The Hand Of Thrawn duology is a pair of books, Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future, by Timothy Zahn. Set in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, they take place ten years after The Thrawn Trilogy (hence, fifteen years after Return of the Jedi).Supreme Commander Pellaeon looks at the Imperial Remnant, the scraps of a once-proud Empire, and concludes that there is one and only one way it may be saved: a peace treaty with the New Republic. But other Imperials are unwilling, and try and sabotage his effort by capturing the messenger Pellaeon is sending. While the Supreme Commander waits for a response, they contrive to make it seem as if Grand Admiral Thrawn has come Back from the Dead.Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, the head of the New Jedi Order, joins his old friend Han Solo for a diplomatic mission—and in the process helps fight off a gang of pirates. Luke holds back, having decided recently to not be so profligate with his abilities, and notices something he might otherwise not have—he can feel a "distortion" in the Force, which as far as he knows is caused only by clones, aboard the pirates' ships.And taking a much-needed vacation on Wayland, the world that the Emperor used as a trophy case, Senator Leia Organa Solo and her children run into a smuggler who has stumbled across a cache of datacards, one of them the Caamas document.The Caamasi people were a group of peaceful Actual Pacifists, so respected by even some warlike species that "caamasi" was a word for "friend from afar" or similar in numerous languages, and there is even a legend that the first Jedi came to the Caamasi to learn ethical use of the Force. Shortly after the Clone Wars, their planet's surface was razed; the few survivors were offworld or didn't see what initiated the Holocaust, but the genocide had long been believed to have been directed by Palpatine. Palpatine's copy of the Caamas document confirms this—but more importantly, notes that a number of Bothans, working for him, helped to lower Caamas's planetary shields, allowing the destruction. Unfortunately, the document Leia has found is corrupted, and the actual list of names is lost. When the news gets out, the New Republic is engulfed by demands for justice. The heatedness of the debate, with leaders of entire species coming down on either side, leads to a resurging of old inter-species rivalries, and the New Republic begins to fracture...just as word arrives on Coruscant that Grand Admiral Thrawn has returned.Before the Caamas crisis rose up, this would have caused the New Republic to react decisively and overwhelm the pathetic fleets still guarding what is left of the Empire, but in the current political climate, there is no consensus on if it is even real. The Imperial conspirators spin their webs larger yet tighter. Luke's clone hunt falls short, and he learns that Mara Jade has vanished on a hunt for a mysterious alien ship that's buzzed her twice. Taking a chance, rather than lending his efforts to the larger danger, he listens to the Force and goes after her. Leia struggles desperately to keep the Republic from collapsing into all-out Civil War, and Han mainly works to keep Leia from going crazy. Pellaeon waits, wondering why the New Republic general he's waiting for in an isolated area of space hasn't responded, and utterly annihilates the fleet the conspirators send after him.That's set up early in the first book. Just another few weeks in the galaxy.
In addition to the character and universe tropes they carry over from the Original Trilogy, these books provide examples of:
Absurdly Sharp Blade: The monomolecular stiletto, previously seen in Stackpole and Zahn's novella Side Trip. They can cut through anything, but realistically are very fragile and tend to be ruined by even a single use. For that reason, Shada carries three of them when she breaks into Han and Leia's home.
Batman Gambit: At the end of Specter of the Past, Pellaeon shows how much he learned from Thrawn. The conspirators have staged an attack on the Chimaera to make it look like General Bel Iblis has rejected Pellaeon's offer and is attacking him. Pellaeon creates a new variation on one of Bel Iblis' own tactics, the "A-wing slash" from the Thrawn Trilogy, and uses it successfully against his attackers—thus proving they can't possibly be led by Bel Iblis because he wouldn't have fallen for his own trick.
Becoming the Mask: The clones of Soontir Fel. They're part of a sleeper cell, becoming farmers... and they loved the soil too much to return to duty. Which turned out to be Thrawn's objective - if/when any powerful alien species from the Unknown Regions or outside the galaxy invaded, the sleeper cells would be there to stop them, and would fight all the harder because they'd be fighting for their homes.
Big Bad Duumvirate: There are three people working to create and maintain the illusion that Thrawn has returned, but of the three, Disra and Tierce are the ones at odds. Flim mostly serves as The Watson, though he gets his own jabs in now and again. At the end it turns out that Tierce contributed more to the scheme than anyone else could have realized.
Big Damn Heroes: Pellaeon's arrival on the Relentless at Yaga Minor. Shown from the point of view of the Smug Snake villain, for added value.
Subtle (it's never explicitly stated) but remember that tractor beam guy in The Last Command who Thrawn promoted instead of punishing him because he tried an imaginative solution to prevent Luke escaping his tractor beam, even though he failed? The one who Thrawn then ordered to work on the solution properly? Guess how Lando tries to escape an Imperial tractor beam at the end of Specter...same method, only nowthe Empire has a way to defeat it.
Also, the beckon call Luke found on Dagobah in Heir to the Empire; here we meet its owner and find out how it got there.
Lieutenant Tschel, an excitable newbie officer from The Thrawn Trilogy, has become a steady, reliable Major.
The Chessmaster: Tierce, who is actually a partial clone of Thrawn, though his actual genetic material came from a former Royal Guardsman; it's just that his mental programming included elements taken from Thrawn's own mind. As Pellaeon points out, though, he lacks the charisma and leadership necessary to be a truly Magnificent Bastard.
Conflict Ball: One attempt to avenge the past leads to a host of ethnic conflicts flaring up nearly destroying the New Republic. More or less justified, and explained on a couple occasions, in that for most species, the Caamas crisis really served as an excuse to legally get at longstanding enemies and rivals. Not a lot of people cared that profoundly about something that had happened so long ago.
Con Man: Flim. He sometimes upsets Disra and Tierce by accurately referring to their plan as The Con and saying they shouldn't act like it's anything else.
There's a lot of Fantastic Racism directed at them, that's for sure. Lando in particular - he calls them "subhuman" behind their backs, and antagonizes them to their faces. (This may be an ironic in-joke, as the character of Lando was originally going to be a leftover Clone Wars clone in early drafts of The Empire Strikes Back).
Also, at the end of the book, after the good guys win, they repeatedly refer to the near-disaster as a scheme caused by Disra and Flim, the two members of the triumvirate who weren't clones, despite Tierce orchestrating most of it.
Curb-Stomp Battle: Shada versus Tierce. Considering how much of a Bad Ass the latter is supposed to be, it's surprising he was defeated so quickly.
Didn't See That Coming: The conspirators' plan to make everyone think Flim is Thrawn works so well that it convinces General Bel Iblis...who, when the attempt at infiltrating the Yaga Minor shipyard goes awry, decides that stopping Thrawn is important enough to sacrifice his own ship and life and prepares to ram "Thrawn"'s. Fortunately for the conspirators, the situation is resolved before this can happen.
Divided For Publication: The German translation of Vision of the Future was split into two volumes. It must use more words in German or something.
Door Stopper: At 694 pages - some versions have more or fewer pages than others - Vision of the Future is the longest Star Wars novel, at least as of 2008.
Driving Question: Where can we find an intact copy of the Caamas Document? (Technically this is really 'Which Bothans were involved in the attack on Caamas?', but in practice this is resolved offscreen once the Document is found).
Fix Fic: Like we said...Zahn read the rest of the EU.
Flanderisation: Zahn mocks the other EU writers' treatment of Thrawn as omniscient and undefeatable by having several alien senators (whose worlds were never threatened by Thrawn the first time around) being terrified of his reputation, to which the main characters point out that he was never that good (he did, after all, lose in the end, and as clever as he was, Thrawn made a couple of key mistakes that were fatal in the end) in a Lampshade Hanging.
Genre Savvy: Pellaeon is well aware that the New Republic is going to survive the unrest caused by the Caamas Document, would find out if the Empire sent agitators to stir up trouble, and would mete harsh vengeance on them for trying. When some try anyway the first two happen, and the third is narrowly avoided by Pellaeon's peace treaty.
Parck: On one side were handpicked units of Palpatine's own private army, equipped with fifteen top-line combat ships. On the other side were Commander Mitth'raw'nuruodo of the Chiss Expansionary Defense and perhaps twelve small and insignificant border patrol ships. Mara: How badly did Thrawn slaughter them? Parck: Utterly.
For the publishers, anyway; Bantam Books would soon lose the rights to the series to Del Rey, so as a last hurrah, they brought back the writer of the most acclaimed books of the Expanded Universe to wrap up the main plot. Additionally, readers who are dissatisfied with laterbooks can disavow their existence and come to a satisfying conclusion here.
The very last Bantam novel was actually Starfighters of Adumar, but it was set before this duology anyway, and it rather nicely explains how Wedge went from dating Qwi Xux in the JAT to being married to Iella from the X-Wing Series here.
Heel Face Turn: The majority of the Empire by the end, and Supreme Commander Pellaeon right at the beginning. Sort of. Even in his first appearance, Pellaeon's Heel status was in doubt. Sure, he was an Imperial, but under Zahn, that doesn't by itself make a character evil or even a Punch Clock Villain. Here, Pellaeon's one of the good guys. Even in Zhan's earlier work Pellaeon (and other Imperials) was always depicted as a good man, with some fair for the empireFantastic Racism, he just happens to work for very bad people.
Ho Yay: Thrawn means a lot to Pellaeon. A lot. Pellaeon doesn't take the news that Thrawn may have returned without talking to him very well, and speculates morosely as to why.
Indy Ploy / Xanatos Speed Chess: Constantly and everyone. Hero, villain, Heroic Neutral... everyone is madly struggling to get past the difficulties they throw at each other, all the time. None of the main characters are ever really certain or secure for long, though they give that impression to their enemies.
Invincible Hero: This is how Zahn saw the overpowered Jedi of the books. He couldn't retcon them into more Yodalike power levels (Pulling a starfighter out of a swamp wasn't easy), so he insinuated that demigod Jedi are relying so heavily on sheer power that they've blinded themselves to the subtler sides of the Force, like precognition (both in the immediate sense - as an awareness of danger before it hits - and in the longer-term, as visions) and that Luke was drawing on the Dark Side by using the Force as a solution for every problem. Zahn was telling other EU authors that they were making Luke out to be a Mary Sue and cheapening the Force by making it a source of cool powers and nothing more.
Legacy Character: Kind of. Pellaeon, as The Watson to Thrawn, has managed to at least halfway match some of Thrawn's tactical genius (as seen at the end of Specter of the Past when he figures out that the pirate fleet couldn't possibly have been sent by Bel Iblis because he used one of Bel Iblis' own tactics to beat it). Lampshaded in that Pellaeon muses that Captain Ardiff is now in the sameposition that he was to Thrawn ten years ago.
MacGuffin: An intact copy of the Caamas Document, which would name the Bothans responsible and allow them to be put on trial so people stop blaming the race as a whole. Karrde tries to find one by searching out Jorj Car'das and his information archive, while Bel Iblis tries to get one by an information raid on the Imperial archives at Yaga Minor. In the end it's actually Luke and Mara who find one, by accident no less, in Thrawn's archives on Nirauan.
Memetic Badass: In-universe example. Thrawn is perhaps the most terrifying figure the galaxy has ever seen, so even his impersonator's appearance freaks out Lando and others who see him. It takes Pellaeon, who knew Thrawn best and is not threatened by him, to ferret him out.
Punctuation Shaker: Almost any time Zahn renders an alien language, there are apostrophes in it.
Ramming Always Works: When Bel Iblis' plan to infiltrate Yaga Minor with the Errant Venture fails and the ship is trapped, but the Relentless is in front of them and seemingly has Thrawn on board, Bel Iblis orders ramming speed. Fortunately, the situation is resolved before it can happen.
As in The Thrawn Trilogy, averted. When Pellaeon bemoans the Empire's sorry state at the start of Specter, Captain Ardiff argues that even only eight sectors represents more than a thousand inhabited systems. Still a tiny fraction of what it was, small enough that it calls itself the Imperial Remnant, but not insignificant, even if the New Republic could invade and destroy it utterly if it wanted.
Also, the galaxy map indicates that only the central quarter of the galaxy is mapped and the rest is the Unknown Regions, in contrast to the now canon Star Wars galaxy map in which most of the galaxy is known and the Unknown regions are about a fifth of it.
"You know, I asked you once what it would take to get you to join the New Republic. Remember? You asked what it had taken to get me to join up—" "Yes, I remember," Karrde cut him off, an uncharacteristic note of embarrassment coloring his voice. "Kindly bear in mind that I have not joined the New Republic. And my relationship with Shada is nothing like that." "Neither was mine," Han said smugly, putting his arm around Leia. "That's okay. Give it time."
Very soon after "Specter of the Past" was published, Michael Stackpole wrote "I, Jedi", which introduced the Caamaasi character Elegos A'kla. Vision of the Future included Elegos in a fairly prominent role, and in-character. There are also lots of other connections, such as cortosis ore (a substance that shuts down lightsabers).
Zahn and Stackpole, for their difference in styles, seem to communicate with each other very well, and generally appreciate each others' work. The same can't be said for a large portion of the rest of the EU.
Zahn has an author's note somewhere saying that one day, he will defeat Stackpole at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit.
Both have noted that, since all EU characters are owned by George Lucas, not the authors who created them (this is a standard agreement required for becoming an EU writer), there's no need to ask other authors for permission to use "their" characters. But Zahn and Stackpole do so anyway, to avoid screwing up each others' future story ideas and to keep everybody in-character. In the foreword to one of the comics, Stackpole comments that not only did he ask permission to use Talon Karrde in one of his books, he even sent Zahn the sections with Karrde in them. To reciprocate, Zahn did the same for borrowing Booster Terrik. Only minor changes were requested by each author each time. Given how poorly Mara's death in later books went over with fans compared to how well-received Zahn and Stackpole are, it's a wonder these sorts of things don't pop up more often.
Disra, who's smart, but not nearly as on top of things as he thinks he is, or would like to be.
Also, Tierce, oddly enough. Once you know that he's got part of Thrawn's mind, you realize just how much he acts like the man... except that he's not as good at hiding smug satisfaction, and he makes many more predictions that don't turn out as planned.
Staged Shooting: Inverted - Imperial agents on Bothawui implicate Han on a balcony in shooting at a crowd by using a blaster that fires an invisible (but otherwise real) bolt to hit a device planted next to him on the wall, designed to reflect the shot back towards the crowd as a visible bolt.
Straw Vulcan: The very, very calm Diamala species, who naturally are in conflict with the very emotional Ishori.
By contrast, Rusch's The New Rebellion gets a couple of favourable mentions, probably because she used Zahn's ysalamiri and Talon Karrde fairly well, even though the quality of that book is of a similar standard to the other EU books.
The Chains of Commanding: Pellaeon never wanted to lead the Empire, which is probably the reason why he was able to save it from final destruction; he was moved by a sense of duty while the likes of Disra were concerned only with power.
"The Hand of Thrawn" is the only uncorrupted sentence found on one of the damaged Imperial datacards unearthed at the beginning of Specter of the Past. Everyone speculates about what it might mean, but Luke and Mara only find out when the latter realises what the damaged Chiss fortress on Nirauan, with its five remaining towers, looks like...
The phrase "vision of the future" is also used at the end of the eponymous book.
Took a Level in Badass: Weary though he is, Pellaeon has become a highly capable commander in his own way in the years since we first saw him.
Tragic Dream: Maybe it was only a ship, but it was a ship that meant everything to Mara.
Villainous Breakdown: Tierce has a rather impressive one, combined with a Motive Rant that gets a lot of his oddities to make sense, when everything gets blown.
Villain Sue: An interesting twist here. Thrawn (especially compared to the straight-up Magnificent Bastard of The Thrawn Trilogy) initially shows all the hallmarks of this: ridiculously genius strategist, Chessmasterpar excellence, Wicked Cultured, and the good guys are practically paralyzed with terror at the mention of his name. Here's the twist: he never shows up. So it's a case of in-universe word of mouth inflating his reputation to Villain Sue levels.
Flim and Luke both subvert this, though Flim uses "self-powered surface inserts" to simulate Thrawn's glowingredmonochromatic eyes.
When Luke uses it, Zahn uses Mara's lines to deliver a concise Take That to the Black Fleet Crisis trilogy, in which Luke goes around warping people's minds to make them see another person to avoid him being recognised — not even when he's on a mission, just when he's walking the street — instead of, you know, wearing a disguise.
Xanatos Gambit: In Vision of the Future. The protagonists are on the run from a powerful slaver fleet towards the planet of Exocron. If the slavers pursue them there the Aing-Tii monks, Force-users who usually don't go out of their territory but hate slavers, will destroy them with weird alien tech but if they see the trap and break off pursuit, that works too. Though the 'xanatos' aspect is downplayed for Batman Gambit; the protagonists are counting on the Aing-Tii monks to save him.