Does Star Wars: Thrawn live up to the hype? Resident Grand Admiral expert Courtney Martin digs into Zahn’s new novel to see how the blue-skinned Chiss fares in the new canon.
This review discusses the plot of Star Wars: Thrawn.
Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
“All beings begin their lives with hopes and aspirations. Among these aspirations is the desire that there will be a straight path to those goals. It is seldom so. Perhaps never.”
So begins the return of one of the greatest tacticians ever–Grand Admiral Thrawn is back in the Star Wars universe! New York Times bestselling author and creator of the character Timothy Zahn has rejoined the Star Wars universe once again, and as usual has brought a well-written, engaging story to the universe.
Star Wars: Thrawn is the backstory to the Grand Admiral. It follows his first steps into the Empire, his meteoric rise to prowess, and shows how he didn’t have an easy time becoming a Grand Admiral. The book also details Eli Vanto’s role in Thrawn’s life, and how he came to be one of his most trustworthy comrades.
Same as the Old Boss?
Much of Thrawn’s backstory remains as it was in the old expanded universe. He is exiled from his home world by his fellow Chiss for violating the Chiss law not to engage in a battle first. He was attempting to protect his world from threats in the Unknown Regions. During his exile is when the Empire happens upon him. He decides to take action, join the Empire, and hopefully protect his home planet. As the book progresses, Zahn weaves a bit of a new tale into this backstory. As it turns out, he wasn’t actually exiled, but set up to infiltrate the Empire. Excellent storytelling with a twist, classic Zahn.
The first meeting between the Emperor and Thrawn is tense and suspenseful. How will the Emperor perceive this alien? Will the Chiss’s confidence be seen as an asset, or as a threat? Zahn writes the two as similar personas, but portrayed differently. The Emperor is all-powerful, a plotting, conniving being that exudes confidence, but in a way that makes others fear him. Thrawn exudes a warrior’s confidence, utterly sure in his tactical abilities and goals. Yet his confidence compels others to follow him, not fear him. This is the perfect tone for the character–Zahn brings him back as he’s meant to be, to be a leader.
The book also details Arindha Pryce’s rise to power. She first appeared in Star Wars Rebels as the Governor of Lothal. Pryce’s story starts slowly, and it seems her path has nothing to do with Thrawn. Eventually, the two paths meet and the two stories lend more depth to the characters as they are in Rebels.
Legends Thrawn vs. New Canon Thrawn
Does the new, official canon Thrawn live up to expectations? Is he still the confident master tactician he was originally conceived to be? In short, YES.
Timothy Zahn brings everything unique about the character back. This time though, Zahn shows how he had to start at the bottom (in an Imperial Academy) and work his way to the top. Plus, he is fighting for leadership and trust within a newly founded Empire that doesn’t particularly care for alien species.
In the novel, Thrawn is still a remarkable tactician, often using species’ art to identify patterns and weakness that ultimately help him win whatever confrontation he is participating in. What is so interesting about this new book is that this time readers get inside Thrawn’s mind. Zahn does a masterful job of relating how he can predict a person’s thoughts and actions. Not only this, but throughout the book he is also teaching his aide, Eli Vanto, about how to read expressions, words, and artwork.
Now readers get a more in-depth look at how Thrawn is always a step or two ahead of his opponent. He sees subtle muscle twitches, small reactions to things said, and with his glowing red eyes can read a being’s heat signatures. These things may seem small, but Thrawn can combine them into a pattern to predict reactions and next moves. Thrawn is very much Star Wars’ Sherlock Holmes.
Classically Zahn, Classically Thrawn
Zahn has mostly kept Thrawn the same as he was in the Legends novels. Only now the readers learn and understand his background and rise within the Empire. And with the new canon and continuity beginning, and new Star Wars stories forming, this is precisely as it should be.
He seamlessly fits into the new era and the new stories. Zahn writes the character with a supreme confidence, something that is sorely lacking in many areas during the turbulent time of the new Galactic Empire and the fledgling rebellion. Thrawn is the only one that understands both sides of the conflict, yet has his own goals in mind. He does what he needs to for his end game. And now, with Zahn writing from his perspective, readers can try to understand his warrior stance. Why he is they way he is, and how he is a rock in a sea of war.
Thrawn’s Mind and Teaching Eli Vanto
Each chapter in the book begins with a section of Thrawn’s thoughts and ideals. He very much sees himself as a warrior, and details his principles on leadership, enemies and allies, and battle tactics. It’s interesting to get an in-depth view of the character, and to learn more about how the character can predict battles. But even with this insight, Zahn manages to surprise the reader with how good Thrawn actually is. Battle after battle, reading his perceptiveness for patterns in tactics still doesn’t let the reader predict the battle progress or outcome. Zahn masterfully puts new turns in every battle scene. And as he teaches Eli Vanto exactly how he knew what was going to happen, Zahn is teaching the reader how Thrawn thinks.
At the end of the book, Vanto is sent to the Chiss Ascendancy on Thrawn’s request. Thrawn carefully hid the location of his home world, but entrusted Vanto to contact them. Again, this is for Thrawn’s goal of protecting his people. This idea of a human living among the Chiss is another example of incorporating art of Legends into the new canon. In Legends this role was filled by Baron Soontir Fel. Now, instead of Fel, Vanto will be not only Thrawn’s pupil, but the Chiss’ student as well. With this addition Zahn paves the way for more stories, and hopefully more Thrawn.
New Old Characters
Thrawn and Vanto are not the only two main characters in the book. Zahn gives a backstory for Arihnda Pryce, who was first introduced on Star Wars Rebels. At first it seems her story will not coincide with Thrawn’s, but as the book evolves Zahn weaves the stories together very effectively.
Other new characters are introduced, and even another Legends character makes an appearance. That’s right, another Legends character, created by Zahn, is now canon. H’sishi, a Togorian female, is introduced as the leader of a Coruscant dojo where Pryce trains. H’sishi was introduced first in Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy. In that series she was a bodyguard to smuggler Talon Karrde. To see another Legends character appear in the new canon is great.
Bringing already known, and even loved, characters back from Legends might grab the attention of fans of the Legends books. It was a major deal when the new canon began, and the old books were not included in continuity. But now, with the return of Thrawn, and hopefully other characters, some fans will be brought back to the books.
Star Wars: Thrawn is one of the best, if not the best, books in the new Star Wars canon. With the final season of Star Wars Rebels coming, hopefully the Chiss gets even more development and becomes a major character in the Star Wars universe. With a book this good, one hopes that he is appreciated and used as a major character in upcoming novels, preferably by Timothy Zahn.
Courtney Martin is a graduate of Indiana University and works in publishing. She’s an avid Star Wars fan and wrote the recipe blog Courtney Cooks Star Wars on suvudu.com. When not enveloped a science fiction or fantasy novel, she is watching television with her husband and son, doing crossword puzzles, or playing with her Shih Tzu, Burt.