Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy

1983 is a significant date in the history of Star Wars; not only did it mark the release of Return of the Jedi, but it was also the last year in the 1980s that a Star Wars book would be published (not if you count the Star Wars Roleplaying Game sourcebook that was released in 1987). After Return of the Jedi, there were fears that the whole “Star Wars” thing had dried up and that public interest was waning. For all intents and purposes, Star Wars was dead. That was, until Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire hit the shelves in 1991. It made the New York Times Bestseller list for June 30, 1991 and singlehandedly revitalized the Star Wars universe, giving shape and form to the Expanded Universe by defining species (such as the Chiss and Noghri, the former of which are a playable class in The Old Republic), events (it fleshed out many events occurring before and after the films), and several planets (including Coruscant, which wouldn’t be seen on-screen until the 1997 special edition release of Return of the Jedi in 1997). It is therefore one of the single-most important entries in the Star Wars canon, and certainly the single most important if you exclude the original films themselves (to be fair to Bioware though, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic had a similar effect).

The novel is set five years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The Rebel Alliance is slowly shifting into the New Republic and is having its share of growing pains, including infighting between council members Mon Mothma, Borsk Fey’lya (a Bothan, another race first described by Zahn), and Admiral “It’s a trap!” Ackbar, as well as occasional raids by what’s left of the Empire. While the Republic sees the remainder of the “war” as a mop-up mission with the actual fighting behind them, to certain members of the Empire, the war is still going on in full swing and the Empire is still fighting the “Rebels”. Leading them is the new and mysterious Grand Admiral Thrawn, himself a noted badass and member of the Chiss race. Thrawn, through his ingenuity alone, was able to rise to the highest rank in the Imperial navy, despite the Empire’s serious hatred of non-humans. He was the last Grand Admiral to be promoted before the Emperor’s death, and served with eleven others in the Circle of Twelve.

Noted badass Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Thrawn’s leadership allows the Empire to make very serious gains in the years after Endor and, by the beginning of the third book in the Thrawn Trilogy, the Empire is poised to crush the Republic itself. He is able to anticipate his opponents moves, and is able to out-think his opponents with ease. He’s a brilliant tactician all-in-all. He is also a bit of an eccentric in the Empire. He differentiates himself from Vader and Palpatine in that he accepts criticism and advice from his subordinates and even adopts plans of action developed by those serving under him. He’s also a serious art scholar; by studying the art of his opponents, he is able to figure out how to beat them. He studies his opponents carefully, learning to differentiate certain leaders based on their attack and defense styles and adapts his own offense and defense to them.

Things get even dicier when Thrawn is able to enlist the help of self-styled Jedi master Joruus C’baoth as well as uncover Palpatine’s secret warehouse on Wayland, which houses (among other things) Spaarti cloning cylinders and plans for cloaking devices. Joruus C’baoth hatches a plan to capture Luke Skywalker and his pregnant — with twins — sister, Leia Organa-Solo, and use them to revitalize the Empire. C’baoth eventually sees himself as the Empire itself; where Palpatine was content with manipulating his forces to make  them more efficient fighters, C’baoth himself wants direct control of every mind and body in the Empire. To him, direct power over another being was a better example of power than controlling a system at a distance.

Mixed up in the mess as are smuggler leader Talon Karrde (who took over a lot of Jabba’s operations following his demise) and the (judging from the above photo) slightly slutty Mara Jade, his second-in-command. They try to remain neutral in the struggle, but between Jade’s obsession with killing Luke Skywalker  and fortune (coupled with good business sense), they wind up with The New Republic.

The action essentially focuses on the Empire as they attempt to destroy the Republic, capture Skywalker and Organa-Solo, and maintain control of  C’baoth who becomes more and more insane as the books progress. The novels focus on the Empire from before Endor and what it has done; it focuses on the idea of heirs to a legacy: on the Rebels being the heirs to the New Republic, on Organa-Solo’s kids being the heirs to a Jedi heritage, on Thrawn and C’baoth being heirs to the Empire. The idea of a legacy — both leaving one and following one — is central to the plot. Ultimately it is Thrawn himself who shines. He’s a bad guy who is almost impossible to hate, and part of the fun of the book is trying to simply follow what Thrawn is up to.

To that end we’re left with Gilad Pellaeon, captain of Thrawn’s flagship Chimera and Thrawn’s number-two man. We’re doubters; like Pellaeon, we are in a state of disbelief of Thrawn. What seems straightforward to us is typically much more complex, and what seems terribly complex is straightforward for Thrawn. While Zahn shifts viewpoints throughout, allowing us to see through the eyes (but still third-person) of Leia, or Luke, Han, or Pellaeon (and so on), we never see through Thrawn’s red eyes: he remains a mystery to us throughout the books. The viewpoint shifts themselves are well done and not typically glaring (though the times we see through Han’s eyes are especially well done) and adds to the novel.

I’ve been reading a lot of Star Wars books recently and only recently checked out the Thrawn trilogy, which is comprised of Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command. Each is an excellent book and a terrific read and definitely worth a purchase. They depict important events in the Star Wars universe and introduce characters (and expand others) that become essential in the Expanded Universe. The books are currently available on their own and as a comic series (combiend in the hardcover The Thrawn Trilogy. I read the three books and bought the comic collection — I’m only about 1/3 of the way through the comics, but it is amazing. The books themselves are incredible and represent for many fans the three sequel movies that were never made. The books capture perfectly the feel of the original trilogy and move them forward without being caught up in themselves. They’re definitely a great read and I wholeheartedly recommend them to any Star Wars fan who, for some reason, hasn’t yet read them.


6 Comments on “Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy”

  1. jumpingpolarbear says:

    Star Wars will never die 🙂

  2. bibliopirate says:

    They make for a better trilogy than the prequels did. If only they got turned into movies instead.

    • James says:

      Agreed! I think the comics do the trilogy justice (and I hear the audiobook is excellent, too). While live action is probably impossible at this point, a cartoon (with the original cast!) would be a good compromise.

  3. Jbieker says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this trilogy of novels, (I noticed you omitted one huge plot line in your synopsis, maybe you don’t want SPOILERS!). These would have been worthy of making into movies soon after the original trilogy was done, I really can’t see anyone else playing Han except for Harrison.

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