Star Wars novel expands on Death Star politics
Thrawn brought the Star Wars “Expanded Universe’s” blue-skinned, red-eyed Grand Admiral out of the pages of “Legends” and back into canon. Thrawn: Alliances introduced new ties between this fan-favorite character and deeper Star Wars lore, telling the tale of the Chiss genius’ meeting with Clone Wars general Anakin Skywalker and his secret love, Senator Padme Amidala, intertwined with a “present” tale of the admiral’s mission with Imperial Lord Darth Vader.
Thrawn: Treason, out today, expands on both of those novels, also by author Timothy Zahn, and ties the character to another white-uniformed Imperial, Death Star (aka “Stardust”) project Director Orson Krennic, played in the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with such aplomb by Ben Mendelsohn.
(A copy of Thrawn: Treason was provided to Nerdvana to facilitate this review.)
A key struggle in Treason is Krennic’s troubles, only alluded to on screen in Rogue One, with delays on his massive planet-killing project. This book defines them clearly, and pits the director against the Grand Admiral for the money needed to fast track his doomsday weapon — money Thrawn also needs to finish his TIE Defender advanced starfighter program, seen both in Alliances and the TV show Star Wars Rebels.
If Krennic seemed to be a man alone with no support against Grand Moff Tarkin’s machinations in Rogue One, Treason is one of the reasons why; in the book, he has an assistant director named Ronan who ends up otherwise engaged by the time of the Death Star’s test on Jedha and subsequent launch. Exactly how, you’ll need to read for yourself.
Speaking of missing, a character not seen since Zahn’s first canon Thrawn book returns in Treason. Eli Vanto helped the alien Chiss navigate Imperial bureaucracy and politics in his early days, helping him rise through the ranks to Grand Admiral; he was rewarded by being shipped off to the Chiss. Now among Imperials again, at least for a time, Vanto finds less than a warm welcome in either world as he crunches numbers for the Chiss and Thrawn, but at least his purpose in Ascendancy space becomes clear here at last.
A Force of Navigators
Vanto represents here a curious thread in Treason that began in Alliances concerning the Chiss Navigators, or “skywalkers” — young Chiss manifesting a version of the Force that enables them to chart a course through hyperspace, as they apparently lack the navicomputer technology used by ships of the Republic and Empire. It’s a sensitive subject, naturally, and it raises the question of whether we’re going to see some form of the Force-hating Yuuzhan Vong of the old Star Wars book continuity, or whether we might already have seen such a retcon with the Grysk species threatening the Chiss Ascendancy and now infringing on the borders of the Empire. Will this have future ramifications in the post-Empire world of the First Order? Did the Navigators and their powers — seemingly inspired by Dune’s spice-addicted Guild Navigators (remember that book’s influence on 1977’s Star Wars) — inform Thrawn’s encounters with the Bendu creature and his ultimate confrontation with TV’s Star Wars Rebels would-be Jedi Ezra Bridger?
The entire Grysks plot, while fascinating and still promising, seems both weighed down by the “outsider” legacy of the EU’s Vong and feels poorly defined and executed in comparison, much like Alliance’s introduction to the world of Black Spire Outpost on Batuu that has now come to life so vividly at the Galaxy’s Edge expansion at Disneyland.
Fans of the old EU will perhaps cheer the appearance of stern Chiss Admiral Ar’alani, a more grounded version of the brilliant and unorthodox Thrawn who supervises Vanto’s mysterious analysis task.
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An ongoing theme of Treason, beyond the question of whether one can faithfully serve two masters — as well as the Thrawn books in general — is the Grand Admiral’s apparent political naivete and how it trips him up, or rather how stuffy, Central Casting Imperial dignitaries and technocrats assume it will trip him up. It can be annoying at times how Thrawn’s genius always prevails, in a definite Mary Sue way, but in Treason we’re nearing the end of the Grand Admiral’s timeline as seen in Star Wars Rebels, and here we’re also finally getting the feeling that he may have overstayed his welcome — or at least stretched the patience of the Emperor too thin. Palpatine clearly wants to have a frank talk in person with his alien protege, but pending events on Lothal important to them both delay that beyond the frame of this volume. (And, if you’ve seen the Rebels finale, you know what comes next.)
The “treason” of the title is a bit of a let-down, and involves a lot of minutiae — usually Zahn’s forte — that predicably bogs down the action, whether it’s the mighty Imperial Navy’s spaceborne activities or boots-on-the-ground pirate hunting and smuggler intrigue that should be much more exciting than they actually unfold. Even the Imperial military and culture politics, such fertile ground for storytelling, feels more like Office Space without the relatable humor.
But the end result is still a satisfying bridge between earlier entries in this series and Thrawn’s small-screen storyline and the big-screen struggle to control the dreaded Death Star.