My rating: 4 1/2 Stars
Our heroes are in a bit of transition from their usual jobs. But the past is a specter that haunts them, both individually and as a united government. They won’t be allowed much down time as an old document has resurfaced that holds clues to a decades old vicious crime against a peaceful people. The demands for justice threaten to tear the New Republic apart as some demand the whole race is forced to give restitution while others want to find the specific perpetrators.
Points of interest
“The point I wish to make Master Skywalker, is that these differences are not the result of enemy plots or even posturings among political rivals. They are the genuine and honest differences of opinion among the many beings who make up the New Republic. To dismiss any of them as unimportant or unthinking is to insult the honor and integrity of those beings and their cultures.” ~ Moshene Tre, New Republic Observer
I find the whole concept of the specter of justice and the past resounds now more than ever. One person’s idea of justice isn’t necessarily the same as another’s, especially in a galaxy of many species and races. But without the common goal of respecting each other, the Republic (new or old) cannot function at all. It’s quite a warning in any universe. It is noted in this that the diplomatic corp and the Jedi Academy have been emptied searching for negotiators. In this, we find a sure sign the Jedi are returning to their roots as defenders of the Republic in the traditional manner, with lightsabers as a last resort.
On the Imperial side, Admiral Pellaeon is reluctantly coming to accept reality. The Empire is at a fraction of it’s resources and can no longer expect to beat back New Republic advances let alone expect to reconquer worlds. But not everyone who claims to agree plans to go along. Some plan to derail his envoy’s mission to the New Republic and others plan to use the chaos of the found document and conflicting screams for justice to further fragment their rival government.
As usual with a Timothy Zahn book, we find the characters are very much in character. Han and Leia’s kids are growing fast.
Leia has stepped aside from the role of Chief of State for the time being. But I find it worth noting that she states clearly she is a Republic Councilor AND Jedi Knight.
Luke is in a bit of transition. His Jedi Academy has been turning out new Jedi for years (not without some bumps). But he himself is oddly restless. In addition, there are those who don’t trust his idea of justice given how he’s changed over the years. This leads to some serious soul searching. His previous actions are a specter that cast a long shadow on the present.
Lando and Han are involved (of course). Fan favorites of Talon Karrde, Corran Horn, Wedge Antillies and Booster Terrik make an appearance. The Noghri are here and we get a view on what has been going on with them since their own world was considered almost a lost cause.
Mara Jade has her own unexpected journey to make that only begins in this story.
My only regret on the book is that Chewie once more is swept into ‘babysitter’ role. (The half star off is for Chewie.) While I don’t object to where he went, its a duty that I feel he gets shoved into too often. It’s as if most authors don’t know what to do with him. (Zahn did a good job in Dark Force Rising with him at least.) But I know Chewbacca has had good stories in the past so it’s a shame more don’t make the effort to do him justice.
Specter of the Past, not surprisingly, follows on from Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy as well as his other short stories. H’sishi the togorian was introduced in “Jade Solitaire”. But he also clearly didn’t much feel all the other authors had done Luke Skywalker justice.
The Bantam Era of Star Wars, like the other eras, did interconnect. They did reference each other. But character growth was limited. When the Thrawn trilogy and Dark Empire were written, LFL licensing hadn’t yet decided the comics and books would connect. Hence, Luke is more humble in the Thrawn trilogy and reckless in Dark Empire, a mere year later. This was something that until now, no one had taken time to smooth out or explain. A character can grow in a consistent fashion without ‘subverting’ who they are and always been or yet falling back into old mistakes. It’s a matter of growing and learning through life. Apparently, cleaning up ‘specters of the past’ was very on his mind when writing this. Whether you agree with him or not, it was something worthy of being addressed.
Dark Empire left the impression Luke really had gone to the dark side and come back. Looking at this from a post prequel view, it’s very clear he never became a Sith. Looking at it the time it was written, it’s equally clear his only goal was to find a way to prevent this ‘cloned emperor’ from being able to either transfer his essence or just allowing unlimited clones to lead the Empire. That said, you can’t brush that close even under the best of intentions without issues – it had already happened to Uliq Qel Droma, as mentioned in the original Dark Empire comics. This is better explained in the audio dramatization of Dark Empire, but of course, not everyone has that. (Note that it was available on cassette and digital. Possibly it was on CD as well.) The later written prequel stories of Quinlan Vos in the Clone Wars backs this up. Vos did brush the dark side while going under cover in Dooku’s Confederacy. Even he admitted it.
In addition you have stories like the Black Fleet Crisis where Luke is shown doing some insane stuff such as rebuilding his ‘father’s castle’ with just the Force. That’s mind bending and unlikely (given that castle’s involve more than just four walls and there are plenty of years and battle damage in between.) It certainly isn’t what a Jedi like Obi-Wan or Yoda would do even if they could. So the fact that the prequels hadn’t yet given a guideline for Jedi limits doesn’t help much there.
Zahn smooths this over with a flat out warning from the Force that some of the excess use of his power is dangerous. I’ll give you no further details, I’ll let you read Specter of the Past to find out where and how. Jedi use the Force for knowledge and defense according to Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original trilogy. Rebuilding whole castles to sit alone and meditate in with it doesn’t qualify as either. Luke’s restlessness in this story is a warning and he has to figure out how to deal with that.
Leia Organa Solo
Leia, meanwhile, has been in training as a Jedi in spite of her politics and raising children. This started as early as the Thrawn trilogy at least and continued in Dark Empire. While she stepped away in Jedi Academy trilogy (intimidated by what Luke went through with the reborn Emperor, as well as her connection to Vader) it never truly ended. It’s clear she used these gifts in Children of the Jedi and received advise from Callista in Planet of Twilight. In the Corellian Trilogy, Luke actually gives Leia the gift of a lightsaber and acknowledges she is a Jedi. She even spars with him and holds her own quite well. So having her say it in this is consistent.
While we haven’t consistently seen them as Leia’s bodyguards, they have popped up in video games occasionally. Unfortunately, this is sometimes on the wrong side. This story does explain how some end up working for criminals, in this case the likes of Talon Karrde employ them. Unfortunately, they also have ended up working for less worthy criminals in the games.
Oddly enough, Luke’s vision in this ties nicely in with the unreleased at the time prequels. That is an unexpected Specter of the Past that was probably not envisioned when it was written. It’s stated in those movies that the Jedi’s ability to use the Force is diminished because ‘the Dark Side clouds everything’. Luke’s unexpectedly powerful vision was interpreted in various ways by the characters. But it equally could be evidence that the ‘Chosen One’ killing the Emperor in the first place allowed the balance to begin shifting back and only at this point has Luke been in a position to notice.
Specter of the Past is only book one in the duology. The second book is Vision of the Future. That story review is here.