Zahn has created one of the most endearing, enjoyable villainous characters in the Star Wars literary universe.
Time for Thrawn to face his future. Time for Vader to face his Past.
I love Timothy Zahn. His books take up quite a large space in my Star Wars book collection. Heir To The Empire, Dark Force Rising and the original Thrawn novel are amongst my favourites of all the Star Wars novels ever written. I adore the writing style, the deep characterisation and descriptive narrative Zahn uses in his books. His attention to detail in his novels are exceptional. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better author of Science Fiction or any novel for that matter to better Zahn in these areas.
When my family and I attended Star Wars Celebration Europe back in 2016, we had the good fortune to sit in on the Star Wars Rebels panel. As Dave Filoni sat and answered questions and discussed the series, he suddenly paused and told the gathered audience he had a surprise trailer for season 3 for us to watch and enjoy. After the cheering had stopped, the lights dimmed and the trailer played. The audience sat enthralled watching the trailer which was exclusive to the event. And then the trailer dropped the biggest bombshell it could have ever have done. Thrawn emerged from the shadows on the screen to greet us. The whole auditorium erupted into the biggest cheer you could possibly imagine. Here was Timothy Zahn’s best ever literary creation, large as life staring at us from the screen. Filoni had pulled off a masterstroke. He brought us, the fans, the best villain ever (apart from Darth Vader of course) to the screen for us.
Thrawn looked better than ever, his red eyes glaring at us and standing tall and in charge. His words spoken calmly but with the underlying menace we all enjoyed. The trailer ended and we were then treated to an even bigger surprise. Timothy Zahn had written a new Thrawn novel for publication in April 2017. The writer’s greatest creation was coming back to the literary world again. Even better was the fact that the author himself had recorded a video message for all assembled, thanking us for our love and support and stating the book was for us, the fans to devour and enjoy.
The original Thrawn novel was a revelation. Here we had a book that we couldn’t fail to enjoy. From its opening chapter right up until the final word, the book grabbed the reader and held them in a vice-like grip, never letting go. I loved the book. However, the novel slightly annoyed me. The only thing that I found wrong with it was the time jumps the book presented. One minute, Thrawn is a Cadet and by the time you reach the next chapter, he’s been promoted and the events that gained him his new position were barely covered. The novel skipped over various incidents and happenings that could have been written and made the book even better than it already was. I WANT to know how those events played out, how the master Chiss warrior overcame the odds and his tactical cunning was employed. This was a slight detraction from the book. But I guess if Zahn had written those parts in, the book would have been over 1000 pages long. Not that I would mind that!
Star Wars: Thrawn Alliances (Paperback Edition) | by Timothy Zahn
2018 saw the release of a sequel/prequel to the original novel. Thrawn: Alliances is a slightly thinner book than its predecessor but what it lacks in length, it more than makes up for in description, detail and enjoyment. For this book in its prequel elements has Thrawn, Padme and Anakin Skywalker front and centre. These parts of the novel are set during the Clone Wars and make a fantastic story in their own right. Having Anakin and Thrawn team up to investigate Padme’s disappearance during a basic mission could easily make an epic novel on its own. But having the sequel elements added makes the book sour above many others like it. For Zahn again pulls off a masterstroke. Having Thrawn commence on a mission with Darth Vader makes the book that much more enthralling and gripping for the reader. Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader are one in the same person! Having the two main characters participate in a mission in the past when Anakin was a Jedi and then throwing them together again after Anakin has fallen to the dark side and become Darth Vader for another is breathtaking.
The story takes us to the planet Battu. A threat to the Empire is taking shape there in the unknown regions, its existence but a glimmer at the moment but Emperor Palpatine senses it will become a bigger threat to him if left uninvestigated. He despatches both Thrawn and Vader together on the mission to discover the nature of the threat to himself and his Empire. Both are serious rivals for the Emperors favour, one a master tactician, the other his most lethal, efficient enforcer. The pair of them together make an unlikely partnership to be handed such an important assignment. But Palpatine knows this isn’t the first time they’ve worked together and it amuses him to send them both out on such a delicate mission with this knowledge.
Years ago, Anakin and Thrawn crossed paths when one was a Jedi General for the Republic, the other an Officer of the Chiss Ascendancy. Anakin was on a personal quest to find his wife, Padme who had gone missing on a fairly routine mission on Battu. Thrawn motives were unknown and undisclosed. But both forged an alliance between themselves on the distant world. Neither one of them could imagine what the future would hold for either man. Now Vader and Thrawn are thrown together again on a mission to where they first encountered each other. The world where they once fought side by side. The mission is a test of their allegiance to the Empire and to combat an enemy that even both combined may not be able to defeat.
The back and forth between two timelines routine has to be treated with proper respect. Many books and novelists attempt it and come across with a novel that is confusing, tiresome and frankly boring. Too many times I’ve grabbed a book that uses this ‘McGuffin’ and realise about halfway through that the book is just plain irritating. No such fear for this novel. For not only does it make for an exciting and enjoyable read but it also enriches and enhances the storyline. Like a good mystery thriller ought to do, the back and forth storylines compliment each other. It makes the reader smile when reading the current parts of the book knowing that both protagonists have already experienced both the scenario in the past. Vader already knows all about Thrawn and thinks he has the advantage. However, its Thrawn who has the upper hand. Although he teases Vader with small titbits of information of what he and Anakin did during the mission years ago and how the Jedi’s traits are similar to Vader’s own, Thrawn KNOWS Vader is really Anakin Skywalker and vice versa. Wisely keeping his knowledge to himself, the master tactician can’t resist but give Vader little digs every now and then. Vader tries to read Thrawn’s thoughts to ascertain if he knows the truth about him but the Chiss is wise to the fact and manages to cloud his knowledge from the dark lord. It’s this revelation that makes the book all that more enjoyable and gripping. Vader will kill to keep his secret safe and Thrawn knows it. Both antagonise each other and play the game of one-upmanship against each other. It’s amusing and thoroughly entertaining to read in a scary kind of way. It can go one way or another and we know it.
No spoilers but I’m overwhelmed to find out that there is a third novel coming out this year entitled ‘Thrawn: Treason’. Thankfully, this novel will bring back the character of Eli Vanto, who is sadly missing from ‘Alliances’. However, in the narrative of the book, his character probably wouldn’t fit in but his absence is felt all the same. Other supporting characters are present and correct and play their parts well within the structure of the novel. New characters are introduced and fit into the story seamlessly and you find yourself rooting for these new characters. But they can’t hold a candle to our two protagonists. Vader is back to his awe-inspiring best in this novel. The Dark Lord looms large within the story and I found myself grinning like a Cheshire cat at his mannerisms, speeches and the underlying threat that is contained within them. He exudes menace from every fibre of his being. This is how I like Vader. Not the watered down version seen in Return Of The Jedi or the ending of Revenge Of The Sith, this is the true Dark Lord that we’ve come to love and fear.
But this again is Thrawn’s book. Padme makes for a fine supporting character within the confines of the story but it’s Thrawn we have come for. The blue-skinned alien is a formidable but masterful villain of the piece. He’s not arrogant, he’s the opponent who sees everything. Cold, calculating but can see the positives amongst the negative, he’s almost the exact opposite of Vader. Where Vader will kill those who fail him without mercy, Thrawn will only kill if there’s no other way he can exploit those who disappoint him. He would rather offer alternatives and get the best out of his staff and crew than murder them remorselessly. Fail Vader and you’ll be on your knees being force choked to death. Fail Thrawn and he will be disappointed but will offer you his own insight, experience and alternatives for the next time. If you fail next time but try to do the right thing to gain a successful outcome, he will stand shoulder to shoulder with you and point out where you went wrong. Fail him and ignore his wisdom and advice and you may as well throw yourself out the nearest airlock. Thrawn is that classic villainous character but one we can’t help but fall in love with. His vision of the long game, his ruthless cunning and brilliant military strategy make him more than just a token bad guy.
Timothy Zahn has come up trumps with his writing yet again. The book has to be read cover to cover and then maybe re-read to get the maximum enjoyment out of it. Zahn has created one of the most endearing, enjoyable villainous characters in the Star Wars literary universe. After making his first appearance to us back in 1991, Thrawn has stood the test of time and is more than welcome to be with us to this day. His enduring legacy lives on nearly thirty years after he first stepped out of the shadows and revealed himself. On this evidence alone, Thrawn will be with us for many years to come. And I for one welcome his presence. With his creator continuing to write fantastic novels and stories like this, our favourite Chiss will be taunting and haunting us for as long as we care to have him. As long as Timothy Zahn writes him like this, Thrawn is going to still be standing tall for many years down the line. His future will be assured.
Now, bring on the next chapter of his continuing legacy!
Until next time.
Star Wars: Thrawn Alliances (Paperback Edition) by Timothy Zahn is published by Arrow/Penguin Random House and is set for release on 28th February 2019.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Entertainment/Books and Literature Correspondent for The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force frequently!