Captain’s Log, good ship Spectra. I’m back on the mission- The Fourth Volume of Operation A Long Time Ago is in progress. I’ve done some other work, even met a hot piece of chooby over KO-35, but it’s good to be back in the Captain’s chair.
“Arleven, what’s our next target?” I asked my atromech droid as I came onto duty. He tweetled a response, as I drew up the list on the viewing screen and scowled. “I never did want to read that book,” I remarked to the droid. “How bad do you think it is?”
When Tatooine Ghost came out, nothing about it appealed to me. Set smack-dab in the middle of the Bantam Era? Bah, enough’s happened there, you’d better offer a great story. Set on Tatooine? Why? Nobody cares about that system except people who want to see A New Hope or The Phantom Menace on repeat. A honeymoon book about an art auction? Gag me (and not in the honeymoon kind of way). A story telling us everything we already know about The Phantom Menace? Why the hell do I need to read that?
Perhaps it’s just hard to summarize in a few sentences, because Tatooine Ghost is one of the best Star Wars books that I had no idea what to expect that I’ve read in a while. Like Solo Command, it acts as a bridge between the earliest history of the Expanded Universe and the books that were written later, in this case, bridging the marriage after Courtship of Princess Leia to the events leading up to Heir to the Empire. Grand Admiral Thrawn’s influence can be seen everywhere in this book, mostly to good effect, but he’s not once named. The painting in question, Killik Twilight, not only draws into Thrawn’s art hobby, but also ties Leia’s pre-movie history with Troy Denning’s first post-NJO novels, a trilogy of books about the creatures in the painting.
One can’t talk about the Dark Nest without talking about the Squibs: Grees, Sligh and Emala. They’ve appeared in Tatooine Ghost, Unseen Queen, Swarm War, Ascension and Apocalypse. I’ve always found these three to range between obnoxious, irritating and unnecessary, not to mention rather under-described. That’s because you’re supposed to first meet these three scam artists in Tatooine Ghost, where they’re actually fairly entertaining characters that go a way toward moving the plot forward. The only shame is that Troy Denning did not seem ready to leave well enough alone, and has since made it his mission to incorporate these three rodents into every story he writes for this universe.
Another bridge this novel provides is to connect the Leia of Truce at Bakura -the Leia who refuses to even consider children because of what they could potentially become- with the Leia who was pregnant with twins at the beginning of Heir to the Empire. It does so by connecting the prequel trilogy with the new books, something that was actually pretty cleverly done, mostly playing on our empathy with Leia as she learned the story of Shmi Skywalker, going above and beyond the story we knew from the movies and providing the Tatooine side of the tale prior to Shmi’s abduction by Tusken Raiders.
Besides connecting all of these disparate arms of the Star Wars galaxy like a spinning core, Tatooine Ghost tells a compelling story. Han and Leia come to Tatooine, desperate to keep an extremely valuable painting that also has important New Republic intelligence codes
This is one of those books where even though you know the end of the story (Leia ends up with Killik Twilight and ends up having babies, they don’t find out Thrawn’s identity, nobody on the main cast dies, and so forth), it’s still a suspenseful story that leaves you wondering exactly how they’re going to escape one predicament after another, and how many of their new-found friends and acquaintances are going to perish on the way.
The story begins with the Solos on their way to Tatooine. We see our first sign of a marital conflict (that didn’t take long) as Han discovers that Leia is operating on a mission for Mon Mothma. It still hasn’t been long since Han resigned his general’s commission and swore, if not revenge, then at least spite, against the New Republic for Mon Mothma and Threkin Horm’s support of Isolder’s courtship of Princess Leia. This will be an ongoing discussion throughout the book, as is the next conflict, introduced immediately afterward, in which Han wants to try having children and Leia is still adamantly against it. Both of these matters reach a satisfactory conclusion, keeping with the theme of tying Truce at Bakura and Courtship of Princess Leia with Heir to the Empire.
Once Han begrudgingly accepts the fact that Killik Twilight falling into Imperial hands would cost both New Republic and civilian lives in addition to being a crime against Alderaanian history, the disguised pair enters the auction hall, only to be faced with a hologram that carefully steps around the groans it would otherwise induce in the audience: Anakin Skywalker, victor of the Boonta Eve Classic. This is the first step in Leia’s empathy with the child, in addition to being the source of yet another conflict between the newlyweds, when an unknowing Han attempts to use agents to procure the hologram along with their intended target.
The ultimate conflict of the auction, however, is when Kitster Banai, Skywalker’s childhood friend, steals the painting, possibly the one great plothole in the book as it is never explained why (beyond the circumstantial evidence of Kitster being incredibly desperate for credits and the Imperials clearly wanting this painting very much). After a chase that leaves Han only inches from death, the group discovers that Kitster has become the intended sacrifice of a group of Tusken Raiders to appease the “ghost” that massacred a village of Tuskens with a lightsaber right around the time that Shmi Skywalker’s diary ends.
For a novel set during an uninspired time period on an uninteresting planet, featuring a combination of overused, uninteresting and annoying characters, Tatooine Ghost is a masterpiece. It completes the number one goal of any novel, to tell a compelling narrative, while paying homage to the classics that established the universe it operates in and connecting disparate links in the chain which holds the Star Wars universe together. While fans of the prequel trilogy, Bantam Era Star Wars novels, and of course Troy Denning’s writing should certainly check this book out, I wouldn’t dare limit my recommendation to just that group of people when I say that anybody who enjoys reading and enjoys any aspect of Star Wars should add this book to their to-read list.
My team greeted me in the transport room. “I didn’t even have to morph,” I said, kind of disappointed, in response to the knowing looks I got from MizzeeOH and others who had read the book. Still, the disappointment was worth it.
Besides, this Captain knows I have a more substantial journey ahead of me. It’s time to check out the Dark Force and the Heir to the Empire.
- Review – Legacy vol 8: Tatooine (mibreviews.com)
- A Long Time Ago: Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton (mibreviews.com)
- Books with a Bang: Troy Denning on Writing the Ultimate Climax (omnivoracious.com)