I’ve never read a Star Wars book that I could say was truly great. Sure, I’ve read plenty of good Star Wars novels, but never something that really stuck out. That said, Dark Force Rising is about as close as a Star Wars book comes to being great. Timothy Zahn’s “Thrawn Trilogy” changed the game for the Star Wars expanded universe. The first book of the trilogy, Heir to the Empire, sparked a new interest in Star Wars novels making it one of the most significant science fiction books of the 1990’s. However, the quality of the work was nothing to write home about. Zahn followed up his bestseller with Dark Force Rising which tells the story of a race between the New Republic and the Empire to find the “Dark Force” — a mysteriously lost starship fleet. While the Empire is currently only a shell of what it used to be, if they get their hands on the Dark Force, it could spell doom for the New Republic.
Zahn avoids many of the mistakes that he made in his previous novel. This is first seen in the far superior story of Dark Force Rising. The book honestly feels like a good Tom Clancy novel set in space. The book is political but maintains a fast pace, its suspenseful but isn’t bogged down by mystery, its exciting but isn’t merely a series of long action sequences. While the plot to Heir to the Empire is rather dull, its sequel goes in a totally new direction and tells the story of a race to find a lost fleet. Despite the relatively simple premise, Zahn is able to make the plot complex — at times feeling like a Christopher Nolan movie (ending plot twist and everything). The only complaint would be that the plot of the previous book is pretty much left alone, further showing the poor story of that book.
Zahn adds few new characters in this novel which is fine. Its Star Wars, it doesn’t need a whole new cast of characters. Zahn successfully builds on the characters we love, which he failed to do in the previous work. He also manages to avoid recycling dialogue from the films and shows a bit of his own creativity — which apparently does exist. However, that does not mean that his writing style has improved. Zahn continues to be overly repetitive in his descriptions and at times the reader will wonder if he or she is reading the words of a high school student. That said, it isn’t as noticeable as his previous Star Wars book thanks to a better, more engaging story and a better handling of characters.
All in all, Dark Force Rising is a successful follow up to a disappointing, though significant, Heir to the Empire. Although Zahn avoids many of the mistakes he made in his last effort, he still does not show much strength as a writer. Still, all Star Wars fans need to pick up a copy of this book as, in all honesty, its one of the best Star Wars novels ever written. Had the quality of writing been better, Dark Force Rising could have been have been the one Star Wars book that was truly great.