Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Thrawn, by Timothy Zahn

If any of you are familiar with the old Star Wars Expanded Universe, there's a very good chance that you're familiar with Grand Admiral Thrawn. Heir to the Empire and its sequels are some of the most popular old EU books written by the truly fantastic Timothy Zahn. Seriously, Zahn is probably the best EU author out there. Part of the appeal of Grand Admiral Thrawn was he was a complex and believable character. One of the struggles the EU ran into was a lot of Imperial characters were bad stereotypes, real cackling villain type. Thrawn and his subordinate, Gilad Pellaon, were reasonable authority figures. Soldiers trying to do the work of the Empire and faced with not a lot of great options. Zahn illustrated that even if the Empire was a bad organization, there could be reasonable people in the ranks.

When Disney announced that the old EU was no longer canon, the fact that Thrawn was no longer canon was the biggest disappointment for old fans. Trust me, there's a lot of old EU material that wasn't a huge loss, looking at you Jedi Prince. So it was with mixed emotions Thrawn appeared in the Rebels TV show. On the one hand, it was good to see an old friend come back into the new canon, on the other hand it does raise some questions such as what ultimately happens to Thrawn. In the old EU Thrawn got sent on a secret mission to Unknown Space by the Emperor, which explains why Thrawn wasn't present during the fall of the Empire. I'm curious to see what happens to him later in the universe although I think it's very unlikely Thrawn will show up in the new film universe.

This book focuses on Thrawn's rise through the ranks of the Imperial Navy, his career shepherded by the Emperor's influence. With his aide, Eli Vanto, Thrawn goes through the Imperial academy, serves as a weapons officer, a first officer, and eventually commander of his own Star Destroyer, the Chimera (which is its own reference). On some level I feel like Thrawn's rise is almost too fast and very obviously influenced by the Emperor. It's like we know that Thrawn will end up a Grand Admiral in the Imperial Navy and we're just marking time to see how it happens. Thrawn's tactical genius does come into play multiple times through the book, which makes sense since it is written by Zahn, but I almost feel like it's a story that didn't need to be told.

The other thing that concerns me about this book is that Thrawn basically outright states that there's a threat from beyond the galaxy which threatens both the Chiss Ascendancy and the Galactic Empire. (Which makes me think of the Yuuzhan Vong, which threatens to make the Star Wars universe even more complicated again.) Thrawn is apparently on a mission from the Chiss to determine whether the Empire is an ally worth cultivating, or best used as a distraction to buy the Chiss time while they try to put weapons together to defeat whatever threat it is from beyond the galaxy. I'm worried that we're going back into the original problems of the EU where we have dozens of plot threads and putting them into a coherent whole is almost impossible.

Overall I think this book was okay, but I think it's feeding into the problem we had with the old EU.

- Kalpar

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