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‘Star Wars: Thrawn’ (audio book review)

Star Wars: Thrawn

Author: Timothy Zahn
Reader: Marc Thompso
Publisher: Random House Audio
ISBN: 978-045148624
Release Date: April 11, 2017

“Even when false, legends can be more informative.”
– Mitth’raw’nuruod (Thrawn)

Millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror when the Mouse officially declared that the stories in the Star Wars expanded universe as non-canon.

There was a glimmer of hope when Lucasfilm stated that aspects of what is now deemed “Legends” could be brought into the new canon.

At that moment, fans in unison, all wanted one character more than anyone… Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Famed author Timothy Zahn brought this character into our consciousness in 1991 with the novel Heir to the Empire, the first installment of what would become known as the “Thrawn Trilogy.”

Thrawn’s reputation as a master military tactician is legendary. Now, the character’s creator Zahn returns to the Star Wars universe and gets reacquainted with an old friend.

Thrawn serves as an origin story of the blue-skinned, red-eyed Chiss warrior, while detailing his rise to power in the Empire. Most of what we know about Thrawn is pretty much intact. Various characters that served under Thrawn in “Legends” become canon, except for Captain Pellaeon. Instead, a new character named Eli Vanto is introduced and carries the essence of Pellaeon in a younger form.

Vanto is an imperial cadet from the outer rim who talks with what could be a southern accent and is considered a “wild space yokel.” He vies for simplicity until fate brings Thrawn into his life and changes it forever. Zahn sets up Vannto as the listener’s window into how he helps Thrawn adjust to a career as an Imperial while marveling at his cunning and reserved disposition.

It’s revealed that Thrawn can see in infrared, which strengthens the narrative tremendously as it serves as the ultimate lie detector. True intentions become ulterior motives. This helps Thrawn cleverly navigate the political waters that are rife with jealousy, classism, and racism.

Speaking of racism, The Emperor’s contempt towards non-humans came about in “Legends” but was never given any basis. Here in the new canon, a reason was given and it made perfect sense, calling back to the Clone Wars where most of the Separatists were aliens. This caused a groundswell of anti-alien sentiment post-war.

Star Wars Rebels enthusiasts will appreciate the novel’s inclusions of Governor Arihnda Pryce. Pryce holds Thrawn in high esteem in the animated series, and the genesis of their relationship is revealed, creating a wonderful connection between the two mediums.

The area of the galaxy designated as the Unknown Regions has become an increasingly important plot point in the new canon novels and plays a role here. The First Order and Supreme Snoke are rumored to have taken up some sort of residence in that particular area of space, which brings about a lot of interesting possibilities and connections.

Timothy Zahn superbly balances the narrative between the journey of Thrawn and Pryce upon an intersection. New canon Star Wars novels often go back and forth between plots with one being more interesting than the other. It’s necessary to put up with it because the less interesting of the two eventually pays off. In this case, Pryce’s rise in power is nearly as fascinating as Thrawn’s ascension.

The remarkable intelligence that is a hallmark of Thrawn’s character is brought to the forefront as his inner monologue is a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Sun Tzu when assessing situations. This creates intrigue and mystery throughout the book and makes the listener wonder if Thrawn is merely a quick study or the smartest person in the galaxy.

Moments make up the fabric of Star Wars, and the moments in Thrawn are no exception, with each serving a different and exciting purpose. One, in particular, shows the first meeting between Thrawn and The Emperor, which was filled with tension and a big name drop. Each exchange between the two made me wonder who was truly working who to their advantage.

Marc Thompson is the quintessential voice of Star Wars audio books. His narration brings the words of Timothy Zahn to life with great insight and excellent character work. Thompson’s Emperor is no mere impression and channels the Sith Lord’s on screen vessel, Ian McDiarmid. I had to search IMDB to see if Thompson voiced Thrawn on Rebels. He doesn’t, but the voice is that good.

Timothy Zahn’s talents as an author are on full display as he successfully crafted Thrawn as a novel that equally serves as an introduction, continuation, and reunion, which ensures every fan will enjoy. There was no Luke, Han, Leia and Mara Jade for Zahn to play with this time around, however, his injection of new characters such as Eli Vanto while incorporating elements of his original stories works very well.

Grand Admiral Thrawn is as intelligent as ever and fans new and old alike will marvel at his brilliance within this well-crafted tale.


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