The Stolen Data Tapes
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.

Slave Ship by K. W. Jeter (1998, Bantam)
Slave Ship is the second novel in K. W. Jeter’s Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy. Like the first, its plot is divided into a “present” (during Return of the Jedi) and a “past” (between A New Hope and Empire). The bulk of Slave Ship takes place in the “past,” and follows the continuation of Prince Xizor’s plan to destroy the Bounty Hunters’ Guild (Jeter spells it without the apostrophe; this irks me, so I’m putting it in here). Two factions remain, but Xizor and the Emperor succeed in fragmenting the Guild by placing an enormous bounty on a renegade stormtrooper. Boba Fett winds up collecting the bounty (surprise, surprise) when he teams up with Bossk and cuts him out after the job is done. Little does Boba Fett know, however, that Prince Xizor has his own plans for the bounty hunter.

In the “present” portion of the novel, Dengar recounts the aforementioned events to Neelah, a former slave in Jabba’s palace whose every memory prior to her servitude has been erased. She doesn’t discover her true identity in this book, but we do; however, Jeter wisely leaves the reasons for her winding up on Tatooine with a memory wipe unexplained, a mystery to be addressed in the third book.

For the most part, Jeter does an excellent job of tantalizing the reader with unanswered questions. However, one of the bigger ones from the previous novel—the revelation that Xizor may somehow be connected with the stormtrooper raid that killed Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle—is unceremoniously revealed, in the space of a few paragraphs, to be a fabrication by Kuat of Kuat, owner of the Kuat Drive Yards corporation, to eliminate Xizor as a threat to his own company. Jeter does, however, leave the details of the botched plot a bit murky, so there is room for further revelation in the last book.

Less happens in Slave Ship than in its predecessor, The Mandalorian Armor. I’m withholding final judgment on this until I’ve read the third and final Bounty Hunter Wars novel, but it seems to me that there is a bit of padding here to stretch the story out to three books. This isn’t to say that Slave Ship isn’t a good read. Jeter knows how to write bounty hunters, galactic mob bosses, corporate C.E.O.s, and other criminals quite well. He also, as I mentioned earlier, is good at drawing the reader into a web of mysteries. While not quite as engaging as the previous installment, Slave Ship is worth reading if you enjoyed the first Bounty Hunter Wars book.

Next week, check back here on Wednesday for my review of the third issue of Dark Horse’s Dawn of the Jedi series (provided it comes out on schedule), and again on Friday, when we’ll look at Hard Merchandise, the conclusion of The Bounty Hunter Wars.

Slave Ship by K. W. Jeter (1998, Bantam)

Slave Ship is the second novel in K. W. Jeter’s Bounty Hunter Wars trilogy. Like the first, its plot is divided into a “present” (during Return of the Jedi) and a “past” (between A New Hope and Empire). The bulk of Slave Ship takes place in the “past,” and follows the continuation of Prince Xizor’s plan to destroy the Bounty Hunters’ Guild (Jeter spells it without the apostrophe; this irks me, so I’m putting it in here). Two factions remain, but Xizor and the Emperor succeed in fragmenting the Guild by placing an enormous bounty on a renegade stormtrooper. Boba Fett winds up collecting the bounty (surprise, surprise) when he teams up with Bossk and cuts him out after the job is done. Little does Boba Fett know, however, that Prince Xizor has his own plans for the bounty hunter.

In the “present” portion of the novel, Dengar recounts the aforementioned events to Neelah, a former slave in Jabba’s palace whose every memory prior to her servitude has been erased. She doesn’t discover her true identity in this book, but we do; however, Jeter wisely leaves the reasons for her winding up on Tatooine with a memory wipe unexplained, a mystery to be addressed in the third book.

For the most part, Jeter does an excellent job of tantalizing the reader with unanswered questions. However, one of the bigger ones from the previous novel—the revelation that Xizor may somehow be connected with the stormtrooper raid that killed Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle—is unceremoniously revealed, in the space of a few paragraphs, to be a fabrication by Kuat of Kuat, owner of the Kuat Drive Yards corporation, to eliminate Xizor as a threat to his own company. Jeter does, however, leave the details of the botched plot a bit murky, so there is room for further revelation in the last book.

Less happens in Slave Ship than in its predecessor, The Mandalorian Armor. I’m withholding final judgment on this until I’ve read the third and final Bounty Hunter Wars novel, but it seems to me that there is a bit of padding here to stretch the story out to three books. This isn’t to say that Slave Ship isn’t a good read. Jeter knows how to write bounty hunters, galactic mob bosses, corporate C.E.O.s, and other criminals quite well. He also, as I mentioned earlier, is good at drawing the reader into a web of mysteries. While not quite as engaging as the previous installment, Slave Ship is worth reading if you enjoyed the first Bounty Hunter Wars book.

Next week, check back here on Wednesday for my review of the third issue of Dark Horse’s Dawn of the Jedi series (provided it comes out on schedule), and again on Friday, when we’ll look at Hard Merchandise, the conclusion of The Bounty Hunter Wars.

Children of the Jedi by Barbara Hambly (1995, Bantam)
Reading Children of the Jedi was a unique experience for me. It was the first Star Wars novel I have read in years that I’ve gone into completely cold. I had no idea what this book was about before I opened it. I was pleased to find that it didn’t (completely) rely upon a doomsday weapon for its dramatic tension.

After receiving a strange warning, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and Artoo travel to the planet Belsavis, where a group of Jedi refugees and their children had hidden to escape Palpatine’s wrath. Luke embarks on his own investigation with C-3PO, a Jedi student called Cray Mingla, and her fiancée—sort of.

Cray’s fiancée, Nichos Marr, suffered from a terminal degenerative condition. In an attempt to save him, Cray built an exact droid replica of Nichos, hoping to transfer his consciousness into the droid body. There are many passages throughout the novel in which Luke privately wonders if that authentic transfer has been accomplished, or if Nichos is simply a very convincing droid.

After crash-landing on the unpronounceable planet Pzob and meeting an aging, long-marooned stormtrooper, Luke’s party is captured and dragged aboard a thirty-year-old “battlemoon” called the Eye of Palpatine. Luke spends most of the novel here, dragging himself along after taking a vicious wound to the leg and attempting to deactivate the ship’s mysteriously reactivated AI before it can make it to Belsavis and complete its decades-old mission to wipe out the secret Jedi colony there.

Luke soon discovers that within the Eye’s computer is the spirit of the Jedi who sacrificed herself thirty years ago to stop the ship’s mission. This is Callista Masana, pictured on the cover above.

Skimming around the internet, I’ve found a lot of complaining on discussion boards about this character. Many fans seem to harbor a strong distaste for her. My suspicion is that this is mainly because Luke falls in love with Callista, and Callista isn’t Mara Jade. Readers would do well to remember, however, that at this point, Mara hadn’t been explicitly presented as a romantic interest for Luke. In fact, there was at this point more romantic tension (albeit one-sided) between Mara and Lando.

I think that Luke’s affection for Callista makes perfect sense. She shares Luke’s sense of self-sacrificial duty, has a wry sense of humor, and presents a link to a past that Luke has been studying for eight years. This ghost in the machine plot and the Nichos droid replica situation add some faint cyberpunk tones to the novel that I enjoyed quite a bit.

The Han/Leia plot isn’t bad, but doesn’t really take off until the book begins moving toward its climax. Leia uncovers a conspiracy involving a former concubine of the Emperor, a bunch of snobbish aristocrats, and a childishly malicious, Force-sensitive kid who can very precisely control machines—including the light-years distant Eye of Palpatine.

Hambly is able to seamlessly fit the Star Wars cast into a story that is mildly unconventional for the Star Wars universe, with its musings on AI ethics and philosophy. She writes Leia particularly well, giving her a central role in the story instead of keeping her off the page with various affairs of state.
Luke, too, fairs well in this novel. Too many writers portray post-Jedi Luke as an aloof sage who left all of his most interesting personality traits behind on the second Death Star. Hambly lets Luke crack jokes and have feelings that don’t directly relate to being a Jedi. Watching him struggle past the brink of exhaustion is also compelling.

The ending, unfortunately, feels forced, almost as if Hambly or an editor at Bantam abruptly decided that it was time to give Luke a break in his love life for a change and had to quickly come up with an explanation in order to accomplish that. I will, however, give it credit for surprising me, albeit cheaply.

Speaking of giving credit, I was delighted to read C-3PO’s nervous concern over the prospect of being “sent to the sandmines of Neelgaimon.” I don’t rate these books on a numerical score, but if I did, a reference to my favorite living author would at least be worth a point or so.
Fans often refer to Children of the Jedi and the next two books, Darksaber and Planet of Twilight, as a trilogy. This appears to be solely because all three books feature the character of Callista, but I’ll go ahead and review them in sequence anyway. See you back here next week for the depressingly titled Darksaber.

Children of the Jedi by Barbara Hambly (1995, Bantam)

Reading Children of the Jedi was a unique experience for me. It was the first Star Wars novel I have read in years that I’ve gone into completely cold. I had no idea what this book was about before I opened it. I was pleased to find that it didn’t (completely) rely upon a doomsday weapon for its dramatic tension.

After receiving a strange warning, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and Artoo travel to the planet Belsavis, where a group of Jedi refugees and their children had hidden to escape Palpatine’s wrath. Luke embarks on his own investigation with C-3PO, a Jedi student called Cray Mingla, and her fiancée—sort of.

Cray’s fiancée, Nichos Marr, suffered from a terminal degenerative condition. In an attempt to save him, Cray built an exact droid replica of Nichos, hoping to transfer his consciousness into the droid body. There are many passages throughout the novel in which Luke privately wonders if that authentic transfer has been accomplished, or if Nichos is simply a very convincing droid.

After crash-landing on the unpronounceable planet Pzob and meeting an aging, long-marooned stormtrooper, Luke’s party is captured and dragged aboard a thirty-year-old “battlemoon” called the Eye of Palpatine. Luke spends most of the novel here, dragging himself along after taking a vicious wound to the leg and attempting to deactivate the ship’s mysteriously reactivated AI before it can make it to Belsavis and complete its decades-old mission to wipe out the secret Jedi colony there.

Luke soon discovers that within the Eye’s computer is the spirit of the Jedi who sacrificed herself thirty years ago to stop the ship’s mission. This is Callista Masana, pictured on the cover above.

Skimming around the internet, I’ve found a lot of complaining on discussion boards about this character. Many fans seem to harbor a strong distaste for her. My suspicion is that this is mainly because Luke falls in love with Callista, and Callista isn’t Mara Jade. Readers would do well to remember, however, that at this point, Mara hadn’t been explicitly presented as a romantic interest for Luke. In fact, there was at this point more romantic tension (albeit one-sided) between Mara and Lando.

I think that Luke’s affection for Callista makes perfect sense. She shares Luke’s sense of self-sacrificial duty, has a wry sense of humor, and presents a link to a past that Luke has been studying for eight years. This ghost in the machine plot and the Nichos droid replica situation add some faint cyberpunk tones to the novel that I enjoyed quite a bit.

The Han/Leia plot isn’t bad, but doesn’t really take off until the book begins moving toward its climax. Leia uncovers a conspiracy involving a former concubine of the Emperor, a bunch of snobbish aristocrats, and a childishly malicious, Force-sensitive kid who can very precisely control machines—including the light-years distant Eye of Palpatine.

Hambly is able to seamlessly fit the Star Wars cast into a story that is mildly unconventional for the Star Wars universe, with its musings on AI ethics and philosophy. She writes Leia particularly well, giving her a central role in the story instead of keeping her off the page with various affairs of state.

Luke, too, fairs well in this novel. Too many writers portray post-Jedi Luke as an aloof sage who left all of his most interesting personality traits behind on the second Death Star. Hambly lets Luke crack jokes and have feelings that don’t directly relate to being a Jedi. Watching him struggle past the brink of exhaustion is also compelling.

The ending, unfortunately, feels forced, almost as if Hambly or an editor at Bantam abruptly decided that it was time to give Luke a break in his love life for a change and had to quickly come up with an explanation in order to accomplish that. I will, however, give it credit for surprising me, albeit cheaply.

Speaking of giving credit, I was delighted to read C-3PO’s nervous concern over the prospect of being “sent to the sandmines of Neelgaimon.” I don’t rate these books on a numerical score, but if I did, a reference to my favorite living author would at least be worth a point or so.

Fans often refer to Children of the Jedi and the next two books, Darksaber and Planet of Twilight, as a trilogy. This appears to be solely because all three books feature the character of Callista, but I’ll go ahead and review them in sequence anyway. See you back here next week for the depressingly titled Darksaber.