If 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 Tor.com.