Daily Archives: November 17, 2013

Thrawn Dies at the End

I have a pile of partially finished… or in some cases barely started… posts about books saved on this blog.  Every time I finish reading a book or listening to an audio book, I feel some minor compulsion to write about it.

It is obviously not a major compulsion, since I rarely ever finish those posts.

Well, that and I have never really been good at the book report thing.  When I get to the end of a good book I want to talk about it with somebody else who has read it, not write a spoiler avoiding summary that cannot discuss the meat of the book.  Such is life.

Anyway, in an attempt to clean up my drafts folder, I am going to take what I have and try to hammer them into something I can post and throw them out there as Sunday posts.  Quality not guaranteed.

I am going to start with a pair of books, the wrap up of a trilogy, and I apologize for the spoilers.  Even the post title is a spoiler, done in pursuit of a dubiously humorous allusion.  But there is worse below.  And the series is over 20 years old now.  Anyway, on to whatever it is I am doing.

Two years ago I wrote up my feelings after reading Heir to the Empire again on its 20th anniversary.  I was somewhat serious in that post.  I am less so here.  Anyway, earlier this year, realizing I needed to pick my two titles for the month at Audible.com, I decided to finish off the series.  So I started in on Dark Force Rising and The Last Command.

Han looks really old...

Han looks really old…

My picks could have been better spent.

Much of what I wrote about Heir to the Empire applies to these two titles.  The production values are excellent.  The narrator is spot-on with voices 99% of the time.  But the good guys… Luke, Leia, Han, et al… remain as glued to the past as a middle aged guy who feels his life peaked in high school.  Everything they do ends up getting a reference back to the original movies.  Hell, Luke’s big plan of the second book is to break into the detention center of a Star Destroyer via the trash compactor.  And, like anybody who seems to live solidly in the past, they become dull and predictable.  I played “shout out the next line” in the car every time there was a dramatic pause, and for the the regular crew I was right every single time.

And it wasn’t just that I had read the books 20 years back.  This was just some tired writing.

But that was pretty much the case in the first book as well, so no change there.

What did change was that the master villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn, couldn’t pick up the slack the way he did in the first book.  In the first book we were learning about him.  He was new and fresh and interesting.  However he didn’t evolve much after that.  He looks at some culture’s art, figures out their weakness, and devises a plan to exploit it.  He is wise and insightful, except when the plot needs him to be arrogant and blind.  He is the master of every engagement and thinking two moves ahead, except when the plot needs the New Republic to win.  And his every plan comes to fruition, unless it involves Luke, Leia, Han, et al.  In that case he is constantly thwarted by those meddling kids.

Seriously, rename the Millennium Falcon to the Mystery Machine, make R2D2 an incomprehensible talking dog, and C-3P0 a Maynard G. Krebs knock-off with a constant case of the munchies and the rest writes itself.

Meanwhile, the story is telegraphing the ending from the middle of the second book.  Really, the only big question is why it takes 600 more pages to get to the inevitable result.

The second book, Dark Force Rising, revolves around two key things.  The first is the mysterious “Dark Force” or “Katana Fleet” or “Lost Fleet” or “MacGuffin Fleet.”  This is a a fleet of 200 dreadnought class destroyers (Which seem to be about cruiser size in a fleet composition, since they are formidable but smaller than an imperial Star Destroyer.  Way to mix ship classes into a complete mess!) that went missing back during the clone wars.  The Old Republic was working on automation to save on crew requirements, so had linked all these ships together.  Then the crews were hit with a bout of space madness or some such, jumped the whole fleet off to some random location, died, and were never seen again.  Only somebody has found the ships and the race to collect them starts.

The second is the relationship between the martial but primitive Noghri and the rump Empire that seems content to use them as suicide commandos while manipulating them to keep them dependent on, and loyal to, the Empire.

For the first, Thrawn wins, grabbing 185 out of 200 ships.  But the New Republic is pretty relaxed about it because where is the Empire going to find crews… even with the automation reducing the requirements… to run 185 big ships?  Then somebody points out the whole “Empire able to make clones” thing and Mon Mothra (intentional error) shits a brick.

As for the second bit, enter meddling kids.  And we close wondering how long it will take Thrawn to die.

The Last Command opens up with Thrawn barreling to the peak of his mastery of the galaxy.  He is knocking over planets and taking whole sectors.  The New Republic is in a panic.  Grand Admiral Thrawn, dramatically lit, red eyes flashing, and laughing maniacally, stands at the gates of Moscow, his triumph at hand.

Enter meddling kids and some pissed off Noghri and the late Grand Admiral Thrawn is carried off by the chorus.

Close on Admiral Pellaeon, crestfallen at this turn of fortune (but secretly relieved at no longer having to look like a half-wit child next to Thrawn), taking over command of the rump Empire and forming a blue ribbon committee on unified paint schemes for all Imperial warships before retiring to the officer’s club to reminisce about the good old days when the Emperor was running the show and a man of his mild talents could rise to the rank of Admiral by just shuffling papers and avoiding any responsibility.

Or at least that is how I am calling it.  I couldn’t make it to the end of the last book, even with a professional voice actor reading it to me while in the car where I had nothing but traffic to deal with.  My mind kept wandering off… or perhaps it was running away to hide… and I would realize that I had missed great chunks of the narrative.

I am being unfair of course.  Part of the reason I lost interest is that the books are really in the “young adult” category at best and were written at a time when we were starved for anything Star Wars related.  Context is ever important.  These books were like mana in the 90s.

I did enjoy spotting the places where the books diverged from the eventual stories put forth in Episodes I, II, and III.  Things like the nature of the Clone Wars (a clone revolt), dark Jedi (no mention of Sith), and how Darth Vader lost his hand (no mention of Obi-wan sadistically leaving Anakin burned and dismembered on whatever industrial sweatshop world that was) spring to mind.  That was a fun game at times.

In they end, they are not bad books when you factor in their time, target audience, the constraints and demands that Lucas no doubt put on them, and the other titles from the 90s Expanded Universe collection.  These are still the best of that bunch and deserved to be best sellers back then.  But times have changed and so have I.