It’s possible that I’ve said everything I need to say about Star Wars in talking about the two previous books of this trilogy. I’m going to attempt to say more.
The Last Command is a culmination of several plot points that have been running through the trilogy since the beginning. The plots are resolved satisfactorily in an ending that is gripping and intense in ways that only the best books can manage and was much shorter than I remembered it. At one point I noticed there were only a few pages left and there was a lot left to happen. Zahn is not one of the wordy, epic tome type writers. His language is concise and harks back to much of the writing of the late sixties and early seventies when paper was at a premium and novels were printed in bite-size chunks.
I’ve already said that Zahn makes Star Wars better. This book is the end of the trilogy and the most powerful Star Wars story told so far.
One of the reasons for its power is the portrayal of compassion and the use of women as characters rather than props. Star Wars is problematic in its portrayal of women. In the original trilogy there’s really only one (I know Mon Mothma is a woman and in a position of leadership but she has how many lines again?). Let’s not even mention the later prequels — seriously, this is a can of worms that cannot be unopened — and they’re sand worms — and they’re hungry and you’re walking on their sand, near their spice… oh… wrong universe.
Zahn portrays Leia acting in the roll of mother — tending to her children — and being an important political figure and central part of the government. She faces down imperial commandos, uncovers an Imperial spy network, single-handedly turns a planet full of Imperial assassins to her side and has time to show up and rescue Luke, Han et al at the end. All of this while patching up relations between disparate faction of the New Republic and taking care of her children.
This is something that all the later books missed. They have Leia send her children away to be raised by strangers in barren caves because it will be easier for her to charge around and be an action hero if she isn’t saddled with small people to take care of. What lesser authors failed to grasp was that Leia is a mother and a hero — as any mother knows those two things are not mutually exclusive, frequently they are synonymous.
All right so Zahn did justice to Leia and made her a real character with an arc that did not consist of deciding which man she wanted to be with (by taking the decision away from her, I might add when it turned out one of them was her brother). He also added several new characters to the Star Wars cannon that persist to this day. Mara Jade is probably the foremost and with good reason. As a character she has more of a past and more dimension than any of the original cast — in fact the same can be said for nearly all of Zahn’s characters. The only reason they don’t overshadow the original movie characters is because Zahn keeps them in minor rolls. Jade, however is not in a minor roll. In fact it could be argued that she is the hero of this trilogy. Sure the books are about Luke and Han and Leia with Lando and Chewbacca thrown in but Mara is the heart, the core.
In fact the books are named after the arc that Mara goes through in each one.
Books can have a broad range of characters. Sometimes they stick with you. Some characters I know so well that I feel like I would recognize them in a crowded room. What surprised me was how little information these books actually gave us about Mara. Very little is explained, compared to how well I feel I know her. She’s like an old friend.
Mon Mothma gets to have real feelings and consistent character flaws and virtues. Winter is Leia’s friend and a master spy for the New Republic.
The other part of these books that makes them so great is the use of compassion. One of the main tenets of the Force is supposed to be compassion for others. Most writers forget that in an effort to tell a story with lots of cool battles. In The Last Command it is Leia’s willingness to show compassion on Mara — who has repeatedly threatened to kill Luke — that prompts Mara to save her form the Imperial commandos sent to kidnap her babies. It is that same kindness that turned the hearts of the Noghri. It is also what brought Karrde over to the side of the New Republic, from trying to stay neutral and what led Luke to go to C’baoth.
It’s all brilliant and well-played. The story ties up nicely with perhaps the best ending of any Star Wars book.