Five idealistic but fed-up Imperial storm troopers led by Daric LaRone share the stage with young Rebel Alliance crusaders Han Solo, Princess Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca in this politically fraught but still rollicking early years Star Wars adventure from Hugo-winner Zahn (Star Wars: Outbound Flight). Emperor Palpatine's favorite Sith, Darth Vader, has a new rival, the 18-year-old Countess Mara Jade Claria, whom Palpatine has schooled in the Force to assume the special agent role of ""Emperor's Hand."" Zahn depicts the intrepid Rebel quartet and the turbulent development of the Alliance while revealing the human faces behind the storm trooper armor of Daric and company, who become unexpected allies of Han and friends once the troopers are on the run after killing a superior officer. The author also underscores Mara Jade's tough-girl charm and blossoming Imperial clout against the background of Palpatine's dedication to Imperial domination and his insidious influence on his minions. This episode will please fans wondering about events between the first and second movies in the original Star Wars trilogy.