Review – Star Wars: Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn is the Best of the Trilogy
The highly anticipated sequel to Thrawn (2017) and Thrawn: Alliances (2018) by author Timothy Zahn has arrived, bringing the canonical Thrawn trilogy to its conclusion. Thrawn: Treason pits the imperial Grand Admiral Thrawn against a dangerous enemy from the unknown regions of the galaxy as he tries to uncover a plot against the Empire’s highly secretive Stardust project (a.k.a. Death Star). His mission, if successful, would secure funding for his own TIE Defender program, but Director Krennic would rather see those funds filtered into Stardust, a project that would ultimately render Thrawn’s Defender program insignificant. But Thrawn has his own reservations about the Empire putting all its eggs in the Stardust basket.
When a chance encounter puts the grand admiral back together with his old protégé, Eli Vanto, a year after sending him away to serve Thrawn’s own people in the Chiss Ascendancy, Thrawn’s Star Destroyer,Chimaera, and the Chiss ship, Steadfast, commanded by his old colleague, Admiral Ar’alani, must work together to thwart an alien threat while Thrawn also tries to weed out a traitor to the Empire along the way. But will his recent collaboration with an alien force and his seemingly divided loyalties paint him to be just as much of a traitor in the eyes of the Emperor? This review will be as spoiler free as possible, and I’ll make every attempt to avoid any plot specific details. Instead, I’ll give my overall thoughts on the book, speculate as to how it could impact the Star Wars franchise in the future, and discuss how it stacks up to Zahn’s original Thrawn trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command).
To get straight to the point, I really enjoyed this novel, and I think it’s the best of three books in the series. The grand admiral is more like the classic Thrawn that I remember from the legends continuity than he has been in any of the other recent stories. His tactical ability and military genius is on full display in this one, and as a fan of the character, I found his portrayal in Treason to be immensely satisfying. There’s a healthy dose of military strategy and political intrigue in this one, so if that stuff fascinates you as it does me, you’ll probably enjoy the book as well.
As much as I loved the book, it’s not without its minor flaws, so I’ll go ahead and get those out in the open right now. One of the issues I had, although the pacing is quite good for the most part, is that the second act felt like it was spinning its wheels for a bit. The story never came to a halt, and I didn’t struggle to finish it or anything, but compared to the first act that hooked me in pretty quickly and the final act that stuck the landing in a very satisfying way, I felt like the middle of the book meandered somewhat.
The other issue I had was that, although I love the character of Thrawn, his sheer brilliance and success at…well, everything…makes him not as compelling as he really needs to be to be the main character in a story. I don’t really fault Zahn too much for this, as Thrawn is pretty much the same character that he was in his original trilogy. But the new trilogy is a lot more Thrawn-centric than the first, and with so much more focus on the character this time around, the character traits that make him so cool in the older books tend to make him less compelling when the spotlight is more focused on him. I imagine it was for this very reason that Zahn created the characters Karyn Faro and Eli Vanto as co-protagonists alongside the Chiss Admiral, and for the most part, they serve well in balancing out Thrawn’s character, bringing a sort of everyman quality that Thrawn certainly does not possess.
Thrawn is basically Superman without Kryptonite (unless you count his lack of skill in the political arena – but this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal compared to his other skills). He’s always the smartest guy in the room, and just when anyone thinks they’ve pulled one over on him, he reveals that they ultimately have just played right into his hand. He’s definitely a cool character, but you can probably see how that could get a little old after a while if not balanced out by the other characters. But thankfully, while Thrawn’s characterization borders on perfection, characters like Commodore Faro and Eli Vanto are there to bring a more relatable protagonist into the picture, and for the most part, they are successful in helping to strike a healthy balance.
That being said, there were still times when I felt like Thrawn’s skills, especially when it came to his unique talent of reading into a culture’s artwork to inform his military strategy against them is a little bit over the top. But seeing how his genius had rubbed off on his officers and witnessing their own progression through these novels has been the real meat of the story for me. It may be the “Thrawn” trilogy, but Faro and Eli are its best characters in my opinion.
Without getting into too many specifics, there were a lot of things in this book, as well as the two leading up to it, that seem to provide some clues as to where the story of Thrawn (or perhaps even the overall Star Wars saga) could go from here. Though the first book in the series takes places prior to Thrawn’s appearance in Star Wars: Rebels, both the second and final book take place during season four of the show prior to his triumphant return in the series finale. Treason takes place just a few weeks after Alliances and leads right up to the Rebels finale that saw Thrawn jumping off in hyperspace to some unknown location with the young Jedi, Ezra Bridger. So, for now, Thrawn’s fate (as well as Ezra’s) is unknown, and we can only assume that the creators at Lucasfilm are working up some plan to bring a satisfying conclusion to their story.
However, given the groundwork laid in the Thrawn books, I think there are definitely some clues that have already been placed before us. For one, you have the ever-growing threat of the Grysks (aliens from the unknown regions) looming over both the Empire and the Ascendancy. By the end of this novel, Thrawn has already recruited two humans to join the Chiss. Perhaps he will also convince Ezra to join in the fight with his people against the Grysks. The Grysks are an intimidating alien force that is known for enslaving other races and bending them to their will, very similar to the Yuuzahn Vong from the Legends continuity, although they use more conventional tech rather than the biological technology that the Vong were known for. I could easily see the Grysks being the main antagonists in a future series with Thrawn and Ezra having to put their differences aside to face their common enemy.
But regardless of what happens to Thrawn or Ezra, this novel definitely established the Grysks as a threat to not only Thrawn’s people, but to the Empire as well. Their influence is certainly far-reaching and it seems to be growing ever closer to home. Another thing that struck me in the book is that the Grysks know the name Palpatine, a truth that was revealed when one of their leaders used it in a conversation. Granted, they could have easily learned the Emperor’s name by intercepting imperial transmissions or something like that, but I have to wonder if they are a little more familiar with the Emperor than anyone realizes.
We know from the Aftermath trilogy and other works that Palpatine was obsessed with the unknown regions, and that he had detected a certain darkness within it. Perhaps the Emperor himself brought the Grysks to imperial space. Maybe he’s even using them to bring the Chiss and the Empire together so that he can absorb the former into the latter. I wouldn’t put it past old Sheev, that’s for sure. After all, this was the guy that played both sides in a civil war that he had himself instigated just to aid his own rise to power.
As far as we know, Rian Johnson’s Star Wars trilogy is very much still happening, and although we don’t know much about it, it has been said that it will be a far different setting than what we’re used to in Star Wars. I have to wonder if this new threat in the unknown regions is a clue as to where we might be heading. Could we be visiting places we’ve never been before in Star Wars with an all-new enemy that could even be more dangerous than the Empire or the First Order? It’s a big galaxy, so it’s a very high possibility in my opinion.
There are so many other things I could talk about with this book, but honestly, I don’t know how I could without spoiling it, so I’ll just move on to my final comments, comparing and contrasting it to Zahn’s original trilogy that first introduced the blue Grand Admiral to Star Wars fans back in the early 90’s. So is the new Thrawn Trilogy as good as the old one (a.k.a. the Heir to the Empire trilogy)? If I had to give you a short answer, I would have to say “no”. But then again, it’s not that simple. These two trilogies are very different entities. I think it would probably be more fair to compare the old Thrawn trilogy to the recent Aftermath series than Zahn’s new Thrawn series, and I’ll explain why.
Heir to the Empire, and the two books that followed, were the original continuation of the Star Wars saga after Return of the Jedi. It was basically episodes 7-9 before we ever thought we’d actually get an episode 7,8, and 9. So if you want to compare the trilogy with the canonical equivalent on the timeline, you’d do better looking at Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath. In contrast to Aftermath, however, Zahn’s Heir to the Empire seemed to have been given a little more creative freedom, whereas Aftermath felt very tethered, forced to save anything big with the saga’s main characters for the future films. Heir to the Empire and its successors definitely benefited from utilizing the main characters that we all knew and loved, specifically with the big three (Luke, Leia, and Han). These novels were the springboard for the huge expanded universe that would follow, continuing the story of the main heroes, while introducing us to fan-favorite characters Thrawn and Mara Jade.
Zahn’s new Thrawn trilogy is more of a character study on Thrawn, trading off plotlines on a larger scale to hone in on a more contained story that focuses on getting into the head of the mysterious and terrifying villain that we first met in Heir to the Empire. For what it is, the new Thrawn trilogy is highly entertaining, but the story it contains does not hold anywhere near the level of importance that Zahn’s original trilogy held in the ongoing saga. But if you approach these books from that perspective, not trying to compare them to what came before and enjoying them for what they are, I think the experience is well worth your time. If you try to compare Zahn’s new books to his classic and beloved Heir to the Empire trilogy, I think you’re going to assume that these novels pale in comparison. But really, you’re just looking at two very different things that really don’t face one another on a level playing field.
As much as I enjoy the deeper dives that the newer Star Wars books take me on, none of the recent books have felt as important as some of the original expanded universe novels, and they won’t as long as LFL keeps making movies. When the movies start to simmer down, I think you’ll see the books once again take on storylines more important to the overall saga, but for now, I’m content to learn more about some of my favorite characters, gaining new insight to their backgrounds and motivations. When you judge this book on its intent, I think you’ll find that it succeeds on many levels, and have a great time flipping through its pages.
Thrawn: Treason is a great entry into the canon of Star Wars stories and is in my opinion the best of Zahn’s new trilogy. You can get your physical or digital copy now, as well as the excellent audiobook narrated by Star Wars book veteran Marc Thompson. Happy reading Star Wars fans!
Jordan Pate is Co-Lead Editor and Senior Writer for Star Wars News Net, of which he is also a member of the book and comic review team. He loves all things Star Wars, but when he’s not spending time in the galaxy far far away, he might be found in our own galaxy hanging out in Gotham City or at 1407 Graymalkin Lane, Salem Center, NY.