My original Thrawn (Star Wars) audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.
Timothy Zahn returns to the Star Wars universe with Thrawn, the titular character that first appeared in print back in the 1990s and helped reignite fan’s interest in a galaxy far, far away. 1991, when Heir to the Empire was first published, presented a very desolate landscape for Star Wars fans, and was certainly a far cry from the series current-day resurgence. Back then, we only had three films – Episodes IV, V, and VI. There were no prequels, no other sequels, no real line of novels, video games, Funko Pops! and cartoon series. Fans were starved for more stories set in their favorite cinematic series. Timothy Zahn helped change all that with his initial Thrawn Trilogy, reintroducing us to the heroes of the Rebel Alliance cum New Republic five years after the The Return of the Jedi and the Battle for Endor. Right from the outset, Thrawn was a bold new villain and cunning strategist, and an immediately iconic one at that.
Nowadays, Star Wars is everywhere. The series of Expanded Universe novels was relaunched in the build-up for The Force Awakens, and a series of tie-in novels helped lay the new groundwork between Episodes VI and VII. One question that kept coming up among fans and readers was, Where is Grand Admiral Thrawn? Was there even a Grand Admiral Thrawn anymore, or had his enduring legacy between swept away in the relaunch?
Well, now we know. Thrawn is, indeed, a canonical part of the new Expanded Universe – and still an enormous threat for the galaxy to reckon with. With this novel, Zahn dives into origin story territory, detailing the blue-skinned alien’s rise to power within the xenophobic and fascistic Empire. For readers of Zahn’s original Thrawn novels, the character will be intimately familiar. This is still the same character, his keen intellect and powers of observation fully intact, and reintroduced into the Star Wars timeline between Episode III and Rogue One.
I, for one, am thrilled to have Thrawn back in action again. This is a thinking-man’s villain, one who uses his brains above all else, never relying solely on brawn and bluster to get through the day, but rather through sly, Sherlock Holmes’ style observation and chess-like maneuvers. It’s great to see him again outwitting his opponents and manipulating his way through the Empire’s ranks. The story suffers, though, with a side-plot revolving around Arihnda Price, an ex-miner forced by external powers into the Empire’s employ. The dual narratives provide insight into the political machinations of the Emperor’s regime, and it’s interesting to listen to how both maneuver through the Empire in order to meet their own goals. The biggest problem, though, is that Price’s story is a bit dull with its focus on politics and takes a long while to really get anywhere. The same is slightly true of Thrawn’s narrative as well. While it’s interesting to see him work his way up the ranks, we also know how this story ends. The plot device hanging in the middle of this story, operating behind the scenes and driving Thrawn and Price toward their end-goals, is one that Star Wars fans will be able to peg right from the outset.
Thrawn presents little in the way of surprise, and given the nature of the Empire and the character’s carving their way into and through it, it’s also difficult to find reason to root for any of them. Anyone who is familiar with Star Wars knows exactly what the evil Empire is, what it’s all about, and what it represents. Do we really care, ultimately, if any of these characters succeed in reaching the top of Mount Evil, particularly in light of the story’s lack of worthwhile protagonists? Thrawn works well when we have a central heroic, good-guy (or gal) character to root for, and there’s none of that here. While Thrawn is interesting, it’s never really very exciting or fun, and it never reaches the heights of greatness exhibited in the original Thrawn Trilogy. Sadly, from a story perspective, this book’s a bit of a dud.
Thankfully, Marc Thompson’s narration is brilliant. After listening to his voice talents on Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars trilogy, I was really chomping at the bit to see what Marc would do with Zahn’s novel. In this respect, I was not the least bit disappointed. He presents a number of varied voices, tones, and speech patterns, and does an absolutely superb job all around. The use of sound effects and music throughout help up the ante on the production front, reminding us regularly with its familiar score and laser blasts that this is a legit Star Wars story.
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