Audiobook Review: Star Wars Springs Into Its Past, Present, and Future

Audiobook Review: Star Wars Springs Into Its Past, Present, and Future

The character Grand Admiral Thrawn was introduced by author Timothy Zahn in 1991’s Heir to the Empire, a novel that longtime Star Wars fans remember as a godsend: a full-length new official Star Wars story in an era when creator George Lucas had largely abandoned the franchise. It would still be eight years before Star Wars returned to movie screens, but fans at least had something to grasp onto in the meantime — and a ripping yarn at that.

In the Disney era, there’s absolutely no danger that fans will ever be without new Star Wars storytelling for long. There are so many series in development for Disney+, all but the most attentive fans have lost track. Galactic citizens can immerse themselves in the world of Black Spire Outpost either in one of two real-world locations — or, conveniently, via virtual reality in Tales from Galaxy’s Edge. More movies will follow eventually, but while we wait we can revisit the Ewok TV movies from the ’80s, now added to the pile of content available (legally!) on demand.

Then, there are the books — with accompanying polished audiobook productions, eagerly welcomed by those franchise fans who’ve been among the listeners driving listening through the roof during quarantine. Just this spring, three titles have given listeners the opportunity to dwell on the drawn-out demise of the Galactic Empire; turn a page back to the Jedi Order’s glorious past; or head out to the far reaches beyond known space, where the Chiss Ascendancy is…well, ascendant.

Alexander Freed’s Victory’s Price is the final book in a trilogy about Alphabet Squadron, New Republic fighter pilots locked in a deadly system-hopping duel with the Imperial remnants of Shadow Wing. As the conflict reaches its endgame, Freed explores the themes of trauma and forgiveness that inevitably accompany any postwar reconstruction. What will happen to the innumerable individuals who in some way supported the fascist, murderous Emperor Palpatine? Narrator January LaVoy captures the weary world of warriors who are of mixed mind about losing their purpose in a growing galaxy, and the use of non-franchise music — somewhat jarring in the trilogy’s first installment — is smooth, even welcome.

Into the Dark is the third novel to come out of Lucasfilm’s epic High Republic project, an ambitious attempt to build a whole new world with few familiar characters in an era centuries before the Skywalker Saga. Claudia Gray’s delight at exploring this territory is palpable; from a world-building standpoint, the book’s major contribution is to teach us a lot more about the biggest Force-sensitive baddies the Jedi have to grapple with in the High Republic era, a bunch of Dark Side plants (yes, really) called the Drengir.

While the Drengir’s Audrey II vibes are somewhat less knee-knocking than those of the slaughtering Sith, Gray takes us into the wonderfully atmospheric world of an abandoned space station and has an almost inordinate amount of fun with a trio of shippers that include an asexual hippie, a plucky young girl, and a sentient rock. Narrator Dan Bittner captures the trepidation of Reath Silas, a Padawan bookworm who’s forced to ignite his saber.

Lightsabers aren’t even known to most residents of the Chaos, the distant and difficult to navigate region from which Thrawn hails. Greater Good, Zahn’s new novel, is the second in an “Ascendancy” trilogy chronicling the blue-skinned naval officer’s origins, in a world with little understanding of the Galactic Civil War brewing outside its bounds. Indicating Zahn’s status in the fan community, the audiobook is narrated by Marc Thompson, who’s become the de facto official voice of Star Wars storytelling.

Greater Good finds Thrawn, a senior captain, trying to save a species that’s seen its planet devastated in its own civil war — one seemingly fomented by outside parties who are now intent on manipulating the Chiss in a similar manner. The generous-spirited Thrawn of this trilogy, who’s practically a Ward Cleaver to the young women who use Force sensitivity to guide Chiss ships, is increasingly hard to square with the brutally efficient villain seen in Rebels — but perhaps Thrawn, like the Chaos and the expanding Star Wars universe that encompasses it, contains multitudes.

Jay Gabler