The Last Command (Timothy Zahn)
Star Wars: The Last Command is the third and final book in the Thrawn Trilogy. Wrapping up all of the story lines from the previous novels while introducing a few new ones, The Last Command is a great finale to an excellent series, though the conclusion suffers from being a bit too similar to that of Return of the Jedi, and Thrawn's fate is on the anticlimactic side. Featuring strong appearances by original characters Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, and Thrawn, in addition to pitch perfect characterizations of the old mainstays, this is as good an ending as could realistically be expected for the series.
The story starts off strong, we see the aftermath of the battle at the end of Dark Force Rising, and the relationship between C'baoth and Thrawn is quickly thrown into further disarray. As in previous books, the scenes featuring Thrawn and his devious scheming are some of the strongest in the book. C'baoth's insanity really shines through in these passages, which makes Thrawn's meticulous manipulation all the more impressive. These segments also fit more into the realm of military sci fi, a sub genre that the author seems to be extremely comfortable writing in. The space battles that make up quite a bit of the book are well thought out and expertly visualized, while the planning that Pellaeon and Thrawn engage in is grounded in reality and devious beyond anything their counterparts working for the New Republic engage in.
More surprising is the major role smuggler Talon Karrde plays in resolving the book. An important character in the first two books, Karrde takes on a new role here, attempting to forge an alliance between the various smuggling factions of the universe. His efforts are sabotaged multiple times, and he finds himself in a losing battle to win support of the smugglers. His in depth role in the story allows for some exploration of the seedier elements of the universe, while his story is a welcome break from the larger scale, Jedi-oriented elements of the main plot.
Of interest to most fans will be the passages featuring the New Republic heroes. Some crucial events occur here, including the birth of Leia's children and the Noghri assuming the responsibility of acting as bodyguards for "Lady Vader." Leia does quite a bit in the story, besides worrying over her children. She plays a major role as a diplomat/peacekeeper within the ranks of New Republic high command, while also ferreting out the elusive Delta Source. Han, Luke, and Lando are somewhat marginalized, only playing a major part in events during the final movement of the story. They don't have the kind of major sub plots that they enjoyed in the first two books, and Luke in particular seems isolated from meaningful action until the climax. The trio is characterized excellently, especially Han's new role as a parent, they just do not show up as much as one would like.
The other central character for the "good guys", besides Leia and Karrde, is Mara Jade. Still grappling with her ingrained command to kill Luke Skywalker, while at the same time going out of her way to assist the New Republic, Mara is a complex character once again. Her role in the New Republic, and her relationship with the other characters is ever changing and it is quite interesting to see how everyone reacts to her presence.
The conclusion features two concurrent events, ultimately falling a bit short of matching the rest of the series in quality due to two key issues. Things come to a head when Luke and basically every single character of the main cast infiltrate Wayland and confront Joruus C'baoth, attempting to destroy him and the cloning cylinders that are essential to Thrawn's plans. Meanwhile, the New Republic fleet is primed to defend against Thrawn's attacks on yet another planet. This great set up quickly falls by the wayside, unfortunately.
The character composition of each scenario is the first problem. Everyone you would care to name is on Wayland fighting C'baoth, minus Wedge Antilles. Wedge is a great character, and a worthy protagonist in many other Star Wars books, but his role to this point has been a glorified cameo, and to have him as the only character to actually fight Thrawn's fleet in the climactic battle seems a bit ridiculous. Though of course, nobody actually gets to fight Thrawn. The book ends on an anti-climactic note as Thrawn and the Imperial threat is resolved quite quickly and with little fanfare. Fans hoping for a tactical face off between Thrawn and the New Republic will be sorely disappointed in the ending, which comes from no where and ends the battle on a disappointing, pre emptive note.
Meanwhile, the rest of our heroes are doing battle on Wayland. In a handful of sequences closely mirroring the throne room scenes of Return of the Jedi, Mara and Luke do battle with C'baoth and a clone of Luke, with the awful name of Luuke. Besides the ridiculous notion of Luke fighting a replica of himself, much less one named Luuke, the scene becomes gradually more derivative of the events in the final Star Wars film. The imagery is identical, with the setting quite literally being the Emperor's throne room (why he would have a throne room in a secret mountain base is beyond me) while the action is a fairly good replica too. C'baoth continues to tempt the duo over to the dark side while hurtling force lightning at them, mirroring the Emperor in action and voice. To top it off, C'baoth, like Palpatine, becomes an explosive flash of light upon his death. I don't have a problem with paying tribute to the original films, but The Last Command apes a bit too heavily for my tastes, and the fact that it just isn't a compelling scene without all the blatant rip offs just kills it for me.
Mechanically, the book is yet another strong effort by author Timothy Zahn. Action scenes are great, with a wide variety of entertaining exploits to experience here. Zahn seems most at home with writing tactical space engagements and ranged ground combat, both of which make up most of the book's engagements. Pacing is also handled really well, mixing the explosive battles with the heartfelt character moments and a dash of exposition/planning. It is a quick and enjoyable read from a literary standpoint, with nothing to challenge the reader but nothing laughably bad either. Dialogue is true to Star Wars and descriptions are adequate, so there is little complaint here.
The Last Command is a good book in spite of the limp-wristed conclusion. It concludes most of the sub plots in a satisfying manner, while continuation to portray its cast in a sensible and fair manner. If you have made it this far, there is no real reason not to finish off the trilogy.