Happy Star Wars Day! May the Fourth Be With You.
I did not get into the Star Wars extended universe before LucasFilm was bought by Disney. By the time I started reading Star Wars books, a couple of decades worth of material had been labeled as non-canonical. Now there’s a new canon of expanded Star Wars stories. Disney decided to ask Timothy Zahn to bring his popular character, Grand Admiral Thrawn from the old Legends into the new canon with Star Wars: Thrawn. Based on narfna’s 2017 review, I was happy to find the audiobook. Both the story and the narrator, Marc Thompson were excellent.
Star Wars: Thrawn is an origin story. Mitth’raw’nuruodo is a Chiss warrior who has been exiled by his people and found by the Empire. Thrawn joins the Imperial fleet. We rack his rise to power through the eyes of Eli Vanto, a young ensign assigned to be his translator and aide de camp, Thrawn’s journal entries, and the parallel rise of Arihnda Pryce. Thrawn is the antagonist in other Star Wars stories, and it was interesting to read a Star Wars story about a sympathetic Imperial.
Thrawn is smart, about 5 steps ahead of everyone else, and delightfully inscrutable. Thrawn observes humans and their physical reactions to situations. He learns about cultures alien to him by studying their art work. His observations inform his military tactics, which in turn, propel his rise through the ranks despite the navy’s ingrained xenophobia. Despite his ability to formulate military tactics, he doesn’t pick up on social cues, which repeatedly gets him into political trouble. His aide, Ensign Vanto, both admires his mind and also often resents the way his career has become tied to Thrawn’s. It makes Vanto an interesting perspective with which to see Thrawn’s story.
Thrawn is an antagonist to the rebellion, but he is an honorable antagonist. Zahn illustrates this in two ways. One is the way Thrawn approaches his almost book long nemesis, Nightswan. Though Thrawn clearly likes to win, he is more interested in the act of matching wits with Nightswan than in an ego-driven need to annihilate him. The other way is through a contrast to the story of Arihnda Pryce. Through the book, we see her rise from obscure Outer Rim citizen to the governor of Lothal. Both Thrawn and Pryce see the corruption of the Empire up close, but Thrawn maintains his own moral code while Pryce is more concerned with her own advancement and interests.
It is pointed out to Thrawn that the Empire is suspicious of aliens because so many aliens were involved with the Separatists. I am sure I am no the only person to have noticed that the Republic/Rebel Alliance/New Republic/Resistance are multi-species while the Empire/First Order are predominantly human and mostly male. Star Wars aficionados will recall that the Separatists were in fact directed by Senator Palpatine, who later became Emperor Palpatine. Connecting those dots leads one to the conclusion that the Empire uses and promotes xenophobia as cynically as the Trump Administration and the Republican Party. Though Thrawn rises rapidly within the Imperial Fleet and has the backing of Emperor Palpatine, Thrawn is not proof that anyone can make it in the Fleet, but the carefully curated exception to the rule. I see a coming conflict between Thrawn and the Empire.
I should be able to listen to Thrawn: Alliances next week. Thrawn: Treason will be released on July 23.