Star Wars: Dark Force Rising is book two in a three-book cycle. It is part of what has been referred to as “The Thrawn Trilogy”. All three books were written by Timothy Zahn. It is my understanding that this trilogy is not considered to be canon in Star Wars lore. Personally, I enjoyed the first book in the series, Star Wars: Heir to the Empire, and was equally impressed by this second book.
I would recommend that people read Star Wars: Heir to the Empire, the first book in this trilogy, before diving into the second book. Book Two picks up shortly after Book One left off. Skip the first book, and you miss out on much of the plot that continues to weave through the story. In short, this book has an impressive amount of characterization and backstory on a race that could easily have been neglected. It also is filled with political intrigue.
I always find it difficult to write about the second book in a trilogy. No matter how long ago the book was released, I am still hesitant to reveal anything that might be a “spoiler” to someone who hasn’t come across these books yet. Be aware that some of what I write in this review could, potentially, reveal more than a person who hates “spoilers” would be comfortable with. Read on at you own risk.
Star Wars: Dark Force Rising has several themes running through it that are woven through the story. Many pick up from events that occurred in the first book of the series. Personally, it seemed to me that the phrase “Dark Force Rising” could be used to describe a lot of different situations in the story.
One has to do with Mara Jade. She’s beginning to have “hunches” that feel very much like what an untrained Jedi might experience, and she instinctively follows through on them. Rather remarkable for a character that once was involved with Emperor Palpatine.
For example, at the start of the book Mara Jade quickly moves the ship that she, Talon Karrde, and Aves are on before it gets shot down by the ship that Grand Admiral Thrawn is on. It’s not the first time one of Mara’s strange “hunches” causes her to do something like that – and she is completely disturbed by it. She is afraid of the nightmares that come whenever these strange feelings appear. What happens with Mara Jade might be due to a connection with the dark side of The Force. Her power with it rises, somewhat, over the course of this book.
Talon Karrde is in a lot of trouble at the start of this book. He’s had to evacuate his people off the planet (and move them elsewhere) after doing something that made it clear that he was now helping the New Republic. One of the problems that both the Empire and the New Republic is having is a lack of ships.
He tells Mara Jade that he is the only person who knows where some lost Dreadnaught ships are at. They are what’s left of the Katana fleet. Something went very wrong with them on their first mission, and people have been trying to find them ever since they were lost. It is a bit of a “treasure hunt”. Talon Karrde is keeping their location a secret, even from Mara Jade. Ideally, Karrde wants to use that information to his benefit – either to help the New Republic or to get him out of trouble with The Empire. He wants to be able to make that choice (and not have it forced upon him).
The New Republic is in a bit of disarray. At the very end of the previous book, one of the people on the council has essentially “quarantined” a very popular member of the council. There is now a rift in the military forces that are part of the New Republic. Some favor the person who was removed from power and believe that he has been set up. Others favor the person who removed him from power.
Han Solo (later joined by Lando Calrissian) spend some time trying to sort out what happened. They believe the “quarantined” person to be innocent, and set out to prove it. Without giving too much away, the two go digging around for clues about what the untrustworthy member of the council might be up to. Unexpectedly, they run into a Senator from the same planet that Han Solo is from. Somehow, he and his people have gotten hold of at least one of the Katana fleet (which has also been called the Dark Force). I’ll leave readers to discover for themselves what’s going on with the Senator.
Luke Skywalker decides to go track down a voice that called to him during a battle. It is probably not a surprise that he ends up finding C’baoth. R2D2 is completely suspicious of C’baoth and wants Luke Skywalker to leave him. Luke can’t do that, however, because it appears to him that C’baoth has gone mad. Luke’s interpretation of what it means to be a Jedi is to help people – even if it’s just one person – who doesn’t want to be helped. C’baoth’s power appears to have grown since the first book. One could say his “dark force” is rising. Eventually, a situation occurs that pretty much forces Luke to abandon C’baoth. I can’t really discuss what that is without giving away too much of the story.
The most interesting part of Star Wars: Dark Force Rising is the story line that Leia and Chewbacca (and Threepio) are on. In the first book, Leia made a promise to a Noghri who had tried to kidnap her. He figured out that she was Darth Vader’s daughter, and asked her to come to his planet to speak with the Matriarch. She is expected to come alone, and agrees to, but later is allowed to bring Chewbacca and Threepio with her.
Timothy Zahn created an extremely detailed Noghri culture. It includes clans of family lines that had, in the past, fought for dominance. There are rules about who is allowed to enter a room first (based on honor). The rulers of each clan are male, but it is the matriarchs who hold the most influence and power. (Interestingly, the matriarch is not the spouse of the clan leader. She might be his mother or great-aunt, though).
The Noghri live on a planet that was mostly destroyed due to a battle that took place between the Empire and the Republic. There is a point where it appears that the Republic actually caused the destruction. Long story short, the Empire came in and “saved” the Noghri by giving them droids that could detoxify the land so crops could grow again. In return – the Noghri had to give the Empire their sons to use as bodyguards and fighting forces. There is a “big reveal” in this storyline that turns upside down everything that I thought I knew about the situation between the Noghri and the Empire.
The entire story moves pretty fast, and I’m leaving out tons of details (and many smaller story lines). Many of the storylines circle back to the Dark Force – the Katana fleet. The book ends with a great big battle that doesn’t really have a decisive winner, but that does sort out some of the “split” in loyalty that has formed in The New Republic’s military.
The last few pages reveal something completely unexpected that I figure will play a big part in the third book of this trilogy. I’ve just started reading book three, and cannot imagine how Timothy Zahn is going to wrap up all the different storylines that he has created in the first two books of the trilogy.