The Star Wars franchise is in a strange place at the moment. As fans, we’re getting more content than ever before, across a wide array of mediums (comics, books, television and of course, the films) yet the fanbase is more divided than ever. The last major blockbuster releases have both been met with less than positive results, with some outraged at The Last Jedi and others (like me) simply not impressed with Solo.
This is where the novels come in. The now “canon” books that are being churned out are for the most part simply brilliant and can quench the thirst for good Star Wars fun quite well in my view. I recently finished the much-anticipated novel Thrawn, which was released in 2017 and it certainly did not disappoint and offered more than thrills and fun; a realisation of a beloved character from the “legends” era of Star Wars fiction that goes beyond the usual character creation.
The author, Timothy Zahn is responsible for creating the character of Thrawn through his trilogy back in the 90s, with Heir to the Empire being the first appearance of the blue-skinned alien. It’s here I offer a confession; I haven’t read these books and didn’t know much about Thrawn. Shocking, I know, but despite this, I was still vaguely aware of the character which is mostly down to late night deep dives into Wookiepedia and stumbling across the charismatic Grand Admiral through various links. So, when Thrawn was scheduled to appear in the Rebels TV show, my interest was piqued. I’d already been well invested in the programme and the introduction of a character from before the Disney takeover was interesting to me, as it provided a link of the “old” Star Wars lore into the new era.
What followed was the novel we’re here to discuss, simply titled “Thrawn”. The term “origin story” often gets a bad rap for the negative connotations of repeating a story we already know (Sony’s Amazing Spiderman for example) and not seeing a character in their full glory. While this is an origin story, the author manages to subvert these expectations by instantly showing the reader Thrawn’s tactical nous and brilliance with our introduction to him. It’s from this point onwards that Zahn never takes his foot off the gas and as the plot weaves a tapestry of adventure, scheming, downfall and battle expertise, Thrawn shines throughout and the beloved character is explored in great detail.
There are two plots in the novel which interlink and eventually combine into one, the first of which follows the titular character and then the second plotline has the reader observe a newly discovered female antagonist in the Rebels TV show; Governor Pryce and her ascendancy to power. In all honesty, the plot itself isn’t of much consequence and it’s simply a vehicle used to take us to our destination; the arrival of Thrawn as Grand Admiral of the Imperial Navy. However, that in itself is an intriguing throughline as for one, the Empire in which he serves is racist against Aliens so seeing a being of Thrawn’s lineage serving as an officer is impressive enough, let alone Grand Admiral. Therein lies one of the layers of interest in the character; just how did he manage to climb the ranks when all the odds are stacked against him so heavily from the outset, there must be some brilliance to him.
Indeed, there is just that and in abundance. What Thrawn may lack in political nuances (which we’ll get to) he more than makes up for with his tactical mastery and flawless execution. This is where Zahn shines as he cleverly develops battle plans and enemies for Thrawn to exploit in ways which seem so obvious after the fact, a thought that the reader has reflected to them by many of the characters, not least of which is Imperial cadet Eli Vanto, who acts as the reader’s eyes and ears throughout the tale as he follows in Thrawn’s shadow as aide and interpreter. There are numerous instances where Thrawn is seemingly cornered in a predicament and it’s so entertaining to watch everything unfold and see how he once again outsmarts his opponents and embarrasses his colleagues, earning him much disdain amongst high-ranking officers.
Thrawn however, is blissfully ignorant of the political undertones and ramifications of his actions and this is again where the novel shines. The prequel films were much maligned for their overbearing political scenes that offered little more than a chance to top up on snacks or go to the toilet, but in the novels, the Star Wars political landscape is afforded the room to breathe and blossom. Other examples of this are seen in the novel Bloodlines by Claudia Gray and give credence to the notion that the politics in Star Wars demand to be explored in the correct way. There are so many layers of corruption to unpack and delve into that it’s no wonder the prequel films didn’t manage to successfully entice audiences; there’s just too much to fit in. Within Thrawn, the politics and manoeuvring of players in the elite of the Galaxy’s capital, Coruscant make for interesting reading and give new-found depth to characters such as the aforementioned Ahrinda Pryce and the legendary Grand Moff Tarkin.
I went into this novel curious about a character that was so beloved by the Star Wars community and I finished the book absolutely desperate for more adventures from the bold Grand Admiral that Rebels could only answer in part. Thankfully, Zahn has released a new book, titled Thrawn: Alliances which I’ve snapped up and already begun to dive into. Needless to say, I am enraptured with it and cannot state enough how impressed I am with Timothy Zahn as a writer and creator of characters.
Kenny Corner Rating
4.5/5 Stars – A near flawless page-turner that has you begging for more antics and brilliance from Thrawn.