It’s likely that no book in the new canon thus far has been as highly anticipated as Thrawn. The announcement at Celebration London last year rocked both the ExCel Center and the Star Wars fandom watching around the world. Not only was Grand Admiral Thrawn making his return to canon but he’d also be starring in a book written by his creator, Timothy Zahn. In short… a beloved character written once more by a beloved author. What could go wrong?
The answer is: not much. Thrawn features Thrawn at his Thrawniest and Zahn at his Zahniest. Thrawn is frequently one step ahead of everyone else in the tactical realm even if he does struggle with navigating the politics of the Empire at times. Thankfully, Eli Vanto is there to be suitably impressed by and to learn from him while also serving as translator and aide. And Zahn… well, let’s just say that the twists and turns his novels take continue to be an unwavering hallmark of his style. In the wake of such a sentence, it may sound like a contradiction to say Thrawn isn’t a surprising book but it’s true nonetheless. (Honestly, the biggest surprise in this book is an unexpected character’s Legends-to-canon jump.) What readers expect is exactly what readers get: a book about Thrawn speedily working his way up the Imperial rank ladder from the time Captain Parck discovers him through his promotion to Grand Admiral. Fans will likely be more than content once they finish the final page.
While there is no required reading or watching for someone to enjoy Thrawn, those who are already fond of the character will likely enjoy it the most. However the book most definitely enhances the relationships between characters we saw in Season 3 of Rebels. After all, this book isn’t just backstory for Thrawn; it’s also backstory for Arihnda Pryce and (to a lesser extent) Wullf Yularen. They aren’t just three random high-ranking Imperials; they have a long history. In fact, it just might be worth rewatching Rebels after reading Thrawn with all this new knowledge in mind. Speaking of Pryce, this is just as much her book as it is Thrawn’s as we watch her fight her way to her Governorship. Zahn makes her more sympathetic and a more fully realized character without taking away from her villainy.
There is one area where Thrawn deserves particular applause and that is in the realm of diversity. Since the change over from Legends, we’ve seen the Star Wars universe make definite strides towards creating an Empire that’s more than just white men but instead includes people of color and women. While Zahn may not specify what most of the characters look like, it’s definitely quite clear that many of the members of the Imperial military are women and that this is the norm. No one blinks twice at a female captain or a female admiral. In fact, the percentage is far higher than in any other book or comic thus far and is absolutely something worth lauding.
Bottom line is that while Thrawn doesn’t have any real surprises as what you expect is what you get but it’s an enjoyable read that will please fans of both the character and author alike.
Thank you to Del Rey for providing an early copy of the book for review purposes.