2.9 / 4
2.9 / 4
In Star Wars: Allegiance, which takes place during the time between Episodes IV and V, Luke Skywalker is still new to all this Jedi business. Han Solo isn't sure how much he's willing to commit to the Rebel Alliance. Princess Leia is trying to help run the Rebellion and wondering why Han is so infuriating. The young Mara Jade is one of the most valued agents of the evil Emperor. And a team of stormtroopers goes rogue, deciding to mete out justice their own way...
Stephen: Star Wars: Allegiance is Timothy Zahn's latest installment to the galaxy far, far away. Filling in some of the events which occurred between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, we're given backstories for Mara Jade and Disra, two characters who appear in some of Zahn's earlier books set later on the timeline. Additionally, we get to see another adventure for the big three, this time in during the heyday of the Rebellion. The story is stock Zahn fare. You have lightsabers, space battles, stormtroopers, and a plot not necessarily designed around what could easily fit on the silver screen. Additionally, this is a novel, as the title suggests, about allegiances. Han to the Alliance, Mara to Emperor, and even others to themselves. Allegiances, and the betrayal of them, factor prominently throughout the novel.
The characters are on target for a Star Wars novel, especially one set in this time frame. Luke is hesitant and unsure of his powers - but above that, he's naive again. He's not the jaded Jedi Knight/Master that we get during novels set later in the timeline. Han is cocky and wondering why he should stick around. And Leia is acerbic with Han but shows why she will later be described as the heart and soul of the Rebellion. Then we have Mara Jade. The first time she appeared in a novel, Mara was a bitter, angry woman, out to get revenge on Luke Skywalker. And frankly, the character has not really changed that much over the years and appearances. Sure the emotional issues which drove her in the Thrawn trilogy aren't there, but the character never really grew out of the "I am an aggressive, bitter woman, hear me roar" phase. But here, we see a Mara that is an idealist. One who believes her position and activities for the Emperor are doing good things for the Empire. And this Mara as idealist is a welcome change from the Mara we see in the NJO, who at best could be described as a pragmatist.
Most of the novel takes place in a single sector of space, and just a handful of planets at that. Yet settings wise, this is Star Wars in the prequels sense, where our heroes will jaunt from one planet to the next, seeing how many they can visit before the two-hours are up. The concept of planet hopping itself is not a bad thing - I just think it's getting a tad overused in Star Wars fiction. After all, what is so hard about giving us stories such as Denning's Tatooine Ghost where we stay on a single planet for the entire story. That said, the settings tended towards the bland, generic planets. Zahn doesn't spend a lot of time describing the planet itself until the action of the plot requires him to do so.
The plot is somewhat convoluted. You have Mara doing things for the Empire. The Hand of Judgment doing things, I guess because they feel like it. The Big Three doing things to further the Rebellion's goals. And of course you have the nominal bad guys doing things in an effort to frustrate or stop the heroes. Is there an overarching threat against a group, such as Thrawn versus the New Republic? No. The fact that one of our heroes is actively fighting for the 'bad guys' does not allow this to be a traditional Rebellion v. Empire story. Is this a bad thing? No, of course not, but the reader is going to have to pay attention as Zahn weaves the various threads of his plot together into an ending which ties everything up into a nice little package.
Now for the important stuff.
What the story is about is what we give our allegiance to, and how that affects us. The five stormtroopers, Mara, Han, and Leia all display aspects of this. They discuss it. Their actions, and thinking, is driven by it. And we are given clear examples of why they choose to interpret their allegiance to people and groups the way they do. While in Aaron Allston's Exile (also reviewed this week) the characters steal the show, here this theme of allegiance and loyalty does. It is an underlying fuel for the characters and the plot. Ultimately it is good storytelling, as it makes the reader understand how someone can fight for the Empire, when faced with such obvious examples of their abuses. It shows the confusion one smuggler has while making the decision on if he should remain with the Rebellion. And Zahn does this without knocking us over the heads with it. In fact, after reading it, I had to spend a day thinking to realize this, and then go back and re-read large chunks of the novel to confirm it. Zahn does wonderful things with the subtle hints as to the theme of the story and allowing the characters to formalize it.
Notice, that I didn't talk about Luke there. Luke, though he plays an active role in the plot, does not drive the theme of the storyline. At all. There is no question on who his allegiance is to. His presence or character does not factor into anyone else's allegiance or loyalty. In fact, if we weren't promised a Big Three story, Luke could have been left out of the story as far as the theme was concerned - and truthfully his contributions to the plot could have been handled by technological wizardry and Han's luck. What Luke is doing here though is very important, and in my opinion, something we needed to see. Like I said earlier, this Luke is not the powerful Jedi Knight that we saw during the Bantam era and the New Jedi Order books. This Luke is that untried, unskilled, untested farmboy from Tatooine. The reason why Luke's presence is so needed here, is because it tells us how he went from blocking training remote darts in A New Hope to being able to do all that funky stuff in The Empire Strikes Back. Even though, Luke's plot here wasn't the most impressive, or most far-reaching in terms of consequences, I think I liked it the best out of all of the side-plots which Zahn put in.
Fleet junkies? Sorry. There's nothing new here for you. I think we may get a couple of new freighter types, but for the most part, it is standard Imperial vessels and the Falcon, and what we are given does not change any of our existing knowledge about the ships. Which of course is a good thing, as we don't want to modify what we see in The Empire Strikes Back regarding the ships.
Continuity buffs won't find that much to complain about, as Zahn has a firm grasp of what is occurring in this timeframe - at least from my knowledge of the continuity here. It's entirely possible that he's stepping on the toes of some of the Marvel stuff, and I'm just unaware of those issues. I don't think that the exact time-frame for this story has been hammered out, but from my understanding there wasn't a lot of blank holes left in the space between the first two movies of the original trilogy after Marvel was done, and then we currently have Dark Horse happily plugging things into that timeframe as well. Luckily, this story doesn't take up a lot of time; with the main action occurring over the span of a few days, two weeks max.
The mechanics of the story were good as well. I noticed very few typos, and I'm hoping that whatever problems were plaguing the post-NJO novels to cause all of those typos have now been corrected. And much to my enjoyment, the characters only said "point" one time that I can remember.
Overall, this is a solid story with solid characters, walking a well-traveled path. We do not get anything shocking or amazing, but are given what in effect is a stock Zahn story. It's not bad, it's not excellent, but it works for what it is. If you like Zahn's work, you will like this. If you hate Zahn's work, you'll hate this. Frankly, I enjoyed it but was unimpressed, so it gets a 2.9 out of 4.
Adrick: You know, it’s always a good idea to go back and re-read the Star Wars novels from time to time. I was honestly a little disappointed in Allegiance when it was first released. I had been hoping for some serious revelations about some of the past events mentioned in Zahn’s other books, like those found in Survivor’s Quest and Outbound Flight, and maybe some connections to other events in this jam-packed time period. I was kind of disappointed to discover that the novel was a fairly straightforward standalone Star Wars adventure, and that the stormtrooper team occupied as much of the page space as Mara Jade and the big three.
However, I was surprised to find how much more I enjoyed this novel the second time around, perhaps because by this time I was a little weary of galaxy-shaking events. Han, and Leia are extremely well done here—their dialogue sounds more like the films than any of the more recent novels. The stormtrooper’s quest for justice is actually pretty interesting, and their plotline intertwines with everyone else’s neatly. Mara Jade has some particularly nice scenes where she almost runs into Luke and Han nine years too early. And Disra and Ozzel, two relatively minor characters, get some scenes and additional background information, which is nice. I also liked the Adarian rebel leader—it’s interesting to see the unique sacrifices other cultures had to make for the Rebellion. There’s also a cute cameo by a totally non-canon character.
The book’s flaws are relatively minor. I could have done with fewer dialogue-free passages of Mara Jade’s seemingly endless prowling—there are only so many times you can describe the old “cut a plug in the wall with a lightsaber and levitate it back so no one notices” trick before it stops being fresh. The book’s timeline placement causes the characterizations to be a little off as well. Zahn obviously intended it to be set three days after Yavin, but since he included the Executor in the story and left out General Dodonna and Yavin IV, it’s been slipped into the sixth month after Yavin. At this point, having Han ponder leaving the Alliance for smuggling and Luke shivering at the thought of facing Imperial stormtroopers is a little silly. Vader is written a little heavy-handedly; but then Vader is such a melodramatic guy he just begs to be handled heavily every once in a while.
All in all, though, this is a pretty nice example of Zahn’s Star Wars work, though it seems more akin to his short stories like Jade Solitaire and First Contact than his previous novels. I wouldn’t advise paying hardcover price; but picking the paperback up for some summer reading is a great idea.