Saying Farewell to Thrawn (Probably) and Why it’s (Probably) for the Best

This piece avoids spoilers for Thrawn: Treason but does make vague mention of certain plot threads and new characters.

I fondly remember the day that Thrawn’s canon appearance on Star Wars Rebels was announced at Star Wars Celebration. There had been rumors and speculation that we’d be seeing Thrawn on the show, but nothing solid — and we didn’t even know if it would be the Thrawn we knew, or a new-canon Thrawn-inspired stand-in like Valen Rudor was for Soontir Fel. I asked a friend to text me if there was any official word — and we were pleased and relieved to hear that Grand Admiral Thrawn would be appearing on our TV screens. What none of us even came close to anticipating, though, would be that Thrawn’s TV appearance would be accompanied by a new Thrawn novel by the man himself, Timothy Zahn.

Years later, at the conclusion of a new Thrawn trilogy that isn’t officially a “Thrawn Trilogy”, it seems kind of strange that the Zahn Thrawn novel was the thing that blew our minds, instead of the TV appearance. We should have expected the books — that’s where he came from — and been surprised by his leap to the screen. Regardless, it was an exciting and wonderful time for old-school Expanded Universe fans and it was wonderful seeing Thrawn brought to life for new audiences young and old.

Thrawn’s fate remained unknown at the end of Star Wars Rebels, except that he was “taken off the board.” The three Thrawn novels — ending with the brand-new Thrawn: Treason — filled in the gaps before and during the third and fourth seasons of Rebels, never outpacing the TV show. It seems fair to say that Thrawn’s story is probably done — at least chronologically — until Dave Filoni sees fit to use him again. It’s not impossible that we’ll see Thrawn again in a post-Rebels story, but I wouldn’t bet any money on it. But you know, maybe that’s for the best?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m against Thrawn. He was a fundamental part of my EU fandom and I was and am glad to see him transition into canon. But after two seasons of television and a novel trilogy about him, it’s possible the story possibilities with him have run their course. At least, the stories of Thrawn the Imperial Grand Admiral (what happens to him post-Empire could be another story!). But that’s not a bad thing. My favorite part of the three Thrawn novels Tim Zahn has recently penned turned out to be characters who weren’t Thrawn: Pryce in the first one, Amidala in the second one, and a whole ensemble cast in Treason.

There’s a whole galaxy of characters out there, and I’m excited to see where things go from here.

Characters count

Thrawn: Treason is something of an ensemble book. The first Thrawn novel was very much about two characters, Thrawn and Arihnda Pryce (with Eli Vanto being the POV for much of the Thrawn storyline – more on him in a second) and the second Thrawn novel was an ambitious dual-timeline story featuring Thrawn, Anakin Skywalker, Padmé Amidala, and Darth Vader. Treason is the third canon Tim Zahn story with “Thrawn” in its title, but I think the most compelling storytelling comes from the other characters in the story.

Some of the promotion for this novel centered on Eli Vanto, with the hashtag #WheresEli hinting that we’d finally see what happened to Eli Vanto after his last appearance two years ago in the epilogue of the first Thrawn novel. All we knew is that he’d been sent to the Chiss to serve under Admiral Ar’alani. This novel definitely answers the question of what he’s up to, but I wouldn’t dream of spoiling that for people. Instead, I’ll say that Eli and Ar’alani are probably the most compelling characters in the story. I didn’t appreciate Eli as much as I could have in the first Thrawn novel, although I enjoyed how his experience as an Outer Rim outsider among Core World Imperial culture both paralleled and contrasted with Thrawn’s experience. Now I appreciate him better, especially as he serves as a good audience stand-in among the very alien Chiss.

The Chiss have featured in all three of the new Thrawn books and it’s safe to say we learn some new things about them in this book. We also get introduced to great new Chiss characters, all of whom are not just other Thrawns. In the old days of the EU, we used to think that a lot of Thrawn’s characteristics were those of his species (partially due to some RPG material that assigned these traits as basically stereotypes) but that’s perhaps not exactly the case. Some of who Thrawn is comes from his people, andsome is unique to him — and it’s interesting to know which is which. But the Chiss are interesting for far more than just what they tell us about Thrawn. They’re interesting as individuals with their own drives and paths, full stop — and that’s one of the things I enjoyed a lot about this book.

Admiral Ar’alani is a fascinating character who I don’t want to say too much about — she is a stand-out character in this book, and I think a lot of people will enjoy her. She’s a Chiss admiral, but she’s not Thrawn — and she’s not about to be intimidated or impressed by him and his vaunted skills. That alone, I think, should sell her as an awesome character. But there’s a lot more to her than that — and she’s not the only awesome Chiss lady that we see in this book — but I’ll leave that to the readers to discover.

The Chiss aren’t the only ones who come out of Thrawn’s shadow. Commodore Karyn Faro returns in Thrawn: Treason, and she’s more of an active POV character than ever before. She still occupies that Watson role to Thrawn’s Sherlock, a role that we’ve seen with Gilad Pellaeon, Dagon Niriz, Voss Parck, and most recently Eli Vanto. It’s a conceit that gets a little old sometimes. Thankfully, Commodore Faro isn’t just Thrawn’s lacquey. She may parallel the role of other Thrawn protégés, but I found myself rooting for her through the course of the story.

There are a whole slew of Imperial characters I really enjoyed reading about aside from Commodore Faro, and I’m surprised it’s taken me this far to get to them. Grand Admiral Savit — the second grand admiral to be named in canon — is my favorite of the new characters (I am quite fond of cultured Imperial grand admirals), and Zahn’s take on both Tarkin and especially Krennic ring hilariously true to life. I’d read a whole novel about these guys bickering during meetings and trying to one-up each other. Imperial intrigue never gets stale for me (though that’s just me).

Speaking of ridiculous Imperials, Krennic’s second-in-command, Assistant Director Brierly Ronan is a new character introduced by this novel. He’s the only person who rates Krennic even higher than the guy rates himself. He’s somehow both incredibly annoying and very entertaining. I mostly just want someone to punch him, but I think that means he was written exactly right.

When I said the book is something of an ensemble, it’s because there are multiple POVs for this story and many interesting characters who I enjoyed reading about who aren’t named Thrawn. So I’d say there is probably room for great stories even with Thrawn flying to parts unknown with Ezra Bridger after the finale of Rebels.

Thrawn may be gone, but don’t be blue

One of my favorite late EU books was Scoundrels. Tim Zahn used many of the same storytelling techniques he used with Thrawn — the sense of a Holmesian mystery that developed over time as the reader gained some insights into what was happening. But instead of Grand Admiral Thrawn revealing everything through a Socratic dialogue with his Watsonian protégé, those details came out naturally through the story — and it really worked.

Through Pryce, Krennic, Savit, Tarkin, and Ronan, Tim Zahn has given us some excellent Imperial bickering in his recent novels. The man has a knack for writing Imperial characters and I enjoy his tendency to include political court intrigues instead of just straight military stuff. In fact, the straight military stuff is usually the least interesting to me (I say usually because there were some pretty enjoyable military characters in Treason that I thought worked very well — Karyn Faro and some troopers come to mind).

Tim Zahn created Thrawn, but he’s not the only character Zahn created. For one thing, the Chiss have expanded well beyond just Thrawn as their sole representative. For another, remember Talon Karrde and Mara Jade? There’s a whole separate branch of Zahn storytelling around the underworld that we haven’t had too much of a chance to explore in the new canon. I don’t even mean necessarily bringing Karrde and Jade into the canon (although I know plenty would be thrilled, and I certainly think an Emperor’s Hand could lead to more of the court intrigue I enjoy).

I’d enjoy seeing Zahn branch out into new eras of storytelling. New to him in canon at least — imagine a post-Return of the Jedi story about the First Order. There’s all the bureaucratic infighting and ineptitude that Zahn enjoys portraying with the Empire, but it’s all so…extra. After seeing Zahn opine about General Hux and Kylo Ren at convention panels (he does not have a high opinion of their competence), I would love to see him tackle the First Order. Perhaps it’s a little bit of maliciousness in me (I really do not like the First Order), but I’d love a Zahn take on just how terrible they really are.

All this to say that if we really have seen the last of Thrawn (at least for a while), I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It was great seeing Thrawn again but we can have too much of a good thing. In the meantime, there are plenty of other stories, timeline eras, and other characters out there that deserve a chance. And if we’re lucky enough to get more Tim Zahn Star Wars books, I think it would be great to see him tackle some of those non-Thrawn stories.

But hey…if there’s a post-Rebels road trip comedy novel with Ezra Bridger and Thrawn trapped on the bridge of a Star Destroyer in the works, I’d totally be game.

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