Star Wars: Choices of OnePosted: March 2, 2012
Another Star Wars book review! Exciting!
Star Wars: Choices of One is a Timothy Zahn prequel novel of sorts; it takes place after Outbound Flightand before The Thrawn Trilogy. It features Luke, Leia, Han and the gang, as well as Mara Jade and a group of renegade Stormtroopers known as The Hand of Judgement. Just after the Battle of Yavin, the Rebels have received an offer from Governor Ferrouz of the Candoras sector: they can have a base there if they protect the sector from warlord Nuso Esva (interesting fact: Take every consonant in that name and use the preceding consonant; take every vowel and use the proceeding vowel [including y]: what do you end up with?). The Emperor hears about this deal and sends Mara Jade to investigate and, if he is indeed a traitor, punish Ferrouz. To assist her in her mission, she picks up the renegade Stormtroopers of The Hand of Judgement and has them work as her backup. Things in the Candoras sector, obviously, aren’t as they seem.
The book is set up in typical Zahn fashion which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On the one hand, well, it gets slightly repetitive. On the other, no author nails Star Wars as often or as well as Zahn does. Having read several Han-centered books or just books with Han in them (including, unfortunately The Paradise Snare…), getting Han Solo right isn’t something that’s easy to do. I mean, a lot of authors (professional and amateur alike) seem to imagine that the trick to writing Han is just to make some witty cad who manages to never get hit, has an amazing shot, is an infallible pilot, and always has a witty comeback. And seriously, that gets old after awhile. While a character who can’t be beaten is cool for a little while, it seriously wears thin in no time at all. Zahn, on the other hand, has shown consistently that he can write Han (having read Vector Prime recently by R. A. Salvatore, let me say that he can do it too [review forthcoming, of course]). Zahn’s Han is great, and while he does posess a lot of those qualities, he also comes across as very human. He makes mistakes, he has doubts (even about himself), and he isn’t perfect. Another difficulty, I think, of writing between episodes IV and VI is managing to make a story that doesn’t take up too much time and doesn’t significantly impact the characters, while capturing both the feeling of those famous characters and capturing the audience’s attention at the same time. Zahn, again to his credit, manages to write in the budding romance between Leia and Han perfectly. While I’ve focused on his Solo-writing, Zahn also manages to capture Jedi-in-training Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia perfectly, too. Luke consistently doubts his own ability and questions how he is going to get any better while Leia constantly has to question her own orders while both she and Han figure out what it means to be a leader.
The action of the novel is well written and very cinematic; there are a bunch of gunfights, a huge assault, plenty of spying around, and a few A-Team like scenes here and there (which I always appreciate). The Hand of Judgement Stormtroopers are very well written and likeable and very reminiscent of Karen Traviss’s Clone Troopers from Hard Contact (…review forthcoming). There are plenty of aliens, a cool space battle (or two), and cameos by Pellaeon, The Emperor, Vader, and of course, Thrawn. Again, Zahn manages to include all these major characters without infringing upon the movies while making them matter, which is no small feat.
Now, while Zahn isn’t guilty of writing Han poorly, I think he has done to Mara Jade what other authors have done to Han Solo. Mara Jade, at her core, I think, is somewhat of a superficial character (I will take flack for this, I know). She is tough, she is an excellent fighter, whatever, and of course she’s sexy and seductive — she is, I guess, a fanboy’s dream. That’s OK, I think, because she does get fleshed out as a character. But she has kind of reached this point of infallibility where she is just this superb, nearly unstoppable character. That’s cool, if that’s your thing, but it does get kind of old. And since both Thrawn and Jade are Zahn’s creations, it is hard to say he’s doing it wrong and just as hard to say that he doesn’t have that right. Jade is also written very sympathetically which is hard to fathom as, well, she is essentially the Emperor’s personal hitwoman. She is somewhat ruthless and acts as such, but there are several points where she should kill someone but doesn’t (because it would make her, as a character, look bad) and points where she acts just out-of-character. Choices of One sets us up to think we’re getting badass Emperor’s Hand Mara Jade and we just wind up with, well, this Mara, which is a bit disappointing.
If you’ve read The Thrawn Trilogy, too, you know that Skywalker and Jade first encounter eachother — though Luke doesn’t remember it — years before their second meeting, and decidedly after this book. It’s hard to say whether or not this point is retconned neccessarily, but Luke and Mara kind of run into eachother in this book. While they don’t talk and while they are a hundred feet apart at least, what’s occurring at the time is about a million times more memorable than the event Luke recalls in The Thrawn Trilogy. Picking up Choices of One I was pretty sure that Luke and Mara could never meet because of that point. It would have been difficult for Zahn to write an exciting novel featuring that bunch and avoid Mara and Luke meeting, but certainly not impossible, and I am a little disappointed that, well, something seems to have been retconned.
All in all, though, Choices of One is a great read. It is classic Zahn (he’s still got it) and has his classic characters in it, as well. It’s an exciting, well-paced novel set during the Rebellion, which is a hard period to write in (if, of course, you’re writing in The Big Three). It’s full of intrigue and action, and there is definitely a payoff. The novel will keep you guessing to just about the end and leaves on an excellent note. Here’s hoping that Zahn writes a sequel.
This book is preceded by Allegiance. Why I didn’t read that first, I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to now, but you certainly don’t need to in order to understand what’s going on in this one.