Despite an up and down introduction to the story of Outbound Flight, the ending made up for any flaws prior to.
For years, avid Star Wars readers - specifically those loyal to the collective works of author Timothy Zahn - have come to know of the legend of the Outbound Flight. Now we find out exactly what happened to this doomed mission.
Briefly, the Outbound Flight was a mission of 50,000 selected people - including around 15-20 Jedi - sent on a long journey to explore - and colonize - the next Galaxy. Before they were to do this, they would travel to the outermost regions of their own Galaxy - called the Unknown Regions - and start the exploration there. As we know from past novels, the flight was intercepted and somehow destroyed in the later mentioned area.
It is strongly recommended to read Outbound Flight after reading prior novels - such as the Thrawn Trilogy, the Hand of Thrawn duology, and Survivors' Quest. So in his own rights, Timothy Zahn has followed the steps of George Lucas - creating a long running story - and several years later - wrote the prequel in the form of this novel.
So, what about the story itself, was it worth the wait?
First off, it should be noted - and anyone who has read the aforementioned novels - should not expect any major characters from the Star Wars movies to play a major role in this story. In almost a forced ploy, Zahn writes Obi-wan Kenobi and his 13 year-old padawan, Anakin Skywalker, into the novel. Perhaps to appease any outsiders that pick up this novel. They are completely written out of the last 100 pages and the climax of the story - in a very awkward fashion.
There are basically four major players of Outbound Flight. (1) Jedi Master Jorus C'Boath, who we saw reincarnated as a "Mad" Clone in the Thrawn Trilogy. I personally was not expecting the real C'Boath to act in a similar fashion as his Clone. Apparently the Clone was not all that mad. C'Boath is on a serious power-trip throughout the entire novel - and is the leader and planner of Outbound Flight. (2) Thrawn. After almost 15 years of waiting - we finally get to see one of the greatest villains ever written in action. In fact, if you are like me, you were wanting to find ways to root for Thrawn in the Thrawn Trilogy. Well, now you can without feeling guilty - as he is not entirely the antagonist here. His character - although several years younger from the last time around - is equally as enthralling, still the master tactician, just as brilliant. Zahn does not miss a beat with his characterization. Years after Thrawn had died, we began to learn about his race - the Chiss - and it's culture. Now we get to see how Thrawn fits into this - and we find he is ever-so-slightly an outsider within his race. Look for his brother, Thrass, to make a major appearance. (3) Kinman Doriana works for two masters - at least he thinks. They are however, as the reader knows, one in the same. Darth Sidious and Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Though Doriana does not possess The Force, he plays a key role in the fate of the Flight - and his the operative of the Dark Side in this story. (4) The last major player is Jorj Car'das. As much as I believe Thrawn is one of the greatest character's ever written, my personal favorite character that Zahn has created was Smuggler Chief - Talon Karrde. Unfortunately, Karrde does not appear in this story because he would be far to young and could not play a major role. Rather, we get his mentor, a very young Car'das. Car'das is as cool and calculating as Karrde is. While an older Car'das has appeared in past Zahn novels, we find a new appreciation for him now.
The story essentially is broken up in two parts. We read about Thrawn, who stumbles upon Car'das - and his two smuggler associates, Maris and Qennto - in the Unknown Regions. Initially they are brought to Thrawn as prisoners. After trust is gained, they teach each other about their respective languages and culture. This is the first encounter between anyone from the Republic and the Chiss. This side of the story is enthralling from chapter one. Meanwhile, on the other side of the galaxy, we have C'Boath - and his padawan, Lorana Jinzler, who also plays a major role here - running around trying to get the Outbound Flight approved to fly. This plot did not hold my interest - partly because of the forced and unnecessary role of Kenobi and Skywalker. However, as the Outbound Flight launches, this story also becomes very interesting.
When the Flight reaches the Unknown Regions and encounters Thrawn, and the plots become one, the reader is in for a serious treat. It is one of those endings where you cannot put the book down.
Outbound Flight brings author Timothy Zahn back to a must-read stature in my opinion. His prior novel, Survivors' Quest had me wavering on this fact ever so slightly. This book comes highly recommended.