A Long Time Ago: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn

I’ve talked about this book and this trilogy a lot, but what the hell, it’s a new year, so it’s a good time for me to talk about one of my favorite Star Wars novels- #5, according to the Top 10 list I did about a year ago.

What sets The Last Command apart from the last two Star Wars novels I reviewed? In essence, it’s one fact: while some trilogies feel like a manner of extending the story in the first part to last three books, The Last Command in many ways feels like the last three books were a setup for the conclusions in this book. It’s true that in this case, the road is just as important to the journey as the final destination, but you can’t deny that the events in The Last Command changed the landscape of the Star Wars universe forever. In this day and age, with The Clone Wars seemingly doing its damnedest to destroy everything that fans have held dear in our literature for the past two decades and Episode VII looming on the horizon, threatening to destroy the continuity of the entire trilogy and everything that came later, it may seem inconsequential, but from 1993 to as far as at least 2014 (get that hack away from my Sticks damn it!), everything that took place in the post-films part of the EU was influenced by the conclusions reached in this novel.

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

Grand Admiral Thrawn came out of seemingly nowhere, united many of the remaining fragments of the Empire, activated a secret cloning facility, found a cache of cloaking devices, and installed an insane clone of a Jedi Master (or a clone of an insane Jedi Master, if you read what was written after) into an essential role in the Empire. He brought with him the service of the Noghri, a race renowned for its expert commandos, whom Leia Organa Solo has been in diplomatic talks with to organize their defection from the Empire, who has been betraying them. Mara Jade, former Hand of the Emperor and struggling to complete her last command to kill Luke Skywalker, is on Coruscant recovering from injuries sustained attempting to prevent Thrawn from gaining a fleet of once-lost Dreadnaughts while her employer, smuggler boss Talon Karrde has found himself on Thrawn’s bad side while attempting to remain politically neutral.

The Last Command ups the ante on all fronts as the Grand Admiral wraps a pile of asteroids in cloaking devices and dumps them into orbit around Coruscant. With there being no way to count how many invisible asteroids there were (Thrawn, of course, made sure that there were enough tractor beam rays that there could have been many, many more asteroids launched than there really were) Coruscant needed a crystal gravfield trap- a gravity altering device that could gather those that remained- before anybody was allowed in or out of the planet.

Mara Jade, implicated by a commando team attempting to kidnap Han and Leia Solo’s newborn twins Jaina and Jacen (I refuse to say Jacen’s name first because I’ve always considered his sister to be both the leader and the man in the pair), discovers that she’s the only person who can find the cloning facilities on Wayland- and Han Solo and Chewbacca are the only ones who can break her out.

If it sounds like I’m dumping the plot of the book on you, don’t worry- this is just the setup for some of the conflicts that come to a climax in this book. I haven’t even mentioned the search for Delta Source or Talon Karrde’s work with the Smuggler’s Alliance yet. I don’t think I need to go into detail about what Niles Ferrier went through to get the point across that this book is jam packed with every kind of action you could possibly want from the third book in a trilogy. True, there’s no new romance blossoming here, but it’s actually kind of nice to subvert that cliche- that, and we’re going to be discussing Timothy Zahn’s attempts at romance when we get to Vision of the Future.

Speaking of romances, I do need to talk about the one female character introduced here that would go on to become a member of the main cast- Mara Jade. Unfortunately, her plot was so well resolved in this book that ultimately, it ruined her as a character. No, not entirely- some authors wrote her very well, in fact, and she remained a fan favorite until the day that she died. (And yes, I was fighting back tears for the rest of the weekend when that happened.) But in the hands of the author who introduced her, Timothy Zahn, Mara’s story truly starts with Heir to the Empire and ends with The Last Command. She’s an incredibly good looking, talented woman with a wealth of knowledge and secrets and insights into Luke’s character- but she’s also a flawed human being, struggling with an urge to kill a man who, until recently, she had never met, and has been nothing but nice to her- an urge that she just can’t decide whether it’s her own, or the imprinted feelings of the Emperor left upon his death.

It’s always the balance of strengths and weaknesses- successes and motivators- that really brings a three-dimensional character to life, and that really shows here. The problem is, all of the questions that are asked in this trilogy regarding the above are answered, which means that she needs either new conflicts, different interests, or runs the risk of becoming a Mary Sue. In the real world, this is the point where the character would pick a career and do the job well, if not necessarily distinguished, for the rest of her life without galaxy-changing drama resulting from her actions. But this is fiction, and this is Star Wars and ultimately, fans and writers are going to want more stories about this character whose story is done. While some truly great and inspired stories were able to come of this (once Mara truly settled into her role she owned it, but that took another decade), several less-than-stellar stories also resulted. For the next decade, Mara would hold roles ranging from a love interest for Lando Calrissian to on-call plot device to Jedi trainee, and I can’t exactly fault author Timothy Zahn for acting as though no time has passed in Specter of the Past when she meets up with Luke as an unchanged woman.

While Mara’s stories in the mid-to-late 90’s are a drawback of The Last Command, and the removal of a truly deadly foe and the last large-scale threat in the galaxy is another, I can’t think of another thing about The Last Command that was anything other than great, and I can’t think of a single one that I would have asked Tim Zahn to write differently. This was an epic story that introduced my favorite Star Wars character, concluded the arc of my second favorite, and set the woman who can probably be considered to be my third favorite onto the path of a Galactic hero.

There’s really just not much more for me to say about this book that wouldn’t be a waste of your time. The Last Command is the conclusion to one of the greatest stories in Star Wars- hell, in Science Fiction- and a staple of Star Wars. Rereading this book has reminded me of everything I forgot about in reading Fate of the Jedi- why I read Star Wars in the first place, for one. If Episode VII writes off the results of this trilogy and forces me to choose, well, like nerds everywhere, I’m siding with my childhood.

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One thought on “A Long Time Ago: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn

  1. Reading through the post Episode VI EU novels, hoping to get most of the way through before Episode VII. Third time reading The Last Command and loved it. A big pick up in pace over Dark Force Rising, although everything concludes maybe too quickly – I had to re-read some passages to take in what happens towards the end. Sad to read the major spoiler for what’s to come…hopefully it’s revealed to be a deception, or a Clone!

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