It’s no secret at this point that I am of the opinion that Zahn writes better Star Wars than the original creators. I’ve found, though, that his Star Wars books written after that original trilogy are a bit of a mixed bag.
With Choices of One (I actually have no idea what the title means and the cover art is possibly the most hideous thing I have ever seen) Zahn tells a story set a few years or months after the events of A New Hope. Luke Skywalker is a little bit incompetent when it comes to anything other than piloting a fighter and Han is struggling to find his place in the Alliance.
Where most of my problems with this book come from are bound up in the fact that Zahn tried to use many of his own favorite characters but he has used them too much. Thrawn, in the original trilogy of books by Timothy Zahn, was only tenuously believable as a tactical genius because of the strength of Zahn’s writing and his talent for surprises (also the deft weave of Thrawn usually being eight moves ahead but sometimes the good guys surprise him anyways). With successive books Zahn keeps bringing back his characters and making them more and more awesome until they seem to have no checks to hold them back. Thrown becomes almost a cartoon super genius, Mara Jade — possibly the best addition to the Star Wars cannon ever— becomes an ultra competent, compassionate personal assassin for the emperor.
The problem is that it all becomes so unbelievable. Thrawn is so capable that it is cartoonish and the Mara we see in this book who bats blasters away with a lightsaber and uses the Force to pull amazing stunts and brilliant covert operations is hardly the Mara from the books that take place nearly ten years later who has to be instructed by Luke on using a lightsaber before approaching C’baoth.
Thrawn is fiercely loyal to the Emperor simply because he believes in the efficacy of supreme rule and dictatorship — which is fine, if not for the problem of the Emperor’s extreme prejudice for any non-human species. Does this not bother Thrawn at all that, although an exception is made for him there is no guarantee that the rest of his people will be treated as anything less than slaves?
Because of the early setting Luke is forced to spend most of the book sitting and waiting for other people to do things. He’s not given an opportunity to pilot anything, which at this point is his only real skill. He carries his lightsaber around and thinks about using it a few times but knows he has no skill. Han and Leia are at their usual best diving into the action and generally getting into the thick of things, though their plot trail is mostly a dead end that could be left out completely without changing the story too much.
That’s because they are only here for the set dressing. People want to see our trio of Star Wars heroes. So here they are. The real story being told here is the one of a troop of former stormtroopers who deserted form the Empire because they didn’t like the cruelty and oppression and corruption that they saw there. This is their adventure and the rest of these characters are along for the ride.
The other biggest problem with this book is the fact that we basically have Luke and Mara on the same mission but they can’t ever meet because they don’t know each other until years later. This led to some really contrived situations that mostly amounted to Luke sitting back and waiting to see what other people are going to do before he takes action while Mara charges in and takes care of business.
Those complaints aside, this book is full of surprises in usual Zahn fashion. Nothing is ever as it appears and I was genuinely surprised at a few points in the story. The action scenes are clear and concise and Zahn tells a fun story that has little impact on the characters involved.
If you have too much to read you could probably skip this one. It’s far from the worst Star Wars has to offer, though.