Star Wars: Thrawn
The legendary Grand Admiral Thrawn returns to Star Wars canon in a calculated fashion. Thrawn, young Imperial Ensign Eli Vanto, and rising politician Arihnda Pryce begin their incredible rise through the elitist Galactic Empire. They will use every tool available to them to bring order and stability to the galaxy, rise through the ranks of the Empire, and develop key political alliances. With such efforts, they must be prepared to be a target by those in the Empire who are less than ecstatic to see them succeed so quickly.
In the early 90’s, Star Wars Expanded Universe fans were introduced for the first time to one of the most famous Star Wars characters to have never hit the silver screen, Grand Admiral Thrawn. Hugo award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Timothy Zahn created this iconic character, who lived on to become a legendary villain with true tactical genius. Upon Disney’s purchase of Star Wars in 2012, Thrawn, along with the rest of the expanded universe, was shelved among the Star Wars “Legends” material, effectively making them non-canon. However, Disney revived the character canonically in the animated TV show Star Wars: Rebels. Timothy Zahn was brought back to flesh the character out into print again — thus reestablishing order and stability to the galaxy. Star Wars: Thrawn follows the perspective of young Imperial Officer Eli Vanto, rising imperial politician Arihnda Pryce, and the legendary tactician, Thrawn.
Violence: We have standard Star Wars violence throughout the book. The violence in the book is not overly descriptive, but people are blasted, kicked, and punched. Thrawn and Vanto are regularly thrown into military engagements throughout the book and, while they both try to minimize the number of casualties, soldiers and innocents inevitably die.
Sexual Content: Almost none, just two innuendos that the reader could accidently skip over if they weren’t reading too carefully.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Almost none, though some wealthy politicians will have drinks in their personal offices.
Spiritual Content: While Star Wars: Thrawn is surprisingly devoid of almost any reference to “the Force,” it should still be noted that the Force remains a prevailing spiritual theme that weaves itself all throughout the Star Wars movies and expanded universe. It guides the beliefs and behavior of the Jedi and any of those who believe in the force. Thrawn mentions that he had partnered with Jedi General Anakin Skywalker during the Clone Wars, but little details are provided.
Language/Crude Humor: Mild language is used, such as d*** and h***, but it is sparse.
Other Negative Content: The most offensive content I found in the book is not your normal negative content. It is that Thrawn is constantly having to justify to his young Ensign Eli Vanto the atrocities of the Galactic Empire, such as the movement of enslaved wookies and the construction of deadly imperial weaponry. Ensign Vanto is bullied at the imperial academy and mistreated because he grew up in “wild space,” a region of space frowned upon by the Imperial elite. When the book follows Pryce, we can see just how ugly imperial politics can be and how politicians will harm one another to get a leg up, something Pryce herself is not above doing. We also see the pettiness and backstabbing that goes on in the Imperial Navy as well.
Positive Content: Despite all of the ugliness in the Empire, we do actually see some very good people as well. Thrawn is among them; he truly finds no joy in seeing the loss of life and always looks out for his personal allies. I would argue there are moments where he actually seems to care about them and goes well out of his way to help them advance in their personal careers. He does make hard choices in the book, but doesn’t relish in them. Thrawn and Vanto also do not appreciate the petty politics in the Imperial Navy. Thrawn will circumvent a direct order to save lives, thus making a superior “look bad” or “disrespected.”
Racism and bigotry is a prevalent issue all throughout the book, but we see our main cast of characters rise up and show that elitism will not hold them back from achieving their goals. While Thrawn, Vanto, and Pryce are not attacking these issues directly for what they are, they look at these issues as a waste of time and a limit to their potential. They choose not let these issues hold them back and press forward despite the elitist Imperial culture.
I was very excited when I heard that Disney was re-canonizing Grand Admiral Thrawn, despite having never read the original Zahn novels. I was an avid expanded universe fan, but for some reason, I never got around to reading about arguably one of the most popular villains in the Star Wars expanded universe. I was excited because I had heard so much about Thrawn and I was looking forward to a new novel that I could jump in to and not have to worry about preconceptions of the character based on previous novels. I was also excited to read my first novel by Timothy Zahn, who is very much admired by Star Wars fans. While Thrawn doesn’t hold a candle to Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine, he is still an iconic villain outside of the Star Wars movies.
If you’ve watched Star Wars: Rebels, then you are probably quite familiar with the two of the three protagonists, Thrawn and Arhinda Pryce. By the time of the TV show are already in their prominent roles of grand admiral and governor of Lothal, respectively. Star Wars: Thrawn introduces the rise of these two powerful leaders in the Galactic Empire and also introduces us to a young imperial officer named Eli Vanto, who just wants to become a supply officer, wanting no part in Imperial politics.
We begin our story on an unknown world. Cadet (not Ensign yet) Vanto is with an Imperial scouting party that stumbles upon a strange hut, with boxes that have a strange language written on them that only Vanto happens to know. The imperial scouting party are ambushed in quite a calculated manner, and after several Imperial stormtroopers are killed, they finally detain their attacker. He is a member of a species called the Chiss and goes by the name Mitth’raw’nuruodo, or Thrawn. Despite the Imperial deaths, his calculated attack impresses the Imperial brass, who decide to take him to the Emperor. Low and behold, the lowly Cadet Vanto is the only one who knows the language of the Chiss, forever tying Vanto and Thrawn together… something Cadet Vanto wants no part in. But when it comes to the Empire, very little is in your control.
“There are things in the universe that are simply and purely evil. A warrior does not seek to understand them, or to compromise with them. He seeks only to obliterate them.” -Thrawn
The reader also follows the career of Arhinda Pryce, a well-known villain character in Star Wars: Rebels. She begins her narrative from Lothal as she helps manage her parents mining business. This is no ordinary mine. It is a doonium mine, an extremely valuable resource to the Empire that would later build some of its most devastating weapons. After some Imperial politicians fabricate embezzlement charges on Pryce’s mother in order to acquire rights to the mine, Pryce finds herself forced into selling away rights of the mine to the Empire. She then takes a job on Coruscant with Lothal’s senator, and it’s at this moment that Pryce begins her journey up the ladder of the Imperial politics.
Star Wars: Thrawn switches between these three different characters and Zahn does an admirable job of weaving the narrative of all three characters together. Thrawn and Vanto are together almost the entire time, so the reader will often get into the mind of the tactical genius that is Thrawn and how he outsmarts enemy after enemy, or in the mind of Vanto, who watches from a distance and begrudgingly learns from Thrawn. Then we flip to Pryce, watching her move up the imperial political ladder, periodically crossing paths with the Thrawn and Vanto.
I personally enjoyed all three perspectives, but felt that Thrawn’s perspective was far more enjoyable and fleshed out. The reader had the pleasure of discovering how Thrawn broke down each and every situation, dissecting it with meticulous care, and devising a plan to achieve victory. Vanto was enjoyable at times because he was the most identifiable character, but his moments could get stale and he tended to spend a lot of time telling the reader how he didn’t enjoy the fact that his career was flipped upside down after he met Thrawn. As for Pryce, unless the reader has a love for political intrigue, her sections could get slow. Overall, it was enjoyable to move between the three characters, but I was far more excited for a Thrawn perspective than a Vanto or Pryce perspective.
I found myself rooting for Thrawn all throughout the book. The character seems to be less of a villain, but somewhat of a hero at points (in a weird Galactic Empire kind of way). This is in slight contrast to the man I was accustomed to in Star Wars: Rebels, who seemed much more cold and calculated. Maybe in successive novels this will become more fleshed out, but for now, they seem slightly at odds.
Timothy Zahn provides us with a fun and fast-paced writing style, specifically when the reader is following Thrawn and Vanto. The action sequences are exciting, and it’s a treat to read how Thrawn thinks through a situation. However, I felt like the writing was also somewhat distant; Zahn kept the pace moving, but never lingered long enough for us to really get to know the characters.
Despite my preference to read sections based around Thrawn, Vanto was far more identifiable to me. Vanto wanted nothing to do with rising through the imperial ranks attached Thrawn. He just wanted to become a supply officer and live out a simple life. Vanto’s introduction to Thrawn spiraled everything out of control and suddenly Vanto’s career was being consistently dictated by someone else. Despite Vanto’s desire to just be a supply officer, there were greater things in store for Vanto.
Proverbs 19: 21: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
Vanto is like many us who have these extremely well designed plans for our lives, yet somehow… those plans are completely disrupted when we least expect it! While Vanto felt his career was going off the rails, Thrawn was actually keeping a close eye on it and doing everything he could to help Vanto’s career progress in a greater direction. Vanto just couldn’t see it all the time. Our own lives can go in a completely different direction that we would have ever planned and that is absolutely ok! The Bible tells us that God is in complete control and when things go in an unexpected direction, we are reminded that God has a greater plan for our lives than anything we could have ever designed for ourselves. Am I comparing Thrawn to God or connecting the Galactic Empire to the Kingdom of God? Absolutely not! The book just highlights a common obstacle that every human has to face: a sudden change to one’s plans for their own life, plans the Lord has an eye on and will help guide us in a direction to glorify Him greater.
Star Wars: Thrawn was a treat to read and I very much enjoyed it. It isn’t by any means a perfect read, but I will certainly be adding the sequel to my reading list (Star Wars: Alliances, set to release June 28th 2018). The writing is fun and enjoyable for anyone, and the mild content makes it a solid read.
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+ Fast and exciting narrative
+ Multiple narratives admirably woven together
+ Thrawn's perspective was particularly strong
+ Very mild content, appropriate for many different readers
- Some tough themes: racism, elitism, and slavery
- Vanto's and Pryce's perspectives could get stale
- Characters felt distant at times