I just finished the latest entry in the Star Wars “Expanded Universe” books, Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn.
For those unfamiliar with Zahn, a respected author in his own right, the short version is this: he kicked off the 1990s Star Wars merchandising explosion by writing three well-received sequels to Return of the Jedi, set five years after the original trilogy and featuring a brilliant new villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn.
Thrawn didn’t survive that series, but he was so beloved his shadow hung over the Expanded Universe for its entire existence. He was a constant comparison for future villains and storylines.
When the Expanded Universe was scrapped in favor of the new films, Thrawn was one of the few characters that was universally mourned. Even people like myself, who were thrilled with the reboot of the timeline, talked about how we would miss him.
So They Brought Him Back
They’ve always been up-front about their willingness to “resurrect” characters eradicated with the old Expanded Universe. If the raw material is there, why not?
So they brought Thrawn back, which delighted the old timers like me. First it was in Star Wars Rebels. The show itself has had its issues finding its footing, but Thrawn’s introduction seemed to give it real focus. He’s a cool villain, and putting him in the timeline of the originals was a great move. He belongs there.
Then they brought back the writer who created him, the aforementioned Timothy Zahn, to write a new origin story for him.
I mean, really. How cool is that? They gave the guy who created a character the opportunity to reboot that same character.
And It Was Good
Star Wars: Thrawn is really good. It meets the general criteria I have for heaping praise on any Star Wars ancillary book: it would be enjoyable even if it was just a sci-fi/fantasy book not based in the Star Wars galaxy. It lives and breathes on its own terms and the characters are all intriguing and clever.
Zahn even makes an improvement to the character development by pairing Thrawn with an original creation who, like the audience, is trying to get to know him throughout the book. As a result, more pain is taken to guide you along with Thrawn as he makes his conclusions. If there was a knock on the character’s appearances before, it’s that his reasoning process seemed semi-magical and a bit of a cheat at times to get the character where he needed to go.
Zahn redresses that here by creating a character who is methodical and observably brilliant. You are rooting for him, despite the fact that you know he’s working for a ruthlessly tyrannical government that represents the death of light.
You root for him because that part of the conflict not only seems not to matter to him, it’s that he’s taken a longer view of life than a single man’s rule. I don’t want to spoil anything, as I think you should read the book; what I will say is that his reasoning is so consistently and ruthlessly non-emotional that there are hints of Spock about him.
I’ll also say that Zahn’s writing style has matured in such a way as to make this a truly grand addition to the lore. The Heir to the Empire trilogy of the 1990s has its flaws, writing style being one of the more-watery parts of it. Zahn’s refined his style over time, though, and it pays off here.
Well-written and infused with style, if you’re a Star Wars fan with an interest, I highly recommend this book. If you’re not a Star Wars fan of particular note, I still recommend it. It’s worth your time.