When Disney purchased the Star Wars franchise, one of the first things the new overlords did was eradicate the extended universe. Okay, that’s harsher than it needs to be. The House of Mouse didn’t just get rid of the old canon, they labeled it Legends. There is truth to legends, even if it’s exactly what happened. Disney had bought a property that people had come to love and they wanted to create something new with it. They didn’t want to just retell the same stories that had already been told. Makes sense, right?
While there were a lot of really great stories told in the Extended Universe, there were also some less than phenomenal ones as well. Since the launch of the new canon, the Star Wars Story Group has done an amazing job finding authors to tell stories that appeal to both old and new fans. With the exception one or two novels, each new book in the Star Wars canon has been well done. The most recent novel, Thrawn, it by far one of the best novels to date.
Thrawn is the story of Mitth’raw’nuruodo, a male Chiss from the unknown regions of space. It follows Thrawn as he is abandoned by his people, discovered by the Empire, and his rise through the ranks of the Imperial Navy. The story is told through a series of anecdotal vignettes that push the story along and Thrawn up the chain of command. While there seem to be a number of smaller mysteries moving throughout the novel, they all eventually converge into one great puzzle Thawn has to make sense of. The story follows three different points of view: Eli Vanto, Arihnda Pryce, and Thrawn.
Cast of Characters
Thrawn is a former naval commander from a region of space that has been previously undiscovered by either the Empire or the Galactic Republic that preceded it. We learn that Throne was exiled for taking a preemptive strike on potential targets or dangers to his people now. This show of military might goes against his people’s code of conduct. The Chiss, Thrawn’s people, believe that they should not kill for the sake of killing. This seems to be a belief shared the titular character, which, not only makes him a unique in the Imperial hierarchy, it also leaves the reader if he is being completely honest about his backstory.
Eli is from a sector of the Outer Rim close to Wild Space, and is the son of a shipping magnate. His family has been in the shipping business for years and he is set to study Logistics and shipping and spent his career on some bass looking over spreadsheets. A chance encounter with the Chiss leads him to abandon his chosen career path. The reader gets to experience the emotional turmoil that Eli goes through as he helps Thrawn climb to the top of the Imperial Navy.
While Eli’s skills make him excel in his chosen career path, many in the imperial navy view him as the equivalent of a slack-jawed Yokel. People don’t respect him or his opinion until they see what he can do. Eli spends most of the book second-guessing himself and playing the role of Watson to Thrones Sherlock Holmes.
To those of you who have seen Star Wars Rebels the TV show, specifically the third season of the show, you are already familiar with the character of Governor Pryce. Governor Arihnda Pryce was born on Lothal to parents who own a mining company. The local Imperial government absorbs her family mine and Arihnda finds herself on Coruscant without a family and without a mine.
Once there, she focus all of her effort and time on rising in the imperial ranks until she can return to Lothal victorious, having the power to reclaim her family’s mine. Through the book we see the future Governor Pryce calculate and make connections with some of the strongest people in the Empire. She is definitely a character that you grow to hate by the end of the book.
Points of Interest
There were a number of interesting connections this book makes with the Star Wars universe as a whole. I want to talk about some of the these are the things that really make this book stand out and make it head and shoulders above some of the other novels that we’ve seen from the cannon so far. I will keep spoilers to a minimu but be warned.
The Zahn Connection
Timothy Zahn is no newcomer to the Star Wars Universe. He was the author who introduced Thrawn to the world, and as such, he was tasked to reinterpret or reintroduce the character to the new Cannon. It has been said that Zahn and his Thrawn almost single-handedly saved the EU in the late 90s.
To understand why the introduction of Zahn to the universe was so important you really have to look at the old canon. While much of what was written in the wake of the cultural phenomenon that was Star Wars was done well, there were a few novels that simply weren’t that great. The Thrawn trilogy not only changed that, but it introduced a character that was more relatable. While there were still problems with the original Thrawn, Zahn seems to have learned from those mistakes and course corrected.
An Imperial Understanding…Sort Of
Any Star Wars fan can tell you that the Empire doesn’t like aliens. But this xenophobia is never explained in the films. It’s left up to the audience to draw their own conclusions. These conclusions ultimately end with the Empire is full of bigoted, evil men who don’t like things that are different than themselves. And while I’m sure that’s true in many cases, Thrawn elaborates on why many in the Empire harbor such resentment against non-humans. The short answer: blame it on the Separatists.
During the Clone Wars, many of the systems seeking to emancipate themselves from the Republic were made up primarily of non-human worlds. Those that turned violent, like the Geonosian, did a great deal of damage to the galaxy. And before the Clone Army entered the battlefield, it was non-clones fighting the war. Aliens would invade an otherwise peaceful planet, leave droids to pillage or destroy, and humans resented them for that.
What’s interesting is that we see this bigotry not only aimed at Thrawn, who is a Chiss, but also at Eli Vanto. As someone from the Outer Rim, Eli doesn’t fit into the socio-economic circles his advancing position puts him in.
A Sherlockian Tale
Thawn is clearly the Sherlock Holmes of the Star Wars universe and this novel points that out. Now, I am not an avid reader of the Sherlock Holmes adventures, but I am familiar enough with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work that I can clearly say that Grand Admiral Thrawn is an honorable homage to the Baker Street detective. The story is so well crafted that each case solved leads Thrawn and company deeper into another, making the reader want to continue reading into the wee hours of the night.
Thrawn is one of the best in the new Star Wars canon. It falls just shy of being my favorite novel in the new canon to date. The story is well put together and entertaining. It’s a good read and an amazing story to listen to. If you are looking for your next book to read, make it Thrawn.