Colleen’s Book Club: Thrawn
Author: Timothy Zahn
Published April 2017
Set between 13 and 11 BBY through 2 BBY
And away we fricken go! Caution, this is a long one folks. I broke it down into two separate posts when I first released it on Facebook: my SW origin story and then book review.
My Star Wars Story
Context time! I was born in 1982, almost exactly one year before Return of the Jedi graced the screen. So, I came to the SW world at a young age – consuming the films because my brother loved them and wanted to watch them all the time – but I was not enchanted as a child. I watched the re-releases in theaters as a teenager and bemoaned the changes but still wasn’t completely invested. Leia was my queen, and it was a great story, but it still didn’t have a huge pull for me. Same with the prequels, which mainly made me laugh uncomfortably. My SW-fan friends tried to get me to read the EU books, but I just wasn’t into it. Then the lull between the prequels and sequels: I watched some of Clone Wars and started Rebels but wasn’t in a good space emotionally or professionally to consume the massive amount of content. I couldn’t connect to the saga. I was excited to see The Force Awakens in theaters as well as The Last Jedi, because I do love a great fantasy hero’s journey story. But still…it wasn’t completely my thing.
And then came a little podcast called Binge Mode. Wanting to be prepared for everything Jason and Mal covered (still knowing I wouldn’t be able to get to all the content to avoid spoilers, but hey, what can you do?) I signed up for Disney + immediately and started my rewatch of the films and my kind-of rewatch of the TV shows. And friends, I was transported. CW (once I had the chronological order and got past some rough patches in the first two seasons) was fantastic! The way the show made you CARE about Anakin, Padmé, Ahsoka Tano, and the clones was nothing short of astonishing. Rewatching Revenge of the Sith made me CRY. I CARED about everything that happened in the film, because I got to know the characters so much better through the TV series.
Of course, CW wasn’t the end of my journey. My true love was waiting quietly in the wings, ready to embrace me with a new space family. I adore Cowboy Bebop and Firefly – that “ragtag family in space” genre is really my thing, apparently – but now they bow to REBELS. I barely have words for how those first episodes lit up my soul. When Kanan Jarrus reached for his lightsaber, preparing to draw all the Empire’s attention and wrath on him and his family, and said to Ezra Bridger, “Kid, I’m about to let everyone in on the secret,” my mouth dropped. Here was depth. Here was a reluctant hero, scarred by war. A loyal yet diverse crew of intriguing people who are now my favorite SW characters after Leia. And our protagonist: the lonely, brash, but soulful Ezra. I was immediately caught up in the Ghost crew’s adventures and curious about their backstories. I watched the four seasons as quickly as I could, delighted in every episode. Unlike CW, this show’s episodes are all Must Watches. There are ones that seem lighter or frivolous, but they all serve the main narrative and work to move character relationships and inner struggles forward. We can’t understand how the crew grows and relates to each other without the first season, which many fans say is their least favorite. Everyone has an arc. Those arcs are all satisfying, if maddening, by the season 4 finale.
I could talk about the Spectres forever, but I need to get to one of the best SW villains in his first CANON appearance. He graced the TV screen in seasons 3 and 4 of Rebels, but he has a rich EU and canon book history as well. So, without further ado, let’s meet Thrawn…
A New Kind of “Villain”
Those penetrating eyes. That glorious blue skin. THOSE CHEEKBONES THOUGH?! Seriously, Thrawn is a sexy dude, and not just because he’s a regulation hottie. His mind is the sexiest thing about him. Ever since meeting him in Rebels season 3, I’ve wondered what exactly was going on in his head. He’s a master strategist and tactician, an able leader, and a surprisingly comforting presence. The fact that he’s part of the Empire military complex almost doesn’t enter your mind when reading this book. He’s chilling on Rebels, but I didn’t get that feeling for him when reading this book. You want to root for him, but then that little voice whispers, “Remember: he’s a villain.”
Can We Ever Get in Thrawn’s Head?
I loved this novel. I haven’t read his EU material, which is first on my non-canon reading list, but this book sold me on the character completely. The funny thing is…you don’t really get much of Thrawn. His POV, to be precise. He’s the novel’s central figure, and we do get snapshots into his mind (mainly from his military-themed journal entries and as he watches and digests others’ body language) but we rarely peek further than that. He’s an enigma, which is the point. Zahn is masterful here, giving the reader a protagonist whose thoughts barely feature in the narrative.
Two Others Take Center Stage
Instead, two other characters share the spotlight and get POV privileges. Those who have seen Rebels will recognize the ambitious and cold Ahrinda Pryce as she begins her ascent through the Empire’s political quagmire. But my favorite character didn’t feature in any other canon I consumed previously: Eli Vanto. The audience surrogate and actual main character, Eli is the heart of this book. Is he enlisted in the Imperial Navy? Yup. Does he follow orders and learn from Thrawn’s military genius to defeat rebel forces? Yes again. Should we like him? I have to believe the answer is yes, because Zahn heavily focuses on Eli’s character development through the novel. Zahn wants us to like him. Thrawn basically stays the same from beginning to end, though there were a few surprising character turns toward the final chapters, but Eli is the one who grows. He’s warm and capable and loyal, all qualities we admire in literary characters. But there’s that pesky voice whispering about villains again…
Should a “Villain” Win?
Does it matter if we want a “villain” to succeed while also hoping our heroes succeed? Zahn expertly makes the reader empathize with Thrawn and Eli, who are fish-out-of-water on Coruscant, both with desires and very relatable social troubles. Thrawn is an alien from the Unknown Regions, and the Empire doesn’t take kindly to aliens. Eli is a kid from Wild Space, a hick to the polished Coruscant politicians and military leaders. They struggle upwards together, learning from each other. I wasn’t perturbed at all by Thrawn’s superhuman Sherlock tendencies. For one thing, he’s not a show-off. He knows who he is and isn’t ashamed of his prowess. He is calm and collected with a bit of a smirk and wink at the reader.
Thrawn Needs an Able Antagonist
One quibble: I wanted a more visible antagonist for Thrawn. Eli is his Watson, but he doesn’t have a Moriarty, at least in this book. The Imperial establishment is the main villain, and there is a fun character pitted against Thrawn (who I wanted to see more of on page), but there’s no one who serves as Thrawn’s intellectual match. The Emperor or Vader are the most likely candidates, but you don’t get much of them here. Former Republic Admiral Yularen (now a Colonel and high-ranking ISB operative) makes many appearances, but he supports Thrawn and Eli. Tarkin’s stench also finds its way into the novel, which was fun to see, but still not a main villain. Perhaps that will come in the sequels…
Conclusion: Get out there are get your Thrawn on! 9/10 Lightsabers
For the first book in the new Thrawn canon trilogy, I think it’s a great beginning and hope to see more of Thrawn and company in many works to come.
PROTECT! ELI! VANTO!