Thoughts on the recent Thrawn trilogy and the Disney Star Wars books in general.
The new Thrawn trilogy of books is finished with its latest volume, Thrawn: Treason, released a couple of days ago. In this post I want to share some thoughts on what I think about the trilogy and, more generally, about the new Disney Star Wars books.
Source: Star Wars Wiki
Before we begin, it is important to explain who Thrawn is in the Star Wars Universe. Grand Admiral Thrawn is a strategist and tactical genius of the Galactic Empire. He is one of the few aliens to have ever served at the top of the chain of command of a xenophobic, human-centered galactic state. He hails from a civilization called the Chiss Ascendancy, which is located in the uncharted areas of the galaxy known as the Unknown Regions where the Empire does not have a presence. Thrawn made his first appearance in a series of books of the old continuity, rebranded by Disney as Legends after the purchase of the franchise.
Fans often say that Timothy Zahn’s character and story are one of the greatest accomplishments that continuity ever created. I completely agree and Thrawn is probably in the character’s top-five of the Star Wars Expanded Universe under either the late continuity of the new Disney one. Zahn, one of the most talented writers the franchise has, created a character that was intriguing, mysterious, resolute, almost emotionless but at the core a public servant committed to the protection of the Empire and the welfare of his subordinates. His motivations were not driven by pure power and selfishness, as with most high-ranking imperials (making their characters unidimensional and dull quite frankly), but by far more important purposes: protecting the galaxy at all costs. I know it seems odd, but back in the old continuity Thrawn chose to serve the Empire because a centralized and militarist state was better suited to confront an extra-galactic threat than the rebels, and eventually the New Republic, would ever be: The Yuuzang-Vong. At least for me, this gives depth to Thrawn’s character.
The premise and all these elements of Thrawn’s personality remain at the core of his character in Disney’s new continuity. However, unfortunately (and not because of Zahn’s fault), the new version does not fully capture the greatness of its Legends counterpart. The three books: Thrawn, Thrawn: Alliances, and Thrawn: Treason, are entertaining and provide interesting background information about the Chiss, but little else. While in Legends Thrawn turns out to be the main antagonist of the fledging New Republic, in the Disney continuity his actions are severely constrained by the timeline. Before the full trilogy of books came out the TV show Star Wars: Rebels already showed us Thrawn’s ambiguous end. Additionally, in the new continuity he joins the Empire earlier and, therefore, there is no much room for the character or the plot to grow in unforeseen directions because the author has to respect the events of the original movies. The same applies with what happens after Episode VI, we know there is a new trilogy set thirty years after leaving no space for Thrawn to take center stage in galactic events.
Thrawn in the Star Wars TV show: Rebels
In the new continuity he displays all the characteristics of his old-self but in more contained and controlled spaces. This means that instead of becoming a key player in galactic events, he is mostly relegated to minor tasks, to face more distractions than threats. The first book (and for me probably the most interesting one) focuses on his capture by the Empire, his enrollment in the military, his mission to finish pirate raids and rebel activity in some sectors, and his eventual rise to the rank of Grand Admiral. The second one occurs in two different timelines, one present and the other in the past, during the Clone Wars. Here we learn that Thrawn worked briefly with Anakin back in the day, and that the Empire has a potential extra-galactic threat in the form of a new alien species, the Grysk. The last one is mostly about dealing with an expeditionary intrusion of the Grysk in imperial space, and an internal power struggle between Grand Admirals. In other words, Thrawn is relegated to handle threats that are below the standards of his Legends counterpart.
That does not mean that the new version is less interesting or threatening. For example, he is close to the Emperor, found about project Stardust (A.K.A The Death Star) through his own research before the battle station was even operational, and knows that Anakin and Vader are the same person. But despite all of this his talents seem wasted. The season finale of Rebels has left his fate unknown, but we know he is not dead. In any case, the whole point is that the creativity of talented writers is constrained by what Disney allows them to tell. This has the consequence of having good stories with rich backgrounds and lore but little else in terms of expectations. My critique can be applied to many other books that have come out in the new continuity (with the exception of maybe the Aftermath Trilogy). Just compare the whole Yuuzang-Vong arch, the old Thrawn books or the Fate of the Jedi series in the old continuity to see that those ones told stories that had long term repercussions for the galaxy.
To conclude I am not criticizing Star Wars writers who make a wonderful job in expanding the franchise through several media. I praised them and I am thankful to them. My point is that we might have to wait until Disney has planned the next years or even decades of the franchise before it gives authors freedom to develop major plots without contradicting or overlapping with the jewels of the crown: the movies and TV series. It sucks but I believe this will be a temporary issue and hopefully Disney will soon give more freedom to writers to create not only entertaining stories but compelling ones.