Dark Force Rising, Retrospective

z: Hello, gentlebeings, and welcome to this week’s Force Visions, wherein we look back at Dark Force Rising.

Which I have apparently taught my Google Keyboard to recognize as a phrase by now, because it just suggested the words one after the other.  Heh.

will: Yes, as the sun sets on the rising dark, and the command rises as the trilogy sets, we…nevermind.

z: Middle book of a trilogy — there’s always the attached stigma there, the expected thing is that this could be the weakest book… but I don’t really see the Thrawn trilogy as having a weakest book, so I think we’re safe in that regard.

will: I mean, yes, the middle of a trilogy has the problem of not having the strong opening or the finale, but at the same time, middles can have the dramatic pivot. “I am your father,” for example, and “I love you”/”I know.” Empire is considered the strongest, most complex, of the Original Trilogy after all.

I think that in this case there could be a case made for that dramatic pivot for several different characters–the denouncement of C’baoth for Luke, Mara’s decision point–but clearly it’s the climax on Honoghr for Leia that makes up the heart of it.

That said, I don’t think Dark Force is the most complex book here–difference between a planned trilogy like this versus a growing one like the Original Trilogy, Zahn could do more long-arc planning from One to Three.

z: The loose ends left hanging are more than offset by the resolved threads, in my opinion.  I’ll just go over each briefly, and not in any particular order.

will: With counter-commentary from the peanut gallery over here.

  • Who is Mara, anyway, and what’s with the killing Skywalker thing?  We get to find out about that in enough detail, and get to see Mara’s loyalties shift once and for all.  “Her” Empire is dead; Thrawn isn’t a worthy successor, she’s out of that.  And also out to Karrde about quite a bit of what she was.  The open-ended question that remains with her is still the killing-Skywalker-compulsion. Ish. Thing.

will: And that hasn’t really even been made explicit yet. The general feeling currently is that it’s just guilt and loss. We’ll first get a sense there was more to it than that from Leia next book.

  • Han and Lando’s Great Plot Fakeout Journey.  Remember that they had gone out, initially, to try to find proof that it was Fey’lya’s people who had planted the money in Ackbar’s account?  Yeah, me neither, not until I thought about this.

will: One wonders about that. One of the weaknesses of this whole thing is how Fey’lya never sticks to a plan for more than three minutes because a “better” plan comes along, and while it’s described as a Bothan xenopsychological thing (because Zahn loves his xenopsychological things), I feel it undermines him…but then, we also see Han and Lando completely thrown off base by the actual facts on the ground, and maybe that’s supposed to show us what the world looks like from a schemer’s perspective?

  • But first they fall in with Mystery Types, then they find out who the Mystery Types are–and that’s a startling enough thing in its own right, a famous Corellian senator/general who has a history with Mon Mothma that predates Han and who was widely thought dead.  We are immediately intrigued by the potential political implications there, but then, before we can settle in with that plotline, we veer sharply off-course and now the two ex-smugglers are hell-bent to find the Dark Force.  Which…

will: Ibid. With additional, Bel Iblis representing the inevitable fragmentation among the resistance. And the idea that the Rebellion wasn’t a perfectly diverse, unified, hologenic, politically correct group with no internal divisions is important for so much of the Expanded Universe and makes the whole thing seem less fantastical. Of course, it is fantastical, but it’s not absurd to say that the laser swords and the alien species are more believable than a perfect, harmonious government.

z: Exactly.  The stark lines and blacks and whites are getting the shadings they so richly deserve.

  • The Dark Force is introduced almost completely within this book.  There was one allusion in Heir to the Empire about Karrde’s knowledge of these things, and one bit of foreshadowing in the Empire’s search for capital ships –which will neatly tie to the clone subplot, stay tuned — but here first Karrde spills his whole story to Mara, then Lando makes his discovery in Bel Iblis’ camp, then everyone is after them, and in fact their fate is resolved by the end or the book: A majority of them in Imperial hands.

will: Also there was the very brief “tell that to the Katana fleet” about the advantages of a slave-rigged system, with Han and Lando. But yeah, this is an example of what can be done with an open and rich universe like this one–there are always odds and ends around you can use (read: make up).

  • After the big What I Did During My Jungle Trip in the first book, it may be said that the limelight is less on Luke in this book.  But he gets through what he needs to get through, which is to first meet C’baoth and figure out that he’s not, shall we say, a Yoda-type Jedi Master, then to be poked by Mara into realizing that this isn’t going to be as simple as “There’s still good in him, I can feel it.”

will: Luke’s story this book is about the difference between Jedi-as-warrior, which he has down to a mystically-enabled science (see also, the just-another-jailbreak sequence), and Jedi-as-sage, providing wisdom, guidance, and teachings to the world, which…he more and more realizes he needs. The arbitration sequence is the obvious one, as well as all of his misgivings about being a teacher that feed into C’baoth being able to manipulate him. And Luke’s failings–and they are legion–in this regard will form a major element of the next ten years of in-universe time.

  • As for C’baoth himself, this is where he really gets the limelight.  We get his point-of-view even.  Twice.  During the parts of the book when he’s with Luke, he seems still to be in the mindset that True Power (™) is direct power over the lives of individuals.  But after Luke breaks free or is broken free or whatever you want to call it, either something… and I’m willing to think that it’s something about Luke’s departure… that causes him to change his mind and move more into the search for Palpatine-Style Power (™), or, and this is the scarier option, he now believes that he can achieve direct power over the lives of individuals at the scale of an Empire.  Which.  Eeep.

will: And as we’ll realize next book, there’s a bit of overlap here with clones. Which makes this the perfect place for…

  • So about that other “little bit of technology” Thrawn found at Mount Tantiss: welp.  It seems that crewing nearly two hundred properly-deslaved Dreadnaughts isn’t going to be that troublesome.  Ooops.  And naturally, trying to find and deactivate that operation is what’s going to be consuming Our Heroes’ thoughts throughout the endgame of the trilogy.
  • Which brings up another point: Note that they are not going to be destroying a Death Star, or Death Star II, or Starkiller, or Obvious-Named-Doomsday-Machine-Mark-XLVII.  No, the Big Bad Facility that Thrawn  sets up is a lot more strategic than it is tactical.  Surprise, surprise.

will: Theoretically the Death Star was strategic too (the Tarkin Doctrine, control through fear of force), but yeah, this is consistent. It’s not a superweapon, Thrawn doesn’t use those. Well, sort of. (See also, ten years later.)

  • Soooooo, how does Thrawn know some of the stuff he obviously knows about the inner council’s movements and decisions?  For that matter, how did he know Luke was going to go to Jomark?  We don’t know, and neither does the good Captain Pellaeon, although he at least has a name: Delta Source.  There has been hints, little touches of foreshadowing that is as light and transient as the shadow of a hawk rapidly passing over grass.  (Yeah, I am feeling poetic.  Also, I watched exactly that over my yard a couple of days ago.  Left an impression I guess.)  Since presumably the author wouldn’t leave loose ends at the trilogy’s end, we might presume that this is going to be brought to the foreground in the last book, and we would be completely correct.

will: Gee, agricultural metaphors? Appropriate.

  • Then there’s Fey’lya–

will: Epic Fey’lya.

  • Hehehehehehehehe.
  • Fey’lya’s rise is not limited to Dark Force Rising.  It’s got its start in Heir to the Empire, and in fact its major coup was the cliffhanger to that volume.  But there’s an avalanche quality to his momentum throughout this book.  Until he stubs his toe big time by, well, running his mouth big time. And that after he had been warned very, very openly by Han, too.
  • Hehehehehehehehehe.
  • I am sorry, this may be simplistic of me, but sometimes I do crave someone who is evil or does evil only out of blind ambition, and engineers their own downfall, even if said downfall requires other characters to behave like rational actors.

will: Especially if. And let’s not forget the sheer arrogance of thinking you can pull the wool over everyone’s eyes all at once.

  • And besides, more than enough about Fey’lya, because bah, who cares, because you know what else we have?  An entire planet, and in particular their highly-trained commando teams directly operating within the power structure of the Empire, coming to the side of the New Republic, that’s what we have.  Deposing a hundred military heads is not going to be even a remotely notable coup in comparison.  And who is the architect and executor of said coup, pretty much by herself since she takes all the decisions although she has practical help from a Wookiee and a protocol droid?

The Mal’ary’ush, that’s who.  “Lady Vader.”  Leia Organa Solo.

will: To me, she is royalty, indeed.

  • Yup.
  • The single largest factors in her victory are her choices to put herself very personally in harm’s way, from her initial decision to meet Khabarakh functionally alone, to her last ones to not leave without saving Khabarakh, and ultimately to play for the whole pot because it is the right thing to do, because holding in her hands the proof of how the Empire had been exploiting the Noghri is so, so much against her sense of justice that you can pretty much feel the flames rising inside her through the pages.  Her story is also exemplary as a Jedi’s.  She herself may not be completely certain of it, but there are hints that the Force has nudged her to take that first decision to meet Khabarakh.   (When things are going badly on Honoghr, she in fact thinks that it might have been the wrong side of the Force that led her there.)  She has both trusted the Force and was receptive to that nudging when prudence, or even just a slightly higher sense of her own importance in the Universe, would have compelled her to stay away.  But she did not; she followed the lead, did not fight stupidly but instead very intelligently, fueled her fight with her sharp sense of justice, and won a people.
  • And Luke is worried about teaching her badly and losing her to the Dark Side.  You know nothing, Luke Snow.

will: Less her, more her kids, I gather. I mean, yeah, Leia and the temptations of the Dark Side may be a fear, but the big fear is the little ones who don’t have their own strong notions of right and wrong.

Beyond that I can’t add anything so I won’t try.

  • In the Site One Does Not Simply Link To, there is the “Crowning Moment of Awesome” trope, with a very obvious definition.  I think that the end of Leia’s center plot in Dark Force Rising is an excellent example.

z: So here we go.  The big cliffhangers of Book One were resolved by Fey’lya’s fall, Leia’s meeting with Khabarakh and what arose from that, and Luke’s meeting and split with C’baoth.  A couple of overarching plot threads–the clone factory, Delta Source, Mara’s deal–were carried on.  A few things were initiated; now Bel Iblis is on the scene, for instance.  And this stage of the war rushes towards resolution.

One more point from me.  Back in the first chapter’s commentary, I had mentioned that the mass-market paperback of Dark Force Rising  was the first book I had bought in the USA.  I still remember how it felt, that scene in my first temporary apartment (I was on a waiting list for graduate student housing), a large floor cushion to sleep on since I hadn’t opened the plastic of my mattress yet, a clock radio, a desk lamp, and this book by the side of the cushion, on the floor.

This morning I woke up and the book was on my bedside table, by the side of my bed, under (as it happens) the same desk lamp.  I liked the colors and the lighting, and took a picture.  Yes, it’s been fortified with transparent tape because after all, it is a very well-read book.



will: As much as Heir was the book that “proved there was steam under the crust” of Star Wars, in some way this may have been even more significant–it proved that the “steam” wasn’t just smoke…ahem…it proved that people, having had a taste of this new post-movies Star Wars, wanted still more.

The first one they might have bought as a curiosity or an experiment. This one, if they bought it, they’d be buying because they wanted to read it.

And with so much setup out of the way, the ability to start to refer back not only to the movies and the West End Games material, but stuff he’d created and put into place, Zahn took that and really began the build here.

And boy did he build.

And with that, we close the book on this…erm…book. Come back next week for the start of the end of the Thrawn Trilogy, The Last Command.

Until then, may the Force be with you.


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