We continue with the Thrawn trilogy with the second installment.
Writer: Timothy Zahn
Publication Date: June 1992
Dark Force Rising is available from Amazon.com in a paperback edition and as an Audible audiobook. Sadly, the annotated edition of Heir to the Empire didn’t sell well enough to justify an annotated edition of Dark Force Rising, so we didn’t get an annotated edition of that book. Unless there’s a sudden, blog-series inspired spike of interest in the Annotated edition of Heir to the Empire…
Following the conclusion of Heir to the Empire, Karrde has abandoned his Myrkr base, and is now on the run from the Empire. Meanwhile, Admiral Ackbar has been arrested on charges of misconduct related to an erroneous transaction that was discovered on an interstellar bank following an electronic break-in. Meanwhile, the wheels of Thrawn’s plan roll on.
The focus of this book is the hunt for the location of the Katana fleet, a long lost fleet of Old Republic Dreadnaughts (presumably the equivalent of Star Destroyers), which were designed to run on a smaller crew roster, and to be slaved together so if necessary they could be remotely controlled. However, after a “hive virus” infected the ship’s crew, they jumped off The Force Knows Where, and were never seen again – until a ship Talon Karrde was crewing on took a blind jump to escape from an Imperial patrol and ended up in the middle of the fleet. Karrde managed to save a copy of the fleet’s location, as did the ship’s captain.
Han and Lando learn about the fleet while looking for leverage on Counselor Borsk Fey’lya and come across presumed deceased Old Republic Senator Garm Bel Iblis, one of the founders of the Rebellion, who has been running his own private war with a small number of Dreadnaughts which he’d purchased from the Captain of the ship that Karrde crewed on. Thrawn learns about the fleet from Mara, in a (misguided) attempt to get Thrawn off of Karrde’s back. Once the two find out, the race is on.
Meanwhile, Luke and Leia are on quests of their own – Luke searching for the long lost Jedi master Jorus C’Baoth on the planet Jomark, and Leia travelling to the homeworld of the Noghri. In Luke’s case, he hopes to learn information on teaching Jedi that he can use to help train Leia and her twins. Meanwhile, Leia hopes to learn about her legacy as the heir to Darth Vader, and provide Republic aid to the Noghri, and in the process not only turn the Noghri away from the empire and stop the kidnapping attempts against her and her unborn children, but also to save the Noghri people from further exploitation.
Again, a lot of worldbuilding here:
- The Noghri are a culture that was somewhat “uplifted” by the Empire for purposes of using them as assassins and commandos. Not “uplifted” in the sense that they were non-sentient, but in the sense that they were non-spacefaring.
- Related to this, we get a considerable amount of information on Noghri culture – particularly the structure of their government, how that governmental structure was formed, and their cultural values. Genealogy and familial honor are particularly important.
- Their world was badly damaged during a conflict between two warships over the planet during the Clone Wars, and Darth Vader came to investigate some time after the catastrophe. Vader pledged to heal their world in return for their service. However, the Emperor had the clean-up process sabotaged in order to maintain the indentured status of the Noghri. It’s not clear if Vader knew of this.
- The book sets the date of the Clone Wars at 44 years prior to the beginning of the original films. This would be retconned to approximately 29 years.
- We’re introduced to the Katana fleet, and the idea of “Hive Viruses” – viruses that spread virulently, without any outward symptoms, and then activate simultaneously, driving all those infected mad. (Frankly, it sounds like something out of a game of Pandemic II).
- We get more information on the formation of the Rebel Alliance, and on the “Alliance” part of the alliance – that it was made up of a variety of separate rebel groups, brought together through the diplomatic efforts of Mon Mothma and Bel Iblis. This would be retconned to a loose coalition of Senators in a deleted scene in Revenge of the Sith. In the scene as shot, Bel Iblis is not present, but Bail Organa and Mon Mothma are (alongside Padme Amidala).
- The Emperor’s death left a spot in the Force over Endor with a similar effect as the Dark Side cave on Dagobah.
- While I gave this bit away with my review of Heir to the Empire, there were multiple Emperor’s Hands. Likely, those other hands received the same final command that Mara did.
- We get an exploration of how Bothans do politics.
Luke Skywalker: Luke is not willing to put his search for knowledge on how to train people in the force on hold, and travels to Jomark to meet Jorus C’Baoth. When Luke realizes that C’Baoth is insane, and appears to have turned, rather than abandoning C’Baoth or trying to take him down, Luke tries to turn him much as he turned Vader, with little success. Luke has some difficulty in the force moving a wedged AT-PT out of its current position in a corridor on the Katana – remember this.
Mara Jade: (Some of this was covered last book). Is one of the Emperor’s Hands – elite Force-Sensitive operatives answering only to Emperor Palpatine, to carry out his will and dispose of Imperial officials if they were disloyal or rebellious. Could directly communicate with the Emperor at any time, from any distance. Was sent to Jabba’s palace with orders to kill Luke Skywalker – was unsuccessful (obviously). While Mara’s Force training is nowhere near as involved as Luke or Anakin’s (she hasn’t learned how to manipulate people’s minds particularly), she has learned some telekinesis. Her control is not great, but it’s not clear if her control was augmented by the mental influence of the Emperor or not. She was present for Thrawn’s promotion, and was on Coruscant when Palpatine was killed. She received a mental command from the Emperor prior to his death demanding that she kill Luke Skywalker.
Darth Vader: The Emperor held him responsible for the destruction of the Death Star, nearly killed him, and did cut off his right hand (retconning Splinter of the Mind’s Eye). Was aware of the Emperor’s Hands – presumably as a subtle way on the Emperor’s part) of setting up that Vader could be replaced.
Leia Organa-Solo: In an attempt to end the attacks against her and her unborn children, and to gain a potential new ally for the Republic, Leia travels to Honoghr to contact the leaders of the Noghri, where we see the side of Leia that we never see in the films – Leia the Diplomat.
Chewbacca: As with the characterization of Chewie in the Han Solo Adventures, Chewie is a very skilled mechanic, able to sabotage Khabarakh’s ship in a way where Imperial scanning crews would believe his story. Unfortunately, he also sheds, which leads to Thrawn imprisoning Kabarakh anyway. His life-debt extends not only to Han’s now immediate family (Leia, Han and Leia’s children), but some of their extended family (specifically Luke).
Captain Pellaeon: Served in the Republic Navy prior to the Clone Wars through the formation of the Empire, and was thus aware of the disappearance of the Katana Fleet.
Grand Admiral Thrawn: (Some of this is from the last book as well) Served Darth Sidious back when he was still Senator Palpatine. Destroyed the Outbound Flight project (and killing the original Jorus C’Baoth) as per his orders. Uses art to judge his opponents, both the actions of a species and, the actions of individuals based on the art they collect. Also values natural art as well (such as the reefs the Coral Vanda was cruising through)
Talon Karrde: (Some of this is from the last book) Values information considerably. Considers hospitality effectively sacred. Is immensely loyal to his people, but really wants to stay out of the War – but events won’t let him (Mara picking up Luke, Thrawn responding with a bounty, etc.)
With this book, we really get into the concept of the New Republic having this constantly simmering turmoil just below the surface, for much of its life. How this ultimately manifests varies on the writer. In this book the blame is laid, effectively, at the feet of Borsk Fey’lya. In particular, it’s made clear that Fey’lya’s is making the assumption that everyone else in the galaxy does politics exactly the way the Bothans do… which is a poor assumption for your planetary representative on a multi-racial/multi-cultural governing body like the Republic Council. We’ll see as the series goes on how other writers handle this.
Han Solo’s quip about a dead Emperor grasping after their children becomes somewhat prophetic having re-read this after having read Dark Empire III when I was in High School
Heir to the Empire‘s plot was a game of chess between two opponents, one who knew nothing about the other, the other who had their opponent fully scouted. This book is very much the re-match. Our protagonists have a better understanding of their opponent and how they operate, but they don’t have his number yet. However, on the other hand, this book we see Thrawn make his first few mistakes. He blatantly betrays Mara, and then lets her go, assuming that she’ll continue to operate with him after the betrayal, instead of assuming that she’d have a chip on her shoulder over this betrayal and instead operating in good faith. He doesn’t acknowledge or understand the reverence the Noghri have for Darth Vader and how that might connect with Leia – and it’s clear that Thrawn knows that Luke and Leia are siblings, and he was enough in the Emperor’s inner circles that he would theoretically know Vader’s identity, and we see how those mistakes cost Thrawn in this story. I’m not saying these mistakes are problems with the story. Instead what they do is they round out Thrawn as a character – he’s got a lot of people’s numbers, but he doesn’t have everyone’s number.
Unfortunately, Chewbacca doesn’t get a lot of characterization in this book, and while he spends most of the book with someone he’s not normally spending time with – Leia, this doesn’t necessarily lead to much exploration of the character. By comparison, Lando and Han play off each other incredibly well, and we get better characterization between the two because of it.
It’s a good middle chapter of the series, keeping the narrative going, and ending on a cliffhanger that makes you want more of the story, but without making the reader feel cheated.