Good day, everyone! It has been some time since I last wrote a blog post in this series, but I assure you I have been reading quite a bit. In fact, you can see some of my other escapades over at the Apostrophe Box Blog. That said, I want to turn your attention to my most recently completed novel reading—Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars: Thrawn. I have been running wild on Star Wars hype since seeing the new movie (which I loved and will blog about soon), so much so that I commend Candice’s patience with how much I’ve been talking about it. Thrawn is but the first of several new Star Wars novels I plan to work my way through.
I know that Disney’s acquisition of Star Wars and the subsequent dissolution of the old Expanded Universe of novels, comics, and video games still rubs people the wrong way, and I count myself in that number. Believe me; I recognize that you can argue that Star Wars remained as popular as it did between The Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace because of novel and comic book writers’ labors of love to keep the franchise alive. I also recognize that a lot of those stories were becoming a bit of a mess, but there were a lot of things worth salvaging. I hope to see more of those things as time passes, but I am overjoyed that Grand Admiral Thrawn is the first big book character to be ushered into the new canon.
Though I have only read Heir to the Empire from Timothy Zahn’s original Thrawn novels, I am working my way up to reading the rest of them. From what I remember of Heir, the titular Thrawn has not changed much—an outcast officer of the mysterious Chiss race who is an incomparable tactician and appreciator of the fine arts, primarily because he can diagnose a culture’s military behaviors simply by observing trends in their artwork. That aside, this is an origin story for Thrawn and his entry into service to the Empire that can easily stand as a prequel to Zahn’s other novels, though it will most assuredly find itself an honored place in Disney’s new canon as time passes and Zahn continues releasing Thrawn’s further adventures. From here on, there may be some spoilers for Thrawn, but I will do my best to avoid them, simply because I wish to talk a bit about the character himself without ruining the book for anyone who may wish to read it after finding this post, or who is curious about the new Star Wars novels in general.
I have to say, it is at times uncomfortable liking Thrawn, though you cannot help it. On the surface, Thrawn is a loyal servant of the Empire and of Palpatine himself, and many other writers on the Internet—and in pop-culture generally—have drawn apt comparisons between the Empire and any number of real world fascist regimes. (A discussion of the political complexities within Thrawn and how the character navigates them could form another post entirely, and may yet should the interest persist.) So, as a reader, you are left following the thoughts of a brilliant commander who reveals himself to not be a very bad person at all, but you still must ask why he allies himself with the Empire. Besides the obvious, that the Empire is the single largest, wealthiest, and most militaristically powerful government in the entire galaxy, Thrawn has other reasons for joining the Imperial Navy that become clear as the novel progresses.
But, we are still left following, and begrudgingly admiring, what is, effectively, a fascist character. I must admit, though, that I admire Thrawn and his methods—he certainly delivers results. And I feel that some comparisons with other popular characters with similar leanings, but who are complex enough to transcend those labels, may yield potent fruit in this brief discussion of the character’s traits.
First off, I cannot help but think of Obergruppenführer John Smith of Amazon’s version of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle when I consider Thrawn. Though Smith is an ardent Nazi who follows the party line to the letter, his loyalties were not always so—he was initially a decorated officer in the United States Army, and his love of his family clearly trumps everything. As the series progresses, many viewers develop a grudging respect for Smith because, in a world where the evil empire has already won, humanity can do far worse than having a man like Smith in a position of power.
Though I am always on the lookout for these sorts of characters, something about Thrawn also makes me think of Thaal Sinestro of DC’s Green Lantern stories. Sinestro, effectively a former Green Lantern gone rogue, is a character who is a celebration of the ends justifying the means. Sinestro is not truly evil, but he will gladly carry out small evil deeds to accomplish a greater good. The inner workings of Thrawn’s mind, as well as his hidden motivations, adhere strongly to this character slant, and if you like DC Comics but need an in for Star Wars, here you go.
I genuinely enjoyed Thrawn, and I read it with a voraciousness I haven’t felt for a book in quite a while. Whether you are a fan of Star Wars, military science fiction generally, or characters in evil places choosing to make morally ambiguous decisions for the greatest possible benefit to the greatest number of people involved, this novel is for you. Don’t just take my word for it, though; go out and give this one a shot!
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