Book Review: The Last Command
We come now to the conclusion of the Thrawn trilogy.
Writer: Timothy Zahn
Publication Date: April, 1993
The Last Command is available from Amazon.com in a paperback edition, and from Audible as an audiobook.
Following the conclusion of Dark Force Rising, Thrawn and his Katana fleet dreadnaughts, crewed by clones, have been taking more and more systems back from the New Republic. Further, Thrawn has been using his cloaking shield technology combined with C’baoth’s force communication abilities to coordinate orbital bombardments that appear to be fired directly through a planetary defense system.
However, things start to go off the rails for Thrawn here. Mara and Ghent (Talon Karrde’s slicer who was brought to Coruscant to keep an eye on Mara and to help deal with the charges against Admiral Ackbar) start to form a friendship (very grudging in Mara’s case) with Leia Organa-Solo, leading to Mara disclosing her identity as The Emperor’s Hand to Leia. When Leia takes this a lot better than Mara suspected, and when Mara learns about Thrawn’s clones after recovering from a month in the hospital (and missing the initial wave of revelations about the clones), Mara comes forward about Weyland, and the cloning tanks in the Emperor’s storehouse. Han and Lando’s trust in Mara is clenched when Mara helps Han and Leia stop an attack by Imperial commandos on the palace in an attempt to kidnap Leia and her recently born twins (Jaina and Jacen) for C’Baoth.
Throughout this, Ghent, Leia, Winter, and General Bel Iblis are also hunting down the mysterious “Delta Source” that Thrawn is using to get information out of the Imperial Palace, and which is discovered to be the trees lining the grand corridor of the Imperial Palace.
Meanwhile, after a chance run-in with Luke Skywalker while Luke is hunting down the source of the clones, Talon Karrde makes a deal with Luke where Karrde will supply intelligence information that he comes across to the Republic – for a reasonable (for Karrde) fee of course. As Karrde also wants to get out from underneath the bounty Thrawn has set on him, he attempts to set up a smuggler’s consortium to help get this intelligence and find the Clones – an effort that is aided by a surprised Imperial attack on their meeting. An attack that was not planned by Thrawn, but was planned by Niles Ferrier, in the hopes of either getting Karrde or getting in with Karrde’s group. Ferrier then proceeds to screw up almost every attempt Thrawn makes to remedy this situation.
After C’Baoth starts taking over starship crews in their entirety, Thrawn sends him to be imprisoned on Weyland (among the Ysalamiri in the cloning facility), only for him to mentally dominate General Covell and much of his troops prior to their arrival. Also, the word is spreading among the Noghri of the deception of the Empire (and Thrawn in particular).
Thrawn does manage one more major blow to the Republic when he puts a number of 22 cloaked asteroids in orbit around Coruscant, and bluffs the Republic into believing that he put even more asteroids than that in orbit. However, Karrde had observed the asteroids being loaded onto one of the Star Destroyers used in the attack, when he was visiting the Bilbringi shipyard to witness an attack by Mazzic to avenge the deaths of one of their number in the ambush during Karrde’s earlier meeting, so once he’s able to get to Coruscant to pick up Mara and Ghent (though at this point Mara has left for Weyland with Han, Lando, and Chewie), he’s able to let them know how many asteroids there are.
Finally, while Lando, Han, Luke, Mara (and later Leia and Karrde) set out for Weyland to bring down the Empire’s cloning facility, the Republic plans an attack on the Empire to capture a Crystal Grav-Field Trap, which would let them confirm that the asteroids had been cleared out of orbit around Coruscant, and would let them thwart other attempts by the Empire to besiege other planets using this tactic. In an attempt to trick Thrawn, set up preparations for a false attack against Tangrene, while launching the real attack against Bilbringi. Thrawn sees through the ruse, and prepares a trap at Bilbringi – but Karrde’s smuggler consortium doesn’t, and plans to boost the CGT from Bilbringi, either to sell to the Republic if they fail, or to sell to other worlds if Thrawn tries to besiege them using the cloaked asteroid plan.
Finally, much as Return of the Jedi came down to three battles – one fight in space, one fought on the ground, and a physical and ideological battle amongst Jedi, so this book comes to a similar climax. In space, the New Republic and the Smugglers do battle with the Empire over Bilbringi. On the ground, Lando and Chewie do battle with Imperial troops while trying to destroy the facility. Finally, the Jedi conflict comes down to Luke, Mara, and later Leia facing off with Joruus C’Baoth, and C’Baoth’s clone of Luke from his hand lost on Bespin (along with the lightsaber he lost there as well).
In the end, C’Baoth and his clone of Luke are slain by Mara (fulfilling Palpatine’s last command, and also C’Baoth’s prophecy that Mara would kneel before him… though not in the way that he suspected). Rukh (Thrawn’s Noghri bodyguard) assassinates Thrawn at the turning point of the battle, forcing Captain Pellaeon (now in command) to withdraw the fleet. Finally, the cloning facility is destroyed when Lando and Chewbacca set the reactor to overload. The Empire has once again been defeated, but with the gains they have made, the war is far from over.
- The Empire kept a variety of wildlife to serve as a variety of guard animals that they would introduce on various worlds that they had important facilities on, including predators that were attracted by the sounds repulsorlifts because they sounded like their prey.
- Clones of the same person can resonate with each other in The Force, especially if they’ve been grown quickly, and this resonance can become maddening, and may be part of the reason why some clone populations were driven nuts. Using Yslamari can mitigate this problem.
- After the fall of the Emperor, several Imperial warships and their captains left the Empire and joined the Rebellion, later the New Republic. Presumably they had a “Are we the baddies” moment but didn’t feel safe defecting until after the Battle of Endor. One of the members of the command staff on Coruscant is one of these former Imperial officers.
- Palpatine had an elaborate organic surveillance system installed in the Grand Corridor – originally to spy on the Senate, and then later guests of the palace, and which was now being used by Thrawn.
- There is some massive secret that would be particularly harmful to the Bothan people, and potentially to the Galaxy as a whole in the treasure chambers of Weyland – we aren’t told what it is and won’t find out what it is until the Hand of Thrawn duology much later.
- First mention in the main EU of Airen Cracken and his son Pash, who I believe were introduced in the WEG sourcebooks. (The audio-book reader gives Pash an Irish accent).
- Karrde’s Smuggler’s Alliance is formed, with the founding members being Talon Karrde, Par’tah, Brask, Ellor, Dravis, Mazzic, and Samuel Gillespee. There will be a later retcon to bring Booster Terrik into the early days of the Alliance due to the romantic ties between his daughter Mirax and Corran Horn of Rogue Squadron (and later the Yavin Academy).
- With the death of Thrawn, Captain Pellaeon is, for now, leader of the Imperial Remnant (or at least the largest faction thereof).
Luke Skywalker: Up until the very end, when C’Baoth brings out “Luuke” wants to try to save C’Baoth from himself. Only when C’Baoth’s madness reveals to have driven him all the way down the path to the Dark Side does Luke decide that he’s got to go. Goes into a rage (as he did on the second Death Star) when his sister is harmed by C’Baoth, and is able to power through the Clone Feedback when he’s (briefly and unintentionally) calling on the Dark Side. After he recovers his old lightsaber (and his father’s lightsaber), entrusts it to Mara in the hopes that she’ll continue her Jedi training… and a whole bunch of Luke/Mara shippers went “squee” up until they get hitched in the Hand of Thrawn duology.
Mara Jade: Had previously been to Weyland with Palpatine. While she is still bitter over the destruction of her life due to the death of the Emperor, she does not want to see a new round of Clone Wars, and thinks that a New Republic victory is the best way of stopping that. Her desire to slay Luke was born more out of a Force implanted command by the Emperor, not by any actual personal desire for revenge – so killing “Luuke” fulfils the command. After this she’s feeling a little more amiable towards Luke, though she’s not feeling particularly romantic towards him – yet.
Lando Calrissian: With the destruction of the Niklon mining operation, two of Lando’s legit businesses have been destroyed or taken from him by the Empire. Has (along with Han) left some bitterness among members of the Republic military due to his having resigned his commission (though, thankfully, not with Garm Bel Iblis).
Leia Skywalker-Organa-Solo: Has given birth to twins – Jaina and Jacen Solo. Now has a group of Noghri bodyguards.
Winter Retrac: (some of this is from earlier books) Aide and childhood friend to Leia Organa-Solo. Alderaanian, and has an Eidetic Memory. This was a blessing for the Rebel Alliance (when it came to scouting supply raids – she at one point used the code-name of Targeter), and a curse for her (she vividly remembers every death she’s seen – including footage of the destruction of Alderaan). After the birth of Leia’s twins, her duties expand to serving as semi-nanny. Is incredibly unflappable (as she is never described as being startled or otherwise freaked out by the insanely impressive stealth of the Noghri). Last name is courtesy of Wookieepedia.
Talon Karrde: Forced into siding with the New Republic due to Thrawn’s actions against him, and is trustworthy enough that he’s able to form the Smuggler’s Alliance to bring several more major organizations (and Niles Ferrier) in with him, and is able to hold the group together through Ferrier’s treachery and some tight financial situations.
Captain Pellaeon: With the death of Grand Admiral Thrawn, is now in command of the Imperial Remnant. Managed to be manipulated through the Force by Joruus C’Baoth.
Chewbacca: His mechanical aptitude allows him to spot the potential to force the reactor at Weyland into a feedback loop that will destroy the mountain.
Jaina & Jacen Solo: Born.
Grand Admiral Thrawn: Assassinated by Rukh. Fails to have Niles Ferrier and Joruus C’Baoth killed after they screw up his plans for the last time, though he did plan to have C’Baoth killed following the battle of Bilbringi. I’m assuming he wanted to be present for C’Baoth’s death.
Han Solo: Is now a dad to twins. Doesn’t want Leia to run off potentially getting herself killed now that she’s a mom, but is totally willing to do it himself.
Emperor Palpatine: Sent a command to all of his Hands through the Force that they must kill Luke Skywalker. Saved Luke’s hand from Bespin, along with Anakin’s old lightsaber.
This is the first source that sets up that Luke’s first lightsaber (and Anakin’s last before he became Vader), were able to be recovered from Bespin. This concept would be re-used in The Force Awakens.
As has been mentioned in discussion on RPGnet, Thrawn has an oversight for, what I’d describe as people who don’t fit in a chain of command. He knows the chain of command for the New Republic (though he’ll never call it that), and combined with knowledge of Bothan psychology, can manipulate them so Borsk Fey’lya can send the Republic government into chaos. He can play with the expectations and planning of particular Republic commanders and planetary governments to get them what he wants them to do.
However, he doesn’t handle independant people very well. Wild cards (no pun intended) like Talon Karrde, Mara Jade, Niles Ferrier, and Joruus C’Baoth are just too chaotic to fit into his plans.
Take Niles Ferrier. Someone with Ferrier’s selective competence just wouldn’t fit in any real hierarchical organization like the Empire or the Republic – either washing out or being stuck in a low-ranking position. However, he’s good enough as a thief to set up an organization as a ship-thief… but once you get into anything more complicated than that, he starts stumbling. He’s both too full of himself and too incompetent to run anything more competent than that. It’s the logistical equivalent of not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time. If Ferrier has built up any sort of organization at all, it’s because Ferrier is just unambitious enough to keep things at a size he can handle, and because he’s good at lucking into recruiting people who can cover for his weaknesses when it comes to an organization that solely exists to steal ships and run cargo when they’re not stealing ships. Grand Admiral Thrawn is a brilliant tactician and strategist. TvTropes compares him to Napoleon , and that is a fair analysis. He’s a great leader of men. He’s not a spymaster. He assumes that Ferrier has to have some use, or else he wouldn’t have gotten an organization like what he has, so he doesn’t kill him when no, Ferrier is really that much of an idiot.
In order to run someone like Ferrier, you need a really good spymaster like, say, George Smiley, who can recognize Ferrier’s strengths and weaknesses, and keep him well away from the parts of the operation which he can screw up, and to quickly and discreetly dispose of him should he become too much of a liability (which he does pretty much early on). However, Thrawn isn’t that spymaster, and the last big head of Imperial Intelligence that we see later on (Ysanne Isard in the X-Wing series) frankly isn’t that spymaster either.
If my plot synopsis seems disjointed, it’s because the book, a little more than Dark Force Rising did, plays with the timeline some. Instead of a straightforward linear narrative, the book shuffles the reader back in time a little bit with the change in perspective, and uses references to earlier events from this book to orient the reader. It’s very effective when reading, but it’s kind of a bear to recap for these posts.
Next time, we return to comics with Dark Horse comics first outing in the Star Wars universe, with Dark Empire I.