The story of Choices of One goes that an Imperial Governor is offering the Rebels safe haven for a base, in part, in hopes they’ll help guard the system from alien attack from outside the Empire. This is being investigated by our heroes among others. It’s also known by the Emperor, hence his sending Mara Jade to investigate. Somewhere behind it all Thrawn is discussing with the Emperor a danger from outside his realm.
This is the first, actually only, Timothy Zahn book to leave me a bit confused. Choices of One is a good story, a kind of sequel to Allegiance. It stands alone, but I still don’t get the reason for a few things and I’ve read it more than once. If I was supposed to suspect two newly introduced characters of not being what they seem from the start, it did do a good job of that. And there is certainly plenty of suspense. But I’m not so sure the characterizations of the original trilogy characters were so spot on for this point in time.
The New Characters
Nuso Esva, Axlon and the Governor
Axlon is supposed to be working for the Rebellion. But his attitude set red flags waving for me from the start, in the dismissive way he ignored Luke’s repeated statements that he isn’t a Jedi yet. From the start, his attitude screams ‘I am using the heroes for my own purposes and it may or may not be what I state.’ How he got the Alliance to give him trust to follow up on this mission to investigate an Imperial governor’s offer (especially given how the previous one went, see Allegiance) is not specified.
Lord Odo is left a mystery up until the end, but I’ll not spoil it. You may be able to figure it out though The man is hiding in a mask and going to great lengths to disguise himself. Pellaeon is the first to suspect something is off about him, but he isn’t the Captain, not yet. I have to give credit, this one really kept me guessing.
Governor Ferrouz is a tragic character. We know he is working with the Alliance but his motives aren’t what they seem, any more than the other two. And it’s his life the most on the line as the Emperor’s Hand has orders to execute traitors. But it isn’t losing his life that he fears. I am a bit surprised they went this route (governor defects) just because the last Zahn story had the same baseline idea even if the story was radically different. You would think the Rebels would’ve been far more wary.
Nuso Esva is the mysterious figure behind much of the story. It isn’t hard to figure out he is trouble but people set on their own agenda sometimes believe what they want, and he is counting on that.
Returning original characters
Thrawn, Pellaeon, Mara Jade and the Hand of Judgement
Thrawn is in the background for most of this, recognizing Nuso Esva’s threat to Poln Major. He has some cards in play too and has consulted both the Emperor and Darth Vader on this. He knows too, of Rebel involvement.
Pellaeon had a really good role in Choices of One in my opinion. He isn’t the officer in command, nor is he yet Thrawn’s protégé. But he’s a competent officer and is suspicious of Lord Odo. He isn’t at all keen on all these mysterious orders going on but he handles the challenges he is thrown well.
Mara Jade, being the Emperor’s Hand, is sent to investigate the Governor who the Emperor is convinced is a traitor. Mara’s investigation turns out there is more going on here than a simple governor switching sides, and she isn’t just going to kill him without digging deeper. Naturally, she is best written as she is one of his original characters. She’s arrogant in a quiet sort of way but also incredibly naïve about the man she serves.
The Hand of Judgement are the squad of stormtroopers that deserted after a squabble when an Imperial Security agent threatened one of them and got killed in self defense in Allegiance. Mara finds them and orders them to help her infiltrate the governor’s heavily guarded fortress. It’s good to see them again. Naturally, they are in trouble by the time she finds them, in part because people are on to them and their funds are running low.
Our Movie Heroes
Luke, Han and Leia
Leia is her usual self in Choices of One, refusing to sit at the sidelines like a figurehead, but getting her hands dirty. I’d say she is the most on target, even knowing how to load up and calibrate missiles though that seems an odd thing for her to know. It’s not like self defense or shooting a blaster. But she has been at this Rebellion thing for awhile.
Luke Skywalker at least is indicated that he had another job more in line with his role as a pilot before he agreed to take Axlon’s mission. Unfortunately, he said yes before he heard out all the details. This characteristic does make sense for him, wanting a job that sounds more exciting.
Han is disgruntled because he’s being left out of the loop as he carts this annoying guy Axlon to a meeting with the Governor. He has a right to be in my opinion. His expertise on the shady side of the street, his expertise and weapons, ships and Imperial protocol all prove invaluable. Han’s choices may also be a one reason for that Choices of One title. I don’t think it really works for him though. My reasons are under continuity.
The Good Stuff of Choices of One
What I did like in Choices of One was that Luke and Mara nearly (but not quite) bumping into each other is the juxtaposition of how they were when we first met in the Thrawn trilogy. In this Mara is highly competent and well trained, still easily using the Force (though who trained her to not use the dark side?) But in this, Luke is naturally still just a beginner. He had the potential and the beginning of his training. But he didn’t have the practice down yet. If the title Choices of One applies to anyone it is her, since her investigation will decide if that governor lives or dies for his actions.
Choices of One kept me turning pages through the suspense to see who Axlon really was, who Lord Odo was, and how the heroes got out of this one. The fact that I wanted to throttle Axlon within the first few pages may have been planned on the author’s part. Granted I am biased to my heroes and don’t like them yanked around. But then, I never saw Riekkan, Madine, Cracken or any of the others who gave them orders do so with this kind of attitude.
It’s nice to get a hint of how Pellaeon comes to Thrawn’s attention. We get a good wrap up for what becomes of the Hand of Judgement here too. I did like the Choices of One plot and it’s ending.
Continuity of the Choices of One
Han is being kept out of the loop because he isn’t an official member of the Alliance in Choices of One. This part I had trouble with, it seems late in publishing of the timeline to put this in. At this point, even the older comics were being incorporated, and at no point was Han denied knowledge of what he was risking his neck for. There is no evidence in The Empire Strikes Back that Han was ever anything but Captain of the Millennium Falcon. He was willing to help but not be tied down with an official rank.
Look at you, a general, huh? – HanHan and Lando in Return of the Jedi
Someone must’ve told them about my little maneuver at the battle of Taanab. – Lando
Well, don’t look at me, pal. I just said you were a fair pilot. I didn’t know they were lookin’ for somebody to lead this crazy attack. – Han
I’m surprised they didn’t ask you to do it. – Lando
Han and Lando’s conversation is a clue. If Han was an officer he could’ve been ordered to do the job. But the implication here is that this was voluntary. Lando, with no previous rank, was offered the role of leader of the fleet assault and made a general.
General Solo, is your strike team assembled.General Madine, Return of the Jedi
Witness everyone’s shock in the scene in Return of the Jedi when they hear Han called “General Solo” and that he agreed to lead the strike team. As the previous conversation with Lando indicates, if he was already an officer he could’ve been ordered to take on the task, not asked. Nor is the surprise because he apparently was willing to help, since he had obviously been doing that right up until he was captured. No, it was that he accepted an actual rank after his rescue from Jabba. Before, he had been with them, helping out but refusing to be tied down. So why does Choices of One suddenly suggest a need for a rank?
I am not so sure about Luke and his commitment to following orders in Choices of One. While Luke is officially in the military, the one time he has always had an issue with orders is when friends are in danger. He has that issue even with Yoda. He does not know Axlon well and he does see the signs something seems to be off.
Wedge Antillies has only a brief role here. But it had me gaping ‘not you too, Zahn’ because once more Wedge is Rogue One. This is before The Empire Strikes Back, in which he is Rogue Three. I don’t know why it’s so hard to remember he wasn’t in charge. But if he was ‘three’ before I don’t see why he’d be ‘one’ now. Also where is the rest of Red Squadron? Commander Narra and Renegade Flight are still alive at this point.