By Wil Wright
Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn, Hardback, Del Rey Books, 2017. Available unabridged on Penguin Random House Audio, read by Marc Thompson.
Spoiler Level: VERY LOW
Thrawn, the latest book in “Star Wars” canon, was released last week and is everything for which I could have hoped in a Timothy Zahn penned Star Wars novel.
I’ve been a fan of the character ever since I read the Heir to the Empire trilogy some two decades ago, now. While not technically my first foray into the Star Wars expanded universe, I do consider those books to have been a large part of my foundation. Grand Admiral Thrawn has always been such an intriguing villain and had me instantly hooked. And so, of course, any other work by Zahn that featured Thrawn (or even the mere hint of Thrawn), I consumed voraciously, hungry and eager to fill in more of his unique blue canvas.
I think the most impressive feat accomplished with Thrawn is that it doesn’t necessarily feel out of place amidst the previous works involving the character. A few things were obviously changed to fit his place in the new canon, but by and large this book felt like Zahn had it waiting in the wings for its chance at the spotlight – just another wondrous act in the grand play of Mitth’raw’nuruodo. While Rebels and its writers absolutely did the character justice (only one part of Thrawn’s role in Season 3 felt purely contrived and wholly out of character), here we have the purest expression of one of the most justifiably feared foes the Empire has to offer.
Thrawn shows us the rise to power from exiled ignominy of a truly terrifying strategic genius, as ineffable a game master as has ever been imagined. The elaboration on his ascension through Imperial ranks is faithful to what we know of the Empire and the character himself.
As the book is primarily from the point of view of the new character, Eli Vanto, Thrawn’s perspective and alien thought processes remain largely inscrutable. In this way the book is excellent at showing Thrawn’s history, his triumphs, and failures, while maintaining the mystique that makes him so alluring in the first place. Thrawn’s attention to extreme minutiae pairs extremely well with his new companion, Vanto serving as a John Watson to Thrawn’s Sherlock Holmes.
Numerous cameos peppered throughout serve to firmly ground the tale in Disney’s new canon, while easter eggs to Legends content still exist to excite the knowledgeable reader; I, myself, was nerding out pretty hard from the second page of the story due to a deep cut throwback. All in all, an excellent addition to the new canon and a worthy successor to the old. Indisputably, the Master is back – and we’re lucky to have him.