Book by Timothy Zahn
Book Review by Nicholas Haberling
Thrawn is the first book I’ve pre-ordered in my life so far. If that doesn’t communicate how excited I was for this book to be finally released then I will also confess that I finished it in two days after its arrival in mid-April. In an earlier review on the Thrawn Trilogy I am sure I fanboyed enough so the greatness of this Star Wars character doesn’t require further explanation. Grand Admiral Thrawn is simply the best character written outside of the films and it's great to see him return to the pages of another well-crafted book by Timothy Zahn. This time though we get to read the story of how our favorite Chiss went from the Unknown Regions of the galaxy to holding the highest rank in the Imperial Navy.
Within the timeline of the Star Wars universe I suspect that Thrawn starts a few years after Revenge of the Sith and ends right before the start of the third season of Star Wars: Rebels. Perhaps a ten to fifteen year time-period. For those who are familiar with Thrawn you may recognize in the first chapter or two that Timothy Zahn repurposed his short story Mist Encounter to bring Thrawn’s first contact with the Empire into the new canon. This time though there is a new character present: Eli Vanto. Eli is an Imperial Naval Cadet who is tasked with supervising the now captured Thrawn since the Cadet knows a trading language that Thrawn is familiar with. However Thrawn is soon taken to Coruscant where he is brought before Emperor Palpatine. It is soon revealed the Emperor was previously aware of Thrawn’s existence and is pleased that the Chiss is looking to serve in the Empire. Thrawn asks that Eli be tasked as his assistant and although confused, Palpatine grants this request.
It is clear that Thrawn sees potential in Eli and from there the two face a series of challenges. Some of those obstacles are rouge pirates and the initial stirrings of the Rebel Alliance. But more often than not Thrawn finds himself the victim of the Empire’s systemic xenophobia; though he frequently triumphs over foe and ‘ally’ alike with his strategic genius. Despite his struggles with Imperial politics, as Thrawn rises through the ranks, he and Eli begin tracking a cunning undercover Rebel operative which leads to a final and disastrous confrontation.
While I have spent most of my focus in the previous paragraphs on Thrawn and Eli, there is actually another main character which is Governor Pryce. In addition to Thrawn’s storyline we also follow Pryce’s own rise to power as she takes part in the subterfuge and backstabbing all too common in the Empire. While Pryce begins as a sympathetic character, by the end of the story she becomes a cog in the machine she had hated at the start of her journey. Alongside Pryce we see a revolving door of fan favorite Star Wars characters such as Colonel Yularen, Grand Moff Tarkin, and a late appearance by Darth Vader.
While Pryce and the side characters are well written, the most rewarding characters are obviously Thrawn and Eli. For the first time we get to see Thrawn’s perspective on the various battles and dilemmas he faces. On top of this we are offered a look inside Thrawn’s mind as he wrestles with his distaste for the Empire’s practices in the hope he can influence a more just regime in the future. Finally we arrive at Eli Vanto. Eli takes the place of Captain Pellaeon in the original Thrawn trilogy. As Thrawn mentors him in the art of leadership and command, Eli begins to see the larger picture of the galaxy’s conflict and eventually takes part in a secret mission for Thrawn.
Thrawn is a solid entry into the new Star Wars canon. In addition to seeing Thrawn’s rise to power within the ranks of the Empire we also get our first glimpse at the evolution of the Imperial Military between the Clone Wars and Galactic Civil War. This added a much needed sense of realism which showed even a galactic regime of near unlimited power and resources takes time to change. However, does this book leave a little to be desired? I don’t think it’s a slight to admit it does. While it was enjoyable to read a new Star Wars novel with Thrawn in it, the character felt somewhat constrained. If anything, what made the Thrawn Trilogy so unique was that it was expanding the Star Wars universe into uncharted territory. Meaning Thrawn was free to cause as much havoc as needed. With that minor complaint aside, I highly recommend Thrawn to any fans of the character or Star Wars books in general.