Welcome to June and welcome to the second edition of Unbound Worlds’s Star Wars expanded universe gateway series. Each month I will focus on a Star Wars book that myself and the Del Rey editors believe serves as a nice starting point for new readers to jump into the galaxy far, faraway. This month we present Star Wars: Allegiance by Timothy Zahn. On June 26th, its sequel, Choices of One, will be released in a mass-market paperback edition, complete with new cover art by Daryl Mandryk of Mara Jade. Both books feature Mara, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Leia Organa, and a very interesting group of Stormtroopers known as the Hand of Judgment. By weaving together the stories of an Imperial agent, a highly unorthodox military unit, and a group of Rebel Alliance heroes, these books explore themes that aren’t often touched upon in the EU. The Rebellion era –– which takes place roughly between A New Hope and Return of the Jedi –– is full of heroic stories, but what sets Allegiance (and Choices of One) apart is how Zahn portrays his characters’ struggles and how he uses the ragtag backdrop of the Galactic Civil War to develop their personalities, goals, and, yes, allegiances.
Before I tell you why Allegiance is a must-read, here are some key details about the book.
Allegiance by Timothy Zahn
Released in hardcover on January 30, 2007 and now available in paperback and eBook editions, the book features cover art by John VanFleet.
Set in the Rebellion era, 0.5 years ABY (After the Battle of Yavin, the destruction of the Death Star as seen in the original film)
- Barshnis Choard; governor, Shelsha sector (human male)
- Caaldra; mercenary (human male)
- Carlist Rieekan; general, Rebel Alliance (human male)
- Cav’Saran; Patroller Chief of Janusar on Ranklinge (human male)
- Chewbacca; copilot, Millennium Falcon (Wookiee male)
- Daric LaRone; stormtrooper (TKR 330)
- Darth Vader; Dark Lord of the Sith
- Han Solo; captain, Millennium Falcon (human male)
- Joak Quiller; stormtrooper pilot
- Kendal Ozzel; captain, Imperial Star Destroyer Reprisal (human male)
- Korlo Brightwater; scout stormtrooper (TBR 479)
- Leia Organa; Princess and Rebel (human female)
- Luke Skywalker; Jedi and Rebel (human male)
- Mara Jade; Emperor’s Hand (human female) / “Celina” / “Countess Claria”
- Mon Mothma; Supreme Commander, Rebel Alliance (human female)
- Palpatine; Emperor, Galactic Empire (human male)
- Saberan Marcross; stormtrooper (TKR 175)
- Shakko; captain, pirate ship Cavalcade (human male)
- Tannis; pilot, pirate ship Cavalcade (human male)
- Taxtro Grave; stormtrooper sharpshooter (TKR 2014)
- Thillis Slanni; director of planning for Shining Hope (Ishi Tib male)
- Vak Somoril; senior officer, Imperial Security Bureau (human male)
- Vilim Disra; chief administrator, Shelsha sector (human male)
- Ydor Vokkoli; head of Freedonna Kaisu (Mungra male)
- Yeeru Chivkyrie; head of Republic Redux (Adarian male)
Never before has the incendiary mix of action, politics, and intrigue that has become Timothy Zahn’s trademark, been more evident that in this new Star Wars epic. On the heels of the stunning events chronicled in Star Wars: A New Hope, the newly minted heroes of the Rebellion–fledgling Jedi Luke Skywalker, smuggler turned reluctant freedom-fighter Han Solo, and Princess Leia Organa, a bold leader with a world to avenge–must face the harsh realities of the cataclysmic conflict into which they have so bravely plunged. From this point forward, legends will grow, treachery will abound, and lives will be irrevocably altered, in the long, hard fight to counter the fist of tyranny and restore hope to a galaxy too long in darkness.
The destruction of the Death Star by the Rebel Alliance was a decisive blow against the Empire, but Palpatine and his monstrous enforcer, Darth Vader, are no less of a threat. The brutal extermination of Alderaan not only demonstrated the magnitude of their murderous power, but served as a chilling testament to their resolve to crush the Rebel uprising. Standing against them, Skywalker, Solo, and the Princess remain uncertain opponents. Luke is gifted and brave, but unschooled in the power he possesses. Han has doubts about waging someone else’s war–and his contentiousness is one more burden for Leia to bear as she struggles to help keep the Rebellion alive. The three have been sent to mediate a dispute between Rebel Alliance factions in Shelsha Sector–agitating matters by forcing Han to deal not only with pirates, but with his more dreaded enemy, politics. At the same time, Mara Jade–all of eighteen and years away from her fateful meeting with Luke–is serving her evil master, Palpatine, well in her role as the Emperor’s Hand: tracking suspected treachery in the Empire to what may be high places–while trying to stay out of Darth Vader’s way.
But the Rebels will prove to be only one of the Empire’s concerns. For Imperial Stormtrooper Daric LaRone, his faith in the Empire shaken by the wanton destruction of Alderaan, will commit a sudden and violent act of defiance, and take four other enforcers with him, in a desperate bid to elude their masters’ wrath.
Each of these fateful actions, whether sanctioned, secret, or scandalous, will expose brutality and corruption, spur upheavals destined to shake the Empire to its core, and shape momentous events yet to come.
Why is this a good gateway book? Why does it “matter” to Star Wars?
Timothy Zahn’s 1991 novel Heir to the Empire essentially gave birth to the Expanded Universe, so he knows a thing or two about characterization that expands our horizons while reflecting the cinematic texture of the source material. Allegiance is almost like a cross-section through the Rebellion era, full of references to themes that we saw in the Original Trilogy movies. When you think of EU novels set in between Episodes IV-VI, you imagine a book that turns the cameras away from the Death Star trench run or the Mos Eisley Cantina and focuses them instead on lesser-known people and places. That’s exactly what Allegiance does. While it features famous Star Wars characters, it depicts them in between the actions for which most fans recognize and celebrate them. Allegiance also introduces new characters whose mannerisms and agendas will seem authentic within the broader Star Wars context, thanks again to Zahn’s reputation for remaining faithful to the films.
While he isn’t a major player in the novel, the book does include Darth Vader and his search for Luke Skywalker, which we know takes place during this time. In one scene set on Coruscant, Mara discovers that he’s been searching through Imperial records for any trace of Luke, and she files that name away for future reference. Part of the fun of the novel is that while Mr. Zahn wrote it many years after Heir to the Empire, Allegiance takes place before Heir, so characters such as Luke and Mara, who will meet in Heir, cannot encounter each other in Allegiance. It’s a complicated, but fun, dance that Zahn conducts by weaving some of these characters in and out of events that shadow each other. Vader’s obsession with finding Luke is part of a later plot point as well, but I won’t spoil that for you. Suffice it to say that Vader’s menacing presence pops up at sufficient intervals to remind readers that the Empire’s search for Rebel traitors is always in the back of Imperial, Rebel, and fringe-type minds alike.
Speaking of fringe types, one of the best subplots in Allegiance is Han Solo’s struggle to figure out if he belongs with the Rebels or not. It is revealed that Chewbacca has voiced his desire to join up, alluding to the fact that he convinced Han to go back for Luke during the Battle of Yavin in A New Hope. The Han narration in Allegiance builds on a lot of the internal debate that Han was experiencing throughout A New Hope. Fans of Han will really enjoy the opportunity to be clued into his thought process as he weighs his options. At a certain point (and this is no spoiler if you’ve seen the entire Original Trilogy), Han realizes that Luke and the others are his friends, and that even if he won’t swear loyalty to Mon Mothma, he owes it to his friends to help them out. This gradual progression toward full Rebel Alliance commitment perfectly sets up his deeper friendship with Luke in The Empire Strikes Back and his deeper integration into the Rebel cause with a general’s rank in Return of the Jedi.
Of course, no Original Trilogy novel featuring Han and Leia would be complete without the occasional nod toward their confused and ever-developing relationship. Han spends many a page trying to figure out what Leia means to him and vice versa. From Leia’s perspective, we see her internal monologue reflect the way she talked to him on the Death Star: she finds him annoying (he knows which of her buttons to press and when), but not as annoying as the fact that something about him makes him appealing to her. Zahn does great work showing how Han and Leia are getting a feel for each other and building toward what we see in The Empire Strikes Back.
One of the subplots that I enjoyed the most was Luke receiving guidance and advice from the ghostly voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi. This is something that we haven’t seen a lot of in the EU. Truce At Bakura, the first novel to be set after Return of the Jedi, established that Old Ben’s connection to Luke was fading and about to disappear. That severing of the connection, and Luke’s subsequent aloneness on the Jedi path, was an important part of Truce’s plot. In Allegiance, part of the plot involves Luke getting occasional guidance from Obi-Wan when he isn’t sure of himself. For fans who enjoyed the Luke/Obi-Wan dynamic in A New Hope, there is more of it in this book, as Obi-Wan continues to teach Luke from beyond the mortal world.
Luke in general is portrayed as being his partially naïve, innocent self from Episode IV (particularly from Han’s point of view) and partially the confident, adept Jedi-in-training from Episode VI. During Han’s narration, Luke occasionally sounds like the whiny young man from Tatooine, but at other times, even Han admits (albeit grudgingly) that the kid’s got talent.
Mara Jade, the complicated villain, is one of two narrative centerpieces in Allegiance. One thing that I found immensely appealing–– and I’m sure I’m not alone in this –– was how different she was from almost every other Imperial in the EU. She’s compassionate and honorable, two qualities that are anathema to the vast military-industrial complex around her. The very nature of her work –– rooting out traitors among the Imperial ranks –– places her in close contact with unscrupulous Imperials, and while we as Alliance-friendly readers may think that this is the norm in the Empire, Mara’s perspective is refreshingly (if somewhat jarringly) different. She honestly believes that the Empire, and especially Palpatine, has the best interests of its citizens in mind, and that any examples of corruption or abuse of power are exceptions to the rule rather than consequences of it. While she may be naïve, her personality and ethics are so different from those of the typical Imperial agent that her narrative alone could carry this book.
Her narrative isn’t the only one with compelling abnormalities. Allegiance’s other centerpiece storyline involves the Hand of Judgment, a group of five Stormtroopers whose moral code and understanding of their duty sets them apart from the rest of the Empire. They, like Mara, are firmly rooted in the Rebellion era mix of Rebel interference and Imperial intrigue, making them interesting characters to any fans of this time period. But also like Mara, they find certain aspects of the Empire distasteful. They take a much larger step of defiance than Mara does, and the consequences of that step reverberate throughout the novel.
These five stormtroopers are also funny, intelligence, sarcastic, and competent, making them an ideal lens through which to observe the galaxy at war. Their opinion of the Rebellion is cut from the same ideological cloth as their fellow stormtroopers, but they distinguish themselves from most Imperial soldiers by exhibiting the same compassion and concern for the safety of innocents that Mara demonstrates. This humanity, which has evidently been obliterated throughout most of the Stormtrooper Corps, propels the Hand of Judgment from noble act to noble act, and at times readers will relish the similarities between these soldiers and the Rebels they so detest. They are ultimately an extremely complicated group of individuals, and as is the case with Mara, the friction between them and the more brutal elements of the Empire spices up Allegiance from start to finish.
The word “allegiance” itself appears five times throughout the novel. All but one of those instances involves the Hand of Judgment. The question of their allegiance is a central part of their narrative. If you always wanted to learn more about the men and women who served the Empire and the kinds of choices they had to make, Allegiance will show you the questions of duty, loyalty, and purpose that these and other stormtroopers faced on a daily basis. The one instance of the word “allegiance” that doesn’t relate to the stormtroopers has to do with Han. His internal struggle over his place in the galaxy similarly leads him to question to whom he is comfortable being loyal and what ramifications such allegiance will have on his life. If you enjoyed the complexity of Han’s personality in the Original Trilogy, the fundamental questions that challenge him and his worldview in Allegiance make this book a must-read.
Between Mara, Han, and those five stormtroopers, there’s no shortage of ideological conflict and personal struggle in Allegiance. Combine that with the old-fashioned Star Wars vibe that has become Timothy Zahn’s trademark and you get a book that’s sure to appeal to a broad range of fans. Pick it up today, and if you like what you read, these characters’ stories continue in Choices of One, out in paperback later this month!
Eric Geller is a sophomore political science major from Washington, D.C., whose interests include technology, journalism, and of course Star Wars. He reviews The Clone Wars TV series and manages social media for Star Wars fan site TheForce.Net.