One of the most cunning and ruthless warriors in the history of the Galactic Empire, Grand Admiral Thrawn is also one of the most captivating characters in the Star Wars universe, from his introduction in bestselling author Timothy Zahn’s classic Heir to the Empire through his continuing adventures in Dark Force Rising, The Last Command, and beyond. But Thrawn’s origins and the story of his rise in the Imperial ranks have remained mysterious. Now, in Star Wars: Thrawn, Timothy Zahn chronicles the fateful events that launched the blue-skinned, red-eyed master of military strategy and lethal warfare into the highest realms of power—and infamy.
After Thrawn is rescued from exile by Imperial soldiers, his deadly ingenuity and keen tactical abilities swiftly capture the attention of Emperor Palpatine. And just as quickly, Thrawn proves to be as indispensable to the Empire as he is ambitious; as devoted as its most loyal servant, Darth Vader; and a brilliant warrior never to be underestimated. On missions to rout smugglers, snare spies, and defeat pirates, he triumphs time and again—even as his renegade methods infuriate superiors while inspiring ever greater admiration from the Empire. As one promotion follows another in his rapid ascension to greater power, he schools his trusted aide, Ensign Eli Vanto, in the arts of combat and leadership, and the secrets of claiming victory. But even though Thrawn dominates the battlefield, he has much to learn in the arena of politics, where ruthless administrator Arihnda Pryce holds the power to be a potent ally or a brutal enemy.
A Quick Discloser: My first, and so far only, experience with the character Thrawn is through this new Thrawn trilogy. I have not read the Extended Universe Thrawn trilogy, nor have I watched the SW:Rebels TV show. As such, my opinion on this character and these books has been solely influenced by this series.
Holy hell, what a book. I’ve heard a lot of acclaim for the new Thrawn trilogy on the internet these past several years and it’s been loaded on my Kindle for a while now, but even with all the hype, I was blown away. This was the series that dragged me out of my 6-month reading slump and acted as a great distraction from an otherwise fairly disastrous family Christmas vacation. My EmpireDidNothingWrong side has been rekindled and Thrawn now tops my ‘Favorite Imperials’ list (sorry Director Krennick).
So just what made Thrawn so damn good? For me, it was largely because of how well Thrawn and Eli Vanto work together. The subsequent sequels’ lack of this pair is also why I rate both 4 stars instead of 5. I was expecting myself to like Thrawn, marketed as a non-Force wielding, highly analytical Imperial Admiral. However, Eli Vanto endearing himself to me (and so quickly!) came completely by surprise. Eli works as the Watson to Thrawn’s Sherlock Holme’s, providing the reader into the tactical, almost uncanny, brilliance of Thrawn. However, Eli himself is a fully fleshed-out character: a yokel from the wild spaces, joining the Imperial forces for his family, and diverted from his intended path to essentially play PA to Thrawn under the guise that Thrawn needs a translator. It’s through Eli we feel the emotional connection to the pair, and I damn near cried during a certain event later in the book.
Of course, that’s not to say Eli overshadowed Thrawn or vice versa. Thrawn himself is a fantastically written character and I really appreciate in a universe where Evil™ characters like Vader, Palpatine, and Moff Tarkin share a stage, they can work with, and even respect a much more even-tempered and frankly reasonable character like Thrawn, who doesn’t slaughter peons upon first mistake.
Thrawn is fun to read for the same reason murder-mysteries and stories where the full plan isn’t revealed til the end are fun to read. We know Thrawn will have a plan, and we know he’ll end up out-smarting his opponents, no matter how dire the situation or how much Eli is internally panicking. Zahn does a great job bringing the pair through a series of seemingly unrelated events as they attempt to police the Wild Space, only the tie everything together in the end, with the seemingly smallest, unimportant details become the key to solving the situation.
The worldbuilding, of course, is Star Wars. However, Zahn writes in a way where even a non-Star Wars fan will very quickly be able to pick up on the terminology and objects. I think this book does a really good job fleshing out the edges of Imperial Territory, as well as highlighting the discrimination Eli faces as a Wild Spacer and Thrawn as an non-human serving in the Imperial army. Of course, with the introduction of Thrawn, the Chiss Ascendency, and this new, unknown threat looming in the Unknown Regions, there are a lot of possibilities of what roles these new groups will play in Disney’s Star Wars universe.
The one part of the book I didn’t really like were Arihnda Pryce’s chapters. At first, I found them annoying because we go from Thrawn and Eli trying to not get kicking out of the Imperial Academy to this random woman complaining because her family’s mine was getting taken away and I just didn’t care. After the first chapter, I just started skipping them entirely and I don’t think not reading them made any difference to my overall understanding of the plot. Bring Thrawn back! Around the middle, she got more interesting as the two plot threads merged, but in the end, I just wasn’t a huge fan of her character.
Overall, I rate this book a 5/5. I think Thrawn is a fantastic novel that’s great for Star Wars fans and non-Star Wars fans alike. Thrawn and Eli are incredibly well-written and lovable characters. I’m also excited for what the implications of the world-building in this book will mean for the rest of the Star Wars universe.
/r/Fantasy 2019-2020 Bingo Squares:
Publication Date: 6 April 2017
Publisher: Random House
Word Count: ~130,000