Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn (Review)
Disclaimer: I am a huge Star Wars fan. I mean, who isn’t?
I’ve watched all nine movies and I love all of them, some less than others but, nevertheless, it’s the greatest sci-fi franchise of all time. In terms of novels, however, my experience is far more limited. I’ve read the Darth Bane series and found them enjoyable but not exactly literary ground shakers. However, that experience hasn’t stopped me from seeking out some of the best Star Wars novels that have been published to date.
Luckily, I am able to count Star Wars: Thrawn among them, being a great first chapter and introduction to one of the most iconic Star Wars villains of all time, Grand Admiral Thrawn.
1. Exciting Twist on a Common Trope
Thrawn is a masterclass in how to execute the usual clueless boy to all powerful hero trope, without making it feel boring. There was never a moment where the author, Timothy Zahn, would ramble about how much smarter Thrawn is than everyone else in the room, or how perceptive he was or why he kept Eli Vanto around for much of the novel (though Eli does grow in his own right, naturally, I might add).
Most importantly, Thrawn is positioned as an intergalactic, blue-skinned Sherlock Holmes who had flaws, such as a lack of political understanding, social courtesies and when people are actually stabbing him in the back. Going on this adventure with Thrawn, learning the Empire’s rules and the machinations of the political class was truly fascinating and gives long time Star Wars fans a glimpse of how the Empire ruled the galaxy during this period.
2. A Worthy Adversary
Exciting protagonist/anti-hero with an arc that the readers can get invested in? Check.
Having him face an implacable foe, who’s just as intelligent, ruthless and cunning as he is? Double check.
Nightswan is not your typical adversary. Although I wished his character was a little more shelled out, he served his purpose as Thrawn’s foil in every way, as well as the thorn in his side throughout Thrawn’s growth in this novel. Creating a villain that challenges the main protagonist not only on brawn and wits but also intellectually, morally and philosophically takes some doing and I can only tip my hat Timothy’s way at doing so by creating Nightswan. Thrawn is challenged, and somewhat enjoys, pitting his wits against this elusive foe. By pitting himself against Nightswan, he becomes bolder, smarter even, as well as understanding, for the first time, the moral and philosophical differences between the Empire and the budding Rebellion.
The more engaging the foe, the more engaged the reader is in the story or that’s the case for this reader, at least.
3. Stormtroopers Are People Too!
Stormtroopers. Not your favourite lot if, while watching the movies, you were rooting for Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion. You were probably cheering at the destruction of the Death Star, not realising that millions of stormtroopers on that base were wiped out as well, just because a moisture farmer was a space wizard and used mystical energy to ‘guide’ a missile into an exhaust port.
Thrawn introduces you to the lower echelons of the Empire, the men and women that make up the stormtrooper corps. The movies portrayed them in a mostly one-sided fashion, mainly as the ‘bad guys’ of the films. However, the novel thrusts you into Thrawn’s world of actually commanding stormtroopers, learning more about their personal lives, their backgrounds, regrets and dreams.
It forces you to come to the realisation and admission that stormtroopers are people, just like the rest of us. This makes them relatable to us on a more basic, human level and gives us a sense of enjoyment when they achieve a degree of success in the novel, whether it‘s through getting a promotion within the military, carrying out Thrawn’s master plans or even destroying those pesky rebels.
Timothy got me loving storm troopers again.
All in all, a great addition to the canon Star Wars lore. Highly recommend for both Star Wars lovers and lovers of sci-fi novels in general.