Mar 14 2013 9:25am

The Most Legitimate Redemption in All of Star Wars: The Last Command

Star Wars The Last Command Timothy Zahn rereadIf George Lucas is to be believed, then the big story of the Star Wars films is one of redemption. And not just the redemption of a certain someone who turned to the dark side and went on a bunch of killing sprees, but also smaller more relatable redemptions. From Han Solo, to Lando Calrissian, and even aspects of Obi-Wan’s story, Star Wars is replete with people screwing up really hard, and then, hopefully, doing the right thing in the end.

And in the final novel of Timothy Zahn’s “Thrawn Trilogy,” his best-written original character receives the coolest redemption story in all of Star Wars—counting the movies!

Spoilers for The Last Command, Star Wars in general.

As a pre-teen, I would silently freak out whenever people’s lightsabers were the wrong color in various Star Wars tie-in media. In the 1977 Marvel adaptation comics they’re all purple, and in all the Return of the Jedi promotions Luke’s new lightsaber looks blue instead of green. (Of course, the green lightsaber thing was a last minute change since it looked better against the sand dunes of Yuma, Arizona, but whatever.) So, you can imagine my 12-year-old rage when I saw that the cover of The Last Command sported Luke Skywalker fighting with a blue lightsaber. No! He lost that one in The Empire Strikes Back. It’s green now. And who the hell is that fighting him?

Ah, but how satisfied were we all as Star Wars fans back in 1993 when we actually read what was underneath that awesome cover? (That's not Luke, it's his clone Luuke and that is his OLD lightsaber.) Yes, yes there are cloaked asteroids, bad guys disguised as Jawas, and smugglers galore, but the real great stuff here is the escalation and conclusion of Mara Jade’s excellent storyline. As I mentioned when writing about Heir to the Empire, Timothy Zahn does some solid work in expanding the Star Wars galaxy into a more believable, functional place. Part of this was the introduction of harder sci-fi into Star Wars, but part of it was also by presenting a universe that had more than one woman in it! And though Mara Jade is the wonderful, important person in this discussion, don’t forget about Winter! Winter is Princess Leia’s assistant, and badass lady who knows a thing or two about the art of spying and counter-spying! (Winter will continue to pop up in Star Wars novels, and plays a particularly interesting role in the Kevin J. Anderson Jedi Academy trilogy.)

However, it is Mara Jade who owns this book, and though we generally call this three-book-cycle the “Thrawn Trilogy,” the fact that it permanently cements Mara Jade into the Star Wars mythos makes you almost want to call it “The Jade Trilogy.” Why is Mara Jade so great? Part of it is the obvious stuff: she’s an assassin, she’s snarky, she’s got red hair. But really, the appeal of this book, and Mara Jade in specific, is all about her redemption.

Though Star Wars needs people in spaceships shooting lasers at each other to live up to its name, the best moments in the films (prequels included) are always when the character conflicts unavoidably careen towards a climactic face-off, necessarily involving lightsabers. While Return of the Jedi is totally the weakest of the classic films, it does contain the best and most emotional lightsaber fight of all—Luke and Vader fighting each other for their souls. The Last Command doesn’t have quite the emotional weight as Jedi, but Mara Jade is a seriously screwed up person, and her lightsaber duel delivers heavily on a the promise of a character undergoing a change. Darth Vader had emotional problems from day one, Lando and Han were both assholes arguably made that way by poverty leading to criminal backgrounds. But Mara Jade? She was brainwashed for most of her life to serve the crappiest guy ever—Emperor Palpatine. Worst of all, now that he’s dead, she essentially doesn’t have a purpose. In this way, Mara is a like a secret agent rendered obsolute at the end of the Cold War. It would be nice if she could just move on with her life, but Luke Skwyalker still being alive makes that really tough.

It’s here where Zahn employs a deliciously science fiction solution to Mara’s predicament in the form of Luke’s clone; Luuke Skwyalker. No matter how silly it seems to ad an extra vowel to your name in order for them to be a clone (Ryaan gives me so much trouble!) depicting Luke fighting himself and then having Mara kill Luuke in order to fulfill her mission is nothing short of awesome. Other redemptions in Star Wars are, for the most part, the end of that character’s journey, whereas with Mara, it’s the beginning.

By taking down Luke’s clone, she gets to have her space cake and eat it, too. The irony of Luke and Mara falling in love and getting married in subsequent Star Wars novels/comics shouldn’t be lost on anyone here. These two got to have the ultimate spat before they really started dating. Imagine Mara and Luke much later in their couplehood, arguing over who is going to pick up the kids, and Mara has a flash of rage about running Luke through with a lightsaber. Hey! You already did that! You’ve lived out your rage fantasy! Let out all that aggression at the beginning of your relationship, Mara!

All kidding aside, it's genuinely touching at the end of the book when Luke gives Mara his dad’s old lightsaber and asks her to start hanging out with him more so he can teach her to become a Jedi. (What a euphemism, Luke!) But really, what’s happening in this scene is better than all that. Mara has become a character who has grown and changed, transforming from a tragic assassin, to a nice person who our favorite Star Wars guy wants to hang out with. Zahn did a lot of favors for Star Wars in these books, but possibly the best mark he left on the galaxy far, far away was introducing Mara Jade into the family. And it hasn’t been the same since.

Ryan Britt is a staff writer for

S Cooper
1. SPC
Winter is a major POV character in Scoundrels too. I felt like the book expected me to know something about her, and now I know why (it's been a decade since I've read any of the other EU novels). Thanks for this re-read - the Thrawn books and the X-wing books were the only ones I kept when I ran out of shelf space in college, and you've got me just about convinced to re-read them.
William Frank
2. scifantasy
There is so much more to be said about The Last Command, I can barely start.

The twins.
Tactical use of cloaks.
The "jailbreak" sequence (complete with the "Mara realizing that Luke just admitted to a jailbreak" bit I discussed last time).
C'baoth's prophecy ("you will kneel at my feet, Mara Jade")--which gets fulfilled, of course. But like most prophecies, it do no mean what you think it mean.
Leia being analytically kickass, twice: the "Delta Source" reveal, and (even moreso) the "how Thrawn is growing clones so fast" moment. Reading that scene gives me chills of awesomeness. (Something about the description gets me: Leia saying "I know how it's happening," the room goes silent, she explains, and "across the room, someone swore." I can see and hear it in my mind, it's brilliant.)
And maybe the biggest of all: Mara learning the real reason the Emperor ordered her to kill Luke in his final moments, and who Luke really is. She gives in to the order to kill Lu(u)ke, yes, but by choice, because she understands.

And the one thing Thrawn couldn't plan for is what kills him. Inevitable, really. The one monkeywrench Thrawn truly didn't know about, the one important facet. He's been getting the Noghri wrong the whole time, after all. (I wonder if he ever bothered to look at Noghri art?)
Chris Nelly
3. Aeryl
The GOOD guys were disguised as Jawas. The Noghri had switched sides by this point.

Mara's wavering started before the trip to Wayland, when she saw the Imperial team infiltrate the palace for the twins. Having been taken as a child herself, it really pushed her buttons.

I had the same reaction to the cover, in re lightsabers(my mom thought it might make it worth money someday, HA!) but I knew immediately it was Mara he was fighting. I was so worried, she had completely usurped Leia(who I felt was bogged down by pregnancy in this series, leaving her less badass) as my favorite SW character, so I thought this was it for her! (Little did I know!)

The way Zahn wrapped it all up was a little too tidy for my tastes now, but I still love the series and thought it was completely awesome then. I was just so disappointed it didn't end in kissing!(I was starting to get hormones, so I wanted romance in ALL the things at this point) When she says "Hey Luke!" I was hopping up and down in anticipation, then the letdown, "I'll come with you." BOO!! Luke/Mara are pretty much my only ship(what's it called anyways, Lara? Muke? IDEK).

There are lots of other cool things going on, Karrde is definitively established as a man of strong personal ethics, even as an amoral smuggler. Bel Iblis' issues with Mon Mothma are illuminated. Leia gets to show off all kinds of smarts. Thrawn gets even more diabolical.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
4. Lisamarie
It was so artfully done...

I loved Winter, glad to hear she is also in Scoundrels! Everything I hear about that book makes me want to get it!

Anyway, I'm really enjoying reading this, it's bringing back a lot of memories. Also, a few parts of this made me laugh out loud ;)

Also, @3 Aeryl - pregnancy is TOTALLY badass! ;) And I have the scars to prove it! (Stretch marks, not C-section, although those count too!)
Chris Nelly
5. Aeryl
@4LisaMarie, I think that now, at 13, not so much. I appreciate the range women are given more now than I did then. At the time, I just wanted Leia running around with her flawless aim(check it, she has the best aim in all the movies), kicking ass and taking names. She got a lightsaber too, but hardly got to use it :^( She totally got to make up for it later(I love how in the Killik series she becomes such a badass Jedi and chooses the predator Barabel Saba to be her master).
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
6. Lisamarie
Oh yeah, I was excited when she really got to come into her own as a Jedi.
7. tigeraid
Still one of my most-loved book trilogies, SW or otherwise. Just a great way to have a more satisfying "end" after RotJ.

Some of the EU Novels are hit-or-miss (or godawful--CRYSTAL STAR?!), but by and large I've enjoyed the expanded mythos. Mara remains one of my all-time favourite SF characters.

Which is why I'm not sure I can enjoy the new movies coming out, since they're tossing the entire EU in the toilet. After growing up with this series of novels, I don't know if I can bear it. :(
Chris Nelly
8. Aeryl
I'm just looking at it like comics, they all have their own continuities, some you like better than others. So I'll keep my EU in once universe, my movies in another. And if the movies suck, well I still have the books!
Alan Brown
9. AlanBrown
Zahn is definitely the best of the Expanded Universe novelists, although some of the X-Wing series authors also did some nice work. In some ways, Zahn did a better job with the universe, character and settings than Lucas himself did. That is what I always hope for when reading tie-in material--something that is not just derivative of the original work, but actually builds upon it, and makes the entire story bigger and better.
And the Dark Horse comics that retold the Zahn trilogy did a great job of visualizing the story. I can't remember who did the art, but it was quite nicely executed.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
10. Lisamarie
@8 - I've actually started thinking of each series as its own mini continuity, mainly because I was not a huge fan of the NJO/Legacy of the Force stuff and the direction it took. But I still want to read them! So I just kind of read them and view them as one author's continuity and have my own kind of set up in my head that takes my favorite parts from each. And maybe a few made up things of my own, too ;)
11. Cybersnark
@10. What you're describing is a personal canon --it's totally a thing. It really is the only way to get into some fandoms.

Having grown up around the likes of Lisa Hayes, Miriya Parino, Dana Sterling, April O'Neil, Cheetara, Arcee, the Baroness, and Leia herself, Mara Jade became my favourite Star Wars character pretty much as soon as I read these books (even as a child, I never bought the whole "girls are weaker" myth).

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