I have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. Here, I look at Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn.
Dark Force Rising
Here we are at the midway point of the famed “Thrawn Trilogy.” Does it continue to hold up as well as the first, Heir to the Empire?
In the book, the primary thrust is Thrawn’s–and the Empire’s–search for new ships, which comes to be focused on the “Dark Force”–a mysterious, missing fleet of Dreadnoughts. As the race is on to find where these ships are, Princess Leia travels to the Noghri homeworld and discovers the great injustices that have been dealt to this alien people.
What Zahn perhaps does best of all is the introduction and fleshing out of numerous secondary characters like the Noghri, Senator Bel Iblis, Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, and more. These characters each have intriguing backgrounds and are genuinely deeply important to the story. This is something I recall not happening in all the Star Wars books as secondary characters are often little more than window dressing for the main characters’ struggles. Here, however, readers are freely introduced to a wonderful cast of characters who have motivations, insights, and their own struggles to go along with those of the main characters like Luke, Han, and Leia.
The Noghri and their planet, Honoghr, are the other central part of the plot, and Leia’s interactions there are both interesting and true to her character. Zahn did an excellent job setting up this world and its inhabitants as a stage for current and future conflict. Like Kashyyk in Heir to the Empire, Honoghr seems like a fleshed out world rather than a mere stage for events.
Thrawn in this book continues to be an interesting character, but his tactical genius seems to be slipping. The assumptions he made related to the Noghri ended up being mistaken, which is surprising given how much Zahn had previously emphasized his cultural intuition by means of studying the artworks of various peoples. However, this may not be a bad thing as it is clear Thrawn needs to have some weakness, and the most believable one is almost certainly that he would out-think himself.
The biggest problem in the book is, like the first, the rather large number of awfully “convenient” circumstances. Here, however, it is the existence of the “Dark Force”which suddenly everyone knows about and is interested in. Lando, Karrde, Thrawn, and others all have some knowledge about this fleet. Now this isn’t absolutely extraordinary, but what is extraordinary is that after all this time, more than one person just happens to show up who knows where the fleet is, just when the Empire is looking for new ships. It’s just a little too much.
+Good development of worlds
+Intriguing character development
+The Noghri are a complex, interesting species with great background
+Continued emphasis on secondary characters gives depth to the universe
-A bit too convenient that everyone suddenly has inside information
-Thrawn doesn’t seem quite so much a genius as he did before (perhaps this will end up being a good thing)
Best Droid Moment
It’s kind of hard to think of one because there weren’t too many, but I did enjoy R2-D2’s attempt to fight alongside Luke.
Grade: A- “Another great installment by Zahn.”
Dark Force Rising isn’t as flawless as Heir to the Empire, but continued focus on secondary characters, great world-building, and fast-paced action still make it among the cream of the crop for Star Wars books.
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