots of the 181st Imperial Fighter Wing have already arrived, with aspirations to bring Adumar into what remains of the Empire.
As good as the resulting political maneuvering and moral dilemmas are, Starfighters of Adumar is further enhanced by the resolution of long-standing romantic tension between Wedge and New Republic Intelligence agent Iella Wessiri.

Iella first appeared in Michael A. Stackpole’s X-wing books, where, after the death of her husband, she and Wedge were established as potential love interests. The way in which Allston deals with Wedge’s existing relationship with Death Star scientist Qwi Xux is a little abrupt and smacks of a desire to just get her out of the way, but to be fair, that relationship, as developed in Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Academy Trilogy, isn’t entirely convincing (I was way too kind about it in my previous reviews). Allston does a far better job of writing romance that brings a cheesy grin to my face, rather than, as in the Jedi Academy books, a grimace at the cheesiness.
The Wedge/Iella relationship is just one example of Allston’s well-developed character dynamics. The friendship, teamwork, and banter of Wedge and his pilots is something at which Allston has always excelled. His use of dry humor throughout this book elicited many a smirk and chuckle from me.
Strong character work, dialogue, and plotting, as well as a massive air/space-battle climax, add up to make Starfighters of Adumar a great read. Many other reviews, message board comments, and the like that I’ve read about this book rate it as the best Star Wars novel. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but I won’t be surprised if, when all is said and done, it makes my top ten.

X-wing: Starfighters of Adumar by Aaron Allston (1999, Bantam)

Starfighters of Adumar is the ninth book in the X-wing series, and Aaron Allston’s fourth book therein. Unlike his other X-wing novels, this one doesn’t chronicle the adventures of Wraith Squadron. In fact, despite its being labeled as the ninth book in a series, it is a stand-alone novel that a reader with little to no knowledge of the expanded universe would have no trouble with.

When the planet Adumar is discovered after years of isolation from the galaxy at large, Wedge Antilles, of all people, is sent to oversee the New Republic’s diplomatic relations there. The reason for this is that Adumari culture honors starfighter pilots over people of any other profession. Honor, in fact, is very important in Adumari society—after a fashion. The Adumari are fond of dueling to the death, either in aerial dogfights or the through use of rather impractical weapons called “blastswords,” in order to accumulate prestige.

Wedge and his companions—Tycho Celchu, Wes Janson, “Hobbie” Klivian, and a documentarian named Hallis Saper, who wears a camera-equipped 3PO head on her shoulder—arrive on Adumar without having been briefed on any of this. Furthermore, Adumar is not a planetary government, but is rather comprised of many nations with contentious relationships. To top it all off, four pilots of the 181st Imperial Fighter Wing have already arrived, with aspirations to bring Adumar into what remains of the Empire.

As good as the resulting political maneuvering and moral dilemmas are, Starfighters of Adumar is further enhanced by the resolution of long-standing romantic tension between Wedge and New Republic Intelligence agent Iella Wessiri.

Iella first appeared in Michael A. Stackpole’s X-wing books, where, after the death of her husband, she and Wedge were established as potential love interests. The way in which Allston deals with Wedge’s existing relationship with Death Star scientist Qwi Xux is a little abrupt and smacks of a desire to just get her out of the way, but to be fair, that relationship, as developed in Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Academy Trilogy, isn’t entirely convincing (I was way too kind about it in my previous reviews). Allston does a far better job of writing romance that brings a cheesy grin to my face, rather than, as in the Jedi Academy books, a grimace at the cheesiness.

The Wedge/Iella relationship is just one example of Allston’s well-developed character dynamics. The friendship, teamwork, and banter of Wedge and his pilots is something at which Allston has always excelled. His use of dry humor throughout this book elicited many a smirk and chuckle from me.

Strong character work, dialogue, and plotting, as well as a massive air/space-battle climax, add up to make Starfighters of Adumar a great read. Many other reviews, message board comments, and the like that I’ve read about this book rate it as the best Star Wars novel. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but I won’t be surprised if, when all is said and done, it makes my top ten.