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Tag Archive: Grand Admiral Thrawn


Review by C.J. Bunce

It was only a year ago, in Timothy Zahn‘s novel Star Wars: Thrawn, that Zahn returned to provide the backstory for the enigmatic military genius Grand Admiral Thrawn, who emerged from the sidelined Expanded Universe novels of the past to be part of the rebooted Star Wars canon as a driving force in last year’s season of Star Wars RebelsZahn has returned with another tale of Thrawn, this time partnering the strategist with two of the most important characters of the entire Star Wars saga (or three, from a certain point of view): Anakin Skywalker, Padme Amidala, and Darth Vader.  In his latest novel, the author of the most popular Star Wars novel series (the Heir to the Empire saga), brings us Star Wars: Thrawn–Alliances, one of the best character studies (in book form or on film) of Thrawn, Vader, Anakin, and Padme.

Although you’ll find the preface timeline indicates this story fits between Solo: A Star Wars Story and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (immediately following A New Dawn), a good half of Thrawn–Alliances 342 pages takes place just before the events of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.  This is important because it introduces significant events for its key characters that have never been mentioned outside this book.  Most important is an early partnership between Anakin Skywalker and Thrawn at a time when Skywalker was Republic representative and Jedi and newly married to Senator Amidala, and before Thrawn joined the Imperial Navy.  As with most Star Wars stories, a recurring theme is the echo or repetition of events (dialogue, scenes, etc.) among key characters in the Star Wars universe, across the movies, novels, and comics.  So readers now learn that before the events of Star Wars Rebels, Emperor Palpatine once decided to partner Thrawn with Darth Vader to investigate a disturbance in the Force occurring on the very planet Anakin and Padme first met Thrawn years before, an outlying planet called Batuu.  The twist is that Vader’s former existence as Anakin is a carefully guarded secret in the forward story, not even disclosed to Thrawn.  The helmeted and fully armored Vader is quite knowledgeable about his past with Thrawn, and so we get to watch a sort of dance between the characters over the course of the story.

Zahn gives some powerful dialogue to Darth Vader in this story, possibly some of his best lines in the saga, and you can hear James Earl Jones’s voice in each delivery.  Because the always angry and impatient Vader is shown as the only slightly progressed and naïve Jedi, neither incarnation is a match for the wits of the shrewd and dynamic Thrawn, Zahn’s original creation first introduced in the now mostly discarded novel Heir to the Empire In many ways Zahn takes this novel as his opportunity to create a better, stronger, more manipulative villain than Darth Vader, a feat that is great for Thrawn but it also could be seen to minimize what has always been the saga’s #1 villain.  Zahn also has an opportunity to finally give Padme a rich and heroic adventure–a sadly lacking component in George Lucas’s prequel trilogy.  Yet Zahn doesn’t take full advantage of that opportunity.  She is allowed to come to the aid of some tangent factions and gets a brief survival story, but her role is secondary to the two key parallel leads and unfortunately ishe s underutilized again.

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Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy–Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command–excited a generation of Star Wars fans when the original trilogy was in the past and no future movies were planned.  It’s greatest value was in its continuation of our favorite characters: Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, and the droids.  But it also introduced two key players: Mara Jade aka the Emperor’s Hand who would one day become the object of Luke Skywalker’s affection, and a blue-skinned, white-garbed officer of the Imperial Navy called Grand Admiral Thrawn.  Thrawn became part of the post-Disney canon in the animated series Star Wars Rebels, which reflected the foreboding leader of Zahn’s original books.  This month Zahn brings Thrawn’s rise to power into Star Wars canon again in his new novel Star Wars: Thrawn.

Thrawn is a military overview of the Nazi Germany-inspired Imperial Navy, recounting an exiled, strategy-savvy “Chiss” (Thrawn’s alien race) who uses his unique abilities to climb the ladder and assume greater power as part of the growing Empire following the events of Revenge of the Sith.  Zahn includes first person narration by Thrawn in both introductory chapter paragraphs and observations inserted into the text as he keys in on descriptive details of every encounter.  Thrawn is Zahn’s attempt at a Holmesian genius, a calculating survivor who still must rely on a young cadet (his Watson) named Eli Vanto, used primarily for his ability to translate both words and culture.  Unlike Zahn’s original trilogy, Thrawn feels more enmeshed in Star Wars prequel storytelling than the original trilogy movies.  By showing Thrawn’s backstory as an exiled leader who finds his way out, Thrawn also reads as if Zahn was attempting to make Thrawn the Khan (a la Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) of the Star Wars universe.  Unfortunately we don’t really get to see Thrawn in any confrontation with a powerful foe as Khan saw in Star Trek II, although he is potentially as intelligent and crafty as Star Trek’s Khan.

   

It’s Thrawn’s backstory before the events in the Thrawn novel that appear to contain the action and intrigue missing here–Thrawn both before his exile and during his exile sound like the makings of a great book.  Instead here the focus on Thrawn’s own quirks, like a fascination for Clone Wars era technology, and Thrawn’s awkward attempts to navigate the lower ranks of the Imperial chain of command, make for a slow read.  This is in part due to an unnecessary but lengthy sideline story of the struggles of Ahrinda Pryce, who will become a governor of Lothal in Star Wars Rebels.  Pryce’s story takes over a fair chunk of this 448-page novel.  The time given to Pryce and Vanto pull away some much needed action, intrigue, and suspense.

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Unlike the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the canon series Star Wars Rebels takes place in the classic trilogy timeline, where we get to see our favorite characters, like Princess Leia, Darth Vader, Lando Calrissian, C-3PO, and Yoda, with the original actors voicing the characters (Leia excluded) in an era that is the most loved by the fan base.  It takes place five years before Star Wars: A New Hope, and it’s canon, which means all that happens there influences Star Wars Episode VIII and onward.

As one example, if you think Finn (the Stormtrooper who defects to the Resistance in Star Wars: A Force Awakens) is the first famous Star Wars character to defect from the Empire to fight for the good guys, think again.  Season Three has many reasons for Star Wars fans to keep watching.

The biggest news has been revealed in the DisneyXD previews:  Grand Admiral Thrawn becomes a part of Star Wars canon beginning tonight, voiced by Lars Mikkelsen.  Created by Timothy Zahn in the first expanded universe Star Wars trilogy novel, the excellent Heir to the Empire, Thrawn was the rare intelligent Imperial officer like Grand Moff Tarkin.  Dressed in the formal white uniform seen worn by a background actor in the original Star Wars, he is the blue-skinned humanoid who helped rebuild the Empire after the second Death Star was destroyed in Return of the Jedi.  We even see from the preview that his attending ysalimir are back.

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But that’s not all.  There are many other reasons to come back for more:

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In Return of the Jedi, Mon Mothma told us many Bothans died to deliver information on the weaknesses of the second Death Star.  In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a former stormtrooper figured out how to take out the third galactic Navarone-inspired superfortress in a matter of minutes.  But how did the Rebellion find the plans to the original Death Star–the plans Princess Leia handed off to R2-D2 in Star Wars: A New Hope, which she later recovered thanks to a rescue by Luke, Han, Chewie, Ben, and C-3PO?

In the first trailer released today for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the global fan base is introduced to Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones), following in the steps of Daisy Ridley’s young female lead Rey from Star Wars: A Force Awakens last year.  With scenes that remind us of recent Star Wars MMPORGs (that’s massively multiplayer online role-playing game for those not in the know), the newest Star Wars entry takes us to the darker corners of the galaxy, into the process of creating a saboteur capable of destroying an entire planet.

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Plenty of coolness can be found here, from what appears to be a samurai warrior (Donnie Yen) to a Grand Admiral Thrawn-garbed fellow (Ben Mendelsohn), to a return to the Yavin IV hidden Rebel base, more AT-ATs, palm trees, a new dark stormtrooper variant, Genevieve O’Reilly (who played the young Mon Mothma in Revenge of the Sith), is back again, Forest Whitaker is a new bounty hunter, and is that Darth Vader going to meet with the Emperor?  Oh, yeah, and a rebel gal in a TIE Fighter pilot suit.  Count us in.

Check out this first trailer for the next big Star Wars flick:

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Does a picture tell a thousand words?

Lucasfilm released today the slate of the main cast for Star Wars: Episode VII and the above photo.  Writer/Director/Producer J.J Abrams (top center right) with (clockwise from right) Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Producer Bryan Burk, Lucasfilm President and Producer Kathleen Kennedy, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill, Andy Serkis, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver, and writer Lawrence Kasdan.  Defying the convention of not wearing the band shirt to the concert is our favorite gentle giant Peter Mayhew sporting a rebel-logo golf shirt.

The studio previously revealed the new film would take place 30 years after Return of the Jedi, but considering nearly the entire main cast for the original trilogy is in England’s Pinewood Studios for this cast read-through, the idea that they will be trivial to the story seems to be out the window.  And after a lot of eyeball-rolling from fans across the globe, this is starting to get a bit exciting.

Maybe we were looking at this wrong.  Disney let Marvel Studios make some good movies with The Avengers, Iron Man, and Captain America, right?  And J.J. Abrams made two Star Trek movies that could easily fit in the Star Wars universe.  Heck–they could have served as auditions for getting this directorial gig.  Lawrence Kasdan is one of the best moviemakers ever, with Silverado and The Empire Strikes Back in his portfolio.  You cannot say enough about John Williams, back yet again for another score.  And George Lucas was solely responsible for the prequel trilogy. ‘Nuff said there.  But we won’t let Disney off the hook until they prove that they won’t ruin the greatest franchise of all time.

Ming the Merciless Von Sydow

But more details were released.  Max Von Sydow, Emperor Ming from the 1980s Flash Gordon, will have a key role in the film.  Recall the original Flash Gordon serials inspired Lucas’s original vision.  Von Sydow is perfect for a role here–right up there with classic Star Wars veterans Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, and Christopher Lee.  The original R2-D2 actor will be back, too: Kenny Baker will return as the guy in the droid suit, joining Anthony Daniels as C-3PO.

It’s fanboy speculation time…

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