by Timothy Zahn
Published by Del Rey
Scott's Rating: 3.5 out of 4
Mike's Rating: 3.5 out of 4
Mike's Rating: 3.8 out of 4
This book is set a few years after Luke and Mara are married and some time before the New Jedi Order.
Luke and Mara receive a message from the Chiss in the Unknown Regions. The aliens have discovered the remains of the Outbound Flight, a ship sent out to explore the unknown areas of the galaxy shortly before the Clone Wars. This ship not only hosted scientists and their families, but a handful of Jedi. Unfortunately, a young Thrawn destroyed the expedition. Now, many years later, the Chiss wish to pay their respects to the doomed expedition and return the wrecked vessel to the New Republic.
When Luke and Mara arrive at the rendezvous location for the trip, they find several other parties have joined the expedition. Commander Chak Fel, son of Baron Fel, is there along with elite stormtroopers from the 501st to represent the new Empire. There are also a group of aliens named the Geroon who wish to pay respects to the doomed mission. Apparently the Outbound Flight was destroyed while trying to protect the Geroon race from evil alien pirates and slavers called the Vagaari. Finally, Ambassador Jinzler from the New Republic is there to pay his respects as well. The only catch is that Luke and Mara know Jinzler is a fraud. However, they allow him to continue his charade because he has something deep and personal at stake in visiting the Outbound Flight.
Our heroes eventually find their way to the Outbound Flight remains despite the efforts of a saboteur, but what they discover there will surprise all of them.
Timtohy Zahn is probably my favorite Star Wars author, so I was very excited to read Survivorís Quest. While it didnít quite live up to my exceedingly high expectations, it was still a strong Star Wars story that was very engaging and exciting. It features a solid mystery and a lot of adventure. Also, it is more of a small, personal adventure as opposed to one on the epic, galactic scale like many of the Star Wars stories. Luke and Mara are the primary focus of the plot.
Zahn was the first to establish the relationship between Luke and Mara and he continues to expand on it here. You continue to learn more about their unique bond and we see Luke question why the Jedi were forbidden from marrying in the past. (A question Iíve had myself since Episode I.)
Zahn also continues to further develop the mysterious Chiss race. They are the unique aliens that Thrawn is a species of. We meet members of their military, learn about how they conduct their politics, and more. He also introduces us to the 501st, an elite group of stormtroopers formerly assigned to Darth Vader. You may or may not know, but the ď501stĒ is the name of a group of real world Star Wars fans dedicated to making Star Wars costumes and wearing them at special events. I thought it was a cool tip of the hat to them by Zahn. Not only that, but they are a cool group of kick-butt characters that Iíd like to see more of in the future. They go to show how Zahn is excellent at creating memorable, lasting secondary characters for the Expanded Universe.
More importantly, we learn more about the Outbound Flight project, possibly one of the most intriguing side stories from the original Thrawn Trilogy. We learn about who was on board, why they went out in the first place, and what happened to them. The first few pages of the novel are even devoted to a drawing of the ship and I found it incredibly useful. I referred to it repeatedly as I read the story. Some of the descriptions of the ship would have been really confusing without it.
I was hoping that the discovery of the Outbound Flight would lead to more connections between the prequels and the classic trilogy. While that really wasnít the case at all, Zahn did come up with connections in other respects. He features a pretty cool battle between Luke, Mara, and a droideka destroyer droid. It ends up being one of the more memorable action scenes of the story.
Survivorís Quest is also notable because it sets up a million more possible stories. Luke and Mara donít recover everything there is to learn from the Outbound Flight computers, so thereís possibly a lot more for them to learn about the ďOld Jedi OrderĒ from them. The Vagaari are also still a looming threat to the Unknown Regions, so they could easily become the new bad guys for post-New Jedi Order books. And not only do you have the 501st that could be future stars of stories, but you have the few children with Jedi potential from the Outbound Flight. Since these characters were reviled, isolated, and left with untrained Force potential, they are perfect candidates to become future dark Jedi (very similar to young Anakin). Evelyn even shows hints of this towards the end of the book. It will be interesting to see what is done with her character in the future.
Timothy Zahn, one of the most loved Star Wars expanded universe authors, makes a welcome return to the GFFA with 'Survivor's Quest'. I believe that this novel can be viewed as a loose 'third chapter' to the "Hand of Thrawn" duology. However, this novel will actually help form the eventual "Tim Zahn Star Wars Septology" (Thrawn Trilogy, Hand of Thrawn Duology, Survivor's Quest, and the Outbound Flight novel due to be released in 2005), which will be a very interesting read once re-read in chronological order. What I enjoyed most about this novel was that is sticks true with the feel of Zahn's previous Star Wars novels, beginning for example, with the opening on a Star Destroyer, which follows the stylistic theme of the original trilogy of movies. I loved the storytelling approach that Tim Zahn uses for about 3/4's of the book, which is eerily similar to an Agatha Christie murder mystery feel. Most of the story is concerning unravelling the past mysteries of the Outbound Flight Project, whilst also propelling forth new enigma's for the protagonists to deal with.
I thought it was fantastic for Del Rey to provide pictures of what the Outbound Flight looked like. Nice little touches like this help the perception of the reader. I also liked the many nods to continuity, and the many prequel references, such as Neimoidians, droideka's, droid armies and the Trade Federation.
I enjoyed reading the ever developing relationship and bond between Luke Skywalker and his new wife, Mara Jade. This is one of the first times we see them act as a married couple chronologically, after their wedding in the comic series "Union". I loved how Tim Zahn continued the "I Love You" phrase from "Vision of the Future" that Mara and Luke use to trigger them to come out of Force Meditation / Healing Trace. It was also interesting and intriguing to read Luke question himself about the old Jedi traditions of marriage, and how it will affect his new Jedi Order. I also enjoyed reading more about the Chiss and their culture. There are some notable differences in the Chiss hierarchy as described in this book, and the Force Heretic trilogy, however, it will be interesting to see how this plays out... are the Chiss just really deceptive and secretive about their society, or does internal politics run rife, and the number of ruling familles in flux? For example, in this novel, there are 9 ruling families, yet in the Force Heretic trilogy, there are only 4.
As Scott mentions, it was great to see Tim Zahn's tip of the hat to real life Star Wars fandom, with the inclusion of the 501st Stormtrooper regiment. It was also great to see some foreshadowing to the future chronological storyline - the New Jedi Order, with the quip from Luke "Leia knows not to call us unless their is an invasion coming"! Tim Zahn also introduces some new characters and races in the Zahnverse, with the Vagaari. Great evolving and revealing storyline about them is weaved throughout the entire book. One of the most interesting cultures to come about in a while. I also agree with Scott, where he muses about the future possible storylines that could feature Evlyn, and the other potential Jedi amongst the remnants of the Outbound Flight colonists. I really hope that this storyline is picked up again, as it is very interesting, and could bring forth a new viewpoint on the Jedi.
Lastly, the novel concludes with the characters musing of the possibility of Thrawn, or a clone of him being alive. Wow! Potential storyline for Troy Denning's post NJO trilogy. After all, he has said that an old villain will resurface in his trilogy!
In a recent interview with SW Insider, Timothy Zahn said something to the effect of "I like to write a book so that people want to read it twice, so they can see all the clues being set up". That's about the best way I can think of to sum up this book. It's very different from the five Thrawn novels (for lack of a better term), and in a way it suffers for that. But as a compact, focused mystery-and-intrigue story, Survivor's Quest is one of the best yet to be told in the GFFA.
The Geroon/Vagaari plot thread, which would have been interesting enough even if they really had been Geroons, was a wonderfully executed and completely believable plot twist. This kind of thing is very hard for writers to pull off without being either too obvious or too out there, and this was neither. When Bearsh reanimated his wolvkil and sicced it on the Chiss, it required a tremendous effort on my part not to exclaim my surprise out loud, as I was in public at the time.
Despite the impressive complexity of the Vagaari's (and by extension, Formbi's) plan, I appreciated the fact that Luke and Mara were never really over their heads when dealing with things. Life-threatening situations, of course, are always more dramatic, but since we already know the Jedi are gonna be okay, I enjoyed the focus on our heroes' deductive abilities rather than their fighting abilities. It would have been easy to make the Vagaari an enormous physical threat to Luke and Mara, but two powerful Jedi getting their rears handed to them by some punks from the Unknown Regions would have been kind of ridiculous. Better that the Vagaari try to outsmart them.
Which brings me to Luke and Mara themselves. Anyone who says Zahn writes Jedi too powerful needs to read the destroyer droid sequence at the end. Between the two of them, it takes something like fifteen pages for them to outsmart a single droid. In many parts of the book (and this part especially), Luke and Mara's method of working through problems feels almost like a video game. That is, they try one thing, it doesn't work, they back off. They try another thing, it doesn't work, they back off. And so on. I can see some people saying that's a bad thing, but I think it's nice to see the protagonists not get everything right on the first try for once.
Lastly, the Outbound Flight stuff. I don't want to say a lot about this yet, since a lot of questions are still unanswered. Having to wait a year and a half for the rest of the story is frustrating, but I understand it being done this way. Dean Jinzler was probably my favorite new character in the book; his plotline was very entertaining, and I'm looking forward to seeing him in the prequel novel.
I love Timtohy Zahn and I think heís one of my favorite authors, but his writing does have a couple of quirks that bug me. Frequently his charcters will say, ďPointĒ whenever another character makes a point. I donít know why, but it annoys me. Also, for some reason, Luke and Mara talk extensively about every way a scenario could play out before they dive into action. Itís like Zahn thinks about every possible way the story could go, then writes the other possibilities down as discussion before diving into his chosen path. I suppose itís realistic, but I found it to slow the action down a bit.
As previously mentioned, I had hoped that this novel would establish some solid connections between the prequels and the classic trilogy. I hoped we would meet new Jedi, learn more about the old Jedi training, or other things. I hoped to see more reaction from the Outbound Flight survivors about the rise of Palpatine as Emperor. None of that was really touched on in the novel as much as I would have hoped. I knew not a whole lot could be revealed because we didnít see much in the New Jedi Order, but I hope thereís more to come in the future.
I have to agree with my fellow reviewer, Scott Chitwood, when he brings up the point of point! There are many other 'Zahnisms' in the novel which appear in his other books, and they can get a little tedious, such as using the word 'dryly', and touchť. However, I guess this just adds into the whole that gives Tim Zahn his unique feel.
Zahn set up early on the humour that Booster paid for the red paint of his Star Destroyer indirectly from Talon Karrde. It would have been nice if this joke was tied up at the end of the novel, with Booster finding out, and his reaction.
I also didn't like how Zahn didn't reveal what Jinzler and his Jedi sister briefly met for the first and only time. I was hanging for this character driven revelation, alas, it did not come.
I also didn't like the fact that there were so many questions left unresolved at the conclusion of this novel. Understandably there is a prequel to this novel scheduled for release in 2005, however, this novel should have still been viewed upon as a stand alone novel, and as such, should have not left as many unended plotlines. For example, why are the Jedi hated by the remnants of the Outbound Flight colonists. Where did the Jedi go? Are there any records of the Jedi on Outbound Flight that Luke can use? What REALLY happened during the Outbound Flight battle.
While I understand Zahn not telling us much about the attack on Outbound Flight itself, why they hate the Jedi, and so on, there are some things that I still find myself curious about, that I'm afraid won't get resolved in the next book. What exactly was Car'das' role in all this? I guess it's possible that this'll be covered in the prequel story, I don't really see how it would happen, as I was always under the impression that he didn't start his organization until years after Outbound Flight; I can't see what role he could possibly have played in things back then.
Also, do Luke and Mara ever get the whole picture? I really would've liked to see them at least recover the operational manual by the end of the story; I can't imagine that they wouldn't've gotten it back from the Geroons after their defeat. Or at least gotten another copy from Fel later. Here's hoping Zahn does a short story or something after the prequel book (man, I'm tired of saying that. Someone give us a damn title!) that caps things off from Luke and Mara's perspective.
On the subject of continuity, there's the whole "Chak Fel" issue. While it's nothing that can't be worked out (for anyone who doesn't know what I'm talking about, the gist is that the NJO says that Fel has only five children, none of whom are named Chak), the Zahn-bashers now have one more thing to complain about; something that should never have been an issue in the first place.
Finally: like I said before, this book is very different from his other Star Wars novels. And while it's written well, I think I'll always prefer an epic, galaxy-spanning, fleets-against-fleets Zahn novel to something like this. Hopefully we'll get more of that next year.
Nothing to add here!
Like Scott, nothing to add here!
Wearing a wolvkil boa. No, wait, a live wolvkil. No, six live wolvkils. No, wait, three hundred Vagaari. No, wolvkils with grenades strapped to them. No...well, you get the picture.