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Tag Archive: Star Wars Thrawn book review


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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