Megan prepares for a masterclass in tactics, deception and the Force and discovers a must-read novel for every Star Wars Fan
Taking place in both the present and the past simultaneously, Timothy Zahn’s newest Star Wars novel Thrawn: Alliances, is a must-read for any fan of both Thrawn and Anakin/Darth Vader. Not only does this novel see them butting heads several times as they discuss battle tactics and loyalty to the Empire, but it also gives fans a closer look at both characters during the time of The Clone Wars and just prior to A New Hope.
While taking place in two different time periods at once may seem daunting to some, Zahn writes his latest Thrawn installment in such a way as to make the story easy to follow without needing to pay strict attention. By doing so, Zahn is able to not only mention key events and characters in Star Wars history but also show Thrawn and Anakin/Darth Vader at two distinctly different periods in their lives.
Along the way, there were also times where the story makes you wonder what you really know about both characters and their abilities/skills. For the more hardcore Star Wars fans, there were also plenty of little Easter Eggs littered throughout to laugh at and enjoy. Overall, this was a great read that I will likely dive back into whenever I find a free moment.
Spoilers Ahead! – You Have Been Warned
Unlike many books, this one opens in a very unique way. It has not just one, but two prologues, both of which are needed to help set up this story. The first is set in the present (shortly before the time of A New Hope) and sets up the fact that Thrawn and Darth Vader will be working together. The second, on the other hand, is set in the past (during the time of the Clone Wars) and features Anakin’s secret wife Padmé following up on a lead that will eventually serve as the catalyst for Anakin and Thrawn’s first meeting above the planet Batuu.
The words on the back cover of the book describe it best, “Time for Thrawn to face his future. Time for Vader to face his past”. Face them they do. Unfortunately for Darth Vader, this means revisiting painful locations from his past while working with a person whose loyalty he is constantly questioning; For Grand Admiral Thrawn, this means working with a being who is regularly questioning his battle tactics while also keeping his own people out of the galactic civil war.
As the two are working together, they inevitably end up in a fight…because it’s Anakin and trouble seems to find him no matter where he is or who he is with. It’s part of being a protagonist. It’s also during this fight that we really get to see how Jedi harness the Force. The best description would be like Spider-Man’s spider-sense, mixed with a quick millisecond vision that slows down time and tells the Jedi where the hit will land (how they will die), should they fail to react quick enough. Kind of dark when you stop and think about it. Definitely gives a new appreciation to Jedi and how they use the Force. Surprisingly, that is not even the most disturbing use of the Force. No, apparently it can even be used to reanimate the dead and simulate life, as Anakin did to get him and Thrawn out of a tight situation.
Speaking of the Force, at various points during the story there are not only nods to another Jedi named Kanan Jarrus, but also the series Rebels, and to a lesser extent it’s predecessor The Clone Wars, (set to come back for its final twelve episode run likely sometime next year on Disney’s streaming service). Just one example of the former happens on the second page of the first prologue as Vader is talking to the Emperor about what the latter sensed, “Perhaps you sense the rogue Jedi Kanan Jarrus. Or the creature Admiral Thrawn claimed to have encountered on Atollon.” For quick reference, the creature to which Vader is referring was the Bendu, a huge creature that was rumored to be the balance of both the light and dark sides of the Force. While this quote, and all of the fifth page, can be seen as little more than an Easter Egg to fans who watch the shows as well as read the books, it also helps to quickly introduce more casual fans to one of Thrawn’s few defeats…that Vader will enjoy bringing up whenever he can. At the same time, “The suggestion was nothing more than a reminder to Thrawn – and to Palpatine of the Chiss’s humiliating defeat”. In other words, not only does this part work as an Easter Egg but also in the story itself to serve a specific purpose.
Another nice little Easter Egg was a moment made famous in The Clone Wars, Ahsoka’s departure from the Jedi Order. For a quick recap, after being found guilty of the crime of bombing the Jedi Temple by a majority of the Jedi masters on the council, a crime which had later been revealed to be committed by her former friend Barriss Offee, Ahsoka felt she could no longer trust the council or Jedi overall, and left. With literally nothing more than the clothes on her back, not even her lightsabers, she began a new life on her own. It is only with this book, and the recent revelation of the twelve episodes of The Clone Wars, that we are really beginning to see the repercussions of this event.
One thing that really made the book interesting though, was the inclusion of Padmé’s journey to recover the information and her interaction with Thrawn. Looking back now, it should have been obvious that if Anakin had an interaction with this blue-skinned alien, why wouldn’t she? While her entire part to me just felt like an extended Clone Wars episode told on the page, that was what made it fun, even if it didn’t fit as well in a story being told about Anakin/Darth Vader and Thrawn. To be honest, as much as I love seeing Padmé demonstrate what a strong female character she was, despite all the critical comments her live-action movie counterpart receives, this story would have likely been better without it. In this way, the reader would have to continue reading in order to find out what really happened to her rather than going along the journey with her. If this was told in her own spin-off/companion story, I could see it working brilliantly. Here though…it works but just feels thrown in for length and to “cash in” on female empowerment.
By the end of the story, one question I couldn’t help but ask myself was, does Thrawn actually have latent Force powers? In his culture, there are special children who are born with these powers and are used to navigate the stars around potential hazards such as supernovas, black holes and the like. These children are known as “Skywalkers”, thus Thrawn’s original interest in Anakin’s last name.
The curious thing about these children though is that as they grow up, their powers lessen before they disappear completely. After this, they are then cast off. In the words of Thrawn to Vader, “The sacrifice…most make it willingly, for the sake of the Ascendancy. But all with the ability must make it”. With Thrawn originally cast off from his people in his first book simply titled Thrawn, along with his attention to detail, and typically superior battle strategies, I can’t help but wonder if just maybe, there is some essence of the Force left within his blood that allows him to do what he does. It would explain how he manipulates those around him, including Darth Vader himself, to follow his plans even if they don’t make any sort of sense at the time. Assuming Thrawn somehow still has latent Force powers, they could be just subtle enough to make Vader think that he’s coming to his own conclusions and making his own choices when in reality, it’s Thrawn manipulating his mind.
Overall, this was definitely an interesting read that I would suggest to any Star Wars fan regardless of whether or not they watch the shows. While it was fun to read about Padmé being a strong woman doing her own thing then interacting with Thrawn, her part was one that I felt could have been left out and put in her own follow-up/spin-off/companion book/graphic novel. As a result, it would have made her part more suspenseful as readers only know what Anakin and Thrawn know.
Even with those plot points aside and the story jumping between time periods, it’s still fairly easy to follow. As I predicted, there was a bunch of Thrawn, Anakin/Vader butting heads due to their different styles of planning and combat itself that typically got a chuckle out of me, as both styles had their merit.
I can’t wait to hear what you all think of this book either on here or on twitter.
Star Wars: Thrawn Alliances from Timothy Zahn is available at all good books stores now and Published by Del Rey/Penguin Random House.
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