Hey! Hallie here!
A few posts ago I mentioned that I was reading this book, so naturally now I have to review it! This is the first book of Timothy Zahn’s first canonical Thrawn trilogy. For those who aren’t aware of how beloved Timothy Zahn is in the Star Wars fandom, he also created a trilogy in the nineties titled ‘The Thrawn Trilogy’. These books were widely regarded as the best Star Wars books of their time and some of the best sci-fi books ever created. This trilogy introduced the character of Grand Admiral Thrawn, who found himself in control of Imperial forces after the demise of Palpatine, and followed his attempts to crush Luke, Leia, Han, and the Rebellion. But this trilogy is now considered one of the ‘Legends’ books, or the books that are no longer canon since Disney took ownership of Star Wars. Fortunately for us, Dave Filoni is just as big of a Star Wars fan as the rest of us and loved Thrawn well enough to introduce him into canon via ‘Star Wars: Rebels’ and now, ‘Ahsoka’. With Thrawn finally part of the official Star Wars timeline, Timothy Zahn was invited back to write for Thrawn again, this time without any caveats. But has Timothy Zahn’s writing, and the incredibly interesting mind of a character like Thrawn, held up over the years? Let’s talk about what I liked and disliked about this book! Minor spoilers ahead!
Thrawn: Of course. The writing kind of needs to be good for this character in order for the book to hold up at all. But the writing for Thrawn isn’t just good. It’s incredible. This book reminded me why I adored Thrawn in the original ‘Legends’ trilogy. When we meet Thrawn in this book he’s been banished from his home world and sent to live in exile on a desolate planet. But we don’t necessarily see this from Thrawn’s perspective. Instead, we follow the Imperials on an investigative trip as they flail attempting to figure out who’s taking control of their technology and silently depleting their forces of Stormtroopers. Thrawn’s abilities to outsmart the Imperials get him a one way ticket to Palpatine, who regards him with vague interest, and then intense interest when Thrawn mentions that he once knew Anakin Skywalker. From there the book covers his successful military career and his immensely fast rise through Imperial ranks.
The book changes perspectives between three characters, but when you’re in Thrawn’s head you understand why so many people compare him to Sherlock Holmes. He reads body language with mind-blowing ease, notices small details no one else takes note of, and puts together strategies so quickly that he remains several steps ahead of the reader even when you’re reading his perspective. But it isn’t like he finds sudden solutions to impossible problems. The clues are always there for readers to look back on, it’s just that Thrawn can put them together faster than you can. I also really enjoyed exploring Thrawn’s motivations. He doesn’t side with the Empire because he agrees with them. In fact, he feels Palpatine is dangerous and unfit to lead. However, he is loyal to his people, the Chiss, and feels the Empire is the best way to keep them safe from their adversaries and create the order the Chiss desire for the galaxy. Thrawn also doesn’t like killing people. He sees it as a waste, though more a waste of assets than a waste of life, and frequently demonstrates extreme dislike and disgust for the Imperials who brush off major loss of life. Then there’s the fact that despite all of his admirable elements Thrawn is given one major flaw in the book. He’s really bad at politics, and other people often have to intervene for him in his career because he’s an alien working in the mostly pro-human Empire. All of these elements make for a really complicated character who’s just as enjoyable to read about as I remember. Seriously, if you don’t get the Thrawn hype, I really recommend reading this book.
Eli Vanto: This is the Watson to Thrawn’s Sherlock Holmes, and one of the other characters whose perspective is explored in the book. Just like with Watson, Thrawn takes an immediate interest in Eli despite the fact that Eli has no idea why. But unlike Watson, Eli has really complicated feelings about this that make his character extremely interesting. Eli first becomes close with Thrawn because Thrawn doesn’t speak Basic well and Eli speaks a language that Thrawn is more familiar with, so Eli acts as Thrawn’s translator and teacher. But before Thrawn was essentially pushed onto him, he was a country boy from Wild Space who joined the Empire for his parents. Those ideals both align him and alienate him from Thrawn. On the one hand, most Imperials look down on Eli for being from Wild Space, so Eli greatly empathizes with Thrawn for the way Imperials look down on him for being Chiss. But he also despises that his connection to Thrawn entirely changes his military career and prevents him from living the comfortable life he was envisioning for himself. Eli struggles a lot with his relationship with Thrawn, feeling both like he lives in his shadow and also that he’s privileged to be able to observe someone so brilliant. He also learns a lot from Thrawn and winds up smarter than most of his peers by the end of the book just for spending so much time with him. But despite all those mixed feelings, Eli is only ever kind and considerate towards everyone, especially Thrawn, and it’s easy to root for him.
Nightswan: Nightswan is the main mystery of ‘Star Wars: Thrawn’. Towards the beginning of the book, Thrawn hears word of a mysterious person named Nightswan who’s disrupting Imperial shipments of precious metals and whose strategy impresses him. Though I will say that it’s REALLY easy to figure out who Nightswan is, I still found the hunting down of Nightswan to be a fun thread to pull the plot forward. I enjoyed the back and forth of intelligent strategy and attempting to one up each other from both Thrawn and Nightswan. I also really loved the moment these two finally meet before the final battle of the book. The amount of respect and genuine curiosity that they greet each other with makes the conversation feel less antagonistic and more bittersweet. Though this was supposed to be more of a mystery, there are so many other mysteries to solve in the book that I was able to put that aside and just enjoy this for the entertaining battle of wits that it was.
Governor Pryce: If you’ve watched ‘Star Wars: Rebels’ you know who Governor Pryce is. She’s the governor of the planet Lothal and a pretty standard Imperial lackey. In this book Timothy Zahn decided to spend time fleshing her out, but I’m not sure he entirely succeeds. For one, she is another character whose perspective you follow in the book, but her storyline is completely different from Thrawn’s and Eli’s for most of the book. And her story is a lot less interesting. She gets less time than the other characters, but I couldn’t help but be irritated whenever the other storyline was put on pause for her. Then there’s her characterization. Zahn mainly focuses on her desire to get out into the world and become a more powerful figure. She feels stifled by Lothal and is tired of being pushed around by the politicians who want to get control of her family’s mine. But we don’t get much time to feel for her before she spends most of the book on Coruscant, kissing up to as many people as possible in order to get the power she wants. And when she realizes city life isn’t everything she hoped, you still don’t empathize with her because she’s well established as shady and untrustworthy by this point. The betrayals she experiences that you’re supposed to feel bad about, mean nothing when you’re already certain she would betray those people as well the moment she got the chance. And it all leads up to the end of the book, where it fully cements her villainous reputation. Which would be more powerful if I cared about her at any point before that. But I didn’t. She was the same, uncomplicated, classic villain at the end of the book as I assumed she was at the beginning of the book.
Overall, I really loved this book. I just really love Thrawn, you guys. He manages to be badass without being force sensitive, and the respect he shows for his enemies only makes me respect him more. I fully intend to read the rest of this trilogy and I might check out Timothy Zahn’s other canon trilogy too, which details more about Thrawn’s people. So look out for those reviews in the future! For now, if you want to brush up on Thrawn, or if you just don’t know much about him and want to know why everyone else freaked out when he showed up in the ‘Ahsoka’ trailer, I highly recommend this. Thrawn will in the very least ruin you for any other Imperial officer ever.
Don’t do anything fun until I get back!