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choices of none
on August 1, 2012
Timothy Zahn's Star Wars books are the only ones I read nowadays. I was excited for Choices of One because the concepts of the Rebellion's search for a new base and Thrawn facing an alien warlord sounded like a surefire combination for a book. Unfortunately, something about this book just didn't gel for me. The two plot threads seem forced together, as if Zahn felt like he couldn't write a book just about the Rebels looking for a new base or just about Thrawn facing an alien warlord. There's too much going on, and as such the book feels shallow.
First, the plot of the Rebels looking for a base. Ideally this could have been a great chance to explore the characters of key Rebel characters in between ANH and ESB. Zahn handled Han, Luke, and Leia so beautifully in the Heir to the Empire series and I loved some of the character development in Allegiance, particularly the early flirtation between Han and Leia. Allegiance also used General Carlist Rieekan to good effect.
Choices of One started off well in this regard. We see Han feeling left out of command decisions and wanting to take a greater role in the Rebellion. Zahn handles Han's motives deftly, throwing in a combination of impressing Leia, wanting the respect of his officers, and pure inertia. Han really does grow in this book and I feel like I finally understand why he stuck around with the Rebels after the Battle of Yavin. Also, the dynamic between Rieekan and Han is wonderful, something I wish Zahn explored a bit further.
Unfortunately, the other characters don't get their due. Leia and Chewbacca are almost non-entities in this book. At least in Allegiance, Leia was used as the chief negotiator. Here, that role is taken up by a professional diplomat. There's a good reason for this - which I won't spoil here - but it means Leia's thrown into a bunch of odd situations, including as gunner for a snowspeeder, where she doesn't quite fit.
Luke really suffers in this novel. I know he isn't yet the confident Jedi Master we see after ROTJ, but even so he comes across as naive and almost doddering. He barely knows how to use a lightsaber and doesn't even seem to be able to use the force to improve his accuracy with a blaster. In several scenes he practically just stands around unsure of what to do. The Hand of Judgement stormtroopers and Mara both even comment on his apparent ineptitude. Fans of Luke will be sorely disappointed with this book.
Perhaps even more surprising, Zahn's very own Mara Jade has several moments of ineptitude and silliness as well. Mara and Luke are in the same room fighting a bunch of thugs, but Mara doesn't seem to sense that Luke is Force sensitive. Moreover, she knows his last name is Skywalker, but doesn't even think to check if this is the same Force sensitive Skywalker who blew up the Death Star. For the Empire, Luke around this time was like Osama bin Laden in October 2001 and to think that Mara would not have even checked into his identity, much less do everything possible to capture him, strains belief.
The other part of the story focuses on a confrontation against an alien warlord, Nuso Esva. Nuso Esva is the Moriarty to Thrawn's Sherlock Holmes. I love the idea of Thrawn nearly meeting his match in an alien warlord. Nuso Esva does remind me of Moriarty, resorting to kidnapping, extortion, and bribes to get others to do his bidding. Zahn plays off our expectations with Thrawn to good effect and around three-quarters of the way into the novel we get an absolutely brilliant plot twist.
While I generally enjoyed this part of the book, the motivations of some of Nuso Esva's underlings are a bit unclear. Despite the title of the book, many of the characters seems to make foolish choices, trusting the vague promises of an alien warlord. I can't say more without spoiling the plot, but I'll just say that there are one or two points where the plot doesn't seem well thought out.
Unlike a lot of fans, I thought the Hand of Judgment in the first book brought a fun new dimension to Star Wars. Getting to know the stormtroopers made the Empire seem more real and the Empire's treatment of loyal men with a conscious shows the roots of its corruption. Choices of One gives the Hand of Judgment an even larger and more interesting role. We see the stormtroopers grow to respect aliens. I also love Zahn's depiction of the team during the heat of battle. Because we don't know the fate of these men, readers can actually worry about the fate of these characters. It's refreshing.
I've been a bit harsh on this novel partly because I still have faith in Zahn as the best writer in Star Wars. I absolutely love his willingness to explore the years in between ANH and ESB. Zahn also writes the best Han Solo of anybody in the EU. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, Choices of One suffers from uneven characterization and overly complicated plot with not enough payoff. Despite that, the book is still worth reading for fans of the Original Trilogy and Mara Jade. There are some fun moments. Just don't expect a classic.
Overall, 3.5 stars. That's low for a Zahn book, but still better than 90% of the Star Wars books out there.