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Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
5
Book Name: Star Wars: Thrawn
Author: Timothy Zahn
Publisher(s): Random House
Formatt: Hardcover
Genre(s): Science Fiction
Release Date: April 6, 2017

Timothy Zahn’s first foray into the New Star Wars EU sees him return to his most beloved character, the enigmatic and sorely missed Grand Admiral Thrawn. In a pseudo-origin story that both pulls back the veil on the origins of the Chiss mastermind and deepens the mystery of his service to the Empire, Zahn proves yet again that he is at his best when playing in the Star Wars sandbox.

Heir To The Empire (cover)Grand Admiral Thrawn was introduced in 1991 when the old Star Wars EU, for the first time, canonically tackled the events that unfolded post-Jedi in a galaxy far, far away.  I was 12 when Heir to the Empire was published and it was—at the time—one of the biggest events of my life.  As a die-hard Star Wars fan, I longed for the story to continue.  Sure, there were comics and novels and games that danced around the edges of the proverbial “what happens next,” but there was no “official” story.  Then the first volume of Zahn’s “Thrawn Trilogy” hit and everything changed.

The characters and stories Zahn introduced in his trilogy were Star Wars constructs of the highest order.  There was no disconnect between the books and the movies that preceded them—Zahn’s masterful writing and intuitive grasp of the Star Wars universe made the stories seem inevitable, as if no other logical continuation of the Skywalker saga could be contemplated.

Fast forward to 2012.  Disney purchases Star Wars and all of a sudden 21 years of continuity in the “Old EU” went out the door.  The fear among Star Wars fans was that in rebooting the post-Jedi continuity to facilitate the production of new feature films, the literary babies would be tossed out with the bathwater.  I freely admit to having a knee-jerk reaction to the scuttling of the “old EU” and even published an ill-advised article on this very site decrying the decision to retcon the old EU into the Legends line of groups.  The obliteration of Thrawn (and countless other characters of Zahn’s creation) seemed like anathema to me.

I can admit when I was wrong, and I was happy to write another piece for Fantasy Faction admitting that Disney’s handling of the “New EU” on the road to The Force Awakens was far more delicate and respectful than most fans could have hoped for.  That being said, most of us assumed at the time that the price we paid for new movies was the obliteration of characters Zahn and a host of other others breathed life into for 20+ years.

The Force Awakens (poster)Fast forward again, this time to Star Wars Celebration 2016, when Disney announced the return of our blue-skinned cipher, this time as a character on the Disney XD Star Wars: Rebels series.  And while rumors of Thrawn’s return in animated form were floating around in the days prior to the announcement, virtually no one expected a new Thrawn novel written by none other than the character’s creator himself.   Timothy Zahn is beloved by Star Wars die-hards and his return to his greatest creation was met with universal acclaim.  Disney was then—and continues—to respect the legacy of Star Wars in all its forms.

So here we are in 2017 and Thrawn has been on bookshelves for a little over a month.  I’m happy to report that it is captivating, enthralling and as vital a work as any of Zahn’s prior Star Wars outings.

Thrawn begins with an Imperial excursion into the Unknown Regions and the discovery of a solitary and seemingly abandoned camp.  All is not as it seems, however, and in no time flat our main character takes the stage in a return that is both fitting and undeniably true to the character Zahn created so long ago.  So begins a 446-page master class in character development that pays off the reader’s investment in ways both expected and decidedly unforeseen.

Chronicling Thrawn’s enlistment in the Imperial Navy and his meteoric rise to the rank of Grand Admiral, Thrawn is a fascinating window into the Imperial military and the first stirrings of rebellion that would ultimately set the galaxy ablaze.  There are allusions and connections to events and characters from the original trilogy, the prequels, the current trilogy and even Rogue One and Rebels peppered throughout the main story.  While none of our main heroes appear, at least one has a prominent and mysterious presence.  And several familiar Imperial faces have large roles in the book.

Running parallel to Thrawn’s rise is the story of Arihnda Pryce, familiar to Star Wars fans as the Governor of the planet Lothal and a constant antagonist of that show’s heroes in Phoenix Squadron.  Thrawn’s connection to Pryce is immediately on display in the third season of Rebels.  Zahn, as usual, doesn’t play the “square peg/round hole” game just to shoehorn continuity into lockstep with his plot.  Instead, he weaves Pryce’s story in and out of the main plot with the deft hand of a master weaver and by the time the reader finishes the novel the Thrawn/Pryce connection feels organic and wholly necessary.

Thrawn also serves as fandom’s introduction to Ensign Eli Vanto, the latest breakout star in Zahn’s oeuvre.  Vanto is from the Unknown Regions himself, although human, and he is one of the few Imperials that have even heard of the Chiss and the Chiss Ascendancy.  His “familiarity” with Thrawn’s people and his ability to speak Sy Bisti result in Vanto being assigned to Thrawn as an aide de camp, a role that Vanto takes on with dedication, if not enthusiasm.  Vanto’s arc is as fascinating and thrilling as Thrawn’s or Pryce’s and by the end of the novel, Vanto’s status quo becomes a potential fulcrum upon which the entire Star Wars saga could pivot.

The bulk of the novel deals with Thrawn’s on-again/off-again pursuit of the mysterious smuggler and pirate “Nightswan.”  Throughout the book, Thrawn and Nightswan engage in a complex and delicate dance as each carve out a place for themselves in a rapidly changing galaxy that is beginning to feel the first rumbles of rebellion.  The plot device works well, as Zahn uses it to great effect to illustrate both Thrawn’s methodical, unrelenting nature and his willingness to change and adapt to achieve a goal.  The back-and-forth with Nightswan occurs in theaters both military and political and Zahn presents a very complete picture of Thrawn the man, not just Thrawn the officer.

Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy ZahnFurther hammering Thrawn’s personality home are the diary entries at the start of each chapter.  Shedding light on motivations and desires—including his famous belief in the study of art as a window into the heart and mind of an adversary—the diary could be an entertaining novel on its own.  Thrawn has always been a rich, multi-layered character and with every revelation comes yet another mystery to be solved.   The diary entries serve as a window into Thrawn’s personal beliefs—as well as the reasons behind many of the actions he takes in the novel proper—and are essential to telling the complete story of his rise.

As the novel ends, Zahn once again delivers a twist that shifts the reader’s perspective on the entirety of what has come before.  Thrawn is a complete tale, but like the Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy it seeds already fertile ground with countless potential stories and one major revelation that still has me wondering what happens next.  That is the beauty of a Timothy Zahn Star Wars novel.  The plot serves the characters, the characters serve the galaxy at large, and the novel as a whole serves to propel the entire saga forward.  Zahn makes playing in Lucas’s sandbox seem so simple, and his understanding of Star Wars is intuitive.

Thrawn is a triumph on every level.  A satisfying and revelatory read, Thrawn pushes the Star Wars saga forward while pulling back the curtain on one of the most enigmatic and beloved characters in the Star Wars universe. If you’re a Star Wars fan old or new—or a fan of effortless, masterful character work—Thrawn is for you.  Timothy Zahn once again proves that he belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Star Wars creators along with Dave Filoni, John Ostrander and George Lucas himself.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (7 votes cast)
Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn, 10.0 out of 10 based on 7 ratings
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One Comment

  1. night_wrtr says:

    Excellent book. My favorite new canon novel so far.

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