In my review of Heir to the Empire, I called it space opera t its finest. After reading Dark Force Rising, I am sorry to report that I am wrong, because THIS is space opera at it’s finest. While Heir to the Empire did a lot to set up the story in Dark Force Rising, the characters really came into their own, were allowed to breathe, and upped in complexity. We didn’t need an introduction to Mara Jade or Karrde or C’baoth anymore, and they pushed the story along almost better than the canon characters at points.
In Dark Force Rising we have a few plot threads going: A Bothan is trying to take over the New Republic and frame anyone who gets in his way. There’s a missing Katana fleet of old clone war ships that’s been rediscovered and it’s a race to find them before Thrawn does. C’boath and Luke confront each other and Luke sees how the other Jedi has gone insane and turned to the dark side – but still hopes for redemption like Vader. There’s the Noghri who in the last book were sent to kill Leia and now have their own story of how the Empire corrupted them, and Leia works with them. And then there’s Mara Jade’s fumbling into her use of the force. So much going on there’s very little time for a break.
A sign of a great writer to me, is one who can take threads that bored me in one book, and make them my favorite in others. It shows concentrations can change, a depth in understanding character, and skill in setting up cool plotlines. While last book I was pretty bored with the Leia plots, in this one I thought she really shined, and I was very interested in the Noghri and their plight with the empire.
But the plots converge very nicely as well. I would say that the last 75 pages or so are literally impossible to put down. The ending battle is fun. I liked the feel of having the New Republic back to being underdogs, and the solutions they scrap out are quite enjoyable. The pace of the whole book is really nice, and the complexity involved just makes this a superior volume to the last. I also love that the tone of the trilogy has the same cadence as the original Star Wars trilogy. This feels like empire. The Rebels have a victory in the battle, but it feels like a loss of the war, and the Empire becomes strong again. It’s truly a beautiful work of art. Don’t underestimate this just because it’s a tie-in. It’s better than all but a handful of non-tie-in fiction.