When the new Star Wars canon started, I did not realize there was going to be so much about mining. I also never considered how much of a challenge writing a book where Thrawn is the main character would be until I read Thrawn. In Timothy Zahn’s latest for the Star Wars galaxy we get to see exactly how Mitth’raw’nuruodo rose to the rank of Imperial Grand Admiral in the years following Revenge of the Sith and before Rogue One. It’s like watching a magician revealing most of his secrets.
Some of the challenges in telling this story are ones that are more widespread for Star Wars storytelling overall these days. How do you make a character many of your readers already know seem fresh and interesting? How much from Legends do you retain and where should you take the opportunity to do something new?
Origin stories for established characters like this one need to strike a balance between lifting the veil on some mysteries without removing too much – especially when your character has come to be known as a quiet-talker with a long shadow. Let’s not forget the challenge of portraying a brilliant strategist who’ll impress the reader without losing them in the process.
Zahn seems to do the best he can with all these factors. The character is the Thrawn you know – for the most part. Previously we’ve seen this member of the Chiss Ascendancy mainly as a foil to our heroes. Here he’s the protagonist whose main adversary doesn’t find him all that intimidating, but a welcome trial. He is still a proponent of studying, deducing, and calculating. He’s still two steps ahead of everyone else. But this book’s Thrawn is not particularly ruthless or scary. It’s more practicality that even extends to a protectiveness regarding minimizing the loss of life.
If you’ve been watching Star Wars Rebels, you’ll find this novel a great supplement to lead you into the events of the recently concluded Season 3. While Thrawn is without a doubt the main character, we also get a very healthy plotline following the somewhat parallel path of Arihnda Pryce. As she goes from mining company employee to Governor of Lothal, Pryce, frankly, has the most dynamic story in the book. I didn’t have much interest in her previously, but I’m very intrigued by what I’ve read.
Both her and Thrawn’s end points are foregone conclusions if you’re caught up on the TV show. Yet Pryce grows and changes into the person we see on Rebels while Thrawn is pretty much himself from the get-go. He’s just cataloguing more info into his giant brain files. It helps too that there is more tension in Pryce’s storyline – we’re less sure of what she can or can’t handle. Her path to Governorship also isn’t as obvious as Thrawn’s path to Grand Admiral. There’s a throughline for Thrawn’s aide, Eli, as well, but his journey is a much quieter, internal one.
When it comes to world-building, Thrawn helps explain why there seems to be a human bias in the Empire. Some of the political workings of the Imperial Senate and military are revealed too. The book easily incorporates more females into that same military than what we’ve seen in the films or even TV. Unfortunately despite that ever-shifting cast being clearly thoughtfully crafted as individuals, they’re mainly forgettable once their time with the advancing Thrawn is over.
The first half or so of the book is very engaging as everything gets set into motion. It’s easy to get wrapped up and forget that even when Thrawn isn’t as high-ranking, he already has experience from his life with the Chiss. It’s not just smarts. Once Thrawn’s in the flow though, he’s stair-stepping through the rest of the book. Depending on the reader, it’s either more of a good thing or starts getting monotonous. There are some insights into how Thrawn reads info from others’ behavior interspersed throughout his p.o.v. My favorite look into his mind comes from the entries that I like to call Thrawn’s Guide to Everyday Warfare that frame each chapter.
In the end if you love Thrawn when he’s Thrawning, there is plenty to go around here. Thrawn is a book with a fascinating beginning that leads to a mostly-expected but adequate end. I got something out of it that I wasn’t expecting. And that’s not a bad way to experience a book.
The publisher provided FANgirl with a copy of the book.
Kay reviews Star Wars books for FANgirl in addition to movies of several genres with a heart for storytelling and a mind that likes to analyze. She also writes about fandom reflections and fashion as well as co-hosts the Hyperspace Theories podcast. She has been known to make appearances on other podcasts including Fangirl Chat, Nerd Lunch, Disney Vault Talk's Rebel Yell, and Assembly of Geeks.
Currently a voice actor, photographer, and artist who also consults in communications and marketing, Kay spends the little bit of free time she has reading, writing, learning and, of course, making pew pew noises. She would pick up more jobs and hobbies if she was a Time Lord.