Thrawn: Novel Review
The 2016 Star Wars Celebration was probably the least eventful of all of the Celebrations since the Disney take over. Most fans expect it to be a hot spot for news and this event, that came before the release of Rogue One, ended up a bit of a disappointment, with the exception of one key announcement. During the panel for Star Wars Rebels it was revealed that Grand Admiral Thrawn, the villain of Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy and later the Hand of Thrawn books, would be returning to Star Wars and would officially be canon. Shortly after that we saw that Zahn himself would be returning to Star Wars as well to write a Thrawn origin novel that was the first of his contribution to the new Star Wars canon. At the time it was an announcement that I wasn't that excited about. I had never read the Thrawn trilogy and I was curious to see if the new Thrawn novel would be a reasonable jumping on point for a new reader.
I'll come clean. You'll notice that I'm quite slow reading this book. It was released last April and I'm just reviewing it now. Its because it took two attempts to finish this book. I felt obligated to finish this book now that a sequel has been announced that is expected to feature Darth Vader called Thrawn: Alliances. The Thrawn novel is deliberately slowly paced and my first attempt was really just a small piece at a time. I was reading it so slowly that I was starting to forget what happened at the start of the book while I was reading it. So at the 200 page mark I put the book on hold and started to read something else. Now I decided to make a second attempt and power through this book. Don't get me wrong this book is far from bad. I enjoyed it quite a bit even when I was reading it the first time, but its very low key.
Thrawn is Zahn's first novel that reveals some of the backstory into possibly the most famous EU character of all. Up until now Thrawn's origin was mostly unknown until he appeared 5 years after Return of the Jedi in the EU novel Heir to the Empire. Thrawn chronicles the blue alien's rise through the Empire against great odds. Thrawn joins the Empire after he is discovered on a empty planet that his people exiled him to. His intelligence earns him immediate credibility with the Emperor and he quickly begins to climb the ranks despite being an non-human who often struggle to earn any respect in the prejudiced Empire. However, as Thrawn continues to impress some of his peers and superiors resent him and his success.
Eli Vanto is quickly assigned to Thrawn as his aide thanks to knowledge of some of the creatures hailing from the Unknown Regions of the galaxy. Eli is a totally new character that didn't have any involvement in the EU, but there are some comparisons to be made between him and Thrawn's ally Captain Pellaeon from Legends. Eli had already carved out a career path for himself, but Thrawn's appearance sends it into a different tangent. Its a path that may have no upside. This causes Eli to have some resentment towards Thrawn as he seems destined to follow in his footsteps for his whole career.
Now, I've watched very little of Rebels, but I'm aware that Arihnda Pryce is the Governor of the planet Lothal at the time of the show, but this novel serves as a bit of a origin story for her as well. Her path occasionally intertwines with Thrawn and Eli. Pryce shows potential early on the book as she deceives some senators in order to improve her own stature. There were some points where I actually thought that Pryce's story was more interesting than Thrawn's.
Most of the book is made of up Thrawn trying to attempt to get over various hurdles and succeeding almost every time. Whenever he is defeated he's insulted and even more motivated to improve himself. The novel takes place over several years and follows several of Thrawn's assignments on different ships. In some ways its a "greatest hits" of Thrawn's early time in the Empire.
I felt like Thrawn was at a disadvantage because there is very little physical conflict. Grand Admiral Thrawn was interesting in the old EU but Zahn always had the classic characters to lean on whenever the reader needed some excitement. This book does hit some spots where it is boring. There is a path where the book really drags in the second half, but there is a pretty cool reveal in the last few pages of the book that really got me on board again. While there are some threads that could possibly attach to the original trilogy or even the sequel trilogy they are still too vague for Star Wars fans to pounce on.
I'll admit that Thrawn won't be for everyone. I'm not even really sure if I liked it, but it does compliment Rebels quite nicely and it has some references that reward the old readers of the EU.