Of all the EU (“Legends”) books I’ve read, here are brief notes on a couple that I really enjoyed.
Heir to the Empire trilogy – written by Timothy Zahn and published almost 8 years before the SW prequel films. The three books were a runaway success, and is credited by pundits to have revived sagging interest in Star Wars after ROTJ in 1983, and possibly encouraged George Lucas to kickstart production of the prequel films. I read my elder brother’s copies of the three books as they were published, and of late now rely on the National Library Board’s digital copies as our original copies are now decades old, yellow and producing that old wood smell now. What especially worked in the three books – aside from that they were simply the best SW fiction at its time and still easily holding its own almost 25 years since – is that it had, for once, a principal antagonist that is nothing like the usual frothing at the mouth villain common in fantasy and sci-fiction books. In stark contrast, he – in the shape and form of a Grand Admiral Thrawn – is urbane, cultured, and a master strategist who outsmarts the New Republic even despite having far more limited resources at his disposal than the new galactic empire. We get insights into Coruscant, the Jedi before the galactic war, and how Vader was really seen by the other Imperial warlords.
All the principals also return in Zahn’s three books – the Skywalkers, Han Solo – now married to Leia – the droids, Chewie, Lando, and several of the Rebellion members, and their written personas are consistent with that of the three films. Moreover, Zahn introduces several other characters, many of which are so well-developed that other later books continued to expand upon them.
The Black Fleet Crisis Trilogy – written by Michael P. Kube-McDowell. The set of three books present three interconnected stories: Luke journeying to find his mother’s legacy, Lando checking out new technologies on some mysterious spacecraft, and the emergence of a deadly new alien species, the Yevetha, to counter the New Republic. The trilogy doesn’t figure on many fans’ must-read list for several reasons I imagine; the first being the inconsistent styling book to book (e.g. one book continuously bounces to and fro within the three stories, another book breaks the entire text into three discrete parts that tell one story each), and the second that Luke’s search for his mother is rendered entirely moot after The Phantom Menace was released and Padme was introduced as Luke’s mother.
I however liked the trilogy for one particular thing – and it’s the story of the Yevetha against the New Republic, and the resulting (short) war that occurs. If there are fans of military strategies who’re interested to see how a might be space battle planned, prepped, and fought, this is the book. Kube-McDowell spares no expense getting into detail on many aspects of a military campaign that most other non-war fiction either gloss over or over-simplify. Surveillance operations, fleet maneuvers, chain of command, logistics and supply etc. – they’re all here. Heck – this one story reads at times more like a Larry Bond war novel than a Star Wars book!
Shadows of the Empire – by Steve Perry. Unlike several of the early EU books, Shadows centers its plot on the immediate aftermath of the events in The Empire Strikes Back film, rather than the well after the original film trilogy. The book was so well-received that an orchestral soundtrack was recorded for it – imagine a full score composed and recorded when there is no film – and a video game made too. Steve Perry’s writing is marvelously crisp, with character portrayals exactly like what what would had been immediately after the second film, and explores a lot of subplots hinted at the third film – including Luke building his replacement light saber, and the theft of the second Death Star plans and how it was really a ploy set by Palpatine. The book’s best aspect is the inclusion of a new antagonist – Xizor – who is a criminal overlord in Coruscant, and his bitter rivalry with Vader. We get a lot of backstory on Vader too, which doesn’t get foisted into redundancy with the later prequel films. The book is an easy read and breezes along quickly, and unlike the two other trilogies, is a standalone novel.
More in the next post that will come quite a bit later!