A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The Star Wars saga was to all intents and purposes dead, in terms of movies that is. However, in 1991 it was very much alive in the world of publishing. Timothy Zahn spearheaded what became known as the Expanded Universe with Heir to the Empire, in which he introduced Grand Admiral Thrawn. The blue-skinned Imperial antagonist from the planet Chiss became a fan favourite, but once Disney acquired Star Wars and denounced the Expanded Universe as non-canonical, it appeared that the Mouse had killed Thrawn for good.
Then the news broke that Thrawn would feature in the TV series Star Wars: Rebels, as well as a new novel about Thrawn's origins by his creator Timothy Zahn himself! So Star Wars: Thrawn makes Mitth'raw'nuruodo canon, but what of Zahn's original Expanded Universe trilogy? Does that become canon? Well according to the book's timeline, no it does not. However, neither is Thrawn's original encounter with the Empire in the Expanded Universe short story Mist Encounter contradicted. If anything Star Wars: Thrawn actually expands upon it. There are also references to a certain Star Destroyer and past characters that will bring a smile to fans faces, as well as mention of an evil presence lurking in the Unknown Regions.
In Star Wars: Thrawn Zahn allows the reader into Thrawn's head. Each chapter is preceded by his thoughts on strategy and tactics allowing us to see just why he is such a brilliant strategist, not just on the battlefield but also with seemingly innocuous conversation. And we discover how it is that an alien is able to rise so quickly within the ranks of a politically xenophobic hierarchy. It's these scenes of political wrangling and intrigue, as well as Thrawn's outmanoeuvring of an enemy fleet with minimal destruction, that are the highlights of the book.
The novel begins with Thrawn's banishment from the Chiss Ascendency and the Empire's initial discovery of him, and from there the plot rattles along at a consistently brisk pace. Whilst Thrawn has previously been portrayed as the antagonist, here he is very much the protagonist. Indeed he is calculating and menacing but he is also compassionate and shows a surprising degree of empathy for his translator and aide Eli Vanto. Friend might be too generous a term but the relationship is comparable to that of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. And fans of Star Wars: Rebels will be gratified to know that another familiar character appears. Mining company heiress, Arihnda Pryce's, origin story is revealed and it's compelling reading how her life intertwines with that of Thrawns.
Timothy Zahn has written a taut, intense and intelligent novel and although all-out action scenes might be sporadic, the action itself is derived from the fascinating insights to the political manoeuvrings and duplicitous alliances. Star Wars: Thrawn is the I, Claudius of space opera at its finest.
STAR WARS: THRAWN / AUTHOR: TIMOTHY ZAHN / PUBLISHER: ARROW / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW