A legendary fleet. An insane Dark Jedi. Commando warriors under the thumb of the Empire. And, oh yeah, an attack of the clones! All this and more in Timothy Zahn’s Dark Force Rising, the second book in the original Thrawn trilogy.

After making a strategic retreat at the end of Heir to the Empire, Grand Admiral Thrawn is back on the offensive. This time he’s after ships. Freighters. Frigates. The bigger the better. The only problem? There aren’t enough of them on the black market for him to buy. No matter. Legend says of a fleet that was lost in space not long after it was assembled. A fleet consisting of hundreds of dreadnaughts that’s sitting somewhere in space. All alone and unclaimed.

While once a fairy tale, rumors begin to coalesce into leads. That’s where Thrawn takes over, directing the Empire onto the trail of two people. The only two people who know where the fleet could be located. Luckily for the bad guys, they’ve already had dealings with one of them. A certain duplicitous smuggler by the name of Talon Karrde.

Wild Karrde

Talon Karrde in Dark Force Rising

Talon is often overlooked in this series. Overcrowded with bigger personalities, it’s sometimes difficult reading beyond Thrawn, Jade, or Skywalker. Yet, everything Karrde does has grave consequences. We saw that in the first book, when he held Luke’s future in his hands. Now, in the sequel, there’s something even more vital that he commands. Information. The whereabouts of the infamous Katana fleet — also know as the Dark Force because all the ships have a dark gray exterior.

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In this novel, the Dark Force fleet is everything. Its potential is so overwhelming that the side that winds up with it is bound to have a huge advantage. As in, winning the war once and for all. Thus, when Karrde holds out on both the New Republic and the Empire, the need to find him — and persuade him to give up the ships — is paramount. Both sides go about it in their own way. The New Republic through negotiation. The Empire through coercion.

Coercion wins out. At least, in the interim. Mara Jade is captured and forced to reveal Karrde’s whereabouts. But the heavy hand causes Talon to go with the side that doesn’t torture him. A useful turn of events for the New Republic, but only if he can be kept alive long enough to be useful.

Jade: Double Agent

Mara Jade in Dark Force Rising

That’s where Mara enters the picture. For the entirety of the series so far, Jade has been consumed with killing Skywalker. She blames him for her life imploding. That when the Emperor died, so did a little part of her. She’s so overcome with hate that she believes the only way to get a semblance of her old self back is by completing her old master’s orders.

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Yet, in the brief time that Mara returns to form and assumes the mantle of Emperor’s Hand, something changes. She no longer feels so singularly focused. Instead of giving her allegiance to Thrawn — or even the Empire — she feels conflicted. She chooses a different path. A path that leads her to most unlikely of partners.

Knowing only Skywalker can free Karrde, she flies off to Jomark, to where the mad Dark Jedi Joruus C’Baoth is holding court. There she finds Skywalker trying to play dutiful Padawan and failing miserably. Worse still, he’s under some sort of spell, influenced by C’Baoth’s deep well of Force power and knowledge. Breaking him free, Mara escorts Luke into the heart of the enemy, where the two adventure together once more.

Katana, Please

The Katana fleet from Dark Force Rising

In the end, Karrde becomes expendable to Thrawn’s plans. Rather than wait for the smuggler to crack, the grand admiral finds another way to the fleet. Pressuring the other person with the coordinates, he’s quickly and rather easily able to obtain what he’s been wanting.

The good guys, for their part, put up a good fight. Constantly they throw monkey wrenches into the Empire’s salvage operations. Unfortunately for them, they’re mostly too late. Thrawn is many things, including efficient. By the time our heroes arrive on the scene, much of the fleet has already been taken.

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Even worse, as they watch ship after ship disappear, they begin to understand how Thrawn will operate them. On the lead ship, the Katana, Luke, Mara, Han, and Lando are attacked by clone troopers. Clones that have been grown in the Spaarti cylinders at Mount Tantiss. It’s a sobering ending, having lost the fleet and now faced with the prospect of an immediate attack by the Dark Force fleet.

Where Dark Force Rising Ranks

Dark Force Rising is an excellent book. While not as groundbreaking as its predecessor nor as fulfilling as its sequel, it’s still an impressive continuation of an impressive tale. Unlike the first novel, this book is a slow burn. It’s a more compact story with focused character arcs and fewer burst of action.

Yet, when it needs to surprise and enthrall, it rises to the occasion. Truly, it’s a worthy addition to one of the greatest trilogies Star Wars has to offer.

A more focused storyline
Great character scenes
Prescient world building
Fantastic cliffhanger
Thrawn not as prominent
Not enough Katana fleet

Review Summary

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