Star Wars Expanded Universe – The Timothy Zahn Trilogy
The Star Wars Expanded Universe Retrospective Part One
The Star Wars Expanded Universe is a collective title for all narratives and products published by LucasArts which add to the vision of the cinematic universe. There’s an extensive array of book, graphic novel and video game titles which detail events before the prequels, after the prequels but before A New Hope, and after the originally-released Star Wars trilogy. It encompasses roughly 5,000 years and over 1,500 novels, TV episodes, video game titles and comics, and can be extremely daunting to the fan or casual-but-enthusiastic admirer of the Star Wars storyline.
Now as we have headed into a newly established continuity with Disney firmly at the helm of the Star Wars franchise, I wanted to turn my gaze backwards, and highlight a series of narratives which might, in my opinion, be the most accessible way to enter the world of this additional material. I will be concentrating on the comic book adaptations of these novels; these present the story with beautifully evocative artwork and with a largely-unabridged story.
Heir to the Empire
In 1991 an important novel was penned by Timothy Zahn, the seminal Star Wars: Heir to the Empire, which, with its superb craftsmanship of characterisation and evocative mood, brought renewed interest in the Star Wars universe when it seemed to have been forgotten. More importantly, for the purposes of this article, it began a process for publishers to accept proposals from some of the greatest writers in the genre regarding stories outside the established cinematic canon and, by extension, made the Star Wars narrative even richer, bringing historical depth and penetrating focus on favourite characters.
This novel became an unexpected success and was responsible for bringing some new characters into the Star Wars universe: Mara Jade – the Emperor’s Hand, a secretive assassin trained in the Force, who was hunting Luke Skywalker down to complete the Emperor’s final directive, to kill him. Tallon Karrde, a mysterious shadow dealer in information, and Grand Admiral Thrawn – the character most associated with this series, an amazingly well-written antagonist who became extremely popular and was present through several of the Extended universe series.
There’s an incredibly vast array of plots and subplots present in this narrative but I shall endeavour to outline the salient points of the main events of the novel/comic. This is set 5 years after Return of the Jedi. The New Republic maintains a fragile foothold in one section of the Galaxy; onto this stage enters the aforementioned Grand Admiral Thrawn, a cunning and ruthless alien commander who had previously been posted far away from the Empire’s conflict with the Rebellion. The Admiral begins to gather Imperial forces for definitive strategic action against the New Republic. He seeks out an insane Jedi Master, who wishes to find Luke Skywalker and his equally Force-talented sister Leia Organa.
The characters that are presented in this story are intensely vivid and fit incredibly well with the continuity of the original trilogy (remember back then, there were no prequels). The new characters are incredible and I loved the inclusion of Mara Jade as the secretive assassin who, it is hinted, had been working behind the scenes during episodes IV, V and VI. The characters visit classic locations and the action is fast and frantic.
Comic Book Adaptation Details
Writer: Mike Baron
Pencillers: Olivier Vatine, Fred Blanchard
Inkers: Olivier Vatine, Fred Blanchard
Letterers: Ellie DeVille
Colorists: Isabelle Rabarot
Cover artists: Mathieu Lauffray
Dark Force Rising
The second novel/comic book adaptation in the Timothy Zahn trilogy continues the plots and themes found in Heir to the Empire. The New Republic finds itself in an increasingly bleak situation, both politically and militarily, with threats internal and external encroaching. A race known as the Nohgri, who venerated Darth Vader, become obsessed with Leia, seeing her as Lady Vader, and kidnap her. Talon Karrde and Mara Jade find themselves on the run from Admiral Thrawn, who is continuing to attempt to build his clone army, searching for capital ships to use against the New Republic .
Along with the plotline encompassing the conflict between the Empire and the Republic is the personal conflict between the insane Jorus C’Boath, the cloned Jedi Master and Luke Skywalker. The tension is palpable as we wonder if Luke will succumb to the Dark Side under the Jedi Master’s tutelage or escape in time to prevent Thrawn capturing a fleet of capital ships.
Again, the strength of this story is the numerous narratives being drawn together into a single coherent thread. It’s an intense and satisfyingly complex story which doesn’t overwhelm the reader. Zahn continues, in this narrative, to flesh out the characters so that the established heroes feel true to the already-familiar continuity and the new characters injected into the universe feel intensely real and already a natural part of the Star Wars universe. There’s an interesting power struggle between prominent characters in both the New Republic and the Empire, Ackbar and Republic Senator Fey’lya and the distrust between Thrawn and C’Boath – it’s an interesting symmetry in the plot and shows mastery of the techniques of narrative structure.
Comic Book Adaptation Details
Writer: Mike Baron
Penciller: Terry Dodson
Inker: Kevin Nowlan
Letterer: Ellie DeVille
Colorist: Pamela Rambo
Cover artist: Kilian Plunkett
The Last Command
The final part of the Zahn trilogy brings together the various plotlines in a satisfying conclusion. With his newly reinforced fleet, Admiral Thrawn begins to take back planets in the name of the Empire – whilst continuing to be quietly hostile to the crazy cloned Jedi Master C’Boath. Luke is attempting to redeem the clone and avoid being seduced by the power of the Dark Side – this is an incredibly interesting section of the plot of this novel/comic book adaptation, as we see the different philosophies outlined and debated, something not discussed in the original cinematic trilogy.
Talon Karrde and Mara Jade attempt to bring the smugglers together into an alliance to fight the Empire and Leia attempts to convince the Nohgri that the Empire has deceived them. This is a fantastic finish to one of the most enthralling Star Wars series produced.