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Star Wars: Specter of the Past
Timothy Zahn
Bantam Spectra Books, 344 pages

Specter of the Past
Timothy Zahn
Timothy Zahn's SF career began by selling SF stories to Analog magazine while he was a physics grad student at the University of Illinois. When his thesis advisor died, he decided to write full-time. He started with hard SF, writing the Cobra series of military SF novels. In 1984, he won a Hugo for his novella "Cascade Point." His writing has a distinctly humanistic touch, so it seems obvious to some that Theodore Sturgeon was an early influence. Zahn is perhaps best-known as one of the original authors commissioned to write novels in the Star Wars realm.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Thomas F. Cunningham

This is the first book of the two-volume series The Hand of Thrawn, by award-winning author Timothy Zahn. Specter of the Past stands out from the many other Star Wars follow-up stories, due mainly to Zahn's ability to maintain and expand upon the myth that Lucas began.

One of my pet peeves about several of the follow-ups to Star Wars is their neglect or mistreatment of the Force. The Force is often used as a mere plot device, manipulated to meet the author's need within the story at hand, but not at all true to the Star Wars mythology. Zahn, however, uses the Force as a key element in his story, much like Lucas does. For example, Luke Skywalker has now grown so strong in the Force that people are fearful of him. Luke has a dilemma: how does he fight the enemies of the New Republic without using his connection with the Force? Mara Jade, one-time nemesis of Luke Skywalker, steps forward to be Luke's guide to his next level in the Force.

The background for this novel is the trouble being faced by the New Republic. The Republic has grown to the limits of its bureaucracy. The different worlds are struggling with their need to belong to the Republic verses their need for independence. The Old Republic relied on the Jedi to bind it together, but Luke seems to be the only real Jedi in the New Republic, and the job is perhaps too much for just one man. To make matters worse, Moff Disra has brought back Grand Admiral Thrawn to save the dying empire. Moff Disra's plan involves some wonderful characters that may very well cause the plan to succeed -- in spite of Disra's overactive ego.

Zahn has introduced Disra and his fellow conspirators as a creative way of bringing the insidious Grand Admiral Thrawn back from the dead. In addition, we see some growth and progression in the characters of Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. (Chewbacca is written out of this story for the time being.) The development of Princess Leia's character, on the contrary, is much neglected. It seems to me that she has become a whiny, can't-make-up-her-mind, former president of the New Republic -- more of a wimp than any kind of Jedi in her own right. Leia is a diplomat without any idea of what to do and is constantly being surprised by the world around her.

Although I may not agree with some of Zahn's characterization, I certainly did appreciate his fair treatment of the Force and his ability to be true to the spirit of the Star Wars mythology established by Lucas. Overall, I enjoyed Specter of the Past and I look forward to the sequel.

Copyright © 1998 by Thomas F. Cunningham

Thomas Cunningham is an independent corporate coach working in the software industry. Bad science fiction films give him a rash.

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