After outsmarting a command unit of Imperial soldiers, the enigmatic Thrawn of the Chiss Ascendancy – a mythical people said to have once been a prominent militaristic force in the Unknown Regions of the galaxy – is escorted back to Coruscant in order to meet Emperor Palpatine. What ensues is a conversation of wit and manipulation that ultimately sees Thrawn using his intellect to maneuver his way through the naval and political machinations of the Empire.
One of things that fascinates me the most about Star Wars is that there is much more to the universe than simply Jedis and the Force. Obviously, the Force is evident to varying degrees in each and every story (take the Mandalorian or Rogue One for instance), but it is not necessarily the driving – dare I say it – force. As is the case with Thrawn. The titular character is one who, in his own right, adds so much promise to Star Wars as a whole, and opens up the galaxy to a world of prospects.
“War is primarily a game of skill. It is a contest of mind matched against mind, tactics matched against tactics.”
Thrawn is a book of political and military intrigue; it is a thriller full of mystery and conspiracy. However, in order to fully explain the appeal of Thrawn, it’s imperative to talk about characterization. While this is a Star Wars novel, and there is a fair amount of action to the plot, its characters are what make it intriguing. In Thrawn, Zahn presents three protagonists who may possess similar characteristics, but have uniquely distinct voices: Mitth’raw’nuruodo (Thrawn), Arihnda Pryce, and Eli Vanto.
Observant, calculating, manipulative – Thrawn is all of these, and a master at each. A warrior who has a keen understanding of people and war, the more of Thrawn that is revealed, it’s impossible to envision him ever losing – at anything. Arihnda, like Thrawn (though not in the Navy), is using whatever means necessary to work her way up in status as a politician. Sharing very similar traits, the story becomes even more engaging when the two cross paths. And then there’s Eli, Thrawn’s translator, who had goals for himself (anything but lofty), but learns a great deal from Thrawn and has quite a journey of his own.
In Thrawn, Zahn offers a canon backstory to a figure who was arguably one of the most popular non-canon characters to grace the pages of Star Wars novels. This book is so good, engaging from start to finish, that once I finish the next two books in the series, I may just have to go back and read Zahn’s original trilogy.