Star Wars The Hand of Thrawn #1: Specter of the Past

Star Wars The Hand of Thrawn #1: Specter of the Past

4.6 43
by Timothy Zahn

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Hugo Award-winning author Timothy Zahn makes his triumphant return to the Star Wars(r) universe in this first of an epic new two-volume series in which the New Republic must face its most dangerous enemy yet--a dead Imperial warlord.

The Empire stands at the brink of total collapse. But they have saved their most heinous plan for last. First a plot is hatched that

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Hugo Award-winning author Timothy Zahn makes his triumphant return to the Star Wars(r) universe in this first of an epic new two-volume series in which the New Republic must face its most dangerous enemy yet--a dead Imperial warlord.

The Empire stands at the brink of total collapse. But they have saved their most heinous plan for last. First a plot is hatched that could destroy the New Republic in a bloodbath of genocide and civil war. Then comes the shocking news that Grand Admiral Thrawn--the most cunning and ruthless warlord in history--has apparently returned from the dead to lead the Empire to a long-prophesied victory. Facing incredible odds, Han and Leia begin a desperate race against time to prevent the New Republic from unraveling in the face of two inexplicable threats--one from within and one from without. Meanwhile, Luke teams up with Mara Jade, using the Force to track down a mysterious pirate ship with a crew of clones. Yet, perhaps most dangerous of all, are those who lurk in the shadows, orchestrating a dark plan that will turn the New Republic and the Empire into their playthings.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Zahn turns in his usual high-caliber performance."--Library Journal

"Longtime fans should get considerable pleasure from this addition to the saga."--Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine are long dead and the Empire, on its last legs, has shrunk to a mere handful of star systems. Admiral Pellaeon, supreme commander of the Empire's military forces, is ready to ask the New Republic for peace, but a small group of Imperial conspirators will do anything to make sure that doesn't happen. In a desperate bid to regain the Empire's lost glory, the conspirators kidnap Pellaeon's peace envoy, send secret agents to stir up strife within the New Republic and enlist a gifted actor to impersonate the last great Imperial hero, the long dead High Admiral Thrawn. In this first volume of a new Star Wars series, veteran military-SF author Zahn (Heir to the Empire; Conqueror's Pride) has crafted an unusually sophisticated addition to the continuing saga of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa. Although space opera fans will find an adequate number of battling starships and blazing blasters here, the emphasis is on espionage and complex political wheeling and dealing. The novel features a large cast of well-developed supporting characters, including such old favorites as the roguish Lando Calrissian, the fearless X-wing pilot Wedge Antilles and the Imperial agent turned Jedi, Mara Jade, who is looking more and more like a potential romantic interest for Luke Skywalker. Longtime fans should get considerable pleasure from this addition to the saga. (Nov.)
Library Journal
More intergalactic capers from the author whose best-selling Heir to the Empire launched the current Star Wars craze.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Star Wars: The Hand of Thrawn Series, #1
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.84(w) x 4.16(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
10 Years

Read an Excerpt

Slowly, silently, its lights a faint glitter of life amid the darkness, the Imperial Star Destroyer Chimaeraglided through space.

Empty space.  Oppressively dark space.  Long, lonely light-years from the nearest of the tiny islands that were the star systems of the galaxy, drifting at the edge of the boundary between the Outer Rim worlds and the vast regions of territory known as Unknown Space.  At the very edge of the Empire.

Or rather, at the edge of the pitiful scraps of what had once been the Empire.

Standing beside one of the Chimaera's side viewports, Admiral Pellaeon, Supreme Commander of the Imperial Fleet, gazed out at the emptiness, the weight of all too many years pressing heavily across his shoulders.  Too many years, too many battles, too many defeats.

Perhaps the Chimaera's bridge crew was feeling the weight, too.  Certainly the sounds of activity going on behind him seemed more muted than usual today.  But perhaps it was merely the effect of being out here, so far from anywhere at all.

No, of course that had to be it.  The men of the Chimaerawere the finest the Fleet had to offer.  They were Imperial officers and crewers, and Imperials didn't give up.  Ever.

There was a tentative footstep at his side.  "Admiral?"  Captain Ardiff said quietly.  "We're ready to begin, sir."

For a moment Pellaeon's mind flashed back ten years, to another very similar moment.  Then, it had been Pellaeon and Grand Admiral Thrawn who'd been here on the Chimaera's bridge, watching the final test of the prototype cloaking shield Thrawn had recovered from among the Emperor's trophies inside Mount Tantiss.  Pellaeon could remember the excitement he'd felt then, despite his misgivings about the insane Jedi clone Joruus C'baoth, as he watched Thrawn single-handedly breathing new life and vigor back into the Empire.

But Mount Tantiss was gone, destroyed by agents of the New Republic and C'baoth's own madness and treason.  And Grand Admiral Thrawn was dead.

And the Empire was dying.

With an effort, Pellaeon shook the shadows of the past away.  He was an Imperial officer, and Imperials didn't give up.  "Thank you," he said to Ardiff.  "At your convenience, Captain."

"Yes, sir."  Ardiff half turned, gestured to the fighter coordinator in the portside crew pit.  "Signal the attack," he ordered.

The officer acknowledged and gestured in turn to one of his crewers.  Pellaeon turned his attention back to the viewport--

Just in time to see eight SoroSuub Preybird-class starfighters in tight formation roar in from behind them.  Cutting tight to the Chimaera's command superstructure, they passed over the forward ridgeline, raking it with low-power blaster fire, then split smoothly out in eight different directions.  Corkscrewing out and forward, they kept up their fire until they were out of the Star Destroyer's primary attack zone.  Then, curving smoothly around, they swung around and regrouped.

"Admiral?"  Ardiff prompted.

"Let's give them one more pass, Captain," Pellaeon said.  "The more flight data the Predictor has to work with, the better it should function."  He caught the eye of one of the crew pit officers.  "Damage report?"

"Minor damage to the forward ridgeline, sir," the officer reported.  "One sensor array knocked out, leaving five turbolasers without ranging data."

"Acknowledged."  All theoretical damage, of course, calculated under the assumption that the Preybirds were using full-power capital-ship turbolasers.  Pellaeon had always loved war games when he was younger; had relished the chance to play with technique and tactics without the risks of true combat.  Somewhere in all those years, the excitement had faded away.  "Helm, bring us around twenty degrees to starboard," he ordered.  "Starboard turbolasers will lay down dispersion fire as they make their next pass."

The Preybirds were back in tight formation now, once again approaching their target.  The Chimaera's turbolasers opened up as they came, their low-level fire splattering across the Preybirds' overlapping deflector shields.  For a few seconds the opponents traded fire; then, the Preybirds broke formation again, splitting apart like the fingertips of an opening hand.  Twisting over and under the Chimaera, they shot past, scrambling for the safety of distance.

"Damage report?"  Pellaeon called.

"Three starboard turbolaser batteries knocked out," the officer called back.  "We've also lost one tractor beam projector and two ion cannon."

"Enemy damage?"

"One attacker appears to have lost its deflector shields, and two others are reading diminished turbolaser capability."

"Hardly counts as damage," Ardiff murmured.  "Of course, the situation here isn't exactly fair.  Ships that small and maneuverable would never have the kind of shields or firepower we're crediting them with."

"If you want fairness, organize a shockball tournament," Pellaeon said acidly.  "Don't look for it in warfare."

Ardiff's cheek twitched.  "I'm sorry, sir."

Pellaeon sighed.  The finest the Imperial Fleet had to offer..."  Stand by the cloaking shield, Captain," he ordered, watching the faint drive glows as the Preybirds regrouped again in the distance.  "Activate on my command."

"Yes, Admiral."

There was a sudden flare of drive glow, partially eclipsed by the Preybirds themselves, as the enemy kicked into high acceleration.  "Here they come," Pellaeon said, watching as the single glowing dot rapidly resolved itself into eight close-formation ships.  "Lock Predictor into fire control.  Stand by cloaking shield."

"Predictor and cloaking shield standing by," Ardiff confirmed.

Pellaeon nodded, his full attention on the Preybirds.  Nearly to the point where they'd broken formation last time...  "Cloaking shield: now."

And with a brief flicker of bridge lighting, the stars and incoming Preybirds vanished as the cloaking shield plunged the Chimaerainto total darkness.

"Cloaking shield activated and stabilized," Ardiff said.

"Helm, come around portside: thirty degrees by eight," Pellaeon ordered.  "Ahead acceleration point one.  Turbolasers: fire."

"Acknowledged," an officer called.  "Turbolasers are firing."

Pellaeon took a step closer to the viewport and looked down along the Chimaera's sides.  The faint blasts of low-level fire were visible, lancing a short distance out from the Star Destroyer and then disappearing as they penetrated the spherical edge of the Star Destroyer's cloaking shield.  Blinded by the very device that was now shielding it from its opponents' view, the Chimaerawas firing wildly in an attempt to destroy those opponents.

Or perhaps not quite so wildly.  If the Predictor worked as well as its designers hoped, perhaps the Empire still had a chance in this war.

It was a long time before the Chimaera's turbolasers finally ceased fire.  Far too long.  "Is that it?"  he asked Ardiff.

"Yes, sir," the other said.  "Five hundred shots, as preprogrammed."

Pellaeon nodded.  "Deactivate cloaking shield.  Let's see how well we did."

There was another flicker from the lights, and the stars were back.  Mentally crossing his fingers, Pellaeon peered out the viewport.

For a moment there was nothing.  Then, from starboard, he spotted the approaching drive glows.  Seven of them.

"Signal from Adversary Commander, Admiral," the comm officer called.  "Target Three reports receiving a disabling hit and has gone dormant; all other targets have sustained only minimal damage.  Requesting orders."

Pellaeon grimaced.  One.  Out of eight targets, the Chimaerahad been able to hit exactly one.  And that great feat had required five hundred shots to achieve.

So that was that.  The wonderful Computerized Combat Predictor, touted by its creators and sponsors as the best approach to practical use of the cloaking shield, had been put to the test.  And to be fair, it had probably done better than simple random shooting.

But it hadn't done enough better.  Not nearly enough.

"Inform Adversary Commander that the exercise is over," Pellaeon told the comm officer.  "Target Three may reactivate its systems; all ships are to return to the Chimaera.  I want their reports filed within the next two hours."

"Yes, sir."

"I'm sure they'll be able to improve it, Admiral," Ardiff said at Pellaeon's side.  "This was just the first field test.  Surely they'll be able to improve it."

"How?"  Pellaeon retorted.  "Train the Predictor to be omniscient?  Or simply teach it how to read our enemies' minds?"

"You only gave it two passes to study the targets' flight patterns," Ardiff reminded him.  "With more data, it could have better anticipated their movements."

Pellaeon snorted gently.  "It's a nice theory, Captain, and under certain controlled situations it might even work.  But combat is hardly a controlled situation.  There are far too many variables and unknowns, especially considering the hundreds of alien species and combat styles we have to contend with.  I knew from the beginning that this Predictor idea was probably futile.  But it had to be tried."

"Well, then, we just have to go back to mark zero," Ardiff said.  "Come up with something else.  There have to be practical uses for this cloaking shield device."

"Of course there are," Pellaeon agreed heavily.  "Grand Admiral Thrawn devised three of them himself.  But there's no one left in the Empire with his military genius."

He sighed.  "No, Captain.  It's over.  It's all over.  And we've lost."

For a long moment the low murmur of background conversation was the only sound on the bridge.  "You can't mean that, Admiral," Ardiff said at last.  "And if I may say so, sir, this is not the sort of thing the Supreme Commander of Imperial forces should be talking about."

"Why not?"  Pellaeon countered.  "It's obvious to everyone else."

"It most certainly is not, sir," Ardiff said stiffly.  "We still hold eight sectors--over a thousand inhabited systems.  We have the Fleet, nearly two hundred Star Destroyers strong.  We're still very much a force to be reckoned with."

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Star Wars The Hand of Thrawn #1 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
anarchrist33 More than 1 year ago
Still somewhat new to the whole "Expanded Universe" of Star Wars, I read this novel immediately after hearing the Thrawn trilogy on audiobook. Even though this book takes place about ten years after those books I found that Timothy Zahn picked up where he left off quite well. The world isn't too far removed as far as what has happened in between The Last Command and now. He does an excellent job, as usual, of getting people into the story and carefully weaving the threads of a greater plot that is sure to meet up in the second book. Specter of the past is very much a primer, or set up, for Vision of the future, which I'm currently reading, and as such doesn't necessarily resolve anything by the end. It's very much a "to be continued" novel, but is action packed and intriguing enough that by the time I read those words, I was screaming, "Good God, i have to get the next one! What happens?" I would definitely recommend this book for those who've already read the Thrawn trilogy, newbies might find it a bit "alien" no pun intended, as there are familiar characters, Leia, Han, Luke, Lando etc. but, oh by the way, Leia and Han have three children, she's a Jedi, Luke has an academy on Yavin 4 and, hey, who's this Mara Jade chick over here? Just saying, there's a lot to catch up on if you're new to the "EU". But Zahn delivers another great read with a fairly believable portrayal of the characters we've all come to know and love. Personally, i hope they make these books into Unabridged audiobooks sometime, as the abridged ones, I've heard, are terrible.
PatrickKanouse More than 1 year ago
After re-reading Timothy Zahn's first Star Wars trilogy last year, I decided to read his follow up Star Wars duology (Hand of Thrawn) this year. I just recently completed the first book, Specter of the Past. Zahn's original trilogy was spectacularly good, capturing the flavor and feel of the original movies and reconnecting us with the characters we loved. This means that the Hand of Thrawn duology has a hard road to follow. Specter of the Past reintroduces us to several characters introduced in the first trilogy: Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, and Admiral Pellaeon. Of course, one spends time with Luke, Leia, Han, and Lando, and Zahn's sure grip on these characters keep us engaged, and I think his Han is inspired. The plot, ten years after the victory of the New Republic at the end of the trilogy, centers around a conspiracy within the Empire, now a poor shadow of its former self. Pellaeon, leader of the Imperial forces, recognizes that a negotiated peace is the only way to preserve the Empire and its New Order, and Pellaeon works to convince the Moffs and military leaders. However, Moff Disra thinks otherwise and forms a conspiracy with a former Emperor's Guard and an actor to undermine Pellaeon's efforts and  foster fissures in the New Republic, focusing particularly on a historical destruction of a planet and those seeking retribution. Finally, a mysterious ship appears and transmits a mysterious message. Jade and Luke try to chase this down while Leia, Han, Talon, and Lando work to save the New Republic from tearing itself apart. Zahn, as always, has a great grasp of character, plot, and pacing, and he has the feel of the Star Wars universe, and for a Star Wars fan, this is just about perfect anyways. thing is lacking in Specter of the Past that was not in the first trilogy: Thrawn. Zahn's Grand Admiral of the first trilogy is so fascinating, so well conceived that his character is what turns out to be difficult to beat in Specter of the Past, where Disra and his co-conspirators simply don't measure up to Thrawn. Still, a good read and I'll be moving on to Vision of the Future.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Close but not quite in my opinion. Zahn certainly is the greatest Star Wars author working today, and 'Specter of the Past' is a valiant effort to write a great Star Wars novel, but unfortunately, through NO fault of his own, Zahn had to build on stories that came after his original 3 book series which started with the absolutely incredible 'Heir To The Empire'. If you have managed to make it through the lame drivel that has been printed out there you know what I'm talking about. Zahn certainly did the best he could, of that there is NO doubt. I was actually sad to see Grand Admiral Thrawn die at the end of 'The Last Command', and I was genuinely hoping that he had survived to fight another day as I began this novel. Again, it's quite difficult to improve upon the first 3 novels by Zahn, but this novel sure does come close. Many characters which never had the chance to be fleshed out in major detail in his previous books take specific shape in 'Specter'. Including a lot more of Mara Jade. It seems that of all the newer characters created since 'Return of the Jedi' Mara Jade seems to be one of the most popular. As I read along in this great story, I found myself actually praying that Thrawn really was alive, or at least cloned. Zahn sews some great sub-plots and some great major ones into this two-book saga, and I found the seeds of discontent within the New Republic to be one of the more realistic storylines to be explored in all of the Star Wars novels. Sure, they are ALL fiction, but with the ground-work laid by Lucas, what has come since the publication of 'The Last Command' has turned a lot of the Star Wars Universe into a pale version of what it could have and SHOULD have been -- especially if Zahn had written it. I have read how one reviewer was profoundly thankful that Mr. Zahn did not have the Empire attempting to create yet another mega super weapon as have been described in other forgettable Star Wars tales out there. No this story revolves around yet further deception on the part of the Empire and what IF they were so down on their luck that they actually considered a treaty with the New Republic? I don't see many other novels out there exploring avenues such as this, and better yet, even fewer of the books with the Star Wars name on the front are even slightly vaguely entertaining. Sure, I believe Zahn to be the best of this particular craft, but what self-respecting fan of this series doesn't?
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Personally I think this is the best of the Expanded Universe books, and certainly Zahn's best.
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ColoradoBR More than 1 year ago
Zahn is the best Star Wars novelist ever. The political intrigue and fast paced action in this story are excellent. Ten years have passed since the evens of the Thrawn trilogy and the struggle between the Empire and the New Republic have reached new challenges for both sides of the conflict. This is the first of two novels so just be aware that there are plenty of things to resolve at the end of this novel.
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