Outbound Flight takes us back in time to before Thrawn was a Grand Admiral for the Empire and he was a Commander of the Chiss fleet out in the Unknown Regions. I was really keen to read this book before the new canon novel ‘Thrawn’ so that I can compare the two and look at the differences and whether anything from Zahn’s original work makes it through to canon.
We go back to the pre Clone Wars era (which is making it very difficult to place an age on Thrawn in Heir to the Empire etc – I am assuming that Chiss age a little slower than humans?) which was extremely exciting to read about. I’ve not read any Legends books from this era and I was so happy that Zahn was going to be the first EU author to take me there. The reason I have gone back in time is because I understand that reading this book makes Survivor’s Quest (my next New Republic book) a more enjoyable read as this is important background. Plus I think that Survivor’s Quest will contain some pretty major spoilers for Outbound Flight. I didn’t find it jarring at all to jump time periods, in fact I found it to be a refreshing change of place.
The story is told through the eyes of three key characters, Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Jedi padawan Lorana Jinzler and a smuggler called Jorj Card’as. (Card’as appears in Vision of the Future and was an extremely interesting character and we got a suggestion that he had a cool past so I was so pleased to see that he was one of the main characters!)
Jinzler is the apprentice to Jorus C’Baoth (remember him from the Thrawn trilogy?!) – this is the original guy though, not his half-mad clone. C’baoth is still a deeply unpleasant person but he was one of the most fascinating to watch in this book. I loved seeing his interaction with Mace Windu and Obi-Wan and he raises some very important questions about the role of the Jedi and their relationship with the force. Obi-Wan is suspicious that C’Baoth’s radical new ideas for the Jedi are a step towards the dark side of the force, yet C’Baoth says that the Jedi need to change in order to survive and that they are simply reluctant to embrace any kind of change. It raised a lot of interesting questions to chew over when next watching Revenge of the Sith! It feels like there was a certain degree of inevitability to the fall of the Jedi and this book and, through the eyes of C’Baoth, Zahn really shines a light on some of their shortcomings.
However, I’m not going to sit here and defend C’Baoth. As I said above, the original man – whilst not as unhinged as his clone, is still extremely unpleasant, ruthless and his belief that the Jedi are superior beings to every other creature in the galaxy comes across as abrasive and cold. It was however very entertaining to see him through the eyes of his padawan, Lorana. She really struggled to keep up with him and his expectations of her. She was such a relatable character, she is extremely unsure of herself and gets quite anxious going into situations but ploughs on nonetheless and usually ends up doing the right thing. I also liked that she wasn’t a mini C’Baoth, she certainly didn’t idolise and found him a very oppressive master. But she did respect his strength and position, and would never criticise him openly. I think she was way too nice to be apprenticed to C’Baoth – she would have done so much better under Obi-Wan! Waaa!
Of course, I can’t talk about this book and not discuss Thrawn! Seeing a young Thrawn was so interesting and a lot of fun. He not quite as experienced as when we see him in Heir to the Empire, but he is still a brilliant tactician and a force to be reckoned with nonetheless. He was as fascinating as ever and I enjoyed once again that we never actually get inside his head but we only ever see him through other people. Even back in these early days Thrawn had a gift for inspiring respect and devotion in pretty much everyone around him. The Chiss culture was fascinating to look into and this book expertly fleshes out his pasts and you see the flashes of utter brilliance that we will always associate with Thrawn.
I personally don’t think I can fault this book! It had everything I wanted in a novel. It had great pace, a gripping story and extremely relatable and engaging characters. It actually had a very cinematic feel to it – one of those novels that I think would make a great movie!
In the interests of objectivity, if I had to nitpick I would say it maybe wasn’t necessary to have Obi-Wan or Anakin included in this novel. Perhaps Zahn could have picked different Jedi since we already knew that they would survive Outbound Flight so there was no real tension in their scenes. Having said that, Star Wars is all about the Skywalker saga so I’m not really sure if we could have a novel without a Skywalker in it! Plus Zahn wrote both Obi-Wan and Anakin extremely well, as we all know he would! There was some great foreshadowing in Anakin’s respect and awe for Jedi Master C’Baoth and his beliefs in the superiority of the Jedi which mirrored brilliantly his feelings for Palpatine in years to come!
Overall: Outbound Flight was filled with drama and tension throughout. I couldn’t help feeling such a strong sense of dread as the book neared its climax. We already knew that the mission was doomed and that the casualties were going to be great. Zahn chose to write Outbound Flight’s story in reverse chronology, telling us the outcome in his previous novels before he wrote this book.
By knowing what is ultimately going to happen in the end of Outbound Flight, I found myself less concerned with what was going to happen, but rather, I took the time to consider why it was going to happen and how. The fact that I didn’t know who lived to tell the tale meant I rooted for pretty much everyone, and this is one of the reasons I personally think it is better to read this book before Survivor’s Quest. There is such a sense of poignancy throughout Outbound Flight as you watch events spin towards their inevitable doom.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Death Stars – a fascinating and moving insight into the doomed Outbound Flight mission!