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Literature / Hand of Thrawn

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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 Legends, they take place ten years after The Thrawn Trilogy (hence, fifteen years after Return of the Jedi and nineteen years after A New Hope).

After two decades of constant war, Supreme Commander Gilad Pellaeon looks at the Imperial Remnant, the scraps of a once-proud Galactic 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 to 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 Emperor 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 — but without knowing who the perpetrators are, for some species the solution is to punish the entire Bothan race, while others consider that unacceptable. 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.

This duology was written in parallel with Michael A. Stackpole's I, Jedi (set several years earlier during the Jedi Academy Trilogy) and forms a sort of Two-Part Trilogy with it, notably sharing the character Elegos A'kla.

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.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Disra deduces that a flight of ships attacking one of his Star Destroyers are Diamalan by working backwards from intelligence reports on recent starship purchases. He then realizes that they're trying to find out if the rumors of Thrawn's return are true, and convinces them by finding in Thrawn's logs the tactics he used against the Diamalans during his invasion nine years earlier. The Diamalans quickly bug out.
  • Batman Can Breathe in Space: To escape the Cavrilhu Pirates' base after the hangar bay decompresses during his escape, Luke vacuum-jumps without a spacesuit to Mara Jade's ship, and survives with no ill effects. Justified in that he puts himself into a Jedi healing trance first.
  • 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.
    • At the climax of Vision of the Future, as the Battle of Bothawui escalates due to the reveal of the three cloaked Star Destroyers, Han remembers "Thrawn" dropping a little tidbit about Borsk Fey'lya having his own private army, and contacts the Bothan to state that, should a Bothan play a major role in turning back this attack, he'd have a lot of political leverage. Unfortunately, there was a lot of signal leakage thanks to damage to the Falcon, so half of Bothawui heard this. And of course, no self-respecting Bothan is going to sit back and let Fey'lya claim all the credit... The net result is every private militia, personal starfighter, and defense ship left on Bothawui launching in aid of the fleet.
  • 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.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Hinted at between Talon Karrde and Shada D'ukal. Shada finds herself wondering when she began to think of Karrde as a friend, and Karrde later blushes when Han teases him about the possibility.
  • Bookends: Of a long-running variety. The Thrawn Trilogy ends with Luke and Mara having a heart-to-heart on the roof of the Imperial Palace, before Luke goes downstairs to make an appearance among the delegates working to pick up the pieces after Thrawn's offensive. Mara, deciding to put her past behind her and embrace a future which includes the New Republic, ends the book by saying "Wait. I'll come with you." Vision of the Future ends with Luke and Mara discussing the peace treaty between the New Republic and Empire, the future of the Jedi Order, the Unknown Regions, and their impending marriage, before Luke heads out to make an appearance before the assorted delegates working one of those things out. Mara ends the book by saying "Hold on. I'll come with you."
  • Breaking Speech: Pellaeon does this to Tierce in the climax of Vision of the Future. His lecture consists of pointing out that Tierce is nothing more than a vision-less, vengeance-obssessed, manipulative, tactically brilliant, flawed clone of a Imperial Guard with some of Thrawn's cunning who doesn't have what it takes to be a true Magnificent Bastard like Thrawn. This causes Tierce's full-blown Villainous Breakdown and Pellaeon shoots down Tierce's Motive Rant during the lecture.
  • Call-Back:
    • 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 using a similar method, only now the 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.
  • Character Development:
    • Pellaeon has overcome his earlier anti-alien racism (which fits with him being involved in Daala's opening up of the Empire to other races in Darksaber).
    • Fey'lya has also become more rounded from his earlier It's All About Me Smug Snake Obstructive Bureaucrat persona. Unfortunately, later authors undid this in the New Jedi Order series.
  • 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, vision, and leadership necessary to be a truly Magnificent Bastard.
  • Cloning Blues:
    • 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. How much of that is due to Tierce being a clone, and how much of it is due to Tierce being dead, while the other two are still alive to be tried for their crimes, is not entirely clear. A third option is because Tierce was only included in their existing plot at the last minute, and wasn't their public face.
  • Conflict Ball: One attempt to avenge the past leads to a host of ethnic conflicts flaring up, nearly destroying the New Republic. Justified in that for most species, the Caamas crisis really served as an excuse to legally get at longstanding enemies and rivals. For example, the Diamala and Ishori, between whom Han and Luke try to mediate an argument early in Specter, take opposite sides on the debate, partly due to their racial outlooks, but mostly because their opponent is on the opposite side. Not a lot of people cared that profoundly about something that had happened so long ago. The opinions of the surviving Caamasi themselves (who being Perfect Pacifist People wanted to forget and forgive) are ignored by both sides.
  • Confronting Your Imposter: As part of Garm Bel Iblis's attempt to capture an intact copy of the Caamas Document, he has the Errant Venture, an Imperial II-class Star Destroyer owned by Booster Terrik, masquerade as the ISD Tyrannic fleeing Republic attack, as New Republic Intelligence has the actual Tyrannic listed as missing in action. Moff Disra doesn't fall for it because he's using the Tyrannic as part of his own Batman Gambit, and knows exactly where she is.
  • Con Man: Flim, taking part of the villain's plans disguised as Admiral Thrawn. 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.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Very frequent. Zahn read the rest of the EU. It's not hard to tell which parts he liked and which he didn't.
    • There are also several to the events of The Thrawn Trilogy, naturally, as a Sequel Series.
  • The Convenient Store Next Door: Variant in the second book, in that it's not a robbery. Bothawui's capital city, Drev'starn, is home to the planet's planetary shield generators, and there's a Ho'Din tapcafe two blocks away from the shield generator building... but it's sitting right on top of one of the power cable conduits to the generator building. So a couple of the villains manage to get access to the tapcafe's basement and dig down to the conduit, then use that to send lizards with bombs attached through it and into the generator building to destroy it, bringing down the shields right as a massive space battle breaks out overhead, which could devastate the planet's surface.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Shada versus Tierce. Considering how much of a badass the latter is supposed to be, it's surprising he was defeated so quickly — but he was blinded by rage at the time. And "good enough to blindside a politician who tried to pull a gun" is a different standard from "good enough to fight a Mistryl shadow guard."
  • Debate and Switch: Invoked with the search for an intact copy of the Caamas Document, which would allow the actual individuals involved in the Caamasi genocide to be tried for crimes against civilization. As it stands, the version recovered on Wayland is conveniently missing the part where the perpetrators are named, making the debate ostensibly one over whether the entire Bothan state should be penalized for the actions of a few unknown individuals.
  • Devil's Advocate: In The Thrawn Trilogy, Captain Pellaeon acted as a Devil's Advocate to Grand Admiral Thrawn, and commends his subordinate for playing this trope in Hand of Thrawn.
  • Didn't See That Coming: The conspirators' plan to make everyone think Flim is Grand Admiral 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, as due to the nature of German compound words, translated books can end up 10-30% longer by page count than their English language texts.
  • 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.
  • The Dreaded: Something in the Unknown Regions has Thrawn's followers spooked and terrified. Not surprising given they know about the Yuuzhan Vong.
    • Since his death, Thrawn's reputation has grown to the point where a rumor that he's returned is enough to send half the galaxy into a frenzied panic. However, the main characters are quick to point out that it's not entirely deserved. While Thrawn was extremely successful, he had his share of defeats and mistakes, including the ones that lead to his (apparent) death.
  • 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.)
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: It takes a near-Civil War in the Republic but the Bothan collaborators are unmasked and brought to justice, the Republic and Empire sign a peace treaty, and Luke and Mara Jade get married.
  • Easy Logistics: Averted. One of the things Pellaeon brings up while arguing in favor of opening peace negotiations with the New Republic is that the eight sectors that remain to the Empire, while comprising about a thousand star systems, only have a single major shipyard. This shipyard can't even keep up with the demand for starfighters, let alone capital ships, hence why the Chimaera carries SoroSuub Preybirds bought on the open market in these two novels, rather than TIE variants. This is foreshadowing: Moff Disra is buying the Preybirds from the Cavrilhu Pirates, who have their own shipyard.
  • End of an Age: Represents the final chapter in the story of the Galactic Civil War between the Empire and the New Republic. On a meta level, also represents the final publication of the EU under Bantam Books.
  • Exact Words: Bel Iblis uses these to reassure Booster Terrik about his continuing authority over his ship, the Errant Venture (an Imperial II-class Star Destroyer he captured back in The Bacta War), which Iblis plans to use as part of an infiltration mission.
    Terrik: What are you doing, Iblis? You said I would remain captain of this ship!
    Bel Iblis: You're still the captain. I'm simply the admiral.
  • Fix Fic: Like we said... Zahn read the rest of the EU. And it's easy to see which parts he liked and which he didn't.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • All of Tierce's little tics.
    • More distantly, there are vague references to the impending Yuuzhan Vong invasion.
  • Freudian Trio: Disra, Flim, Tierce, generally acting as Id, Ego, and Superego, respectively.
  • Gambit Pileup: Half the fun of this series is watching gambit after gambit get thrown on the pile, the bottom layer of which was laid by Grand Admiral freaking Thrawn over nine years ago.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: Tierce was the product of an experiment, combining stormtrooper combat strength and loyalty with Thrawn's tactical genius. It failed, since Tierce had Thrawn's tactical mind but not his leadership or vision.
  • Gilligan Cut: A literary example, discussing the events that will later be depicted in Outbound Flight:
    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.
  • Going Native: The Devist "family" are clones of Imperial Ace Pilot Soontir Fel who were planted as a sleeper cell on a backwater farm world by Thrawn as a hedge against defeat. They unexpectedly inherited Fel's love of farming, and decide when ordered by Moff Disra to activate that their loyalty to their families and land far outweighs whatever loyalty they were expected to have to the Imperial Remnant.
  • Graceful Loser: When the triumvirate's plot finally becomes unraveled, Flim is relatively calm, compared to Disra and especially Tierce. Flim even gives a last speech in-character as Thrawn in order to help resolve the situation smoothly.
  • Grand Finale:
    • 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 later books 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 unambiguously one of the good guys, but even in Zahn's earlier work Pellaeon (and other Imperials) was always depicted as a good man, with some fair for the Empire Fantastic Racism, he just happens to work for very bad people.
  • 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 earlier books. He couldn't retcon them into more Yoda-like 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.
  • It Will Never Catch On: In Vision of the Future, Lando thinks to himself that when he and Tendra Risant had first proposed adding an observation gallery to his underwater mining operation on Varn, her family had felt the idea was ridiculous because "no one pays good money to watch miners mining, even aquatic miners in the admittedly unusual locale of the Varn ocean floor". Naturally, the observation gallery proves one of the more profitable portions of the operation.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: The Diamala are one of the more notable races of Jerkasses in the galaxy. They don't like Jedi in general and Luke Skywalker in particular, and refuse to allow Luke to be present at the talks between the Diamala and the Ishori. This is on the grounds that many Jedi use their abilities too much and Jedi who do that always fall to the dark side. When Han tells Luke this was the reason why the Diamala don't like Luke or want him at the talks, it causes the Jedi Master to reevaluate his usage of his Force abilities and come to the conclusion that he had been using them more than was healthy and in some cases in an unethical manner. As a result Luke makes a conscious decision to cut back on how much he uses his Force abilities.
  • 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 same position that he was to Thrawn ten years ago.
  • Legendary in the Sequel:
    • Luke is well-known, and although he may not be instantly recognizable by the entire galaxy, his green lightsaber for damn sure is. The New Jedi Order itself is now taken seriously enough that the Cavrilhu Pirates built a trap into their base specifically to hold Jedi. Luke only escapes by using telekinesis to hotwire a pair of blaster power packs and blast his way out.
    • Zahn takes a potshot at the Sueification of Grand Admiral Thrawn by writing that his reputation has grown over the years to the point where the mere rumor he's Back from the Dead has half the galaxy running scared. The main characters all scoff that Thrawn was never that good.
  • MacGuffin: An intact copy of the Caamas Document, which would name the Bothans responsible for the genocide 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.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Tierce. Pellaeon points out in his Breaking Speech that Tierce is just a vision-less manipulator instead of a true leader. Pellaeon further reveals that the reason for Tierce being the only enhanced clone was not, as Tierce believed, because of Thrawn's premature death. It was because the enhancement didn't work as planned. Thrawn wanted order, stability and unity for the galaxy to give it the strength it needed to face future threats. For that he needed subordinates who shared not just his tactical skill but also his leadership and vision, and one out of three wasn't good enough. Rather than "the first of a new breed", as Tierce described himself, he was merely a failed prototype.
  • Metal Detector Checkpoint: Mara remarks that they'll probably need one of these at the entrance to their wedding with all the smugglers and government officials who will likely be attending the ceremony.
  • Memetic Badass: In-Universe example. Thrawn is perhaps the most terrifying (non-Force-sensitive) 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.
  • Mental Fusion: Luke and Mara do this in battle against Thrawn's sentinel droids, marking their truly becoming a Battle Couple.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Pellaeon's initial investigation of Disra is over where he's buying the new Preybird fighters (being constructed by an illegal shipyard Disra has a financial interest in in violation of copyright). That investigation meant a later attack by the pirates who own the shipyard can be connected back to him, and reveals his connection to the main plot.
  • Most Writers Are Human: ...Okay, yeah, Zahn's probably human. But many of his characters aren't, and a lot of them are in prominent positive or neutral roles which in other books get filled by humans. However, like almost every other EU writer, he consigns Chewbacca to minor roles. Which is actually a little surprising since in The Thrawn Trilogy Zahn gave Chewie a pretty major role.
  • Multiple-Choice Future: Luke at one point uses the Force to meditate on the future and try to decide his next move. He perceives nearly infinite possible futures and wonders if this is what Yoda saw while Luke was fixated on his vision of Darth Vader capturing Han and Leia at Cloud City back in The Empire Strikes Back. He ultimately selects the only course of action he saw that didn't appear to lead to complete chaos.
  • Mythology Gag: Possibly unintentional, but Lando is the one most suspicious of the clones. In the early drafts of "Empire Strikes Back", Lando was himself a clone left over from the Clone Wars.
  • Nazi Hunter: The pursuit of an intact version of the Caamas Document is similar to this trope, as it would name the Bothans who sabotaged Caamas's planetary Deflector Shield, allowing the Empire to glass the planet. (That's for the parties for whom it isn't a Pretext for War against old enemies, e.g. the Diamalans and Ishori.) After Luke and Mara find a copy on Nirauan, it turns out that many of the Bothans involved are still alive, and they're tried for war crimes offscreen.
  • Non-Answer: After Lando and Senator Miatamia are captured by the person they think is Thrawn, the latter deflects several of Lando's questions and tries to switch topics, only for Miatamia to keenly point out that the questions remain unanswered. "Thrawn" is grudgingly forced to address the issue, praising the famous Diamala intellect.
  • Opinion Override: Played for Drama. The political question of what to do with the revelation of the Bothans' part in the Imperial genocide of the Caamasi is never properly posed to the Actual Pacifist Caamasi survivors themselves, mainly because it mostly stops actually being about Caamas pretty quickly: a lot of the participants, such as the Ishori and Diamalans, are just using it as an excuse to settle old grudges.
  • Pardon My Klingon: Shavit. Also "kriff", introduced in these books, has since become Star Wars Legends fanon's answer to "frak" in its many contexts.
  • Peace Conference: What Pellaeon's working towards. Too bad that the more militant elements of the Empire are conspiring to prevent the New Republic from showing up.
  • Prophecy Twist: During one of Luke's visions, he sees Mara lying lifeless in a pool of water. His vision comes true... but she's actually just unconscious, having been put into a Jedi healing trance by Luke himself shortly before, and emerges alive and well.
  • Punctuation Shaker: Almost any time Zahn renders an alien language, there are apostrophes in it.
  • Punny Name: Flim, the con artist. Con artists are also known as "flim-flam artists".
  • Rabble Rouser: Imperial deep cover agents left behind by Grand Admiral Thrawn activated are after the discovery that a group of Bothans helped the Imps commit genocide of the pacifist Caamasi. The sleeper agents use this tactic, among others, to sow unrest: In one case they start a riot by basically having a guy holler "Justice for Caamas!" a bunch of times in a crowded town square (gathered for a demonstration at a Bothan-owned company) and start throwing fruit, and letting the crowds take it from there.
  • 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.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Mara gives a mild one to Luke criticizing him over some of his past actions, such as taking on students while still under the influence of the dark side, or not treating Kyp Durron like a "tipped turbolaser" when he fell to the dark side.
  • Red String of Fate: Luke and Mara, as literal as possible with the Force
  • Reformed, but Rejected: Well, YMMV on how much he's "reformed", but Fey'lya is much less a Smug Snake here than he was in The Thrawn Trilogy, as stated above in Character Development. Further, when the Caamas crisis first comes to light, he explains to Leia that the Bothan race were as horrified as everyone else to learn that some of their own had collaborated with Palpatine, and that the Bothans were never able to learn their identities. Nonetheless, Fey'lya correctly concludes early on that the galaxy at large will not be quick to believe this, due to the Bothan's (well-deserved) reputation as a Planet of Smug Snakes.
  • Relationship Upgrade: Luke and Mara get engaged while fighting their way out of the Hand of Thrawn, and are planning their wedding at the end of the story.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale:
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • Sequel Hook:
    • The mysterious threat in the Unknown Regions that has Thrawn's followers spooked will later be revealed to be the Yuuzhan Vong.
    • The ending leads immediately into Star Wars: Union.
  • Shipper on Deck: Han, at least, ships Karrde with Shada.
    "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."
  • Smug Snake:
    • 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. And isn't as good at adapting when something goes wrong. Instead of reacting calmly to even disastrously bad news and working out the best response, like Thrawn did, when it was exposed that the real Tierce had died a decade earlier and the one present now is a modified clone, Tierce responds by going berserk and trying to strangle the person who revealed his secret.
  • Something Only They Would Say: At one point during Vision Of The Future, Han Solo arranged to meet Lando secretly. Knowing that Imperial forces may be monitoring his communications, he instructed Lando to meet him "Ten clicks out from Galactic Center, from the place where you had no choice." In other words, ten clicks out from Galactic Center from Bespin, where Lando "had no choice" but to betray Han and his allies.
  • 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.
  • The Starscream: A successful version with Control of the pirate gang.
  • Straw Vulcan: The very, very calm Diamala species, who naturally are in conflict with the very emotional Ishori.
  • Take That!: In particular, Anderson, Hambly, everyone behind Dark Empire, and the Black Fleet Crisis got some of the worst. Not saying anyone took Zahn's heed; Luke's still overpowered, even relative to what we'd expect the most powerful Jedi ever to be. On the other hand, the events of The New Rebellion get a favorable mention for using Zahn's Anti-Magic ysalamiri creatures creatively (even though popular opinion of that novel is comparable to the books that were criticized).
    Mara: Whatever you were dealing with on Byss—
    Luke: The reborn Emperor.
    Mara: Whatever.
  • 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.
  • Title Drop:
    • "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.
  • Translation Punctuation: Vision has a passage where the various fleets of alien warships over Bothawui are given fraudulent orders to {Attack!}, [Attack!], and <Attack!>
  • Two-Part Trilogy: Zahn wrote this duology (originally a single novel that got big enough he broke it in half) at the same time that his friend Michael A. Stackpole was writing I, Jedi. The two collaborated to share characters and toss Continuity Nods back and forth between their books (for example, Caamasi diplomat Elegos A'kla has a significant role in both), making Zahn's duology in effect something of a Distant Sequel to I, Jedi. In publication order, Specter came first, followed by I, Jedi, followed by Vision.
  • Vagueness Is Coming: Parck tells Mara that there's a massive threat looming that would "freeze her blood" if she knew about it, and there's fighting already going on in the Unknown Regions. This is later revealed to be the Yuuzhan Vong.
  • Vestigial Empire: The Empire under Pellaeon is but a small portion of its maximum size at its height.
  • 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.
  • We Will Not Use Stage Make-Up in the Future:
    • Flim and Luke both subvert this, though Flim uses "self-powered surface inserts" to simulate Thrawn's glowing red monochromatic 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. Or just going In the Hood, like, um, every other Jedi ever. The fact that Luke has stopped using the Force for such things is the first sign to Mara that he's starting to get it.
  • Wham Line:
    • Bel Iblis to Booster Terrik near the end: "And we're going to ram it".
    • Luke, also near the end: "Thrawn's copy of the Caamas Document".
    • The closing lines of Pellaeon's glowing description of Major Tierce's distinguished military career: And that, as part of a stormtrooper unit in Thrawn's campaign against Generis, he died in combat. Ten years ago.
  • What Could Have Been: In-Universe example. Luke and Mara stumble upon a clone of Thrawn housed just beneath the fortress on Nirauan, which is almost fully mature and about to wake up. Considering the state of matters in the galaxy and what they just learned within the fortress, both of them nearly decide on just letting it live to continue Thrawn's work. Unfortunately, their snooping happens to wake up a pair of very formidable guard droids, and the ensuing battle results in the clone being destroyed anyway.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to Carib Devist and the other Fel clones after they chose their side?
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Defied by Flim, who sees the writing on the wall rather late in the story and calls out Tierce and Disra for acting as if they're above the need for employing fringe elements of the galaxy in their scheme, when half of their plans outright depended on it. Also serve's as Flim's bid for equal standing in The Plan - even if "Thrawn" is no longer necessary to continue, Flim's knowledge of the underworld will be.
  • 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 people advising protagonists are counting on the Aing-Tii monks to save him.

Alternative Title(s): The Hand Of Thrawn