Image: Thrawn,Del Rey
Hello, and welcome to a completely biased review of Thrawn, the latest Star Wars book to fit into the space between Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Rebels. There are no spoilers here, so feel free to relax. Only don’t, because I am so happy to have author Timothy Zahn’s voice back in Star Wars, I could cry.
I haven’t had that long to absorb everything that happened in Thrawn. I powered through this book very fast, so I will be re-reading it tonight so that I can look for more Easter eggs and important universe connections that were set up in the book. Instead, this review is based mostly on my first impressions and how the book made me feel.
It made me feel awesome.
It’s no secret that I am a fan of the old Expanded Universe books and that, despite the fact that they were often hilariously bad, I loved them all. It’s that affection that has lead me to read the brand new book universe being created under Disney. And while all the writers involved have skill and affection for the material, there’s an abandon to Zahn’s writing that stands out.
The old EU always felt slightly slapdash and weird. The new books are clearly part of a much more polished, planned, and interlocked story. Overall, the quality of the books is higher. But there’s something more labored about them, something that screams that they’re working with a very tight brief.
That may be the case with Thrawn, but Zahn is simply a better storyteller with a better handle on his characters and his plots than we’ve seen in a while. The book reads smoother and faster than any other one we’ve had. It’s fun.
It stands on its own much better than you’d expect, too. The selling point for books like Aftermath and Catalyst was definitely what they revealed about the movie universe. Thrawn feels like it’s bending Star Wars to itself, not twisting a story to fit into Star Wars. It isn’t a supplement.
Fans who can’t spout EU names, planets, species, and lines with an almost worrying frequency should find plenty to enjoy. I would advise against being upset if you don’t get every reference — the ones that matter are explained, and the ones that don’t you can treat like flavour, like when legal shows throw in some jargon to make it seem realistic. Don’t let it distract you, just enjoy the facility with which Zahn writes.
The opening chapter of the book is packed full of action, which when presented in the written word can be hard to follow. Not so here. Zahn, as he did with Heir to the Empire, has a major viewpoint character who is human, which means we don’t have to live in Thrawn’s alien mindset for the whole book. And, we get to see the Empire from the perspective of a lower-class citizen just trying to move up. As before, it gives the Empire a lot of depth.
That said, Zahn also does something that I, even as a huge fan, didn’t realise I wanted: a lot of time in Thrawn’s head. At first, I found the bits of narration from Thrawn’s perspective awkward and jarring. But by the end, I was looking forward to them. Zahn also does a trick of showing how Thrawn evaluates others that is really great. It’s not his deductive process — he just occasionally walks us through those, out loud. It’s simply him cataloguing responses and body language in a way that reminds you that a) Thrawn is alien and b) Thrawn is always watching.
I was slightly worried that a book called Thrawn would be nothing more than a biography of the character. I was wrong. There is an actual, specific story being told here. A good one. A fun one.
I did not realise how much I missed Timothy Zahn’s facility with this world until this book. I did not realise how much I missed Thrawn — the written Thrawn, all due respect to Rebels — until this book. I am so disappointed that there isn’t more of this to read. I feel empty inside. Please, the rest of you, savour this.