I wanted to do something for America’s Independence Day, but I’m going to admit right now that it would be difficult for this post to be any more tangentially related to the holiday. You see, I’m celebrating the red, white, and blue by putting the spotlight on someone with red eyes, a white uniform, and blue skin: the one, the only (so long as clones don’t count), Grand Admiral Thrawn.
Thrawn made his first appearance in Heir to the Empire, the first book in what would come to be known as the Thrawn Trilogy. Designed by author Timothy Zahn to be a different sort of villain from the Force-users seen in the films, he nonetheless was a more than worthy adversary for Han, Luke, and Leia. Drawing on sources from Erwin Rommel to Sherlock Holmes, Thrawn was a tactical genius who, in a fun conceit, had the ability to analyze the art of his opponent’s species to read into their psyche and make tactical decisions. Though (20 year old, no longer canon Spoiler Alert) he died at the end of the Thrawn Trilogy, he’s made numerous appearances in the Expanded Universe since then, many of them by Timothy Zahn. I’ll run through the major ones not in chronological order, but in the order I think that readers might find most rewarding.
The Thrawn Trilogy: Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command
Much has been said on these series, so I’m not really adding much to the discourse here. Suffice it to say that they’re extremely well done books, a feat more impressive due to them being the first modern works in the Expanded Universe. That fact also makes them absolutely perfect books for people looking not just for an introduction to Thrawn, but the Expanded Universe/Legends at large. They aren’t perfect, but they’re a lot of fun to read and feature people who will become huge players in the EU, including Luke’s future wife, Mara Jade. Definitely, definitely check them out, and if you can, get your hands on the 20th Anniversary Edition hardcover of Heir to the Empire. It features notes in the margins by Zahn and his editor, Betsy Mitchell, giving some great insight into the novel. It also features a new short story written by Zahn that ties in very well to one of the works that’s going to be coming up soon.
Outbound Flight is the earliest in the timeline of all Thrawn’s major appearances, but a major purpose of the novel is to provide background and shine a light on a lot of things that first appeared in the Thrawn Trilogy. As such, I think it might be more enjoyable to read after those novels. One of the things Zahn did after Thrawn’s first appearance was to start tying him and his motivations to the threats lurking in the Unknown Regions of space, particularly the Yuuzhan Vong. It’s not explicitly stated that it’s them in Outbound Flight, but the implication of them is incredibly overt, and it makes for a nice connection.
Choices of One
Actually a sequel to Zahn’s earlier Allegiance, which didn’t feature Thrawn, Choices of One features him in a supporting but pivotal role. Taking place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Choices of One ties in nicely with both those movies and, thanks to the presence of several other returning characters, Zahn’s other work. In particular, this ties in quite well with A Crisis of Faith, the short story included with the anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire. Both feature warlord Nuso Esva, a warlord created as a Moriarty to Thrawn’s Sherlock (seriously, do a letter shift on Esva’s name: consonants up one consonant, vowels up one vowel). The short story introduced Esva, but also featured the end of Thrawn’s campaign against him. If you don’t mind knowing how it all ends, start with that before this.
The Hand of Thrawn duology: Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future
These marked the end of the Bantam era of publishing, just as Zahn’s original trilogy marked the beginning. Taking place the furthest in the timeline of the books listed here, they don’t actually feature Thrawn alive. That being said, his presence is still very much felt throughout the novels, and it’s fun seeing the sense of dread that overcomes the heroes as they start to worry that Thrawn may have returned to finish what he started. Just as a fun aside, Vision of the Future is the longest Star Wars novel, clocking in at 694 pages. Just more for you to love.
– I didn’t originally plan on this turning into an article telling you how great Timothy Zahn is, but it kinda turned out that way. It’s not my fault, I swear: as Thrawn’s creator, he has a better handle on the character than anyone.
– Thrawn has gotten a lot of love in terms of merchandise produced of him. He was one of the first EU characters to get an action figure, way back in the ’90s, he got another one produced more recently, Sideshow Collectibles made a 1:6 scale figure of him, including a version that came with a pretty nifty command chair, and Gentle Giant produced a bust of him.
– The Thrawn trilogy got adapted by Dark Horse into a series of comic books. If you don’t like reading but love pictures, check that out.
– Choices of One actually had different cover art for its paperback release, and I like it a lot more than the original. I found it for sale as a print here. It still features Mara Jade on the cover, don’t worry.
– Grant Gould did a tribute to the Thrawn Trilogy as his print for Star Wars: Celebration earlier this year. Fittingly called “The Legend of Thrawn” (because of the Legends continuity, get it?), I proudly have a copy hanging on my wall.