Thrawn Ascendant: How an Evil Genius Villain Became a Sympathetic Antihero

Timothy Zahn first introduced the now-popular character Grand Admiral Thrawn in 1991 as the lead antagonist of his novel Heir to the Empire, in what was then known as the Expanded Universe (referred to now, and hereafter in this article, as Legends). The character was further developed in the next two novels in that trilogy, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command, and though dead following the conclusion of the trilogy, Thrawn also played a significant role in the Hand of Thrawn duology, Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future. A popular character among Legends fans, Thrawn was notably reintroduced into the new canon as an antagonist on the animated series Star Wars Rebels during its third season in 2016. This opened the door for the reintroduction of Thrawn in the literature of the new canon, allowing Zahn to produce two further Thrawn trilogies thus far: one beginning in 2017 and featuring Thrawn, Thrawn: Alliances, and Thrawn: Treason; and Thrawn Ascendancy beginning in 2020, featuring Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising, Thrawn Ascendency: Greater Good, and Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil.

However, while ostensibly the same character, the characterization that we get of Thrawn across these texts changes significantly.  Even more fascinatingly, it is not a simple matter of a division between Legends and new canon: the characterization of Thrawn in Rebels has more in common with his initial appearance in Heir to the Empire than he does to the version that we see developed in the two canon trilogies. Furthermore, the way that Thrawn is characterized in the Hand of Thrawn duology, and even the way that he is developed in Dark Force Rising and The Last Command, is more nuanced and less straightforwardly villainous than his appearance in Rebels. An analysis of the portrayal of his character and his development across both Legends and the new canon offers us a unique look at the way the new canon has allowed for significant changes in previously established characters, while also calling into question our understanding of this character and what assumptions we might have for him going forward, with the presumed inclusion of him in upcoming live action shows. [1]In order to present a more concise argument here, this article will forgo many examples of direct textual analysis. For an expanded edition of this article featuring close literary analysis of the … Continue reading

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1 In order to present a more concise argument here, this article will forgo many examples of direct textual analysis. For an expanded edition of this article featuring close literary analysis of the text, please visit Talking Trek Wars.

From the Computer Comes a Stranger: CGI Luke Skywalker and the Obsession with Nostalgia

Reactions to episode six of The Book of Boba Fett, titled “From the Desert Comes a Stranger”, have been mixed to say the least. For the second week in a row, the show spent little time on Tatooine with the titular bounty hunter and instead focused on the trials (both figurative and literal) of Grogu’s Jedi training. And once again we were treated to the inclusion of CGI Luke Skywalker, now with the CGI fixed to look almost identical to the Mark Hamill of Return of the Jedi and the revelation that none of his lines were spoken by an actor but were instead created by a neural network

A frequent comment I’ve seen floating around the fandom is (paraphrased) “This is the sort of technology George Lucas would love, so how can I not love that Star Wars has progressed to this point?” And, well, I don’t necessarily disagree; it’s no secret that Lucas is a techie at heart and rather infamously doesn’t get on well with actors engaging in the acting process. So it’s not a big leap of logic to think he’d be fully excited about the latest in CGI and computer innovation, though for fairness’s sake none of my research has shown him ever commenting on the use of CGI for Tarkin and Leia in Rogue One. So at the end of the day we can only guess, we don’t actually know. But whether or not Lucas approves of the technology and how it’s used is beside the point. He hasn’t been substantially involved in the franchise since 2014, but even if he was, his opinion shouldn’t be the only litmus test for whether we think something is a good idea or not.

It’s understandable: Lucas (and the Lucas movies) were our childhoods and the desire to recapture that childhood magic is strong. But why are we so intent on recreating it digitally rather than giving real people the chance to breathe new life into it? Or better yet: why are we so intent on keeping Star Wars exactly the same as we remember it rather than letting it grow and be new?

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It’s Free Real Estate – Why a Cameo in The Book of Boba Fett Didn’t Work When It Should Have

The following article contains spoilers for this week’s episode of The Book of Boba Fett.

Y’know, if it had been a different episode, if it had been a different pair of episodes, I would have been excited.

The issue is…well, let’s call it Free Real Estate. This is when a story set within a pre-established universe is sidelined to prioritize references to another, unrelated part of the universe. The script, the runtime, the pages that could have been dedicated to telling the story that was promised instead goes to rehashing beats for nostalgia or setting up backdoor pilots. The creators saw that this story was taking place in the same universe as the characters they wished it was about and said, “It’s free real estate.

Free Real Estate is the affliction faced by the two penultimate episodes of The Book of Boba Fett.

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We Are All Jurassic Park – An Examination of The Fallen Star

This piece contains minor spoilers for The Fallen Star.

These spoilers discuss the scope of what the novel does and does not cover.

The three Del Rey novels of The High Republic’s first phase are essentially disaster films, centered around a specific Event. Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule opens with “The Great Disaster” and the rest of the novel is about preventing the aftereffects. The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott is centered around the attack on the Republic Fair. The Fallen Star is about the Titanic-style collapse of Starlight Beacon.

However, out of all the options of disaster films to reflect upon, out of all the sub-genres and styles, what kept returning to me as a comparison was a single franchise: Jurassic Park.

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Emma Candon’s Ronin: A Vision of What Star Wars Could Look Like

Emma Mieko Candon’s novel, Star Wars Visions: Ronin, is remarkable in several ways. It’s remarkable for taking the story hinted at in the Visions short “The Duel” and turning it into a full narrative, it’s remarkable for generating its own setting unmoored (or better yet, unburdened) by existing Star Wars storytelling and continuity, it’s remarkable for LGBTQIA+ representation (thankfully something SW publishing seems to be pretty good about), and it’s remarkable for putting Star Wars squarely in a Japanese-inspired milieu and still feeling perfectly like Star Wars. As Candon put it in their author’s note, Ronin is an “iterat[ion] on an American saga that is itself an iteration on Japanese narratives.” Like the Star Wars Visions shorts themselves, it feels like Star Wars has come home to where it all began.

A lot of ink has been spilled on the influences of Star Wars, from Flash Gordon adventure serials, to the monomyth, to political commentary on Nixonian America. By now most of us know of the historical allegories about Nazi Germany, the Vietnam War, the American Revolution, and the Roman Republic’s transformation into the Roman Empire. Many of us also know that George Lucas took inspiration from Japanese, Indian, and Chinese cultures for ideas of the Jedi and the Force — and SW’s cultural influences (or depending on how you see it, appropriations) go even beyond that when we consider costuming, location design, and the ever-expanding on-screen world of Star Wars on cinema and television. You could probably write a whole book on the real-world cultural influences from the Americas, Europe, Africa, Oceania, and Asia on Star Wars.

Star Wars has many roots. But those aren’t the only place Star Wars belongs. It also belongs to everyone who’s engaged with it, who’s thought about it — but for so long, Star Wars had this idea that it had to look, and feel, a certain way. Star Wars Visions broke that idea for the screen just as Ronin broke it for the page. And I think that’s great.

Star Wars publishing has shown a willingness to experiment with books like From a Certain Point of View from Del Rey or The Legends of Luke Skywalker from Disney-LFL Press. They’ve hired an author pool of different backgrounds and experiences, and I’d love to see that continue going forward. I’d also love to see authors able to take their experiences and tell stories that we might not have previously thought really fit in Star Wars, but actually do. Ronin shows the way — if we can have space dreadnoughts with pavilions, gardens, and sliding wood-and-paper doors, we can have it all. We can frame our Star Wars stories in ways we never thought possible. But we can do it in an honest way, that doesn’t look like we’re pillaging from different cultures to lend our stories exotic flavor — by letting creatives engage with Star Wars in a way that’s informed by their own backgrounds and experiences.

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