Grand Admiral Thrawn has continued his campaign against the New Republic, but his assets have been bolstered with Dark Force ships and clones from the Mount Tantiss Facility.
C'Baoth shows himself to be the REAL menace - to both the New Republic and his Imperial allies. Under pressure from the Jedi Master, Thrawn sends a commando unit to capture Leia and her newly-born twins. The commandos fail, with two consequences. The first being that their leader implicates Mara Jade in the plot: the second that Noghri bodyguards are selected to protect Leia and her children.
Niles Ferrier returns, and attempts to frame Talon Karrde so that he, Ferrier, can take control of the smugglers' underworld. Predictably he fails miserably.
As Thrawn continues to lay military pressure upon the Republic, the destruction of the cloning facility is of the utmost importance. As in Return Of the Jedi, a small elite team is sent to land on the planet, trek through the jungle and infiltrate the facility with the aim of destroying it.
However, C'Baoth is waiting - supposedly being held there at Thrawn's request, but in reality the master of the facility. His Force powers are great enough for him to control and destroy the minds of Thrawn's officers. To aid him, this "Emperor" has a very special clone as his "Vader" ...
In parallel with the climactic events on the forest planet, a great space battle occurs - one which ends in the death of the greatest character ever created in the Star Wars universe.
This book is, as I have noted above, Zahn's re-write of Return of the Jedi. The only real change is that Lucas' Ewoks have become Zahn's Noghri - a change that many Star Wars fans wish had happened in the movie!
Mara Jade is more of a central character in this book than the other two; the title refers to the final command Palpatine ever gave her - "You shall Kill Luke Skywalker!" - which she finally gets out of her system ...
On another note, Jade becomes much too powerful in this tome. Fresh out of med-bay she practically takes out an entire Imperial Commando unit single-handedly, NOT a terribly convincing idea. From out of nowhere she develops the ability to wade through hordes of characters who should by all rights be able to beat the crap out of her!
Jade was Palpatine's top assassin - she had the best training and equipment the Empire could provide, along with fledgling Force powers. But against a competent enemy, even a platoon of Storm Troopers [as in Heir to the Empire] she is NOT guaranteed an easy victory. Unless Zahn's plot decides otherwise, of course.
The other background character suddenly given prominence is Joruus C'Baoth. One might deduce that C'Baoth was only introduced in this trilogy to give Zahn the opportunity to do an ROTJ-style climax - with C'Baoth as Palpatine, of course.
With C'Baoth in the role of Palpatine, Thrawn is left in Piett's role. The character after whom the trilogy is named has been reduced to a bit-part on the writer's whim.
Some claimed that Thrawn was an unrealistic character because of his apparently near-psychic powers of perception. As illustrated in Dark Force Rising, Thrawn's perception was seriously flawed. However, in this book Thrawn's misjudgements lose him both his campaign and his life. He deserved better.
And his death? Is it Kenneth Colley's blaze of glory? Of course not - merely a low-key event that happens in the space of a paragraph.
Of the trilogy as a whole, all I can do is quote ...
"But it was so artfully done ..."
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