These are exciting days for Star Wars fans. The relaunched Star Wars universe is going from strength to strength — the box office success of Rogue One has trailblazed a whole new approach to spinoff films; continuity between the different mediums is tighter than any other franchise; and fans are eagerly anticipating Episode VIII- The Last Jedi! Behind the scenes, though, the franchise is subtly changing shape. To understand how that's the case, you need to cast your eyes to the next Star Wars novel — Thrawn, by Timothy Zahn!
Meet Grand Admiral Thrawn
For fans of the new Star Wars canon, #StarWarsRebels has been their first introduction to the tactical genius Grand Admiral Thrawn. An imposing blue-skinned alien with shimmering red eyes, Thrawn's tactical genius has made him a terrifying threat for the nascent Rebellion. Last July, Lucasfilm announced that Rebels wouldn't be Thrawn's only appearance in the relaunched canon; they commissioned a canon novel, Thrawn, to be focused around the character. The writer was to be legendary Star Wars author Timothy Zahn.
For fans of the old Expanded Universe, though, Thrawn is a fascinating character with a rich history. He was actually created by Timothy Zahn back in 1991 as the main enemy in his so-called 'Thrawn Trilogy' of novels. These novels were so popular that they're essentially credited with launching the Expanded Universe, reigniting interest in Star Wars, and ultimately leading to George Lucas's decision to return to the franchise. Timothy Zahn is a skilled author and a gifted world-builder; to give you an idea, he created the city-planet Coruscant, the galactic capital that would become central to the Prequel Trilogy.
Zahn was fascinated with Thrawn, and with the alien race known as the Chiss. He established the Chiss as an isolationist race who live on the borders of the Unknown Regions, with Thrawn a maverick who believed the Chiss had to involve themselves more in galactic affairs. The EU novel Outbound Flight presented Thrawn's backstory, establishing an early relationship with Darth Sidious, and setting up his eventual exile from Chiss society. In the EU itself, Thrawn actually had an honorable motive for working for Palpatine; he sought to unify the Galaxy in preparation for the invasion of the Yuuzhan Vong. Palpatine used these desire to manipulate Thrawn into serving his will.
The 'Thrawn' Synopsis
Random House has just published the official synopsis for Thrawn, and it promises great things for the future of Star Wars. Take a look!
"Grand Admiral Thrawn has earned an iconic status among Star Wars’ greatest villains. But Thrawn’s origins and the story of his rise in the Imperial ranks have remained mysterious. Now, in Star Wars: Thrawn, Timothy Zahn chronicles the fateful events that launched the blue-skinned, red-eyed master of military strategy and lethal warfare into the highest realms of power—and infamy.
After Thrawn is rescued from exile by Imperial soldiers, his deadly ingenuity and keen tactical abilities swiftly capture the attention of Emperor Palpatine. And just as quickly, Thrawn proves to be as indispensable to the Empire as he is ambitious; as devoted as its most loyal servant, Darth Vader; and a brilliant warrior never to be underestimated. On missions to rout smugglers, snare spies, and defeat pirates, he triumphs time and again—even as his renegade methods infuriate superiors while inspiring ever greater admiration from the Empire. As one promotion follows another in his rapid ascension to greater power, he schools his trusted aide, Ensign Eli Vanto, in the arts of combat and leadership, and the secrets of claiming victory. But even though Thrawn dominates the battlefield, he has much to learn in the arena of politics where ruthless administrator Arihnda Pryce holds the power to be a potent ally or a brutal enemy.
All these lessons will be put to the ultimate test when Thrawn rises to admiral—and must pit all the knowledge, instincts, and battle forces at his command against an insurgent uprising that threatens not only innocent lives but also the Empire’s grip on the galaxy—and his own carefully laid plans for future ascendancy."
The synopsis will leave long-term Star Wars fans absolutely thrilled, not least because it promises to reveal the story we'd already heard so much about. Lucasfilm is allowing Timothy Zahn to lift so much of the old EU into the new canon; you have Thrawn's exile from the Chiss, his recruitment to the Empire, and his ascendancy. Zahn has consistently used Thrawn as a sort of 'Sherlock Holmes' figure — he loves to study the artwork of his enemies, deducing their motives and strategies by learning to understand their psyche — and it's clear this approach will continue. The blurb mentions Thrawn's "trusted aide", Ensign Eli Vanto, a new character who will clearly serve as 'Watson'.
Meanwhile, it's pretty clear that Thrawn won't just absorb some key elements of the old EU into the new canon; it will also carefully set up the narrative of Rebels, where Arihnda Pryce has been a real thorn in the Rebel Alliance's hyde.
Do I Need to Know the Old EU?
The old EU was vast and rather intimidating for new readers, but Timothy Zahn's task here will be to introduce new readers to Thrawn and his world. As far as the new canon is concerned, Thrawn is only a recent addition, and I have no doubts that Lucasfilm will insist on the book standing on its own two feet. As much as he loves the character, and has previously fleshed out his backstory, Timothy Zahn is easily up to the challenge.
So fans of the new canon don't need to worry; we're about to dive deep into the alien mind of the Empire's own Sherlock Holmes, but no prior reading is necessary. On the other hand, if you want to sample some of the best books of the old Expanded Universe, then I heartily recommend picking up the 'Thrawn Trilogy' and Outbound Flight. The books themselves may not be canon any more, but we can say with absolute certainty that Thrawn's backstory is about to be written into the relaunched timeline.
This is an exciting prospect for fans of the Expanded Universe. Coupled with the news that the Han Solo movie will feature Garris Shrike — a character introduced in the 'Han Solo Trilogy' - it's clear that Lucasfilm is now happily absorbing key elements of the EU into their new canon. There are few more significant parts of the EU than Grand Admiral Thrawn, making Timothy Zahn's novel particularly exciting.
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Before Thrawn, the old EU had been absorbed into the new canon in subtle, gradual ways. Now, though, that's all changed; Thrawn marks a new approach, one that truly honors what went before, and even brings on board one of the franchise's greatest writers to do so. This is definitely not a book to miss.
Are you planning to pick up 'Thrawn'?
(Source: Random House; Poll Image Credit: Disney XD)