– Spoiler Review –
Grand Admiral Thrawn has held a special place in many fan’s hearts and his return to canon in Star Wars Rebels was one of joyous celebration (at Celebration, no less). Even better, another Star Wars legend was announced to return as well: the mastermind behind Thrawn himself, Timothy Zahn, set to write the Grand Admiral’s canon origin story in, you guessed it, Thrawn. Anyone who’s read a Star Wars novel from Zahn is in for the same treat they’ve come to expect, while new characters, especially Rebels’ Arihnda Pryce, overshadow the titular character in an enjoyable tale of mystery, intrigue, and ambitions while watching the Chiss (re)rise through the Imperial ranks.
As I mentioned in my “The Curious Case of Governor Arihnda Pryce” article, even on Rebels Pryce seemed like a more intriguing character than Grand Admiral Thrawn because there were plenty of unknowns about her still and she didn’t have a load of preconceptions around her to make her potential story in the show’s season to ever be predictable (I’ll be updating that article in the coming weeks to reflect things learned from this novel). The same is certainly true here, as by the end of Thrawn I had found Pryce’s parts more enjoyable and always looked forward to her appearances more so than Thrawn and Eli Vanto’s (Thrawn’s aide) adventures. The biggest reason is that Pryce simply has more hardships to endure and battles to fight (not literal battles like Thrawn and EIi), making her struggle through Coruscant politics and Lothal intrigue way more interesting than Thrawn’s military career pre-Star Wars Rebels (minus a part or two). Speaking of the show, there’s a lot of stuff in the novel, mainly in Pryce’s parts, that ties into the first couple of seasons, including filling in why she was absentee governor for the first two seasons, Ryder Azadi’s ousting as governor, and even an appearance by Maketh Tua, so fans curious to learn more about happenings with Lothal and the Imperial side of the show should eagerly eat up those details. The best part about Pryce here is how she’s written to be a very compelling character, even making her someone to be sympathetic for despite some of the dirty tricks and rotten things she does throughout to further her ambitions of getting back at those who wronged her and rising above her lowly, boring stature in life. She has big goals for her life and her home planet and nothing has a chance of standing in her way, which is constantly fantastic to read. I’ve seen some jokes this novel should’ve been titled “Star Wars: Pryce,” and while I don’t completely disagree, this is still the title character’s novel but she certainly stole the show from him.
As for eponymous character, you get pretty much what you expect initially from Thrawn, as he connects dots, destroys his enemies always in a precise manner, and ascends the ranks of the Imperial Navy in record time. This is Thrawn like you remember him in the Thrawn Trilogy of Legends-lore, so in that way one could say a lot of what transpires with Thrawn isn’t particularly exciting or surprising, as he’s still a grand chess master constantly several steps ahead of everyone (including you, dear reader). However, Timothy Zahn does something he’s never done before (and in the Lucasfilm Publisher’s Roundtable at SWCO 2017, he said he was against doing for the longest time): he gives us Thrawn’s POV from time to time, which makes some of the predictable parts of Thrawn’s tale more intriguing, as we get present-tense intuitions that Thrawn picks up from those around him, giving readers extra insight into those he meets and how Thrawn’s magic works. In the end, Thrawn’s ultimate goals, both in his chase of a mysterious smuggler/pirate/revolutionary leader nicknamed Nightswan (whose identity I sort of guessed but never could quite confirm) and his mentoring of his reluctant aide Eli Vanto, are what intrigued me a helluva a lot more than his constant victories and the outcome here certainly creates the urge to see what Thrawn does next, especially if he survives the upcoming fourth and final season of Star Wars Rebels (which, when you introduce his original assassin Rukh to the show, things don’t look so good for his chances all of a sudden).
Speaking of stories I can’t wait to see more of, Eli Vanto’s tale certainly doesn’t seem like it’ll go anywhere, but his ending will leave many begging for more. Eli wasn’t a character I particularly liked for most of the novel, but as he grew under Thrawn’s teachings, I grew to like his character little by little. Eli, originally from the edges of Wild Space, starts the book off as someone with his Imperial Navy destiny all picked out already: supply master, but a mist encounter (as it were) with a strange alien he recognizes as the Chiss from the scary stories Wild Spacer’s tell their children and spread as legends of their own, changes his life forever…literally. Eli is no Gilad Pellaeon, but he’s a fine enough substitute of the Imperial straight man with a conscious, and helps us stay in awe of Thrawn as he realizes the truths and lies about the childhood stories he’s heard about the Chiss. As I mentioned above, how Eli’s tale ends and ties into Thrawn’s bigger goals (because come on, he always has bigger Gungans to fry than fighting petty little battles for the Empire) makes it all well-worth a read and leaves me begging to learn more.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Thrawn is a very good novel, but everyone’s specific reasons for liking it might be a little all over the place, as I liked it for what it did for Pryce’s character, others might just be happy their favorite Chiss is still as they remember him, or others will just be happy to be reading a Zahn-written novel again. For starters, Timothy Zahn is most definitely back to writing Star Wars, as even after just reading Thrawn‘s opening pages it’s clear he hasn’t lost his touch with telling stories in the GFFA to the point it doesn’t feel like it’s his first in four years. There almost seems to be a bit of joy coming from the pages, as if Zahn is delighted to be giving life to the Grand Admiral again, especially when he starts things off mixing together both canon and Legends with a retelling of the “Mist Encounter” short story (originally published in 1995). He also weaves a masterful tale of mystery regarding a nemesis Thrawn hunts throughout the novel (while furthering his military career) that intersects with Arihnda Pryce’s tale as well, while there’s very enjoyable political intrigue in regards to Eli Vanto’s navigating of the Imperial ranks as Thrawn’s aide and Pryce’s ambitions to retake what’s rightfully hers despite petty politics getting in her way. Everyone’s parts throughout the novel are engaging and Zahn’s ability to intertwine both things old and new (there are plenty of characters from Star Wars Rebels fans will recognize) while connecting to threads from Rebels and other canon novels provides plenty to enjoy on each and every page. However, things get a little too predictable for Thrawn’s parts, as we know he will and he always does find a way to end up out on top, while the ending rushes to its conclusion rather suddenly.
Here are a few other things:
- In an exhaustive interview at the official site, Zahn talks about writing Thrawn into a different era of the timeline, getting to write Pryce, how he thought of Thrawn on Rebels, and so much more!
- The one thing this novel doesn’t explain and leaves tantalizing open is the story of how Anakin Skywalker came to work with Thrawn for a time during the Clone Wars (something teased in the first excerpt released from Thrawn, which is from the very opening of the book even). I kept hoping and crossing my fingers but it seems that story will get to be told at a different time…hopefully soon!
- How the Death Star ties into Thrawn’s ultimate goals really shows how putting the character firmly into this era can add new and exciting dimensions to him while still keeping him as fans remember him.
- Every chapter starts with what I dubbed Thrawn’s Art of War, as a lot of it surely does sound like stuff straight from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (which I own and have read), and I found myself looking forward to his newest piece of advice and how it would tie into the events of the chapter I was about to read.
- Want to know how Pryce was able to hold her own in fisticuffs with Sabine Wren in “The Antilles Extraction?” Thrawn reveals that little tidbit.
- Beyond the Curious Case article about Pryce, I wrote an article back in 2015 regarding the then-mysterious Fleet Admiral from the first Aftermath novel about if the Fleet Admiral turned out to be Thrawn, how I hoped the new canon would deal with him. Well, the Fleet Admiral turned out to be someone new but some of my wishes still stand. I’ll be writing a sequel to that article looking at how Thrawn’s been handled in canon since his introduction and include some hopes and wishes for what else than can do with him.
Thrawn might give into your assumptions and expectations from time to time, but the larger plans of the eponymous character, as well as the enjoyable appearances of new characters like Arihnda Pryce and Eli Vanto, make the book another great addition to the GFFA especially since it has a little bit of everything for everyone. Even better yet, Timothy Zahn seems to have never missed a beat during his absence.
+ Timothy Zahn and Thrawn are back
+ Arihnda Pryce steals the show (for me at least)
+ Eli Vanto’s purpose
+ Connections to Rebels
– Ending rushes towards readers rather suddenly
CANON NOVEL REVIEWS:
Aftermath | Aftermath: Life Debt | Aftermath: Empire’s End
Battlefront: Twilight Company
Lords of the Sith
A New Dawn
Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel
Heir to the Jedi
CANON YOUNG ADULT NOVEL REVIEWS:
Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure
Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure
The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure
Before the Awakening