How Rise of Skywalker echoes Star Wars’ classic Thrawn trilogy novels

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There’s a moment in the most recent teaser for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker that created me sit up and go “Huh!” At the 1:20 mark, we see a fleet of Resistance fighters and capital ships drop out of hyperspace, and seconds later, we get a glimpse of a enormous fleet of Star Destroyers. It appears as even though the scene is teeing up a enormous confrontation in between the Resistance and Initial Order, but when you appear a tiny closer, something’s off — anything that offers me vibes of a single of the earliest Star Wars novels: Timothy Zahn’s Dark Force Increasing.

When we see the fleet of Star Destroyers — dozens of them — they’re parked in rows, lights off. Furthermore, these are not the hulking, Resurgent-class Star Destroyers that we’ve noticed the Initial Order use in The Force Awakens and The Final Jedi: these appear like the classic Imperial-class Star Destroyers of A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi — ships we’ve noticed crashed in the deserts of Jakku, but had been phased out in the years considering that the Empire fell. Cue the rampant speculation.

The Resistance was hit really hard at the finish of The Final Jedi. The Initial Order attack decimated its D’Qar headquarters, and pursuing forces chased them off into space, selecting off their ships a single by a single till a final confrontation on a distant planet named Crait. When Leia, Poe, Rey, and Finn, and a handful of their companions had been in a position to escape, no matter what they’d devote some time in the aftermath licking their wounds and hunting to replenish their forces and allies. Subsequent Star Wars novels, Black Spire and Resistance Reborn, guarantee to fill in the gap in between the two films.

That fleet of Star Destroyers harkens back to an additional story from the Star Wars universe: Timothy Zahn’s popular, beloved, and now non-canon Thrawn trilogy from the early ’90s. 5 years right after Return of the Jedi, the New Republic has been largely in a position to take more than the galaxy. But when Zahn picks up with the galaxy in Heir to the Empire, our heroes face a cunning Grand Admiral who utilizes his tactical genius to marshall the remaining, divided Imperial forces to restore the Empire. At the finish of Dark Force Increasing, the place of a lost fleet of Clone Wars-era warships, which have been sitting in the depths of space for decades, waiting to be recovered and place to use, threatens to tip the scales for either side.


The three books of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy standing up on a wooden table

The total Thrawn trilogy
Photograph by Andrew Liptak

The Katana Fleet was a force of 200 Dreadnought cruisers, led by an sophisticated flagship, the Katana, which controlled the other 199 ships. Sadly, the crew of the ship went mad and jumped into hyperspace, exactly where they became lost. When Luke Skywalker and Han Solo sooner or later get the place from a smuggler, they undertook an unauthorized mission to scout out the fleet.

At very first all he could see was the regular scattering of stars, achingly vibrant against the total blackness about them. And then he saw them: the softer glow of a ship’s operating lights. His eyes traced the empty space in between them, his brain forcing a pattern to the lights and all of a sudden the image coalesced. “It’s a dreadnaught, all ideal.”

“There’s an additional a single just previous it,” Han stated. “And 3 extra to the port and a tiny beneath.”

The ships in the end play a larger function in the fight in between Thrawn and the New Republic, and it tends to make for a really very good story: a lost fleet, two sides desperate for supremacy, and a race to find and/or place them to use.

Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, like the rest of the pre-Disney era novels, is no longer canon. But that hasn’t stopped Lucasfilm from recycling components that it could place to use. Star Wars has notoriously embraced suggestions, style ideas, and stories all through its history, and 3 years ago, Grand Admiral Thrawn, a single of the franchise’s very best villains, triumphantly reappeared as the chief protagonist for Star Wars: Rebels, total with an origin story (and sequels) from Zahn himself.

Other components of the Star Wars Expanded Universe been recycled as nicely: minor items like starships in Rebels (the TIE Defenders noticed in the X-Wing novels, or the Quasar Fire-class Bulk Cruisers from The Truce at Bakura) to bigger plot beats in the sequel trilogy, like Han and Leia receiving married and obtaining youngsters, then a single of the youngsters falling to the Dark Side. Chuck Wendig’s canon novel Aftermath: Life Debt drops in an exciting detail about a possible lost Imperial fleet: “Seventy-5 % of the Star Destroyers in service prior to Endor can capably be tracked to related fates: destroyed, captured, lost in confirmable if curious strategies. But a complete quarter of these ships can’t be accounted for.”

This (sorry) fleeting glimpse of ships in this most recent Rise of Skywalker trailer surely is not proof that the film is drawing inspiration from Zahn’s practically 30-year-old novel, but I do not believe it is anything that can be disregarded out of hand. The sequel trilogy has consciously updated its styles for all the things from its stormtroopers to TIE and X-Wing fighters to Star Destroyers. Seeing the older Star Destroyers parked with lights out tends to make me believe that they’re there extra than just for a dramatic space battle. What ever their function, we’ll locate out on December 20, when The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters.


Andrew Liptak is a writer and historian from Vermont. He is the author of the forthcoming book Cosplay: A History (Saga Press, 2021), and his function has appeared in Armchair Basic Magazine, Clarkesworld Magazine, io9, Kirkus Evaluations, Lightspeed Magazine, Seven Days, Tor.com, VentureBeat, The Verge, and other publications.

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