In Star Wars’ current canon, we’ve seen Thrawn’s rise as one of the Empire’s most cunning Grand Admirals. Books have shown us how he left his homeworld and the unknown regions to explore “our” side of the Star Wars galaxy, but Timothy Zahn’s latest trilogy is delving back into that past, and Gizmodo has a look inside.
Del Rey’s Chaos Rising is the first book in a brand new trilogy — dubbed Ascendancy — that Zahn is writing about his most iconic Star Wars creation. The story takes place years before we would meet him in Star Wars Rebels, or when he first ventured into Imperial space, or even when he first crossed paths with Anakin Skywalker during the Clone Wars. Taking us beyond the edge of Star Wars’ galaxy and into the unknown regions, Chaos Rising will explore Thrawn’s homeworld Csilla, the heart of the Chiss Ascendancy, and the nine families that rule Chiss society.
Chaos Rising sees the peace on Csilla thrown into disarray when its capital is rocked by a devastating attack from mysterious, unseen enemies. Desperate to find out who is targeting the Ascendancy, the mission to find out who is behind the assault is given to a standout young Defence Fleet cadet, named Mitth’raw’nuru, looking to ingratiate himself into the powerful Mitth family. Or, for those not up on their Cheunh, as you and I (and his friends, his enemies, and almost certainly his frenemies as well) know him: Thrawn!
In our exclusive excerpt below from one of Chaos Rising’s interstitial flashback moments — places throughout the story that highlight key memories from Thrawn’s past — Cadet Mitth’raw’nuru crosses paths with a fellow young Chiss named Al’iastov, who will go on to play a major part in his and Chaos Rising’s story.
Al’iastov is what is known as an ozyly-esehembo in the Chiss language, translated into Star Wars’ English-equivalent as a “sky-walker.” Sky-Walkers, who are mostly female, play vital roles aboard Chiss starships: they’re actually Force-sensitives, and use their precognitive abilities to help ships navigate through the volatile interstellar ephemera that made the Unknown Regions, well, unknown. But through use, their powers fade, and Al’iastov finds her career as a Sky-Walker near its end…until a chance meeting with a young Cadet potentially puts her on a very interesting path. Check out the full excerpt below, or, if you’d prefer to listen to it, click the video to hear narrator Marc Thompson’s reading of it from the Chaos Rising audiobook!
The journey ended, and Al’iastov brought herself out of Third Sight into the muted light of the Chiss Defence Force Transport Tomra’s bridge. She lifted her hands away from the navigational controls, a hollow feeling in both stomach and heart. “Senior Commander?” she asked tentatively, looking at the helm officer seated beside her.
“We’ve arrived,” he confirmed. “Thank you. I’ll take it from here.”
“OK,” Al’iastov murmured. Unstrapping, she stood up and walked across the quiet bridge to the hatch.
She walked through the opening and continued down the empty corridor toward the captain’s quarters, where she and her caregiver had been given space. The Tomra never went outside the Ascendancy, so it didn’t have a proper sky-walker suite. Mafole, Al’iastov’s caregiver, had complained about that, very loudly, which had made Junior Captain Vorlip mad right back at her.
On Al’iastov’s other ships, her caregiver usually met her outside the bridge and walked her back to the sky-walker suite. But after Mafole’s fight with Vorlip, she’d declared she wouldn’t leave their room until they reached Naporar, and had told Al’iastov she’d be walking back and forth alone.
And as Al’iastov walked the long corridor, her eyes blurred with tears.
There was no reason to have a sky-walker on this trip. She knew that. The routes within the Ascendancy weren’t like the ones out in the Chaos. Here, the pathways were clear, and the pilots knew how to get where they were going.
That was why the fleet had put Al’iastov’s test here. Trips like this were a safe way to see if a sky-walker could still do her job.
The pilot hadn’t said anything. Neither had Junior Captain Vorlip.
But Al’iastov knew.
She hadn’t been able to keep the Tomra on the right path. The pilot had had to correct the course as they traveled.
Her Third Sight was mostly gone. Her job was ended. The only life she’d ever known was over. A full year ahead of the usual schedule, her life was over.
At age thirteen.
“Are you all right?”
Al’iastov stopped short, rubbing away the tears that had kept her from seeing the other person’s approach. A young man in a black uniform stood facing her a few steps away. There weren’t any insignia pins on his collar, which marked him as a cadet, and his shoulder patch had a sunrise on it. That was one of the Nine Families, she knew, but she couldn’t remember which one. “I’m fine,” she said. One of her other caregivers had told her once that she should never complain about how she was feeling. “Who are you?”
“Cadet Mitth’raw’nuru,” he said. “Journeying to the Taharim Academy. Who are you?”
“Al’iastov.” She winced, remembering too late that her identity was supposed to be kept a secret from everyone except the highest-ranking officers. “I’m the captain’s daughter,” she added, repeating the lie she was always supposed to give if anyone outside the bridge crew asked.
Thrawn’s eyebrow rose, just a bit, and Al’iastov’s sinking heart sank a little deeper. He didn’t believe her. Not only was her life over, but she was probably in trouble now, too. “I mean — ”
“It’s all right,” Thrawn said. “What’s wrong, Al’iastov? Can I help?”
Al’iastov sighed. She wasn’t supposed to complain. But for once she didn’t really care what she was supposed to do. “I don’t think so,” she said. “I’m . . . just worried. About . . . I don’t know. About what I’m going to do.”
“I understand,” Thrawn said.
Al’iastov caught her breath. Had he figured out what she was? Her brief moment of uncaring rebellion vanished, leaving her once again fully aware that she was going to be in trouble. “You do?” she asked carefully.
“Of course,” Thrawn said. “All of us feel uncertainty as we travel through life. I don’t know specifically what concerns you, but I assure you that all the cadets aboard this ship are also facing changes in their futures.”
She felt a bit of relief. So he didn’t know she was a sky-walker. “But you all know where you’re going,” she said. “You’re a cadet, and you’re going to be in the Defence Force. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“You’re a ship captain’s daughter,” Thrawn said. “That will surely open many opportunities. But just because I know I’m going to the academy doesn’t mean there aren’t a great many unknowns. And uncertainty can be the most frightening of mental states.”
And then, to Al’iastov’s surprise, Thrawn got down on one knee in front of her, putting his face a little lower than hers. Grown-ups almost never did that. Even most of Al’iastov’s other caregivers had usually stood straight up looking down at her. “But while all of us face a variety of paths, we all have the power to choose among them,” he continued. “You have that power as well, the power to choose which of those paths is the right one for you.”
“I don’t know,” Al’iastov said, feeling the tears start up again. What kind of choices did a thirteen-year-old failed sky-walker even have? No one had talked much to her about that. “But thank you for — ”
“What’s going on here?” The harsh voice of Junior Captain Vorlip came from behind her. “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
“Cadet Mitth’raw’nuru,” Thrawn said as he quickly stood up. “I was exploring the ship when I came upon your daughter. She seemed distressed, and I stopped to offer assistance.”
“You’re not supposed to be in this corridor,” Vorlip said sternly. She walked past Al’iastov and stopped in front of Thrawn. “Didn’t you see the authorised personnel only signs?”
“I assumed they were intended to stop nonmilitary personnel,” Thrawn said. “As a cadet, I thought I would be exempt.”
“Well, you aren’t,” Vorlip said. “You’re supposed to be back with the other cadets.”
“My apologies,” Thrawn said. “I merely wished to get the feel of the ship.” He bowed his head and started to turn away.
Vorlip put out her arm to block his path. “What do you mean, the feel of the ship?”
“I wanted to study its rhythms,” Thrawn said. “The deck has subtle vibrations that reflect the ebb and flow of the thrusters. Our movement through hyperspace was punctuated by slight hesitations and swells. The airflow indicates small variations as we change direction. The compensators occasionally lag slightly behind course changes, with effects that are again transmitted through the deck.”
“Really,” Vorlip said. She didn’t seem as angry now. “How many spaceflights have you had before this one?”
“None,” Thrawn said. “This is my first voyage away from my home.”
“Is it.” Vorlip stepped close to him. “Close your eyes. Keep them closed until I tell you otherwise.”
Thrawn closed his eyes. Vorlip took him by the upper arms, and without warning, began spinning him around.
Thrawn’s arms flailed outward with surprise. His feet stumbled, trying to keep up with his body’s movements. Vorlip kept him spinning, and also slowly moved around with him. When she was a third of the way from where she’d started, she caught his upper arms and brought him to a stop.
“Eyes still closed,” she said, holding him steady. “Which way is forward?”
Thrawn was silent a moment. Then, he raised a hand and pointed toward the Tomra’s bow. “There,” he said.
Vorlip kept holding him for a second. Then she let go and moved a step back. “You can open your eyes,” she said. “Return to your quarters. And don’t ever pass that kind of sign until you’re damn sure you’re allowed.”
“Yes, Captain,” Thrawn said. He blinked a couple of times as he finished getting his balance. He nodded to Vorlip, nodded and smiled at Al’iastov, then turned and left.
“I’m sorry,” Al’iastov said quietly.
“It’s all right,” Vorlip said. She was still looking at Thrawn.
“Are you mad at him?” Al’iastov asked. “He was only trying to help me.”
“Are you mad at me?”
Vorlip turned and gave her a small smile. “No, of course not,” she said. “You’ve done nothing wrong.”
“But . . .” Al’iastov stopped, feeling confused.
“I’m not mad at anyone,” Vorlip said. “It’s just . . . it took me fifteen voyages, in four different ships, before I developed that kind of awareness. This Mitth’raw’nuru did it in one.”
“Is that strange?”
“Very,” Vorlip assured her.
“He seems nice,” Al’iastov said. She paused, thinking about what he’d said about paths. “What happens to me when I leave here?”
“You’ll be adopted,” Vorlip said. “Probably into one of the Nine Ruling Families — they like to have former sky-walkers.”
“It’s a prestige thing,” Vorlip said. “I’m sure you realise that girls with your ability are very rare. It’s an honour for one of you to be made a merit adoptive.”
Al’iastov felt her throat tighten. “Even when we’re no use to anyone?”
“Don’t say things like that,” Vorlip said sternly. “Every person is valuable. My point is that you’ll be welcomed into whatever family adopts you. They’ll take care of you, send you on to further education, and eventually find a career that you’re best suited for.”
“Unless they throw me out.”
“I told you to stop talking like that,” Vorlip said. “They’re not going to throw you out. You’re prestige for the family, remember?”
“Yes,” Al’iastov said. She still didn’t completely believe it, but there was no use talking any more about it now.
But there was one more point. “Do I get to choose which family I want?”
Vorlip frowned. “I don’t know. To be honest, I don’t know any of the details about how these things are done. Why, are you looking at a specific family?”
“Yes,” Al’iastov said. “The Mitth.”
“Really.” Vorlip glanced over her shoulder. “Like Cadet Thrawn?”
Vorlip huffed out a thoughtful breath. “As I say, I don’t know how it works. But there’s certainly no reason you can’t ask. Actually, now that I think about it, a former sky-walker with your record should be able to ask for whatever you want.”
And there it was. Vorlip had said it. Former sky-walker.
Al’iastov’s navigational career was officially over.
But strangely, it suddenly didn’t seem to matter so much now. “That’s what he said,” she told Vorlip. “He said I’d be able to choose my path.”
“Well, cadets say all sorts of things,” Vorlip said, dismissing both Thrawn and the conversation with a wave of her hand. “Come — I need you and your caregiver in my office. There are forms we need to fill out.”
Mitth’raw’nuru, he’d named himself, Al’iastov reminded herself as she and the captain walked.
Mitth’raw’nuru. She would remember that.
And when the time came, the Mitth family would definitely be getting a request.
Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising is set to release on September 1 — and, as announced on StarWars.com today, first-run copies of the book will come with suitably Chiss-ian blue-tinted pages, and special colour accents throughout the book.