Star Wars

Star Wars
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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Why I Love the Thrawn Trilogy, pt. 1

I'm going to need several of these posts because there is so much to talk about (did I say "talk"? I meant "RAVE!") about with Zahn. From his development of each character to his intricate weaving of a complex and multi-layered plotline, he creates a tapestry in the best tradition of both Star Wars and storytelling.

With that in mind, I'm going to narrow my focus for my first post about the trilogy to supporting characters. Some authors have trouble even keeping their main characters afloat, never mind their supporting cast. Zahn, however, turns each character into a full-bodied, full-historied reading experience. I've also linked each character to their corresponding Wiki.

It's also worth noting right now that I'm not reading Heir to the Empire but listening to the absolutely brilliant unabridged audiobook, read by the incomparable Marc Thompson. I may or may not make reference to his work on each character.

Warning: The Wikis will have spoilers associated with each character's progression through the EU so read cautiously (Ro-Ro, I'm talking to you and I ^_^).

Winter Celchu
Winter - Winter appears as, evidently, one of Leia Organa Solo's lifelong companions. Zahn is careful to emphasize that, "during the war," Winter played a different role their companion to Leia - she was with "supply and procurement," which explains why we don't see anything of her in the movies (clever, Mr. Zahn). Winter's first scene, when we see her checking in on Leia, is so inoccuous that it would be negligable if Zahn didn't make the most of the introduction. During her first scene, Winter is presented not only as a regal figure to rival Leia (hard to imagine) but she's also given a super-power, of sorts ("with great power comes great responsibility" - anyone?): her perfect memory. Not only is it immediately clear how important she is, both to functioning of Leia's family but also to Rebellion heroine Councilor Leia Organa Solo. Later on, Luke and Winter have a conversation about a Jedi Master named Jorus C'Baoth in which we see the toll Winter's perfect memory (her super power) has on her and how much she has to endure on a daily basis as a result. At the same time, she's poised, elegant, and almost an older sister figure to Leia. Even as a kid, I was immediately interested in her and wanted to know more. Sign of a very well-written supporting character.

"Talon Karrde" ^_^
Talon Karrde - I find Karrde even more fascinating than Winter! To be honest, part of it is that Marc Thompson's voicing of him makes him sound like Antonio Banderas (thank you, Ro-Ro, for pointing this out to me). But I've always liked Karrde and been fascinated with him. I think part of it is how he treats his employees - namely, Mara Jade. Our first introduction to Karrde (outside of the smuggler Dravis mentioning him to Han Solo in one of the opening scenes of Heir) is his meeting with Mara to discuss her becoming his second-in-command. Mara is clearly suspicious of the meeting that it "a smoke-screen to mask some more personal request or demand on [Karrde's] part," but Karrde quickly proves that he is genuinely interested in Mara's "ability and results ... and your ability and results have been quite impressive ... there's your talent for starship piloting, your ability to both give and accept orders ... and your ability to adapt to unusal and unexpected situations" (34, 33). Although these observations say a lot about Mara very early-on, they say a lot more about Karrde. He observes in her some pretty specific behaviors, behaviors which seem fairly hard to categorize. Karrde not only categorizes them but puts them to use throughout the novel as he works on putting together a full picture of who Mara was and who she is. Though his fascination with Mara does have the feel of romantic interest, it (fortunately) never plays out that way. It's clear that Karrde's priorities are his business and the well-being of his associates for the preservation of his business. The business itself is also a mask for Karrde's real love, which is something Grand Admiral Thrawn later puts his finger on: Karrde's real business is information. He likes to know and learn about things, a trait obvious early-on in the Thrawn Trilogy that Zahn later puts to good use in other books Karrde is featured in. Karrde is also established as a morally dependable character early-on, in spite of being a smuggler. His reluctance to turn Han and Lando Calrissian over to stormtroopers is initially played off as bad business but ultimately, he tells Mara, "They're our guests. They've sat at our table and eaten our food ... and like it or not, that means they're under our protection" (271). Earlier on, his associate Fynn Torve admits that he's smuggling food to a group of disadvantaged people in Abregado-rae - there doesn't seem to be a strong monetary element to this work and the way Torve paints it, "[The hill people] aren't rebelling ... they're simple people, and all they want is to be left alone to continue living that way ... hence, we smuggle in food .. crazy business" (248). In spite of working on the wrong side of the law, Karrde walks a very consistantly moral path, though rarely a predictable one. In short, he's awesome and I want to go work for him (perhaps he needs expertise on children's literature within his organization?? I could help him smuggle first editions of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone).

Captain Pellaeon
Captain Pellaeon - Pellaeon largely serves the function of focalizer within the Thrawn Trilogy. Though clearly an experienced and competent officer, he's not written as an especially brilliant or original officer. He wasn't especially important during Palpatine's reign as emperor, though the fact that he was at the Battle of Endor is important to Zahn's plot.

Why, then, bother with him when you've got an absolutely fascinating Grand Admiral (an alien, someone the New Republic was convinced they'd already dealth with, who comes out of nowhere with an almost supernatural ability of knowing everything about his enemies through their artwork) to work with?

Another brilliant Zahnism here - seeing Thrawn through Pellaeon's eyes gives us the chance to get to know Thrawn as Pellaeon. Like our initial introduction to Mara, we only get an observer's look at Thrawn. We're given dramatic physical features, mysterious and impressive behavior during the first scene, and the sense that we'll never fully understand the character. Yet, the same character we don't fully understand or know holds the key to something critical so we strive to know them better. Enter Pellaeon, who, in spite of being Imperial Scum, is actually a very relatable character. He genuinely believes in the good the Empire can do - he's not a power-monger, he's not especially interested in "crushing" anyone (except the "Rebellion," but only because he believes they're outlaws), and while his attitude toward the Noghri proves that he's a total racist (species-ist?), it's less because he's an evil bastard and more because he's close-minded and a bit thoughtless on the subject of non-humans. He's militant, yes, but he also proves he has the capacity to learn, a trait Thrawn obviously recognizes. He takes the time to explain his art and his tactics to Pellaeon, something he's clearly not obligated to do. And Pellaeon, though he doesn't always get it right away, makes an effort to understand and learn. He also puts Thrawn's apparent omniscience into perspective. Like Karrde, Thrawn takes gambles and they aren't always the best gambles (case in point: working with Joruus C'Baoth). Pellaeon recognizes those calculated risks and calls them into question; the fact that he sometimes turns out to be right indicates that he has powers of perception in his own right and that his readings of Thrawn himself are to be trusted.

I'll stop with these three. I'm deliberately leaving Mara out of this round-up because I want to write a post later on exclusively dedicated to her and I need to get further into the trilogy before I'll feel confident doing that. It'll happen, though, count on it! In the meantime, back to my audiobooks as I finish this year's batch of Christmas presents.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Phenomenon that is Timothy Zahn

 I'm right now about a fourth of the way through the 20th anniversary edition of Timothy Zahn's the Heir to the Empire. I've read this edition before, but I forgot tons of it. Probably because I read it so fast the first time. This is a very bad habit of mine, reading books too quickly the first time. It's partially because I have so many books to read, I just want to get to the next one. And partially because a good story compels me to finish it as fast as I possibly can. The first time I read the anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire  was not the first time I had read Heir, however. I read it at least four times as a kid and teenager. So I'm definitely familiar with the story. But before the anniversary edition, which is annotated, I never knew why I liked it so much or why it made so much sense as to why it fit in with the Star Wars galaxy so well. Now, seeing the way Zahn carefully planned every twist and turn, I get why he's considered such a heavy hitter in the Star Wars extended universe. Every situation he plans to fit into something else, whether it be later books or later on in the current book. He admits that some of this is not planned, but that he uses it later on as if it was.

I am so in awe of authors who are able to be clever and twisty with their writing. I've found I'm too upfront as a writer to really be good at crafting mysteries. But Zahn knows his stuff. He knows how to build tension. He knows how to screw with his characters. He's so good at putting them in tough positions, both literately and figuratively. And I'm finding that I'm loving Heir so much more as an adult because I actually understand what he's doing! Instead of just loving the action, I'm enjoying the subtleties Zahn slips in here and there. And now, enough of blogging! Back to reading!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Heir to the Empire (or the end all and be all of Star Wars canon)

 Drum roll please! We have made it to the most excellent and amazing Timothy Zahn and his "final trilogy." (I, at this point, don't care what Disney pulls out of where, this IS the final trilogy!) I do believe this is THE trilogy that Es and I bonded over when we first met. And the story line that we played when we were in either of our back woods. I think there were some other Star Wars series mixed in at various points, but this was basically it. So it's a big deal for us to be reading this again. Huge deal. The only expectation I have is to love it just as much as I have all the other times I've read it. I will also be reading the anniversary edition for the second time, and I'm so excited to be reading it again. I feel like I lost some details the first time through in my excitement to read it. It was to my great pleasure to learn that Timothy Zahn was the first author approached when LucasFilms decided to go back to publishing books in the late '80s. And how he struggled with his answer to write the books or not, not wanting to disappoint Star Wars fans. Well, Mr. Zahn, I don't think anyone was disappointed, especially because you sling-shotted Star Wars back into fandom again!

Grand Admiral Thrawn
I supposed I should have some other expectations besides just loving the hell out of it again. So, I expect to fully enjoy the lesser characters Zahn creates, like Winter. And I expect to be on the edge of my seat while Leia works to figure out who's interfering with the New Republic. And I adore Mon Mothma. And of course, I full expect to be creeped out by Grand Admiral Thrawn, the best villian in the Star Wars universe as far as I'm concerned. I know, for a fact, this is Es's favorite trilogy in the Star Wars EU. It presents us with Mara Jade, whom Es idolized as a young girl. I did too, but not as deeply.

I wonder if that will change with this reading. I myself am now a strong young woman who has a strong sense of self. Perhaps that means I'll connect more with Mara Jade. We'll see!

Esme's Input

The reality is that I've read this series (and very recently, too) so many times that it's going to be a very different reading experience than with the other books Ro and I have tackled. I do adore Mara Jade still - she's a powerful, independent woman (as I aspire to be), and she's a dancer, as I have become. She makes plenty of mistakes and clearly has some serious PTSD going on post-Emperor (something which I definitely did not pick up on as a kid) but I never for a moment stop loving and having faith in her.

Mara Jade
Zahn's greatest strengths are his ability to spin a truly elaborate story, with all the plot twists and foreshadowing you could ever ever want, and his ability to create characters that have absolute integrity as he characterizes them. Once you get to know General Garm Bel Iblis or Counselor Borsk Fey'leya, whether you love or hate them, Zahn will never give you a moment's pause that their actions and reactions are 100% true to their characters. He likewise establishes integrity with Lucas's existing characters - Luke is probably my favorite of his characterizations because he writes Luke very much as a newly fledged Jedi Knight who is absolultely overwhelmed by the task set him by his mentors: to establish a new order of Jedi all by himself. Powerful in his own right, he is also, as Mara routinely reminds us, a naive and earnest farmboy, something many fans love most about Luke.

I'm incredibly excited to tackle these books with Ro this time - to find flaws and new favorite things and to keep our peepers out for any signs that Disney is following Entertainment Weekly's advice about their first movie project when EW asserts, "The blue-skinned Imperial alien strategist Grand Admiral Thrawn and ... agent-turned-Jedi Master Mara Jade, both of whom first appeared in Timothy Zahn's excellent Thrawn trilogy, would be most welcome."