By Kai Charles
In a fandom that has many points of view, it’s almost universally acknowledged that Timothy Zahn’s Heir To The Empire trilogy was a light in the “dark times” of Star Wars fandom. These books came at a time when fans thought they would never see any new content, at a time where the prequels and episodes 7-9 weren’t even a fantasy.
In the Heir trilogy fans got to see what our victorious rebels were up to and meet the threat that cast a long shadow across the new galactic empire: Grand Admiral Thrawn.
After a successful trilogy followed by The Hand of Thrawn Book 1 & 2, it seemed like our Thrawn adventures were complete. Then Came Dave Filoni’s tease of Rebels Season Three, revealing that Thrawn was coming to the show!
This meant that Thrawn was entering the new canon of the Star Wars universe.
So with all this history attached to the character, should new readers hesitate to pick up this novel? Not at all! Thrawn has the rare ability to be an enjoyable read no matter your level of knowledge in the Star Wars universe. In fact, as a long-time EU reader, I was a little thrown by the first hundred or so pages of the novel because I was holding on to my past history with the character. This novel is a master reset of Thrawn seen mostly through the eyes of Ensign Eli Vanto who is assigned to aide Thrawn as he rises through the Imperial ranks, and also through the eyes of Arihnda Price, an Imperial officer whose career path crosses Thrawn’s.
Thrawn’s insights into various cases of smuggling and his skill at conflict negotiation could lead one to dub him the Sherlock Holmes of Star Wars, but I also found many themes of racism/xenophobia prevalent throughout the book. Thrawn has to work twice as hard to complete the conflicts placed before him, yet is given little respect because he is an alien. He’s not just any alien, but a legendary Chiss, a race shrouded in mystery and legend.
Thrawn, however, continues to move through the ranks while his aide Eli stays a lowly ensign. While Thrawn takes the thinly veiled insults and general disdain projected at him in stride, Eli goes from resentful colleague to a trusted ally of Thrawn. And as Thrawn racks up victory after victory he can count on Eli’s strength even more as they come closer to an enemy that nearly matches Thrawn’s cunning: Nightswan.
This is a fantastic read! Zahn does a great job of guiding new fans to understand what makes Thrawn such a fan favorite along with giving us a look at two Imperial officers’ journeys through the treacherous waters of greed and status that are the lifeblood of The Empire.
I want so much more of this type of storytelling in the future.