This trilogy is one of the cornerstones of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, being the first major work set after Return of the Jedi (five years after to be exact), the first popular member of the franchise since Return of the Jedi, and introducing some of the most beloved figures in Star Wars EU canon, like Grand AdmiralThrawn, Mara Jade, Gilad Pellaeon and Talon Karrde. Many fans consider them to be the honorary Episodes VII, VIII and IX.Ironically given the Big Bad is an alien, this trilogy introduced a slightly more human Galactic Empire - still certainly villainous but no longer a 0% Approval Rating organization. In movie terms it is somewhat closer to Admiral Piett and Captain Needa than Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin. Thrawn himself (the aforementioned alien Big Bad) was certainly a Magnificent Bastard of the highest caliber, one whom the reader did not hesitate in respecting. The trilogy also reflected the Real Life movement into the Information Age, with Thrawn (and Karrde opposite him) being able to connect esoteric and obscure bits of data together into a much larger picture. Thrawn in particular was able to practice an almost obscene version of psychoanalysis on people and cultures by studying their artwork, using it to identify weaknesses in their thinking or perception patterns, and then exploiting said weaknesses in devastating ways. The trilogy, as implied by its name, concerns the adventures of the New Republic, particularly Power Trio Luke, Han and Leia, to deal with Thrawn's plans, leadership and genius.A comicbook adaptation of the trilogy was also produced, with six issues allotted per book. The art for Heir to the Empire is kind ofquestionable. The art for Dark Force Rising is muchprettier, but it has problems of its own. The art for the lastbook is pretty decent; less realistic, but more expressive. The comics are a very Compressed Adaptation, with some pages having a Wall of Text and somehow still leaving out some important elements, but they do fairly well at sticking to the narrative.For an idea of just how much of the Star Wars Expanded Universe canon got its start in these books, go here,here and here and note how many times the phrase "first appearance" comes up. These novels basically invented the New Republic that the Rebellion became. A few years later, Zahn wrote the Hand of Thrawn duology.On June 21, 2011, the 20th anniversary edition of Heir to the Empire was released, including a new novella featuring Thrawn, Crisis of Faith and some interesting notes by Zahn himself on the process of the writing of the novel.
In addition to the character and universe tropes it carries over from the Original Trilogy, this series provides examples of:
Averted by some of the planet names. Zahn isn't scared of having some very consonant-heavy and undervoweled planet names, like Bpfassh, presumably named so by their alien populations who, you know, don't speak English. Or Basic, as it's called.
Plenty of aliens speak in their own languages, and at one point Leia has to brush up on her Shyriiwook for a trip to Kashyyyk. Luckily, the local Wookiee diplomat has something of a speech impediment that makes it easier for non-Wookiees to understand him (Leia actually understands the Wookie language better than she thinks, the problem is their accent is indecipherable to most outsiders).
Arc Welding: In later books it's intimated that Thrawn intended to prepare the galaxy for the Vong invasion, but there's no hint of it in the trilogy.
Artifact Title: Originally, it was just called "The Star Wars Trilogy", as it was the first Expanded Universe novel that actually tried to continue from where the movies left off. Later, it had to be retitled "The Thrawn Trilogy" to differentiate it from the hundreds of other books set after Return of the Jedi.
Thrawn is master of these, usually working out from an enemy's artwork how they will respond to a given tactic. He also realizes our heroes' penchant for choosing strategies on the basis of "our enemies can't possibly believe we'd be that crazy", and uses it to deduce that they'll hit the heavily defended shipyards at Bilbringi rather than the less-defended Tangrene.
The Republic's side also gets some examples. In The Last Command we are introduced to "The Cracken Twist", used to transmit coordinates for a rendezvous point when the enemy is listening in. An order is given: "Cracken Twist: on two, one, two!" The ships all pull off a Cool Manoeuvre that the enemy will think is the Twist, but it's actually code for "add the number 2 to the second digit of the coordinates I'm transmitting to get the real place".
Big Bad Duumvirate: Thrawn and C'baoth have largely exclusive plans for the galaxy, but work together for mutual convenience. Each has plans for disposing of the other when the time comes (though Thrawn is usually able to talk C'baoth down when he's in one of his mad rages), and each seems to consider himself the Big Bad and the other The Dragon.
Canon Discontinuity: Zahn did all this writing before there really was much canon outside the Original Trilogy, and almost a decade before Episode 1 came out, so there are a few things in the story that ended up invalidated by canon:
Zahn asserts that in the Clone Wars, it was discovered that clones would go insane if they were grown too fast (due to resonance in the Force between the mind of the clone and that of the original). Nobody else has ever acknowledged this as being true or, for that matter, happening. Zahn also has Mara claim that the Death Star I debacle is why Vader lost his right hand: in punishment for his failure.
Zahn and a couple others actually did Retcon a form of this back into canon. A comic had a battle between Republic forces (including Pellaeon) and besieged Separatist aliens who were quick-growing clones of their warriors in tubes, and as they compressed the growth cycle further and further the clones started getting disjointed. The Empire started moving away from Kamino cloning to experiment with Spaarti cylinders, an entirely different tech, and growing clones too quickly in those tends to make them insane. It helps that he was vague about all of that the first time around.
The biggest Clone Wars related issue is that Zahn sets them over a decade before the eventual timeline established by the prequels. This was actually Lucas's fault rather than Zahn's—as Zahn revealed in his annotations in the 20th anniversary edition, Lucas hadn't yet settled on a concrete timeline for the series pre-A New Hope and eventually compressed it from the more expansive one he'd given Zahn at the time. That being said, unless certain events unlikely to be even implied in Star Wars occurred, it seems unlikely that Anakin had been Vader for twenty years when Luke and Leia were born.
Zahn also writes from the not-unreasonable assumption that the Clone Wars involved an evil clone army attacking the galaxy. Everyone automatically assumes Thrawn's use of clones will lead to Clone Wars II even though the origins of the wars wound up being completely different—the Empire's a hostile enemy state while the original conflict was a civil war. Not to mention that the clones turned out to be the "good" guys in the Clone Wars. At least until Order 66...
Zahn describes Coruscant as having hills, isolated towers, greenery, and mountain ranges - the movies established it as a planet-wide city.
Call Back: The "No time to discuss this in committee!" "I am not a committee!" exchange between Leia and Han in The Empire Strikes Back has apparently become a private joke between them (they drop the lines again after Bpfassh), and Luke thinks to himself he's going to have to have them explain it to him at some point.
Nearly all of the iconic lines from the movie trilogy find their way into the books. Admiral Ackbar even announces a trap!
Canon Immigrant: The trilogy introduced a vast number of characters, starships and planets to the Star Wars universe, more so than any subsequent part of the Expanded Universe. Perhaps the most significant being Mara Jade. Also, the name "Coruscant" for the capital world was first established in Heir to the Empire and would go on to be used in the prequel trilogy.
When Thrawn is asking C'baoth to join him, these lines seem rather out of character for the later Thrawn
(Thrawn has explained what he wants C'baoth to do for him, coordinating his armies) C'baoth: To what end? For the first time since landing, Thrawn seemed taken aback. Thrawn: The conquering of worlds, of course. The final defeat of the Rebellion. The reestablishment of the glory that was once the Emperor's New Order.
Shortly after that, C'baoth prevents Thrawn from executing one of the Wayland natives who try to kill him. When he does so, Thrawn whirls about in surprise and anger; two emotions that, from here on out, Thrawn rarely visibly shows.
Joruus C'baoth uses a simple Jedi Mind Trick on Pellaeon to get him to deliver an order C'baoth doesn't want Thrawn to know about, and then has Pellaeon forget ever giving such an order. Later we find out C'baoth is capable of far, far worse, using a highly destructive form of mind control to destroy an Imperial general's mind and turn him into a near-mindless puppet. When the poor man passes into a Force null area, he operates on implanted instructions, then lies down to take a nap he never wakes up from - C'baoth had demolished so much of his brain he couldn't survive when not directly being controlled. Really, Pellaeon got off very lucky.
The Thrawn Trilogy Sourcebook mentions that this Mind Trick was several degrees nastier than what Obi-Wan and Luke were willing to do. Pellaeon's willpower was permanently reduced by what C'baoth did—though considering the things he was willing to work for in laterbooks, it must have been formidable from the start.
C'boath can also take physical control of people while leaving their minds alone, controlling them like puppets; in one display of power, he does this for the entire Chimaera crew (mindraping 37,000 people, all at once), or at the very least the several dozen bridge crew. The physical symptoms post-possession, moreover, are a blend of mental trauma and something resembling the flu.
The Katana Fleet, Delta Source, ch'hala trees, Spaarti Cylinders.
However, the fact that among the 1/10 of the Katana Fleet that the heroes managed to recover was the Katana itself, which the other heavily-automated ships in the fleet are programmed to obey, has only minor importance. Presumably Thrawn took the time to remove that feature before putting the 9/10 of the fleet he acquired into service, but it's a little odd that it never even gets brought up.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Fey'lya. This is apparently the Bothans' hat, at least when it comes to politics. Han even tells him straight up that the rules of politics are different with people like Leia and Mon Mothma and that Bothan strategies will not work, but he's ignored.
A subtle one: the Original Trilogy films all started with establishing shots of a Star Destroyer on Imperial business. Likewise, each novel in this trilogy begins aboard the Chimaera, implying we've just panned down from that iconic diagonal scrolling text...
In The Last Command, Bel Iblis invents the 'A-wing Slash', where speedy A-wings hide in the exhaust wash of an attack group of X-wings, then pull off at the last moment and attack the unsuspecting enemy. Gets a Call Back in Hand of Thrawn.
In the Battle of Sluis Van at the end of Heir to the Empire, one of the Chimaera`s deflector shields fails, much to Pellaeon's concern. Thrawn orders his gunners to focus on one side of a nearby Rebel Dreadnaught, blasting away all the weapons on one side, then gets his tractor beam operators to pull the ship in to fill the gap in the shields, the disarmed side facing towards the Chimaera. He basically dares the Rebels to fire on their own ship.
The Thrawn Pincer (as it is later called) where Thrawn uses his Interdictor cruisers to define a precise point where his warships will be pulled out of hyperspace, putting them where they need to be to make coordinated surprise attacks with pinpoint precision.
Also subverted at the very start of Heir of the Empire as part of an Establishing Character Moment for Thrawn: he beats a Rebel force not with a clever new maneouvre but with a standard textbook Marg Sabl maneouvre. Thrawn's genius instead lay in working out from little information that the Rebel force was commanded by an Elomin, and knowing that Elomin psychology meant they were uniquely poor at responding to a Marg Sabl.
Covers Always Lie: Well, mislead. The Last Command shows Mara and Luke in a lightsaber duel. Mara is actually fighting Luuke, the clone of Luke. The key hint is that Luuke is depicted with a blue lightsaber (the one Luke lost when he fought Vader at Cloud City), not Luke's later green lightsaber.
So what they showed you was true, from a certain point of view.
Cultured Badass: Thrawn is definitely this, along with being Wicked Cultured. In fact, much of his strategic and tactical skill derives directly from his close study of a huge variety of art from uncountable species and cultures. Studying the art gives him insight into each species' or culture's psychology, including their weaknesses, which Thrawn exploits ruthlessly.
Cryptic Background Reference: Zahn is fond of using these. Many of them proved to be Canon Fodder for later authors, especially Michael Stackpole. A few were never followed up on, but their number is dwindling.
Cyanide Pill: In Heir to the Empire, Khabarakh is captured as he stops fighting, after he realizes that Leia is the Mal'ary'ush (the daughter and heir of the Lord Darth Vader, who they revere as the Messiah). It's never overtly said that he has some kind of suicide mechanism, but when Leia talks to him he says that his duty is to obey all of his orders—and Leia knows that for a captured commando facing interrogation, there could be only one order left to follow. She manages to talk him down by telling him that he now knows something none of his people are aware of—that Leia is the Mal'ary'ush—and he needed to live to bring the information to them.
Discontinuity Nod: When Luke confronts Joruus C'baoth on Wayland and C'baoth introduces his new killer clone (which turns out to be a clone of Luke himself) Luke initially wonders if it might be a clone of Darth Vader, before realizing it's not tall enough - see What Could Have Been below.
Disproportionate Retribution: C'baoth's harsh judgments on the people of Jomark, which provides Luke with the first clue that he's actually an insane clone.
Pellaeon is depicted as clean shaven in the comic adaptation and there is no mention of facial hair in the novels. Practically every◊ picture◊ and◊ description◊ since◊ (including Zahn's later books) have described Pellaeon as having a distinctive bushy mustache to the extent that at least one unnamed Imperial officer in a later comic was thought to be him just because he had a bushy mustache.
A likely inspiration for Pellaeon's appearance as a heavyset man with a bushy mustache with Thrawn's tall, slender build and chiselled features is the similarity of both characters to Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes, who are frequently depicted in a similar way.
In a broader sense there are several examples of this trope for the Star Wars Expanded Universe as a whole, as this is the first canon post-Return of the Jedi work. For instance, the idea that Jabba the Hutt was the galaxy's biggest crime lord—later works present him as a smaller figure, able to be ordered around by, for example, the leaders of Black Sun (though to be fair, most of those bigger fish died before Jabba did, so it's possible that by Return of the Jedi he really was the top crime lord in the galaxy).
And perhaps the most glaring of all is that Rogue Squadron is treated as just another fighter squadron and Wedge Antilles is specifically called out as a 'lowly starfighter wing commander' and Luke has to remind the Council who he is. When the Expanded Universe drastically increased the importance and recognition of Wedge and the Rogues (for example, in later stories that take place chronologically earlier, Wedge is almost a right-hand man to Admiral Ackbar, and instrumental to liberating Coruscant), Zahn was careful to correct this in Hand of Thrawn. In a society more like modern Earth's, a "lowly starfighter wing commander" would be about right, but given Wedge's own record and that Zahn notes that the Republic tends to rely too much on symbols, it would make a lot of sense for the Rogues to have no small amount of fame.
Hyperdrive speeds are quoted as "Point Three, Point Four, Point Four Five, Point Five" in increasing order of speed—this being based on the line in the first Star Wars film that "The Falcon can push point five past lightspeed". This was based on a logarithmic scale Zahn devised where 0 was a dead stop and 1 was infinite speed. Later Star Wars material changed this to the (arguably less logical) setup that the LOWER the number is, the faster it is—specifically, it's all based on the idea of 1 as the "baseline" hyperdrive speed, so the "number" of a hyperdrive became the modifier to travel time. i.e., The Falcon is about twice as fast in hyperspace as most ships.
A plot-significant one is that it is not widely known to the galaxy's people that Darth Vader was Luke's father, and it's even not certain to most people that he's dead. Many EU writers basically assume that "everyone in the galaxy has seen the films" as far as information about the main characters is concerned (to his credit, Stackpole, in I Jedi, makes it clear that it's still not widely known even nine years after Endor); if this was true the Mara-Luke plot arc and the Noghri kidnapping arc couldn't exist.
Emotionless Girl: Winter. Mara goes back and forth between this and very emotional, depending on the topic at hand. Karrde, like someone poking at a loose tooth, takes careful note of her Berserk Buttons: the pre-Endor Empire, the late Emperor, Luke Skywalker...
Enemy Mine: Mara's view of constantly being forced to work with Luke. The smugglers ultimately team up with each other and the New Republic after an Imperial raid on a meeting of several major smugglers which was actually masterminded by NilesFerrier so he could get closer to the major smugglers. Thrawn does not approve, having specifically ordered his troops to leave the meeting alone to avoid exactly this outcome.
Entertainingly Wrong: For all of Thrawn's reputation of Awesomeness by Analysis, he does make a major miscalculation with a logical-yet-incorrect conclusion in the second book regarding Khabarakh's whereabouts during the month since the first book. Most of what goes wrong for Thrawn later on is a result of this error snowballing into disaster. The most plausible explanation for this error was that Thrawn didn't know that Leia and Luke were in fact Vader's children (see above). Without that key piece of information, drawing the proper conclusion would've been impossible. However, later EU authors have had trouble deciding whether that fact was common knowledge or not.
Establishing Character Moment: Thrawn gets one in the opening pages of Heir to the Empire when the Chimaera is attacked by four Rebel assault frigates and three squadrons of X-wings. Pellaeon thinks those odds are insurmountable and prepares to retreat, but Thrawn displays his art-derived tactical genius and defeats them (see Cool Manoeuvre above). Besides this, it also establishes that Thrawn represents the turn of the tide for the Empire and they are no longer in decline and running from fights.
Talon Karrde's involves him being pleasant and cultured to Luke while simultaneously successfully outwitting him into getting incapacitated.
Eureka Moment: Leia has three over the course of the books—figuring out the secret of Delta Source based on watching a cleaning droid, working out how Thrawn's impossibly rapid cloning works from a chance remark by Mara and realizing just how badly (or, more precisely, for how long) the Empire has been exploiting the Noghri and how she can prove it. The first two are in The Last Command; the third is in Dark Force Rising. Han gets two in the Battle of Sluis Van, realizing what the Empire is doing with mole miners (and sharing the second with Lando in realizing how they can stop them).
Evil Is Not a Toy: Joruus C'baoth. Unusually for this trope Thrawn is very much aware of the dangers of using the insane Dark Jedi and takes precautions, as well as long-term plans to dispose of and replace C'baoth. They nearly work, too.
While Joruus is otherwise a dead-on example, he sees no appeal to the idea of ruling over millions of people he'll never even meet, considering total control over people he personally interacts with on a daily basis to be the true meaning of power. Which is what happens when you work with The Empire. He changes his mind once he realizes he can personally put most of his minions under Mind Control, made even easier by the legion of clones who have near-identical minds.
Averted with Thrawn, who is certainly ruthless but treats his subordinates well (with the exception of those he finds unsalvageably inept). He's certainly a better man than C'baoth, Vader, or Palpatine. Later-written books, most notably Outbound Flight, still have him as very ambiguous and ruthless, but somewhat less villainous and more of a Well-Intentioned Extremist type.
Evil Twin: Luuke Skywalker to Luke Skywalker, literally, because he's a clone of him.
Exact Words: How Mara manages to silence the Emperor's voice compelling her to kill Luke Skywalker: She kills his insane clone. The voice never specified which Luke Skywalker.
Fantastic Racism: If it doesn't introduce the theme into the series, it definitely makes clear that the Empire was incredibly speciesist, and Thrawn is a major exception instead to the rule. Even then, he's relegated to clearing up the Unknown Regions instead of running things closer to home...although that's later called into question. (Indeed, for someone as ruthlessly pragmatic as the Emperor, speciesism isn't particularly believable; more likely, to some, that he simply encouraged it as another means of division and control.) Ironically, Thrawn shows what could be speciesism himself in his dealings with the Noghri, though that could just be (as exemplified in later books) Chiss Cultural Posturing: while recognzing their skill and understanding important aspects of their culture, he clearly shows little interest or respect for them as people.
A Father to His Men: Thrawn, while not to the degree of other examples on the trope page, certainly compared to what most of the Imperial commanders show in other works. This is hammered in during the third book, after the tractor beam incident and the operator's promotion for thinking outside the box and the manual even though his idea didn't work. In fact, it's lampshaded by Zahn. The Noghri, on the other hand, have something to say about this after they find out he's been lying to them for years to manipulate them into being his Elite Mooks.
Fiery Redhead: Mara is outwardly pretty cool and collected, but beneath the surface is passionate and stubborn.
Thrawn is a very gifted tactician who is excellent at deduction. Later books by other authors treat him as being omniscient and undefeatable, despite making several clear mistakes in the books, notably underestimating the Noghri and failing to appreciate the importance Darth Vader's children would have to them. This was mocked by Zahn himself in the Hand of Thrawn books, with several aliens in the Senate who never encountered Thrawn the first time being terrified of his reputation and the main characters Lampshading that he was never that good.
In addition, later books flanderize him into more and more of a Noble Demon and Well-Intentioned Extremist, especially those where it's implied that his ultimate goal was to prepare the galaxy for the impending invasion of the Yuuzhan Vong; this time, Timothy Zahn actually endorses this new view, but since the Yuuzhan Vong weren't even conceived when this novel was written it is obviously an example of Canon Welding. The Thrawn of this trilogy is less Noble Demon than pragmatic villain, and seems to be trying to destroy the rebellion from a combination of Lawful Evil and for the sheer intellectual thrill, and further makes offhand and unapologetic references to committing xenocide in times past, to say nothing of his treatment of the Noghri. So while he was a very Affably Evil and disciplined villain, he was still very, very much a villain. Still, he did seem to express some remorse, in private, for destroying that particular unnamed race, though it seems less because he actually found destroying them abhorrent, and more that he was ashamed he was unable to gain the kind of insight from their art that he does from every other species. Given canon exploration in later books, it's also possible that Thrawn as he is in his trilogy is simply what happens when you take a brilliant young mind and give it to Palpatine for refinement.
Gentleman Thief: Talon Karrde is definitely a gentleman. He treats his people well, honors his debts, and holds himself to the rules of hospitality ("They've sat at our table and eaten our food. That puts them under our protection.") He's also the commander of the top smuggling group. Zahn tried to create a top smuggler who's the direct opposite of Jabba the Hutt. He succeeded very well.
A God Am I: "I am the Jedi Master C'baoth! The Empire, the universe is mine!"
Guile Hero: Han, allowing him to slot into the role of The Smart Guy when alongside his Ambadassador wife and Kung-Fu Jesus brother-in-law. Each of the three mains has elements of this, since Zahn writes all of them as being very intelligent, but Han's most prominent.
Luke might have The Force, and Irenez might be able to climb stairs without getting winded; but [Han] would bet heavily that he could outdo both of them in sheer chicanery.
Handwave: Zahn, in the 20th Aniversary Heir to the Empire commentary, he flat out admits using this at various points during the creation process.
Zahn: Back in my physics days, we used to call this procedure 'Handwaving'. I will be using more of it as we go along.
Hannibal Lecture: Evil-on-evil version. In The Last Command C'baoth seizes control of the minds of all thirty-seven thousand of the Chimaera's crew, except Thrawn, Pellaeon and a few others protected by ysalamiri, and intends to take the ship to Coruscant to capture Leia's children. Thrawn might seem helpless, but he simply lectures C'baoth on how he will have to maintain that control for the days it will take to reach Coruscant and that even then, one Star Destroyer would never get through the defenses, forcing C'baoth down.
"It's a minimum of five days to Coruscant from here," Thrawn said coldly. "Five days during which you'll have to maintain your control of the Chimaera's thirty-seven thousand crewers. Longer, of course, if you intend for them to actually fight at the end of that voyage. And if you intend for us to arrive with any support craft, that figure of thirty-seven thousand will increase rather steeply... I merely present the problems you and the Force will have to solve if you continue with this course of action. For instance, do you know where the Coruscant sector fleet is based, or the number and types of ships making it up? Have you thought about how you will neutralize Coruscant's orbital battle stations and ground-based systems? Do you know who is in command of the planet's defenses at present, and how he or she is likely to deploy the available forces? Have you considered Coruscant's energy field? Do you know how best to use the strategic and tactical capabilities of an Imperial Star Destroyer?"
Internet memes were still a few years away from developing, but upon running into a huge fleet of warships set in ambush by Thrawn, Admiral Ackbar observes that "it appears to be a trap". And again, in the first book, Han says his smuggler contacts are unwilling to work for the New Republic because they suspect a trap. Admiral Ackbar, on the New Republic's ruling council, wryly says "Because of me, no doubt." It makes sense in-universe, since Ackbar's species has gotten a reputation for being hard on smugglers.
Early in the second book, Luke's looking through Imperial records and annoyed at how they, and the Old Republic before them, kept on setting up a new Year Zero, hoping the New Republic wouldn't do anything like that. They ultimately did, with the Battle of Yavin (that is, the original movie) being classified in-universe and out as the new Year Zero. Prior to this in-universe change, the out-of-universe Year Zero was the Battle of Endor (that is, the third movie); novels would have a note at the beginning of how many years after Endor they took place. This made sense because prior to the prequel movies, almost all EU stories were post-Endor.
Also this bit in book 3, in light of the rocket boosters Artoo used in Attack of the Clones:
Threepio: Excuse me, sir, does [having to go on foot] also apply to Artoo and me?
Han: Unless you've learned how to fly.
Hold Your Hippogriffs: Zahn introduces several sayings, which on the whole tend to be fairly quiet. The oldest trick on the list. Killing two lizards with one throw.
How Do I Shot Web?: Leia's slow progress in The Force. To a certain extent, Mara as well, as her abilities come and go.
Huge Holographic Head: C'Baoth uses this through a holoterminal to talk to Thrawn, something Thrawn referred as The Emperor's Setting. Pelleon notes that the setting also amplifies facial expressions of hesitation and doubt, making the setting counterproductive without full control of yourself.
Grand Admiral Thrawn used Money for mercenary types, Authority on some Imperials and the Noghri, Indoctrination on clones, Fear on the Noghri and sometimes his Imperials, Sadism (sort of) with C'baoth, and for the others... Respect. He knew that it's best to be feared and loved, and put a high value on people who were both loyal and competent.
C'baoth uses Fear, Mind Control, and Divine Right.
As well as anyone letting the aformentioned Niles Ferrier to live. If not for him, the New Republic may have gotten the Katana Fleet in book two, and the smugglers wouldn't have been working against the Empire in book three.
Also, letting C'baoth live after the battle over Coruscant. He never does anything else for them, and Thrawn has no plans for him in the near future, not to mention the fact that he has Force-nullifying animals on-board his ship.
Basically, while Thrawn is definitely a villain and it's hard to forget in this trilogy, his moments of stupidity are all also moments of not killing someone once they are no longer useful.
Insistent Terminology: Thrawn insists on calling the New Republic "The Rebellion". Pellaeon even catches himself calling the Republic, well, the Republic in his presence one time and quickly amends it.
It's All About Me: Fey'lya comes across as this most of the time, although it's said that this is in part just part of the backstabbing way Bothan politics works and how it has influenced his cultural background.
Kansas City Shuffle: The Republic tries one on Thrawn, by quietly gathering forces to make it look like they're attacking Tangrene, when they're really going after Bilbringi. Clever plan, but it fails spectacularly because, well, it's Thrawn. However, they also manage to shuffle the smugglers, which helps win the day.
Keystone Army: Upon seeing C'baoth controlling several Imperial task forces at once, Pellaeon muses that this was how the fleet was quickly defeated in the battle of Endor after Palpatine's death, if Palpatine controlled them in the same way. Zahn says the idea was inspired by how Sauron controlled his forces in The Lord of the Rings. Thrawn had already proposed the theory in the first book, which Pellaeon refused to accept until seeing C'baoth in action.
Pellaeon was the only Imperial commander at the Battle of Endor with the presence of mind to order a retreat. Despite several higher-ranking officers still being alive at Endor, Pellaeon's order was obeyed, because those higher-ranking officers were too panicked to countermand him. When Thrawn dies, he does the same. More notably employed by Thrawn himself when his attack on Sluis Van fails. When Pellaeon is surprised at Thrawn's order to retreat, Thrawn explains "this is a setback, Captain, nothing more."
Thrawn says that he refused to lead foolhardy attacks, even when ordered to by the Emperor himself... who came to agree with him after the replacement commanders failed.
According to Mara, this is something that set Thrawn apart from the standard Imperial commander, including the other Grand Admirals: if you're losing, go out in a blaze of glory and hurt the enemy. Thrawn, however, is willing to retreat from a losing battle. The problem is getting him to that point, which is near impossible.
Lady Land: Sort of; Noghri society is somewhat matriarchal, at least on the village and family level; of the dynasts (clan leaders), the only ones named are apparently male.
A Lighter Shade of Black: Thrawn, at least by this point, is not good person: he has absolutely no qualms about betraying Mara to get to Karrde in Dark Force Rising, kidnapping someone's children and delivering them to be corrupted by an Ax-Crazy clone, and his military strategy involves growing his own slave soldiers by the thousands and throwing them at the Republic. But unlike most imperials, he's not a Card-Carrying Villain.
Thrawn was respected and trusted. Thrawn used a small measure of fear, certainly: the Grand Admiral realized that fear of failure was a powerful motivating force in a military the size of the Empire. But Thrawn's ability to invoke a sense of pride in his troops was his most powerful asset. Palpatine inspired arrogance and callousness in his officers; Thrawn made his men proud to be Imperial soldiers. Thrawn's officers would have willingly died for the Grand Admiral.
The Noghri come from the planet Honoghr. The 'g' and 'h' in that name are silent, and that quality becomes well proven.
Subverted with Garm Bel Iblis, perhaps because Han and Lando initially aren't sure if he's a good guy or not and there is tension in the narrative. (His name consists of the names of three evil beings in (Earth) religion and mythology—the hellhound Garm from Norse mythology, Bel being another form of Ba'al from The Bible, and Iblis is the Islamic name for Satan.)
Mara means "bitter", and Jade is close to "jaded," both of which describe her personality, at first anyway.
The annotated version has an explanation for why the ISD Chimaera is named as it is named. In Greek mythology the chimaera was a monster considered unconquerable, at least until Bellerophon killed it; these days it's something made of disparate parts, something wildly imaginary, or something illusory.
All of these elements went into my decision to name Thrawn's flagship the Chimaera. Disparate elements (human plus Chiss), considered imaginary (hence Thrawn's threat not taken seriously by others until Thrawn was ready to move), and unconquerable (the ship herself survives very nearly until the end of the Yuuzhan Vong war).
Captain Pellaeon's name is taken from Pelleas, an idealistic young knight from Arthurian lore. Pellaeon here is middle aged by Star Wars standards, about sixty, and has lost a lot of his early idealism, but gains in hope as the trilogy goes on. He loses it at the end, but subsequent books show that he's not bad people.
Mercurial Base: Nomad City, Nkllon; Lando's latest business venture. And amusingly for the trope name, the planet Nkllon is fairly similar in environment to Mercury.
The Messiah: Not as overt as other invocations of the trope, but Leia's natural gift for diplomacy helps her rally the Noghri to the New Republic's side (after revealing the nature of the Empire's treachery unto them); she is also able to get Mara Jade (who wants to kill Luke) to open up emotionally to her.
Then there's Luke, who's sitting there quietly, minding his own business at a bar when suddenly an argument breaks out. Just as it's about to segue into violence... everyone stops and looks at him to solve it.
An example: traditional thought declared cloaking fields to be militarily useless as they interfere with the cloaked ships sensors as well as any others', preventing them from accomplishing much in battle. Thrawn got the idea to cloak a couple dozen asteroids and tractor them into orbit around Coruscant, essentially cutting the New Republic capital off from the rest of the war by forcing them to hide behind their planetary shield until the asteroids could be found and destroyed.
The cloak comes up twice more. First, he uses it to hide a bunch of TIE fighters inside a freighter, then have the freighter show up at a Republic shipyard with a cargo hold that read as empty on sensors, making a neat Trojan Horse. Second, he uses C'baoth's Force skills to coordinate cloaked ships that have gotten through planetary shields by flying in well in advance of an attack, in order to make it look like his lasers can pierce said shields.
Even the Interdictor Cruiser trick, which few characters (or authors) have tried before or since. Interdictors are supposed to create inverted Hyperspeed Ambushes—instead of jumping in on the enemy, Interdictors use huge gravity projectors to un-jump the enemy onto you. Thrawn uses this to his advantage by re-inverting the trope: by having his backup wait just outside the battle zone and having his Interdictors aim their gravity wells in certain directions, Thrawn can order the ships in on a heading that directly intercepts said gravity wells and essentially spawn reinforcements exactly where he wants them, with far more precision than even the most skilled pilots and navigators could manage. And with a much greater safety margin as well; hyperspace microjumps, especially in the vicinity of planets (where most battles take place) are very dangerous maneuvers.
My Greatest Failure: Thrawn has one piece of art, which looks like thrashing liquid, which he keeps to remind him of the one time that said art did not give him any insight into the race that made it - which he then casually adds he destroyed their home world. Lately, it's been hinted that this was the home world of General Grievous, but the full story has never been told.
Halfway across the room, one of the sculptures had not disappeared with the others. Sitting all alone in its globe of light, it slowly writhed on its pedestal like a wave in some bizarre alien ocean. "Yes," Thrawn said from behind him. "That one is indeed real."
"It's . . . very interesting," Pellaeon managed. The sculpture was strangely hypnotic.
"Isn't it?" Thrawn agreed, his voice sounding almost wistful. "It was my one failure, out on the Fringes. The one time when understanding a race's art gave me no insight at all into its psyche. At least not at the time. Now, I believe I'm finally beginning to understand them."
"I'm sure that will prove useful in the future," Pellaeon offered diplomatically.
"I doubt it," Thrawn said, in that same wistful voice. "I wound up destroying their world."
Harshly averted with the planet Honoghr, which was utterly decimated during a battle in orbit due to destroyed ships crashing into the surface, stray fire, and toxic chemicals being dumped into the atmosphere. And this was just with regular ships; there was no Death Star involved. Honoghr's disaster was deliberately exacerbated by the Empire, who made the restoration slow enough to keep the Noghri in perpetual service. Even after the Noghri discover this and begin a proper clean-up, Luke and Khabarakh suspect that it's too late for the planet to be saved.
Despite Honoghr, the trope is played straight with the titular planet of Endor. Leia stops by to meet a contact at one point, yet no mention of any damage to the moon. In orbit around the moon, of course, is a bit of a different story, and for a different reason...
Non-Action Big Bad: Thrawn. A Four-Star BadassMagnificent Bastard who is much more dangerous commanding his troops than personally leading them. Some of the later novels which elaborate on Thrawn's backstory, however, reveal that his abilities in personal combat are nothing to sneeze at either, at least when he was younger. He simply doesn't have any need to stroke his ego by putting himself in personal combat when there's no strategic benefit to it, and none of the original Power Trio ever meet Thrawn face-to-face; the best Han and Leia ever get are glimpses at a distance, and Luke doesn't interact with him at all.
Noodle Implements: The elements of Thrawn's plan (which he describes as a jigsaw puzzle) seem like this to anyone who doesn't know it, including Pellaeon and the Reader. For example, how does 1) raiding New Republic supply lines, 2) stealing fifty mole miners, 3) acquiring a cloaking shield and 4) the (then) mysterious Spaarti cylinders come together help him defeat the New Republic? By forcing the New Republic to convert some of their warships to lightly crewed freighters to take up the needed freight capacity, then using the cloaking shield to deliver the mole miners into the shipyard where the lightly crewed converted warships are, using the mole miners to drill into the ships to insert stormtroopers to take them over, and then (if the plan hadn't been foiled) converting the ships back into full warships and crewing them with Spaarti clones.
Oh Crap: There are any number of these in the trilogy; but in Heir To The Empire, when Luke topples a stone arch onto a group of Imperials, we get this priceless gem:
The stormtroopers' expressions were hidden by their masks; but the look of sudden horror on the Major's face said it for all of them.
In-universe, used as a weapon by Thrawn when he forces Coruscant to cut itself off with its planetary shield by putting cloaked asteroids in orbit. He uses trickery to make it look like he launched many times more than he actually did—so the New Republic has no way of knowing how many asteroids there really are or if they've accounted for them all.
While it's more debatable how deliberate it was on Thrawn's part, people in the New Republic government suspect each other of being Delta Source, Thrawn's source of information on Coruscant, and so don't trust each other. It turns out Delta Source was an automated pre-existing listening system, so nobody was a traitor.
Invoked. Several characters make points of how Thrawn actually relies just as much on Paranoia Fuel as his own cunning. While legitimately brilliant, he wins many of his victories largely because people start to overestimate him and think he's planned for everything.
Perspective Magic: Thrawn uses several of his cloaked ships, in conjunction with the Chimaera to pull this off as one of his "superweapons." To the Imperials, it's the cloaked vessel being in a direct line between the Chimaera and its target, and just below the planet's shields, firing when the former's lasers hit said shields. To the defenders, it looks as though the Chimaera's lasers went straight through. Thrawn carefully chooses the places where he uses this trick, only targeting planets where he expects the locals to be so astonished by the "impossible" attack that they'll surrender without taking the time to analyze what's happening.
When an ally of Karrde manages to escape one of those worlds after Thrawn pulls his trick, with a video recording of the attack, it proves to be an extremely valuable piece of information to sell to the New Republic. Because the video's resolution is high enough to make out a slight gap in the laser beam.
Poor Communication Kills: Mara is wounded at the end of "Dark Force Rising" and spends a month recovering, during which time she misses out on what Thrawn is doing. Winter fills her in one his new victories, but fails to mention he's using clones—the source of which Mara would know. Mara only finds out about the clones after Thrawn has discredited her in the Republic's eyes using a Xanatos Gambit, setting up the prison break and our-heroes-stand-alone endgame of "The Last Command".
Somewhat odd, given that Winter's perfect memory should have resulted in her realizing that Mara was unconscious for the entire time that Thrawn's use of clones was a big story in the media. Then again, theoretically there wasn't much actually stopping Mara from learning about the clones during the time she was conscious; for whatever reason, the subject was never brought up.
Posthumous Character: The Emperor and Vader are quite dead, but both cast long shadows across the trilogy. A tiny part of the Emperor seems to survive in Mara, frequently telling her that YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER (in revenge, it turns out, for Vader's Heel Face Turn).
Psychic Strangle: After Thrawn uses Mara to find Karrde, she tries to kill him with a Force choke. It doesn't work properly due to her lack of training (and the fact that her powers have been unreliable ever since the Emperor's death) and he's more confused by it than injured.
Pun: The names of Karrde's ships:note Not all of these actually appear in the Thrawn Trilogy; some are from other Zahn works. Still, though.Wild Karrde, Lastri's Ort, Uwana Buyer, Starry Ice, Etherway, Amanda Follow, Dawn Beat.
Punch Clock Villain: Compared to the Imperials from the movies, and to the Imperials written by just about every other Expanded Universe author, Zahn's Imperials really aren't that bad. They're... people, who happen to be the enemies of our heroes, and who do things our heroes wouldn't do.
Sure, the Republic stopped Thrawn's plan to steal several dozen capital warships, but considering that the warships were crippled in the process, I don't think the Empire had too much to complain about...
That exact argument is made in-universe, though in fact Thrawn did consider it a defeat for the Empire. Had his plan worked, he would've gotten exactly twice as much out of it, taking the ships out of the New Republic's fleet and adding them to his own. Why none of the heroes think to point that out is unclear.
Later, the Republic stopped the Empire from capturing the entire Katana fleet, in the process taking out a Star Destroyer with relatively few losses of their own... but the Empire got almost all of the fleet despite the New Republic's efforts. Only about fourteen ships remained of the nearly two hundred that they started with. Plus the six Katana Dreadnoughts that Bel Iblis had acquired years earlier.
Ramming Always Works: In Dark Force Rising the Imperial Star Destroyer Peremptory is destroyed when a remote-controlled Katana Fleet Dreadnaught rams her.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Thrawn, especially when compared to the likes of Vader. He believes in cultivating loyalty rather than fear in his underlings and frowns upon Vader's excessive use of You Have Failed Me. However, that does not stop him from invoking the trope himself at times.
Revenge Before Reason: Captain Brandei of the Judicator gets this a bit after the Peremptory is destroyed in front of him at the end of the second book. Fortunately, Thrawn realises this in time and is able to talk him down before it causes problems.
Averted as much as is possible for Star Wars: realizing that the galaxy has over a million inhabited worlds, Zahn (unlike some other Star Wars Expanded Universe writers) doesn't recycle locations from the films without good reason. And at those times when the heroes know they need to find something on an unfamiliar world, they don't act like knowing what planet it's on will make things easy. Planets are big.
He also realize that a light-year is an enormous distance; when Luke's X-Wing is determined to be somewhere within a light-year of Thrawn's Star Destroyer, Thrawn hires mercenaries to find it since it would take too long to search for themselves. Just because hyperdrive allows traveling along such a distance very rapidly doesn't mean that searching every inch of that light-year is an easy prospect.
However played straight in the numbers of ships aspect, which was apparent in the original trilogy. For the size of the galaxy, the 200 ship strong KatanaDreadnaught-class Heavy Cruiser fleet should barely be considered a picket force, much less one that could turn the tables in a galaxy spanning war. Later sources clarify that at this point, the Republic and the Empire are almost perfectly matched in terms of materiel. The Katana fleet might not be much, but it's just enough to free up some other ships that are needed elsewhere, which will gradually lead to a snowballing effect and an insurmountable advantage.
Also, while bringing roughly 180 of the Katana fleet ships into his service did allow Thrawn to go more heavily on the offensive, it didn't decisively change the balance of power. Just tipped the scales slightly in the Empire's favor.
The Siege: Thrawn besieges Coruscant with cloaked asteroids.
The Smart Guy: Han absolutely takes on this role in the trilogy. Luke is the Jedi Knight, Leia is following in his footsteps and showing that she's her father's daughter as well as the diplomat who may be holding the Republic together through force of will...but Han, instead of being Overshadowed by Awesome, is generally the one giving the orders to Skywalkers because he's the one with all the plans. (That being said, Han mentions that most men he'd known would be offended by a wife who could outsmart them, when he, after she figures out a way to confirm they're talking to who they think they are, wouldn't have it any other way.)
Spanner in the Works: In The Last Command, the New Republic tries a double bluff to make the Empire think they're going after the crystal gravfield trap at Tangrene when they're actually going after the one at Bilbringi. Thrawn sees through it, and would have beat the Republic forces at Bilbringi...except the Republic accidentally succeeded in fooling Karrde's Smugglers' Alliance, who think because the Republic is going to Tangrene, they can try for the one at Bilbringi, and their mission teams end up being strategically at the back of Thrawn's fleet where they can open up a second front in the battle.
Stealth in Space: Averted, and pretty well. The "cloaking shield" Thrawn gets his hands on has accurate limitations (the people inside it are just as blind as the ones outside it), so he's forced to use it to 1) hide things inside a ship; 2) find otherways of flying ships; or 3) attach it to things that don't require guidance to fly. Because he's a Grand Admiral, he gets significant mileage from all three.
Stealth Pun: The names of Karrde's ships. Also, Fey'lya (phonetically pronounced 'failure').
Zahn introduces the Stokhli Spray Stick, an unconventional weapon which can both stun people and also allow one to play at being Spider-Man. The Noghri use it when trying to capture a pregnant Leia because the normal Star Wars stun blasters have a better than fifty-fifty shot of inducing a miscarriage.
The conventional stun-setting blasters appear in "The Last Command" when the Imperials can't use the kill setting for fear of hitting the nearby cloning equipment. Lando and Chewie have fewer such compunctions.
Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Garm Bel Iblis spends years fighting a private war against the Empire because of a personal grudge against Mon Mothma before reluctantly joining the New Republic. The teeth unclench when she unbends enough to ask him, personally, to help. Also, Mara asking Luke for help when she tries to rescue Karrde off the Chimaera.
Tsundere: Mara Jade. Somewhat troubling when her tsun-tsun side mainly consists of wanting to literally kill Luke.
Tykebomb: Mara was adopted and secretly raised by Palpatine himself. Not surprisingly, when Palpatine showed her an image of Luke and Vader killing him...
The Unpronounceable: Played with, in Heir Han says the Imperials have attacked three star systems—"Bpfassh and two unpronounceable ones".
Vestigial Empire: The Galactic Empire has been reduced to a quarter of its former territory at the beginning of the trilogy. (For sense of scale of just how much money the Empire poured into their war machine, only now are the Empire and the New Republic roughly evenly gunned.) Of course this is before Thrawn comes along.
Thrawn has one (at least for him- it probably wouldn't count as one for a less-controlled villain) when he gets hit by a whole bunch of things he didn't see coming at once. He regains his composure within moments—but those few moments were all that Rukh needed...
C'baoth has a more traditional one after Mara kills the Luke clone, albeit one where he passes into Tranquil Fury instead of another hissyfit.
Even with so many things going wrong at once, it seems to be taken mostly in stride by Thrawn. And then he's informed of the truly unthinkable, a betrayal by the Noghri.
The Walls Are Closing In: In a callback to the trash compactor scene from A New Hope, Luke heads into one and as the walls close in he hopes that Mara, who is controlling the trash compactor and previously stated her desire to kill him, won't let her hatred overcome her. She stops the walls a meter apart, and he rock-chimneys up and saves her boss.
The Watson: Pellaeon. Done positively, in that Thrawn respects his second and would not have an idiot in such a position. And just like the original Watson, Pellaeon sometimes thinks or notices something Thrawn doesn't, or comes up with a new idea, which Thrawn finds very handy.
Thrawn: "I have no qualms about accepting a useful idea merely because it wasn't my own."
We Have Reserves: Averted in that Thrawn values his men's lives and does not waste them. He refused orders from the Emperor himself when he felt that carrying out an attack order would be a waste of ships and men. This consideration, however, does not extend to the Noghri, who he'll sacrifice blithely...though even then, he only sacrifices them when he's certain they have a legitimate chance of success.
Wham Line: A few examples. One is where the Noghri maitrakh reveals to Leia that "thirdson" does not mean "third son" but "great-grandson", revealing that the Noghri have deliberately been kept in, at best, indentured servitude by the Empire for generations.
Originally Zahn wanted the character that became Joruus C'baoth to be an insane clone of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the clone he unleashes on Luke at the end of The Last Command to be a clone of Darth Vader. Lucasarts vetoed both of these.
Also vetoed was the original name he proposed for the Noghri: the Sith. Which explains the Vader connections—Zahn, like many fans, was speculating just what Vader's title 'Dark Lord of the Sith' actually meant. At the time, evil Force-users were simply called "Dark Jedi" in the Expanded Universe. The Noghri's bulging eyes and protruding jaws were also supposed to be the inspiration for the design of Vader's mask.
Some sources claim that, at one point, there were plans to have Shannon McRandle (the model who poses for Mara Jade on trading cards and book covers) to make a brief cameo in Jabba's throne room in the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi, since it's established in this trilogy that Mara was hiding out there waiting to kill Luke.
In-universe, Pellaeon wonders how the Battle of Endor would have turned out if Thrawn had been in command. Considering how close the actual Battle of Endor was and how brilliant Thrawn is, the answer would almost certainly have been "so long, Rebel scum." A later book has Thrawn and the Emperor explicitly discussing the latter's plans for Endor shortly before the Battle of Hoth. Thrawn quickly picks up on the Emperor's ploy to leave Endor's shield generator lightly defended as a lure for the Rebels, and warns him about the possibility of the locals siding with the Rebels. The Emperor, of course, dismisses the primitivesas a threat.
Another in-universe example comes during Luke's trip to Dagobah in Heir, While in the Dark Side Cave, Luke experiences a vision of the Battle of the Great Pit of Carkoon. He sees what would have happened in Mara had managed to board the Sail Barge.
Finally, something of pure speculation (this time) with nothing particular behind it: the war is very impersonal in the sense that no character from the movie series ever meets Thrawn face-to-face. One can only imagine...
Wolverine Publicity: Despite not being that important of a character in the first book, C'baoth is featured the most prominently on the cover, while Thrawn is given a very small space in the corner. While not quite the standard use of the trope since C'baoth was a new character, the publishers were probably going for "hey, look! a Jedi!". Oddly enough, even though it is in the later two books where the majority of his arc takes place, he gets much less cover space on the final book and isn't even on the cover of the second. (Except for the Hungarian cover◊ which prominently features the Grand Admiral... but not C'baoth!)
Thrawn successfully runs so many of these that he gets the protagonists chasing their own tails trying to avoid stepping into the next one. He pretty much defines the trope in an aside to Pellaeon, patiently explaining why they're considering attacking a world which the New Republic prizes greatly.
"When we're finally ready to draw the Coruscant sector fleet into ambush, Mrisst will be the perfect lure to use. If they come out to meet us, we'll defeat them then and there. And if they somehow sense the trap and refuse to engage, we'll have our forward base. Either way, the Empire will triumph."
A despairing Lando, trying to get something out of a paranoid Admiral Drayson, tells him:
"We all agree Thrawn's a brilliant tactician. But we can't assume that everything that happens in the galaxy is part of some grand, all-encompassing scheme that he's dreamed up."
A particularly apt example of the trope is when Thrawn sends commandoes to capture Leia's children, but briefs them that if they fail, they should falsely implicate Mara Jade as an ally in order to prevent her giving her knowledge to the Republic. Pellaeon considers this order defeatist and amits he wouldn't have come up with it himself, but needless to say it turns out to serve Thrawn's purposes well.
Karrde desperately trying to keep Han and Lando from finding Luke and vice versa, and then trying to keep all three hidden from Thrawn while still not letting them become aware of each other.
The raid for the CGT at the end of the trilogy had all three sides trying to outwit each other.
You Are The Translated Foreign Word: Leia is the Mal'ary'ush. The Noghri who recognizes her as such immediately clarifies, saying that she is the daughter and heir of the Lord Darth Vader. Later it's clarified further to mean that she is heir to his authority and power. Supplemental material reveals that the word actually means "Heir of the Savior".
You Are Too Late: Not quite as dramatic a reveal as usual for this trope, with no ticking clock or imminent explosion, but the Republic scrambles against time to find the Katana fleet before Thrawn, and engages in a vicious battle when a Star Destroyer arrives to stop them, but once it is over they discover that Thrawn had already discovered the fleet hours, if not days ago, and has already moved more than one hundred and fifty of the two hundred ships.
The first was a Blofeld Ploy, but it's not capricious - the situation is ambiguous, and Thrawn explains why he considered the Mook to be the one at fault. He was checking if the Mook was badly trained, or just an idiot. When he confirmed it was the latter, he killed the mook, and had the trainer prepare a replacement. Efficiency went up afterward.
The second time, the situation was similar, but the mook had shown quick thinking and inventiveness, even if he'd failed. Instead of killing him, Thrawn promoted him and told him to perfect the tactic he'd used. He did.
The difference was that the first one had a situation whose solution was clearly stated in the training manual. The second explicitly had no such solution, because one didn't exist. The second officer also took responsibility for the failure. The first one did not, and tried to pin the blame on his superior officer. One speculates whether he would have kept his head if he had just admitted his mistake; Thrawn doesn't punish failure, just irredeemable stupidity. To Thrawn, doing this the way Vader and Palpatine did is stupid because killing failures leads to less innovation, and also people fight more effectively when their leader inspires them.
To be more clear, he doesn't punish failure, he punishes fault.
Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Well, not shame per se, but Leia is initially thrown for a loop when she finds out that the Noghri revere her as the daughter of Darth Vader. Of course, it lasts about half a second before she starts furiously strategizing how to work this to her advantage because, well, it's Leia.
The whole thing was rapidly becoming unreal... but one fact already stood out. The alien prostrating himself before her was prepared to treat her as royalty.