Retro Reviews: ‘Thrawn’ by Timothy Zahn

December 9, 2020 at 1:00 am | Posted in Books, Random House, Regular Feature, Retro Reviews, Reviews, Star Wars, Star Wars Books | Leave a comment
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Thrawn by Timothy Zahn is the first of many novels in the canon about everyone’s favorite blue skinned, red eyed Chiss. It was released in April of 2017.

Timothy Zahn has a long and famous history with Star Wars. His Heir to the Empire trilogy not only launched the Expanded Universe (now called Legends as we know it) but also created one of Star Wars’ most famous characters – Grand Admiral Thrawn. Since then, Timothy Zahn has written numerous Star Wars novels, some with Thrawn and some without. However, when Lucasfilm launched the canon, all that went out the window. And so, we thought, went the possibility of seeing Thrawn again.

Obviously we were all wrong.

This book has two main storylines. Thrawn and Eli Vanto serve as the strong A-plot that covers about 2/3rds of the book. We watch as Thrawn starts out with the empire at the lowest levels and we see him progress all the way to his position of Grand Admiral in Rebels. Rather than say that Thrawn moves through the ranks, the reader sees all of the various engagements and events that lead to his leapfrogging up the chain of command. While very heavily focused on military tactics and strategy, Zahn makes the book appealing even to those not experts in such things. 

The other 1/3rd of the story follows the B-plot which  focuses on Arhinda Pryce. Pryce climbs the political chain of command, starting as a worker in a low level Citizen Assistance Office, almost what we can relate to as a DMV, and climbs her way to become Governor of Lothal, her home planet. Her political climb to the top mirrors Thrawn’s, but Pryce purposely leaves a lot of collateral damage in her way, whereas Thrawn does everything in his power to reduce such damage. In any book, the B-plot runs the risk of being boring or distracting from the A-plot, but that was not the case here. In fact, I loved Pryce’s storyline almost as much, and found that both plots were evenly distributed and paced. 

I’d like to take a minute to point out that very few books in the canon that I can remember actually have multiple plots. Most books are character driven and focus on one plot, or simply follow the hero and the villain (which I don’t consider to be the B-plot at all). So Zahn’s inclusion here is refreshing and I hope future authors learn to make their books as complex as Zahn’s. 

Zahn actually had a tall order here, which was to explain how Thrawn arrived on the scene, and to figure out how much of Thrawn’s backstory from Legends matches the canon. Zahn has stated several times that he’s writing Thrawn as a character so that he can fit both timelines, and that works for this particular book. However, when the story of Thrawn: Alliances and Thrawn: Treason are considered (both of which I’ll be reviewing later on), Thrawn’s new backstory does not fit at all with his Legends backstory. That is fine, as Zahn is an amazing writer and is able to make both continuities interesting. Zahn included small tidbits from Legends (including basing the opening chapter off of his Legends short story “Mist Encounter”), but overall this fits very nicely with the canon continuity, particularly with many characters, events and planets from The Clone Wars and Rebels showing up. Zahn likes to reference himself, and in the Hand of Thrawn Duology he was able to make references to other Legends books, but overall does not tend to make references to other projects unnecessarily. However, this is a prime example of how to make references and connections without losing the audience. 

Nightswan was a compelling villain who served as a Moriarty to Thrawn’s Sherlock Holmes. I actually personally rooted for Moriarty at the end to survive, because I agree with him about the Empire. The mysteries involved were fascinating and seeing two brilliant tacticians work against each other was something the other books in the trilogy lacked.

My personal favorite character in the book was Eli Vanto, who actually has become quite the fan favorite. One thing that makes him so endearing is that he’s written like a southerner or someone from the plain states, or almost like someone from “flyover country”. He is bullied by the people from the core worlds, which I thought had similar attitudes to those who are considered “coastal elites”. It was refreshing to see someone with Eli Vanto’s perspective as a main viewpoint character whom the audience could relate to. It’s so rare to see that character utilized in such a way and I desperately hope that we see more of him post Thrawn: Treason

The way Thrawn was able to see tactical problems such as the discipline of Orbar and Turuy at the Royal Imperial Academy and make it a tactical advantage were just brilliant. Not only did it make sense at the time, but it pays off later in the book. That is one of many such examples of Zahn setting things up and paying them off later. 

Speaking of setting things up, Zahn was quite sneaky with his many references to Thrawn’s encounter with Anakin Skywalker. As Zahn was only contracted for one book, he wasn’t guaranteed future books, so he placed great hooks such as Thrawn and Skywalker’s encounter for the sequel, and it paid off. Although, Lucasfilm should really know by now just to give Zahn all the books. Just trust him now. He’s got an amazing batting average that few authors can compare with. 

The internal monologues at the beginning of each chapter were interesting and actually helped set up some of the tactical information from each chapter. While they were interesting, I think some of them were a bit too long and could have been either condensed or eliminated altogether. However, they were fascinating and made it into some of my favorite quotes of all time. 

I wish I could delve more into the book, as I took a TON of notes on it. It made me want to keep reading and keep reading. This book made me excited for the future and makes me want to purchase more Star Wars books, which is exactly what media tie-In fiction is meant to do. This is some of the best Star Wars storytelling ever and is currently my second favorite Star Wars book (although it might be close to #1, it’s that good). So Thrawn gets 5 out of 5! Amazing job Zahn. Can’t wait for “Greater Good” next year. 

My next review is Rebel Rising by Beth Revis. Looking forward to seeing if I like it better than the first time.

Written by Jonathan Koan.

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