Book Review: Timothy Zahn’s Allegiance

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star wars allegianceIn 1992, with George Lucas’s Star Wars movies nine years out of the limelight, little known (yet Hugo Award winning) author Timothy Zahn single-handedly reignited the imagination of Jedi fandom and launched Lucas’s universe into an entirely new realm. He did it with the release of “Heir to the Empire”, a book set in the Star Wars universe and taking place after the events of Return of the Jedi. “Heir” was the first of three books, known as the Thrawn trilogy, and with them not only did Zahn keep the fires of Star Wars burning bright during the long years between the original films and the prequels, he launched an all new, multimedia empire of expanded universe novels and merchandise which has since ballooned into dozens and dozens of books and comics by various authors and made George Lucas even richer than rich.

More importantly though, the Thrawn Trilogy was good. Really good. Unlike most of the usual franchise gunk that’s published in paperback form, Zahn’s novels stood on their own as legitimate literary works. They had value beyond the world of easy-to-please fanboys. He didn’t just slap some lightsaber descriptions between two covers. Zahn revolutionized not only Star Wars, but genre series writing in general.

Unfortunately Zahn didn’t have the good sense to leave well enough alone. He followed up the Thrawn Trilogy in 1997 with a sequel called “Specter of the Past” and he’s since released four others, culminating in this latest entry, “Allegiance”. With each release the quality of Zahn’s work has degraded until now, “Allegiance” isn’t just bad it’s almost unreadable. What happened to the Zahn we used to know and love?

“Allegiance” is little better than fan-fiction, the fevered wet dream of some member of the 501st Legion. For those of you who aren’t total nerds, the 501st is a group of Star Wars fans who wear Stormtrooper suits and march around in formation. They show up in a lot of parades. Zahn’s book reads as if it’s a love letter to that specific group of Star Wars nerds, the utterly implausible story of a group of Stormtrooper good guys whose loyalty to the evil Empire somehow translates into helping people. I liked them better when they were faceless, murderous, clones.

It’s not all Stormtroopers though. Presumably, because he realizes no one would want to read this book unless he found some way to shoehorn them in, Zahn sets up a series of implausible encounters with Star Wars staples Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, and the rest. It’s awkward, the characters are poorly drawn, and the plot is utterly ridiculous. What the hell happened to Timothy Zahn?

“Allegiance” represents not only a real low point in Zahn’s once illustrious career, but a low point in the Star Wars expanded universe as whole. That’s saying something, considering avid readers of Star Wars paperbacks have had to suffer through the likes of Kevin J. Anderson. But even Anderson has never been this limp. Zahn may be responsible for starting the Star Wars expanded universe, but now he seems intent on ending it. Well congratulations Tim, if that’s your game then you’ve succeeded. I’ve been there from the beginning, I’ve stuck with the universe through thick, thin, and the unnecessary killing of Chewbacca. But for me, you have now officially ended it. For this reader anyway, the Star Wars EU is now dead. In the future if I want this kind of dreck, I’ll look on Livejournal.


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