For longtime Star Wars readers, Grand Admiral Thrawn has long been considered one of the greatest villains in the storied franchise's history. Originally introduced in the 1991 novel Heir to the Empire, the repercussions of Thrawn and his legacy were felt in the Expanded Universe for decades. Now, Thrawn has been reintroduced into the Star Wars saga once more - first appearing as the primary antagonist in the third season of Star Wars Rebels, and now as the titular character in the novel, Thrawn. It is only fitting that Timothy Zahn, the author that created Thrawn, would have the opportunity to reintroduce him to readers.
In Thrawn, we are given the history behind Thrawn's rise to power in the Empire. The story spans several years, and is mostly told from Thrawn's point of view. Whereas Thrawn was always something of a mystery in the Expanded Universe, Thrawn focuses on the titular character with a much brighter spotlight. There is still an air of mystery about him, but it's not quite as maddening as his previous appearances. Thrawn has always been a master strategist, and his brilliance is highlighted in Thrawn time and time again. Whereas some might grow weary of his consistent ability to beat the odds and outthink every opponent, fans of the Chiss Grand Admiral will likely devour the scenes with glee. Thrawn is given an interesting flaw in this story, with his brilliance as a tactician standing in stark contrast with his lack of political acumen. The flaw, however, feels a bit forced in Thrawn. Over and over, Thrawn makes the right strategic choice - and typically, this leads to political problems. In that light, it's not much of a flaw - and certainly not given the nuance that it deserves.
There are some additional secondary characters that appear throughout Thrawn, with the largest roles belonging to Eli Vanto and Arihnda Pryce. Eli serves as Thrawn's aide. He's a young graduate of the Imperial Academy, and he's the character that the reader will most bond with. We see the alien nature of Thrawn, and his strategic brilliance, through his eyes. Like Thrawn, he is an outsider. We watch as Thrawn subtly manipulates him, oftentimes in ways that are difficult to piece together until the very end. In many ways, Eli is very similar to the role that Gilad Pellaeon served in the Expanded Universe stories.
Arihnda Pryce was an exceedingly interesting choice to use in Thrawn, but it was definitely a great one. Fans of Star Wars Rebels know her as Governor Pryce, the severe governor of Lothal and frequent adversary of the rebels. In Thrawn, we get Pryce's backstory too. Her climb to political power is juxtaposed with Thrawn's climbing the ranks of the Imperial Navy, and Pryce arguably has the biggest evolution in the story. Whereas Thrawn is always portrayed as a brilliant mind, it is Pryce who has the biggest growth. Her character arc is incredibly believable - and it helps to flesh out a Star Wars Rebels character that little is known about.
Thrawn is a hefty read, clocking in at over 400 pages. There's a lot to be gleaned from those pages, but it's also hard to not feel disappointed once the last page is turned. Because of Star Wars Rebels, the fates of Thrawn and Pryce are already known. There's no sense of urgency when they are placed in danger. No matter what is thrown at them, readers know where they end up. In addition, Thrawn and Pryce are both villains - and as a result, it's sometimes hard to root for them. To be fair, Thrawn is shown as more of an antihero than a villain, but Pryce's situations are written in a way to make us pity her and root for her - even though the person she ends up becoming is just as vile as those she is pitted against.
Another problem with Thrawn is the long timeline. The book spans several years, and often jumps forward in time without much warning to the reader. This helps to give the impression that Thrawn exists just to jump from scene to scene, highlighting Thrawn's rise to the inevitable Grand Admiral rank. It also doesn't help that the period of time between Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One/A New Hope has been extensively focused on lately. Does every story need to name drop the Death Star? Thrawn certainly didn't - but it does. Really, it's to highlight Thrawn's incredible brilliance. But with Thrawn's portrayal in Star Wars Rebels, where the heroes thwart him time and time again, the two portrayals don't exactly sync up.
The most interesting part of Thrawn is that, while the book takes place in the rebooted Star Wars storyline, it could easily take place in the Expanded Universe. Surprisingly, Thrawn's backstory is almost entirely the same as it was in the Expanded Universe. There are some slight twists and deviations, and some oblique references to both Star Wars Rebels and Rogue One, but nothing particularly jarring. Not only is Thrawn's background virtually untouched (fans will be delighted that his full name is still Mitth’raw’nuruodo), but the little tidbits dropped about the Chiss Ascendency hint that the mysterious alien race hasn't changed much either. Zahn isn't reinventing the wheel with Thrawn, and longtime readers will be thankful for the reprieve.
Thrawn is a great addition to the Star Wars universe, with enough mystery and detective work to keep readers on the edge of their seat. Thrawn is a fun character, and he's unlike any other character in Star Wars. For those new to Thrawn's character, Thrawn is quite possibly the definitive book to introduce the infamous Chiss. Longtime Star Wars readers will be pleased at how easy it is to slip into this book and read a new Thrawn story. Thrawn is a great read, innocuous enough to satisfy all readers and yet still leaving enough threads dangling to demand a sequel.