With the movie the Return of the Jedi that was released in 1983, the first Star Wars trilogy was finished. And many people at the time thought that would be the end of things. The popularity of the franchise started to wane, and slowly but surely people began to lose interest. But then nine years later Star Wars got noticed again, this time not because of a new movie, but by a novel written by Timothy Zahn called Heir to the Empire. It would be the first of a new trilogy of books that chronicled events that took place after Return of the Jedi. It became a huge succes. Not only was it an amazing story, but it also introduced a couple of new characters that became fan favorites, even though they had never been seen before in a movie. The most notorious of these was Grand Admiral Thrawn. The blue skinned alien Chiss, was a military genius that almost brought the New Republic to it’s knees. After this first trilogy a huge range of novels were made that took the story even further. This became known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe.
This was all before the Dark Times…before the Empi…erm, Disney. When they took over Lucasfilm, and revealed plans to make a new trilogy of movies taking place after Episode VI, something had to be done about the Expanded Universe. And something was done to it: it was declared non-canon. In other words all the characters, worlds and events created within those books were no longer part of the official Star Wars timeline. A lot of fans, including me, were not very happy with that. But two years ago, something happened that brought a smile to the faces of many people that loved those books: Thrawn was brought back. This time he was reintroduced as a new adversary in the Star Wars cartoonseries Rebels. And just like that Thrawn was canon again. Last year the original creator of Thrawn, writer Timothy Zahn, wrote a new book about the legendary character. It was, needless to say, highly anticipated. But as with most things that you look forward to, it very rarely lives up to all the things you expect.
This novel explores the origin of Thrawn and tells the tale of his quick rise to power through the ranks of the Empire. Thrawn is first found as a young man, seemingly abandoned by his people. An Imperial team is impressed by his cunning and tactical genius, and decide to give him a chance to prove himself. Thrawn takes on the young ensign Eli Vanto as a translator and together with him, begins his training. But a lot of high ranked people don’t take kindly to having an alien in their ranks and would like to see him fail. Meanwhile on the planet Lothal a ruthless administrator called Arihnda Pryce is also making plans to expand her power. Eventually the two will cross paths. Where Thrawn is skilled in military tactics, Pryce is more than his match on the battlefield of politics. But when threats against the still unstable Empire begin to appear all over the galaxy, Thrawn faces a new adversary that might become his downfall. Especially when this opponent seems to be two steps ahead of him at every turn…..
Thrawn became a very different novel than I expected it to be. I had hoped for a very tense and exciting book, with an interesting origin story of the Grand Admiral. In part it delivers this, but the other part was well, quite frankly a bit boring. We get a story that focusses a lot on internal politics. As I am not a huge fan of politics in the first place, I felt that these chapters slowed the story down to a crawl. We also get a lot of secondary characters thrown into the mix, that just get introduced but then, at least most of them, don’t really do anything. But what of Thrawn himself? The character that many loved so much in the brilliant original trilogy of books that introduced him feels…different. It’s still Thrawn, that can’t be denied, but at the same time it’s not. Of course Zahn had to reinvent the character and as such has had to make some changes. But still, this is not the same Thrawn that was such an amazing villain. And that is the part that disappointed me the most.
Still, it is not a bad novel. There is small cameo appearance of a major character that will have most Star Wars fans whopping with joy. I also really liked the backstory of Arihnda Pryce who was at times even more cunning then Thrawn. Whether or not you will like this novel depends on a few things. If you like your Star Wars books to be full of action, big space battles and lots of tension, then I don’t think this is a novel you would enjoy. There are a few scenes like that, but mostly we get a book that focusses more on backstabbing officials and internal politics. As mentioned Thrawn is also not quite the character you are used to, but there are still flashes of his original brilliance throughout the book. Maybe the sequel to this novel, Thrawn: Alliances, that will be published this year, more of those flashes will make an appearance. All in all, Thrawn is an okay novel if you don’t expect too much from it.
I give Thrawn a 7 out of 10 score.