Share this:

Mitth’raw’nurudo (or just Thrawn to us non-Chiss folks) was first introduced in 1991 as part of the then ‘expanded universe’ of Star Wars. His introduction as a blue skinned, red eyed imperial in Heir to the Empire written by Timothy Zahn, skyrocketed his popularity within the Star Wars fandom of the 1990’s. His role as the new big bad post Return of The Jedi was expanded on greatly throughout several books over the years. Grand Admiral Thrawn soon became one of the most popular and well known characters of the expanded universe.

With the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012, it would be several years before Thrawn would make his grand return (and this time into the actual canon of the universe.) His first appearance was in the Star Wars Rebels season 3 episode “Steps into Shadow” which aired in 2016. Thrawn was now a big part of the Empire during the height of its power, causing trouble for the rebel crew throughout seasons 3 and 4 of the show. 

Now back in canon, Thrawn would see yet another resurgence in popularity amongst fans. Author Timothy Zahn, his creator, was brought back to the Star Wars sandbox to write new books to expand on the lore and also Thrawn’s origins with the Empire. Two book trilogies later, Thrawn is nowadays a fully realised character in current canon and is officially set to make his first ever live action appearance in Ahsoka, the latest Disney+ show in the Star Wars universe.

This review will cover the first canon book written by Timothy Zahn, Thrawn. The book was written in 2017 and details Thrawn’s rise through the ranks of the Empire and his inevitable “Grand Admiral” status.

[Warning: My review contains minor spoilers for Thrawn. (But no major plot reveals!)]

Character focus on Thrawn, Eli Vanto, and Arinhda Pryce

Timeline wise, Thrawn covers several years in the Reign of the Empire era of Star Wars. Beginning not long after The Empire has been established and finishing right before season 3 of Star Wars Rebels, segwaying into Thrawn’s appearance in the show. 

Thrawn is a very character-focused novel, none more so than when Zahn introduces the pov’s we get from the main characters. There is of course Thrawn, but also his translator and friend, Eli Vanto and also Arinhda Pryce (also known as Governor Pryce), another character from Star Wars Rebels who is also an overarching villain in the show. These three main protagonists’ stories are almost echoes of each other with varying differences of their time in the Empire and how they manage to rise through the ranks and how it affects them and their families.

Eli Vanto is painted as a very reluctant protagonist by Zahn. When he and Thrawn first meet it becomes very clear Eli is the only one that can help Thrawn and so is grudgingly partnered up with him as Thrawn’s translator, eventually serving under him as an Ensign. Despite this, we do see real camaraderie and friendship blossom between the two as the book develops.

Eli relaxes into his role, helping to guide Thrawn through the hurdles of the Empire and the politics at play which may hinder his progression.We get a lot of the book through Eli’s point of view and so, we get to see Thrawn at his best and also most personal.

Running almost parallel to Thrawn and Eli’s side of the story, Arihnda Pryce’s story is just as interesting. However, her rise through the ranks of the Empire is far more dramatic. 

Politics is a big part of Thrawn, with Timothy Zahn really delving deep into how the Empire operates not only on Coruscant but also in the outer reaches of the galaxy. The politics of the Empire is messy, dangerous and ruthless and Imperials well known to Star Wars fans from across the films and shows are brought into the book in order to help demonstrate the powers at play in the political world.

We see a lot of this through Arinhda’s eyes as she spends a great deal of the book on Coruscant, the heart of the Empire. Bribery, betrayal and brutalness are what Arinhda faces as she tries to reach the top of the imperial food chain whilst dealing with the petty squabbles of other Imperials. Despite many setbacks throughout her journey, Arinhda does end up on top and it is very interesting to read about just how nasty and low she had to go to get there, echoing the Imperials that stood in her way.

Throughout the book Zahn cleverly gets readers to question the morality of the characters. You can at some moments find yourself cheering for them as they overcome some chapters long challenge or manage to get revenge in the best way. This is very intelligently written by Zahn as despite these characters being villains that serve the Empire, you can feel sympathy for them all at several points throughout the book.

Thrawn by Timothy Zahn and Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston

By the climax, you are quickly brought back to reality to remember just how heartless these characters can be, setting some of them up perfectly for their introductions into Star Wars Rebels. This really helps Thrawn feel like a prequel to the series on top of being an introduction into the mind of the Grand Admiral.

The rise of the Grand Admiral

At the start of each chapter we are given a slice of journal entries written by Thrawn, detailing some of his tactics, ideals and thoughts. Despite this we are never let into the full extent of Thrawn’s psyche throughout the book, more given little inklings of his thought process and Sherlock style observations of other characters’ expressions and feelings.

Thrawn does feel like a detective novel at times, with his plans often taking a long while to pay off. These payoffs are well worth the wait however and you often find out about them at the same time as other characters in the scene adding to the brilliance.

A lot of the story of Thrawn revolves around this cat and mouse game between himself and the “villain” of the book simply codenamed Nightswan. Both characters play very well off of each other and Zahn brilliantly gives us an almost Sherlock and Moriarty-esque story, with both sides thinking up equally elaborate ways to catch the other out.

Final thoughts on Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

There is absolutely plenty to love about Thrawn. Whether it is the characters themselves or the connections to the wider Star Wars universe or even Zahn’s phenomenal writing style. The book gives us plenty of interesting, powerful and character driven moments throughout its pages and once the book gets going, it becomes increasingly hard to put it down.

It may be a bit of a slower book than some are used too and the action is sparse in parts but is very well thought out, brilliantly showing off the tactical mind of Thrawn. It’s clear this book is a lot about family, whether it is found family, or blood relations. All the main characters are seemingly thrust into the cogs of the Imperial machine and all have their reasons to rise through the ranks and protect the ones they love, maybe even from the Empire itself. 

Thrawn is a highly recommended book, not only is it a phenomenal read but the way it acts as a de facto prequel to Star Wars Rebels, just adds to the “must read” necessity I believe this book holds. It is perfect for any level of Star Wars fan as many of the characters are new to the book and knowledge of the films is all that is required. 

With the Grand Admiral set to make his return to the galaxy in Disney+’s Ahsoka series, it may be a good idea to read up on his origins so you know just the kind of villain the galaxy is about to face!

My rating: 10/10

Thrawnis available now in paperback, hardcover, e-book and as audiobook . In addition, a graphic novel adaptation of the book is also available, having just been reprinted!

Have you read Thrawn? Will you read it now? What do you think of the Ahsoka series so far? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord!

Grand Admiral Thrawn Companion Guide

Admiral Thrawn Companion Guide

Ahsoka Tano Companion Guide

ahsoka companion guide

Book Review: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi From a Certain Point of View

Return of the Jedi from a Certain Point of view Banner

Share this: