Think Darth Maul is cool? Think again. There’s a new sheriff in town, and his name is Admiral Thrawn.
I’ve never read many of the EU Star Wars books, particularly the ones taking place after Ep VI, so I might be forgiven for not knowing about the greatness of Thrawn earlier. It’s a mistake I have now rectified – in the most pleasant way possible, by reading Tim Zahn’s officially Disney-approved, canonized “Thrawn”.
Admiral Thrawn (or in his native tongue: Mitth’raw’nuruodo – kind of sounds like Gandalf, huh?) is a Chiss, an alien from a planet in the Unknown Regions, the vast parts of the universe unexplored by either the Republic or the Empire. While it is not completely clear if Thrawn is typical or an exception of his race, he is characterized by a sharp, Sherlockesque mind, pragmatism and a distaste for brutish, stupid behavior. He is a hyperrational power player who nonetheless doesn’t forget that power only lasts as long as it is also beneficial to the subjugated people. He thus vastly contrasts with many of the opportunistic, fanatic members of the Empire we have known so far, with the Emperor as the most extreme example towering above the rest of them.
That’s what makes him awesome.
He serves the Empire, but his actions and his thinking are convincing and understandable even if you are a fierce Rebel ally. He isn’t driven by malice, but by necessity, and he has identified order as necessary above all other things. He doesn’t share Palpatine’s cartoonish evilness and lust for power. Power is a tool, a means for stability. He’s a military man in the best sense of the word. He is, one could say, a Sherlock Holmes who has entered Her Majesty’s navy in order to spread the stability of the British Empire throughout the world, believing that to be the course most beneficial to all humans.
While Zahn’s original Thrawn trilogy from the early nineties shows Thrawn as the main antagonist of the New Republic, leading the remnants of the Empire in the war against what he still calls the Rebellion, this timeline of course was scratched after Disney bought Star Wars and started to tell its own story of the events after Episode VI. Many fans were angered and saddened that this also swept Grand Admiral Thrawn under the rug of abandoned fiction. But Thrawn was so good a character that his survival was inevitable. First, he became a character in Disney’s animated series “Rebels”, a show that tells the story of the beginnings of the Rebellion immediately after Episode III. And now, in April this year, a new Thrawn novel by Tim Zahn has been published that looks at the other end of Thrawn’s life, showing us his beginnings and his rise through the ranks of the Empire. He is accompanied on this quest by Ensign Eli Vanto, who acts as his translator, aide and Watson. Together, they hunt smugglers, insurgents and pirates, all the while resisting political intrigues and the prejudices of other Imperials. It’s basically a coming-of-age story, and while there are no particularly exceptional plot developments (though there are certainly great surprises), the whole thing is so well written and ties in so neatly with the SW universe that it’s just a pleasure from beginning to end.
Bottom Line: Even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, this mixture of political thriller and military sci fi hits all the right notes and rests, most importantly, on a strong main character. Read.