Star Wars: Thrawn – Treason (a review)

Hey everybody,
So I’m trying to catch up here with all of the books that I’ve read so far this autumn (although there haven’t been all that many, truth be told!) and today it’s time for the conclusion to the new Thrawn trilogy, Treason!

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#nowReading #StarWars #Thrawn

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After the events of the second book, I had decent hopes for the third. Any book with the Emperor on the cover has got to be worth reading, right?

The novel takes place sometime after a raid on the TIE Defender assembly line on Lothal by Hera Syndulla and Kanan Jarrus, which I believe was featured in an episode of Rebels. Thrawn is desperate to secure funding for the project, but unfortunately Director Krennic’s Stardust project is eating up Imperial resources, and Tarkin informs the Grand Admiral that there isn’t enough to go around. Stardust has been put back a little by the problem of grallocs – larger cousins to mynocks – attacking the shipping points, so to settle the problem of funding, Tarkin suggests a wager – if Thrawn can solve Krennic’s problem within one week, the Defender project will receive funding. If not, any additional funds will be plowed straight into Stardust. Tarkin and Grand Admiral Savit both approve the plan, and Tarkin, who has designs to take over the Stardust project one day, quietly tells Savit to help Thrawn however he can.

Krennic leaves Thrawn with his aide, Ronan, to effectively try to ensure the problem is resolved, but outside of the week stipulated by Tarkin. This felt a bit weird to me, if I’m honest, as it seemed like quite the flimsy premise for a book, although in retrospect I suppose it was quite indicative of how irresponsible the upper echelons of the Imperial military can be…

There is a lot of politicking between the moffs and grand admirals that pepper the book, with each trying to claim credit over the other. Krennic admits to Ronan that he wants to claim the credit for solving the gralloc problem for himself, which is perhaps symptomatic of the man himself, as we see him in Rogue One: Catalyst pretty much using Galen Erso’s scientific prowess to bolster his own position.

Meanwhile, however, Thrawn manages to deduce that the grallocs are not eating ships, but that the attacks appear to be a ruse to steal their cargo. The Chimera follows one such lost ship’s vector, and the Imperials find the ship and its crew murdered on an abandoned space station.

The Imperials have attracted the attention of a Chiss patrol ship under the command of Admiral Ar’alani, under whom is serving none other than Eli Vanto. While their reunion is far from friendly, Thrawn and the Chiss begin to work together to get to the bottom of the larger threat, that of the Grysks. Backtracking further along the ship’s vector, they find a cloaked warship at an asteroid base and engage in a brief skirmish, destroying the Grysks and discovering a young Chiss navigator named Un’hee being used by them. Ar’alani believes that Un’hee can allow the Chiss to discover the location of the Grysks’ base, and destroy the alien threat once and for all. Despite Ronan’s protests that the Grysks have nothing to do with the grallocs, and calling Thrawn’s loyalty into question, Thrawn believes that the Grysks pose a very real threat to the Empire, having already penetrated far into Imperial space, and so continues on with Ar’alani.

Vanto is given the task of sifting through data on the missing Stardust supply ships, and deduces that the contents of 28 of these ships had enough parts to make a total of eight complete turbolaser batteries. Suspicion falls on Governor Haveland, the governor in charge of the sector, and Thrawn dispatches Vanto and Ronan to the Aloxor system in an attempt to find out what Haveland is up to.

The mission uncovers that local smugglers are moving goods through the system on orders of Grand Admiral Savit. Vanto and Ronan are almost captured as spies, but rescued by an ISB operative sent by Colonel Yularen as a favour to Thrawn. They learn that the smugglers are moving the gas used as bait for the grallocs, adding a further dimension to the proceedings.

Meanwhile, Thrawn and Ar’alani track the Grysks to a communications hub, and manage to defeat the aliens and rescue some of the original pirates behind the Imperial thefts. Thrawn and Ar’alani manage to destroy the Grysk threat, before Thrawn then travels to the Sev Tok system to rendezvous with Savit. There, he confronts the corrupt Grand Admiral with proof of his illicit dealings, all encrypted on a data card that uses an encryption key reserved for sole use by the grand admirals. Savit, under pressure, admits that Stardust has been bleeding the Imperial navy dry, and his principle concern was to ensure vital supplies could find their way to the navy. Savit attempts to defeat Thrawn, but the nature of his treason loses him command of his men, and Thrawn prevails.

Ronan’s report to Krennic and Tarkin is that Thrawn failed to eliminate the grallocs in time. Tarkin promises to divert funding to Thrawn once Stardust has been completed. Thrawn determines to return to Lothal, and Tarkin assigns Captain Pellaeon to the Chimera to assist him.

The new Thrawn trilogy has been a bit uneven, for me. While each book has its good parts and bad, there is always that nagging feeling at the back of my mind, that this isn’t the Thrawn trilogy that I know and love so much. That said, the trilogy did get better as it moved along, reaching a high point with the second book, and then seeing a slight falling-off in the third (in my opinion).

See, Treason is based on a bet that Thrawn cannot solve the gralloc problem for Krennic within a week. That feels like such a flimsy premise for a story, especially when you look at how that story unfolds, with the fight against the Grysks. As I said earlier, it does reveal perhaps more than I’d first thought about the upper echelons of the Empire, and how a lot of this stuff is like a game for them. But it just felt a little bit off, somehow.

Thrawn is much as we know him to be, once more, which was heartening after the Thrawn-at-school that we had in the first book. Eli Vanto is back, so we get to see a bit of what has been going on with him, though I felt the payoff between him and Thrawn felt a little bit lacking, somehow. Vanto seems to have embraced his life among the Chiss a little too limply, for me. I don’t know – I kept expecting more from that part of the story, and didn’t really get it in the end.

There is a lot going on in this book, and for that, I really liked it. The stuff with the Chiss added an extra layer to the story, which made this book feel like more than just the general Empire vs Rebels stuff we’re used to seeing for this timeframe. The sub-plot with Vanto and Ronan was almost like a return to the Zahn books of old, as we see the fringe through his eyes like nobody else seems able to capture. I do like Thrawn, but maybe we could get more Zahn books in the vein of Scoundrels? Far-flung, dusty worlds with battered and worn cantinas, street-toughs and crime bosses are all realised in a very Zahn-esque way, and I do love it!

Seeing Krennic and the Stardust project once more was a bit of a surprise, as it has almost begun to feel like he might be the sort of character we’ll never really get to now that his story has basically been told through Catalyst and Rogue One, so that was nice.

All in all, I think Treason was a decent end to the series, managing to continue the story, wrapping up some aspects while – potentially – setting up the future. Thrawn is now with Pellaeon on the Chimera, do we think that Disney means to make the Thrawn Trilogy canon, after all? Who the hell knows…

What we do know, however, is that Zahn will be back with The Ascendancy Trilogy, starting next May…

Star Wars: Thrawn – Alliances (a review)

After reading a lot of Black Library novels of late, I’m back in the GFFA with Thrawn – Alliances! And I made a video too!

This book picks up a number of years after the first, and we find Thrawn and Vader tasked by the Emperor to undertake a mission on the edge of Wild Space, starting on the planet Batuu. As it turns out, Thrawn has previously undertaken a mission on the very same planet back during the Clone Wars, when he partnered up with Anakin Skywalker while the Jedi General was trying to rescue his wife from the hands of the Separatists, and the novel is told as much in flashbacks as it is in the “present” time.

The second Thrawn book is a lot better than the first, in my humble view. Whether it’s just down to the fact that it isn’t really showing Thrawn as a military cadet, or whether because the story is a lot more established this time around, it’s just a lot better.

Thrawn is pretty much Thrawn during both storylines, although I thought it was interesting seeing how he plays along with the subservient role to Vader despite almost always pushing his luck there. As it turns out, Thrawn is well aware of who Vader is, something that I have always been quite fascinated about in the lore, as not many people really make the connection in-universe. It’s almost a bargaining chip that he has, and just when Vader is beginning to perhaps throw his weight around a bit too much, Thrawn just reminisces about the time he met Anakin Skywalker. Even though Thrawn has to play along with being intimidated by him, even if it is only up to a point, you get the impression that Thrawn is really the one in charge, and Vader is at his best when he’s just an intimidating thug.

Which, of course, is a shame, because Vader has been portrayed in this manner a number of times now in the new canon, yet he is just so much more than that – or, at least, he should be. While I’m not about to go into a massive critique of this here, I do feel a bit that Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side in Revenge of the Sith was just so very poorly executed, and ever since he has come across a bit like a gullible idiot.

But anyway!

In the Clone Wars-era timeline, Thrawn is a little more self-assured, as he teams up with Anakin in an attempt to gather information about the Clone Wars as a whole. This was perhaps my favourite part of the book, as it turned out, despite being laden with the reason why Jedi should never marry. Indeed, Anakin being trained as a whole was just a big mistake, as we can see quite glaringly from how impetuous he is. That he was even made a Knight, let alone a General, is quite beyond me. It’s frustrating, because at times he does come across with some military nous. But I suppose that is a product, in part, of having multiple authors write him.

There is much more a sense of mystery to the earlier storyline, however, which is why I think I prefer it. It’s also interesting to see Padme in action, however flimsy the premise, so I appreciate that as well. I did like the fact that the storyline almost had a damsel-in-distress feel to it but, very much like Luke Skywalker’s rescue of Princess Leia from the Death Star, we see the damsel is actually a lot more capable of looking after herself than anybody gives her credit for.

The book is notable for taking place on Batuu, specifically at Black Spire Outpost – remember L3 making the comment in Solo about Lando needing her to fly there? This is going to be the next huge thing for Star Wars and Disney (not counting episode ix, I guess, though the lack of any info on that is getting me a little concerned now!) A “Star Wars Land” within the resorts at Anaheim and Orlando, I believe, Black Spire is the setting not only for theme park rides, but also a comic book series and at least one novel. For a while now, we’ve been seeing a tendency for Disney’s new canon to look more at the Unknown Regions than perhaps we’re used to from the old EU, most blatantly at the end of the Aftermath trilogy with the relocation of the Imperial Remnant there, and it makes me wonder whether there’s something afoot to maybe re-establish some of the old EU stuff but then move the action to the Unknown Regions so they can continue telling their own tales. Who knows. The exciting thing about all of this, though, is that the galaxy is feeling fresh once more – rather than feeling a bit lost in the wilderness, with new books attempting to establish new planets for the sake of it, or else rehashing the movie stuff as if there is no wider galaxy to acknowledge, we’ve got a genuinely unknown area of space to explore here, with some significant stories to tell if the Imperial Remnant is in fact still out there. I think it’s this aspect of it all that has got me the most excited, so I can’t wait to see what’s coming from this! I just hope it’s good Star Wars storytelling, you know?

At any rate, I thought Thrawn: Alliances was a great deal better than the earlier novel, and while I still mourn for the loss of the original Thrawn trilogy, I still have high hopes for the third book in the series, Thrawn: Treason.

The Hand of Thrawn

Hey everybody!
I’ve been rambling a lot in my recent blogs about Warhammer stuff, but it’s time for a change of scenery today as I switch over to my other obsession, Star Wars, and the Tim Zahn duology from 1997-8, The Hand of Thrawn!

The Hand of Thrawn

I first read these novels years ago now, completely out of sequence as I had just finished Zahn’s seminal trilogy, the Thrawn Trilogy, and was hungry for more! It was the summer after my GCSE exams had been finished, and I was free to read whatever I wanted, rather than trying to catch chapters of The Last Command in between revising physics, or whatever.

Specter of the Past begins with the discovery of a badly damaged copy of The Caamas Document – a datacard that details the Bothan saboteurs involved in the destruction of the planet Caamas long before the Clone Wars. The planet’s inhabitants, the Caamasi, were well-known peacekeepers and valued mediators, and the destruction of their world was cause for galactic outcry back in the day. The discovery that there were Bothans involved leads the New Republic almost to civil war, as several species come down either on the side of wanting to make the Bothans pay for their crime, or else on the side of those who believe a more peaceful solution is needed. Of course, plenty of folks are just using the discovery of the document to reignite old hatreds and resume petty conflicts that the Empire had pretty much put on hold.

While Leia attempts to keep the New Republic from fracturing too much, Luke is off trying to discover who is backing the Cavrilhu Pirates into attacking New Republic shipping, with what he believes to be clone pilots. His investigation almost leads to his death at their asteroid base, but Mara Jade manages to rescue him and, as they’re leaving the system, they notice an odd type of TIE-fighter lurking in the asteroid field.

Turns out, the renegade Imperial Moff Disra has been using the Pirates as part of his plan to restore the Empire to greatness, a plan that involves resurrecting Grand Admiral Thrawn through the use of the con artist known as Flim, and the tactical acumen of a Major Tierce, former Imperial Guardsman to the Emperor. He sets a plan in motion to cause said civil war above Bothawui, using elements from Imperial Intelligence to forment riots and general dissension over the Caamas issue, leading our heroes to try and find an intact copy of the Caamas Document, and name those Bothans responsible for destroying the shield generator, rather than holding the entire species accountable.

This is the background, and the duology takes us through the sort of galaxy-spanning epic that we expect from Zahn in his Bantam era. It really has that sort of feel that we know from the earlier trilogy – our heroes flying across the galaxy, visiting planets we have never heard of and encountering a whole load of weird aliens along the way. While Admiral Pellaeon is trying to sue for peace with the New Republic, Disra’s plans lead to a more subtle conflict with the Empire at first, which is a different change of pace for pretty much any Bantam novel. There is a lot of the shadow war with Imperial Intelligence, and while Flim’s Thrawn impersonation is seemingly flawless, he is nevertheless kept almost hidden from view, with merely the rumour of his return being cause enough to send the New Republic into a frenzy. The civil war is balanced along a knife edge that almost runs on too long, but is nevertheless built up really very well.

One of my earliest gripes with this novel was the fact that Zahn seemingly felt the need to bring Thrawn back from the dead. Of course, the book is pretty much from the off about a con game and we know it, but it did feel a bit like he couldn’t think up a more convincing villain for the heroes to go up against, so he just brought the earlier one back. Of course, when you get to the end of the book, and reflect on the story as a whole, it actually works really well.

We get to meet Thrawn’s people, the Chiss, and learn that Thrawn had in fact set up a clone of himself to return to known space ten years after his death, should that come to pass. Irony of ironies, it’s been ten years and now Disra puts his plan into action. The Chiss almost enter the war on the side of the Imperial Remnant, but by the end of Vision of the Future, it appears that they’re content instead to sit this one out, keeping their focus on the myriad threats of the Unknown Regions.

I find it interesting to go back and re-read these old novels, and compare them with what we have now from Disney. While I don’t feel that The Hand of Thrawn has held up as well as The Thrawn Trilogy, I still think there is a lot of good stuff in here, and it’s a shame to see so much of it just thrown out, really. The idea of the Unknown Regions holding some unimaginable threat was never really picked up on, of course, Vision of the Future was one of the last novels Bantam got to publish before Del Rey got the licence back and started the New Jedi Order off. However, the Aftermath trilogy does feel a bit like it’s picking up on this idea of the Unknown Regions and the threats there, having the Imperial Remnant following the Battle of Jakku head off there. What is going on, I wonder?¬†Of course, Disney has managed to open up so much of the Star Wars galaxy once more, and really make it feel like a huge place, so we’re probably fine for now to leave the Unknown Regions as they are…

Naturally, given when this duology was published, Zahn has got a lot more Star Wars lore to pull from this time around, rather than having to make the whole lot up for himself, and there are a lot of references to Mike Stackpole’s work, particularly the Rogue Squadron comics. Baron Fel makes an appearance, and Corran Horn is something of a major second-tier character. Zahn and Stackpole are friends, of course, so that isn’t unexpected, but it does feel weird that we get that sort of detail this time around. There is also reference made to both the Black Fleet Crisis books and the Callista trilogy, though these do feel a little forced at times.

In the midst of all the chaos, we of course get to catch up with Talon Karrde and his organisation, and get to see a lot of the smuggler chief’s history. It was interesting to see this sort of thing expanded upon, and we get a lot of links back to The Thrawn Trilogy and some of the plot points that were left hanging from that series are wrapped up. Notably, Mara Jade leaves the Karrde organisation at the end of the duology, although Karrde has already had an almost-replacement for her in the form of Shada D’ukal, the Mistryl Shadow Warrior from The Last Command. There is a lot of weaving of threads from earlier Zahn stories throughout the pair of books here, but I suppose Shada shows how far this goes when we get an almost synopsis of the short story Hammertong that Zahn wrote for Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina. I wouldn’t say the references are particularly necessary to enjoy the books – I certainly did enjoy them when I first read them back in the day, having only previously read Zahn’s trilogy and Crimson Empire up to that point. But there is another layer that can be enjoyed if you have indeed read through the myriad offerings of short stories in this way.

Prior to reading the pair this time around, I re-read Jade Solitaire from Tales of the New Republic, which merely serves to show why Talon Karrde has a Togorian working on his crew now, as well as giving Mara Jade her ship, Jade’s Fire, which is featured in a somewhat significant plot point in Vision of the Future. It’s not necessary, for sure, but does add a layer or two that can be enjoyed. For me, I think it just helps to harken back to those days when the narrative was keen to explain away every single point in the movies and beyond, and brings back a lot of nostalgia for me. Talon Karrde’s journey into the Exocron system has even got me wanting to dig out my copy of The DarkStryder Campaign! Maybe that can be the subject of another blog here soon…

Don’t get me wrong, of course – it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Far from it, I was actually surprised to discover that I didn’t rate this duology nearly as highly as I remembered. I think a lot of that is down to the fact that I have such fond memories of reading these books as a sixteen year old, that now I’ve come to expect more from my literature in general, I found them to be a bit lacking. There is quite an effort made, I feel, to recapture the spirit of the Thrawn Trilogy, almost to the point where it becomes annoying, and I find myself wishing that Zahn had branched out into a completely new direction. Elements of the storyline such as Karrde’s plot were a lot more refreshing, because they had the hint of the earlier trilogy without rehashing it as much as, say, the Luke and Mara trek through the caverns of Nirauan – which Luke actually explicitly compares with their trek through the forest on Myrkr. There are also some vaguely silly scenes, particularly around the Caamas Incident politics. It’s nice that we get reference to the senate being rebuilt following the Almanian Uprising, that does help to make the universe feel really coherent, but the fact that the senate is populated by weird senators, one of whom is jabbering on about needing to sit on her eggs, just feels too out there. Weird.

There were also a lot of elements that felt a lot more like fan fiction than perhaps they should have been. I probably need to elaborate a lot more on this, so here goes. Any movie tie-in like this can of course fall under the heading of fan-fiction, as that’s basically what it is. However, for official licensed media by Lucasfilm, novels like these should feel more like a continuation of the storyline, and while new characters of course need to be introduced to keep the narrative fresh, the way that new characters interact with movie ones is usually where these things fall down. During the Thrawn Trilogy, the interaction was superb, and it felt like these people truly inhabited the same universe as the movies. But when you get a character (or characters) being made into something “better” than the movie heroes, the whole situation can quickly devolve, and it feels a lot like that happens in the scenes where Mara is berating Luke for his actions over the last few years. I know why it was included, of course, as the Bantam novels did have a tendency to make Luke into a kind of demigod at times, but it smacks of something I particularly dislike from Stackpole’s novel I, Jedi, where Corran tells Luke off in such a manner that makes Corran out to be a much better person – maybe even a better Jedi – than Luke is. It makes me cringe so much, and unfortunately that does happen a couple of times in the course of Vision of the Future. It feels very much like Zahn is trying to re-set the narrative by taking Luke away from the god-like portrayal of other novels, and instead set him up for the next stage (which may or may not have involved fighting the unnamed threats of the Unknown Regions), but has the end result of almost returning him to the sort of farmboy he was in A New Hope.

That was a bit rambly, but hopefully you can follow my point!

There is still a tremendous amount to enjoy from these books, and I can definitely recommend you getting a hold of them if you can and giving them a read. While they pretty much have no bearing on the Star Wars narrative post-Disney, of course, they’re nevertheless some of the better books to come out of the Legends canon, and are still some of my favourites!

Star Wars: Thrawn (a review)

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Finished the new #Thrawn today! #StarWars

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At the weekend, I finished reading the latest new canon Star Wars novel, Thrawn. I know that this is becoming a theme for me with new canon novels lately, but if I’m being completely honest, I was not a fan.

The storyline follows Thrawn’s climb through the ranks of the Imperial Navy, starting with him attending the academy. Thrawn in school? Urgh. True, it isn’t quite the true Hogwarts experience, but… I mean, seriously?

Okay, so the story immediately starts with a basic retelling of the Mist Encounter short story written for the Adventure Journal, which details how Thrawn was discovered on an abandoned planet close to the border with the Unknown Regions by Voss Parck. Captain Parck returns here very briefly, as he discovers Thrawn and brings him to the Emperor as “a gift”. Turns out, Thrawn met Anakin Skywalker on some nebulous adventure during the Clone Wars, and the Emperor, believing his power to originate somewhere outside the known galaxy, wants to keep Thrawn close.

Thrawn is given the cadet Eli Vanto as a sort of translator/aide as the two go through the naval academy, graduate, and begin their career. We follow the two as they pursue smugglers and pirates, and tangle with the High Command as Thrawn inevitably shows up his superiors. In the middle of all of this, we also follow the career of Arihnda Pryce, who hails from the Outer Rim world of Lothal but travels through the Coruscant elite until she has enough dirt on high-ranking Imperials that she basically forces Tarkin to give her the governorship of Lothal. The character is one I’m not familiar with, though was convinced I’d heard the name somewhere – turns out she’s from Rebels, where I believe she’s kind of a badass. I still haven’t started watching that show yet, though. Her character development is a little jumpy as a result of trying to get her from A to B, though that is still symptomatic of Thrawn also, who sometimes feels like he went through years of growth in the space of a chapter.

Thrawn

Thrawn has been brought out of Legends and into the Star Wars canon proper thanks to his use in the Rebels cartoon. While I’m not against this fundamentally, as I’m all for keeping the classics alive, I’m a little dismayed that he doesn’t seem to be the same guy that I came to know and love from Heir to the Empire all those years ago. True, we have the art thing going on, and he’s still in command of the Chimaera (a point at which I actually cheered), but he doesn’t feel like the same guy who is in control of everything. Of course, this book tells his origin, but this brings me to the point I was getting at in the video above – did we need this story? His inclusion in Rebels seems to indicate that yes, we do, but for years we’ve pretty much made do with the couple of short stories by Zahn that show specific points in Thrawn’s life, and that’s been fine. Do we need to see Thrawn at school? Do we need to see him as Lieutenant, Commodore, Captain, and the like? I don’t think we do.

Something that I always appreciated about Thrawn as a character was the element of mystery that was involved there, how an alien had risen so high in the ranks of the largely xenophobic Empire. I mean, sure, we had a lot of snippets of info dropped throughout the years, but those snippets felt like they were a part of his legend, and that was enough. I also really enjoyed the fact that we never had a point-of-view scene from him – everything was always told through the filter of, primarily, Captain Pellaeon. Now, we’ve seen behind the curtain to some extent, and I’m not sure I want that.

Speaking of Pellaeon, his replacement appears to be Eli Vanto, who probably has the most character development of any of the characters. Vanto goes from a supply cadet to being on the frontline, and moves from being resentful and almost jealous of Thrawn’s career advancement, to content at being where he is, and improving in tactical nous and leadership. The novel ends with an epilogue that kinda confused the hell out of me, though, where Vanto suddenly appears in the Unknown Regions making contact with the Chiss Ascendancy on the recommendation(?) of Thrawn, who is now Grand Admiral. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and I have the strong feeling that there is going to be a sequel of some sort that will follow up on this. The sad thing for me, then, is that I don’t know if I’d actually want this…

This is really the biggest issue for me with this novel. As a book, it was fine, I think it was a fine story that is actually pretty enjoyable. The biggest problem for me is the fact that it’s about Thrawn. If it was any other character, I think I would have been really interested all the way through. But the baggage that I have from Heir to the Empire fandom really gets in the way, and I find that I really can’t get past that. Heir to the Empire will forever be among my top three (if not the top) Star Wars novels ever written, and this unfortunately just doesn’t really come close.