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Outbound Flight, by Timothy Zahn Book Review | SFReader.com
Outbound Flight, by Timothy Zahn Genre: Star Wars Publisher: Random House Published: 2006 Review Posted: 3/21/2007 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 10 out of 10
Outbound Flight, by Timothy Zahn
Book Review by Jason Garza
Have you read this book?
In 1991, a concept was introduced in a novel that, it can be argued, started the Star Wars literary revival. A throwaway line—or so it seemed—told the story of a project to search for extragalactic species. Hinted at briefly in the so-called Thrawn Trilogy, Outbound Flight would make its first true appearance in "Survivor's Quest," but its story would not be revealed until Timothy Zahn's first foray into Clone Wars era fiction, the aptly named Outbound Flight.
After fifteen years, expectations were high, and since Zahn was handling the task of explaining the origins of the doomed exploratory vessel, cautious optimism seemed to be the prevailing feeling towards the book's release. The novel opens with a smuggling vessel running from Hutt pursuers; the young smuggler, Jorj Car'das, will be the novel's chief voice. It is through his eyes that we see the rise and eventual plotted fall of Commander Mitth'raw'nuruodo, the enigmatic man who would rise to the position of Grand Admiral. In keeping with novels past, Zahn never presents us with Thrawn's point-of-view, relying instead on a human outsider to present his take on the Chiss tactical genius.
The Car'das-Thrawn plotline is fascinating, running counter to intrigue and machinations currently festering on Coruscant. There, it is Jedi Master C'baoth attempting to gain funding and additional Jedi for his pet project, the titular Outbound Flight. C'baoth receives his wish via Sith manipulation, though no one is wise to the existence or intervention of Darth Sidious. More importantly, we are introduced to Jedi Lorana Jinzler, whose ultimate fate resonates long after the end of the story, reverberating through "Survivor's Quest." Jedi are introduced and given the necessary background information, enough to separate them from one another, letting the reader care about them somewhat; Zahn has never been one for writing believable emotional scenes, relying instead on character development through plot and technology. Which isn't usually a problem with established characters, but in Outbound Flight it comes off as noticeable.
The low point comes when Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi find their way onto Outbound Flight, and while some of us undoubtedly were hoping for the former to die along with the rest of Outbound Flight, the mysterious Darth Sidious manipulates matters so his oblivious future apprentice will live and bring balance to the Force.
Outbound Flight is less about Jedi and more about the Chiss Ascendancy, which for me was a major selling point and increased the enjoyment of the novel. Clearly, it is this latter story that Zahn relishes, and as a result the Jedi-Coruscant scenes come off stilted and forced, whereas the events and characters in Chiss space are well-written and structured, and when the two plotlines converge, even though most know what will happen, Thrawn's decisions reveal not a bloodthirsty tyrant but a loyal officer who toed the line in order to preserve his culture.
As stated previously, it is the Car'das-Thrawn dynamic that is central to the novel. With the threat of the Vaagari looming close to Csilla and Chiss Space, Thrawn and Admiral Ar'alani devise a way to rid themselves of the Vaagari threat, only to find their plans slightly put off by the arrival of Kinman Doriana and Outbound Flight. The final act of aggression against C'baoth and Outbound Flight further grays the lines of good and evil; Doriana is the engineer of destruction, saving Thrawn and dooming the Jedi.
Perhaps most frustrating is the reasoning behind Sidious/Palpatine's desire to destroy Outbound Flight: to prevent the Jedi from discovering the "Far Outsiders." Instead of the malicious intent to rid himself of enemies, we are once again treated to a blurring of the lines that runs contrary to what is seen on film and written in the novels. We want Palpatine to be the embodiment of the Dark Side, yet his decisions are not entirely self-serving. Granted, that makes for good drama normally, but in Outbound Flight it comes off too forced and almost unreal. It could be I'm reading too much into it—but with Zahn, one never knows.
Overall, this is a decent enough story, but ultimately it falls victim to the new prequel trilogy and years of speculation, and, unless one needs to know the story of how Car'das became the man seen in "Vision of the Future" and that Thrawn isn't totally, utterly evil, Outbound Flight can be passed over in favor of "Survivor's Quest". While not a disappointment, Outbound Flight is an average tale of characters old and new, putting an end to a decade and a half of speculation.
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