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Literature / Thrawn

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"There are things in the universe that are simply and purely evil. A warrior does not seek to understand them, or to compromise with them. He seeks only to obliterate them."
All beings begin their lives with hopes and aspirations. Among these aspirations is the desire that there will be a straight path to those goals.
It is seldom so. Perhaps never.
Sometimes the turns are of one's own volition, as one's thoughts and goals change over time. But more often the turns are mandated by outside forces.
It was so with me. The memory is vivid, unsullied by age: the five admirals rising from their chairs as I am escorted into the chamber. The decision of the Ascendancy has been made, and they are here to deliver it.
None of them are happy with the decision, I can read that in their faces. but they are officers and servants of the Chiss, and they will carry out their orders. Protocol alone demands that.
The word is as I expected.
The planet has already been chosen. The admirals will assemble the equipment necessary to ensure that solitude does not quickly become death from predators or the elements.
I am led away. Once again, my path has turned.
Where it will lead, I cannot say.

Thrawn is a Star Wars Expanded Universe novel by Timothy Zahn, who previously authored Legends works including the original The Thrawn Trilogy that first introduced the character into the franchise. Thrawn delves into the new origins of the titular character, making it a preboot of sorts. The novel is a prequel to Star Wars Rebels, where Thrawn was first reintroduced into the franchise after the Continuity Reboot.

After Mitth'raw'nuruodo, or Thrawn, is rescued from exile by Imperial soldiers, his deadly ingenuity and keen tactical abilities swiftly capture the attention of Emperor Palpatine. And just as quickly, Thrawn proves to be as indispensable to the Empire as he is ambitious; as devoted as its most loyal servant, Darth Vader; and a brilliant warrior never to be underestimated. On missions to rout smugglers, snare spies, and defeat pirates, he triumphs time and again — even as his renegade methods infuriate superiors while inspiring ever greater admiration from the Empire. As one promotion follows another in his rapid ascension to greater power, he schools his trusted aide, Ensign Eli Vanto, in the arts of combat and leadership, and the secrets of claiming victory. But even though Thrawn dominates the battlefield, he has much to learn in the arena of politics where ruthless administrator Arihnda Pryce holds the power to be a potent ally or a brutal enemy.

All these lessons will be put to the ultimate test when Thrawn rises to admiral—and must pit all the knowledge, instincts, and battle forces at his command against an insurgent uprising that threatens not only innocent lives but also the Empire's grip on the galaxy—and his own carefully laid plans for future ascendancy.

It was released on April 11th, 2017, by Del Rey Books. It is received a sequel, Thrawn: Alliances, which released in Summer 2018. A third book, titled Thrawn: Treason, was released in Fall 2019.

It received a comic book adaptation from Marvel Comics, written by Jody Houser (the Rogue One comic adaptation), edited by Heather Antos (Star Wars (Marvel 2015), Darth Vader, Kanan, Princess Leia, Shattered Empire), and illustrated by Luke Ross (Darth Maul, The Force Awakens comic adaptation), released in early 2018.

The novel contains the following tropes:

  • Audience Surrogate: Eli, who only knows as much as what is revealed throughout the story on Thrawn's side.
  • Berserk Button: For Pryce, it is anything that threatens her parents. The main reason she entered politics was so she could find a way to get back at the people who screwed over her family's mining company. She kills an ISB agent and murders hundreds if not thousands of insurgents and innocents, and in so doing even arguably sacrifices her parents' love for her, to save them.
  • Bilingual Bonus: If you have even a cursory knowledge of Latin, Nightswan's true identity will likely be much more obvious. Nightswan's true identity is Cygni. "Cygnus" is Latin for "swan".
  • Broad Strokes:
    • Parts of Thrawn's backstory from Legends have returned, including Thrawn being exiled by his people and being rescued by Imperials. Thrawn also reveals that his people are threatened by an enemy that is also a threat to the Empire (which was the Yuuzhan Vong in Legends, but canonically, it is something currently unknown—possibly the same thing that Palpatine senses the presence of according to the Aftermath trilogy, which is implied to have something to do with Snoke) and he offers to help the Empire with his vast knowledge of the Unknown Regions (referencing the Outbound Flight project). The first chapter is almost a word-by-word copy of "Mist Encounters".
    • Thrawn being exiled for pre-emptive strikes. Except... actually not. It's actually a ruse; he was purposely planted into the known Galaxy to be found by the Empire, because from what the Chiss Ascendancy heard from Neimodian refugees fleeing into the Unknown Regions after the end of the Clone Wars, they were worried that the Empire wouldn't be a stable ally against threats from the Unknown Regions. And since Thrawn had previously met Anakin at some point during the Clone Wars, they decided he was the most qualified of them to assess the Empire's potential.
  • Call-Back: Thrawn and Eli travel to Umbara, and the latter explains to the former that there was a deadly campaign there during the Clone Wars when the locals allied themselves with the Separatists. Eli reasons that the Umbarans probably don't want to go through it again with the Empire.
  • Call-Forward:
    • Empire's End revealed that Thrawn was accepted into the Empire by Palpatine because of his extensive knowledge of the Unknown Regions, which contributed to Palpatine's secret plans. Now we get to see how that went down.
    • Pryce and Thrawn work together with Yularen at one point. This relationship shows up later in "Through Imperial Eyes".
    • Azadi is mentioned as "retiring against his will". While the Bridgers aren't mentioned, Rebels viewers will recognize that he got found out about supporting the Bridger transmissions and was subsequently arrested for it.
    • Per orders of Tarkin to choose a minister to be standing governor while she's off on Coruscant, Pryce selects Minister Tua as her temporary substitute, leading to where Tua is in Season 1 of Rebels. Towards the end of Season 1, Tarkin rips Tua a new one for not doing a better job as Pryce's substitute, which we learn in Thrawn has some more depth to it as Tarkin was expecting whoever Pryce would choose to sub for her would be efficient since they were personally chosen out of several other ministers by the governor herself.
    • Rebels apparently isn't the first time an Imperial Security Bureau agent causes trouble for Thrawn and Pryce.
    • The Battle of Batonn happens at the end of the book, as mentioned as having recently happened prior to "Steps Into Shadow". It turns out the civilian casualties were caused by Pryce, not Thrawn, hence why Thrawn remains silent while Pryce tells all.
    • Commandant Deenlark from Lost Stars is at the Royal Imperial Academy on Coruscant when Eli graduates.
    • Pryce privately scoffs about politicians to Tarkin in "Steps Into Shadow". While at the time, it seemed like a possible shot at her late second-in-command Minister Tua, it turns out she has a lot more to hold against politicians than we were let on as we see throughout the book, namely against Azadi and Renking for losing her family's company to the Empire.
    • Pryce's hand-to-hand training in the novel help explain her skill demonstrated in Rebels.
    • Perhaps the biggest of them all, figuratively and literally, is that Thrawn reasons that the massive demand for specific metals, as well as components for sublight and hyperdrive engines (but not completed engines) far outstrips the needs of the surge in fleet-building that the Empire is presently engaging in and using to explain the demand for said resources, which leads him to the conclusion that those resources are going towards the construction of something big. At the end of the novel, he asks the Emperor about the Death Star.
  • The Cameo:
    • Governor Azadi is mentioned as The Ghost several times in the beginning of the novel.
    • Minister Tua has a meeting with Governor Pryce when the latter has to leave for Coruscant and has to assign a minister to be standing governor while she's gone. Tua also namedrops Commandant Aresko.
    • Eli is welcomed by Admiral Ar'alani when he meets the Chiss Ascendancy.
    • Konstantine is namedropped towards the end of the novel.
  • Canon Immigrant:
    • Thrawn himself. Possibly the biggest one since 2014.
    • Parck and Barris, the Imperial officers that found Thrawn in Legends and brought him to Palpatine, are back and performing the same role. The Strikefast is also back as well.
    • Sy Bisti was previously established as a lingua franca for the Chiss when trading with other worlds. It would appear this is the same case here.
    • Pryce Mining has found a mine full of doonium. In Legends, it's a heavy metal alloy used in the construction of starship hulls, and was first mentioned in the The Glove of Darth Vader as being particularly common in the second Death Star. Incidentally, the book also says that Thrawn and Anakin met in the Thrugii Asteroid Belt during the Clone Wars, which in Legends, contained mines of doonium as well.
    • Togorians, a cat-like warrior species, are also brought over from Legends. H'sishi returns, now the owner of Yinchom Dojo.
    • The Raider class corvette also makes its first canon appearance.
    • The Chiss Ascendancy is also re-canonized. Admiral Ar'alani from Outbound Flight also appears in a cameo.
    • Beckon calls, ship's remotes that were a plot element in The Thrawn Trilogy, make a reappearance.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Batonn is mentioned in Pryce's first chapter by Renking as having an open position that Pryce could take. Years later, Thrawn leads a deadly campaign there and Pryce has to persuade her parents to leave Batonn.
    • The extra rank plaque that Deenlark gives Thrawn also shows up in some rather pivotal moments.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Eli's skill with supply and logistics is immensely helpful to Thrawn.
  • Comically Missing the Point: A frustrated Eli argues with Thrawn about how his career as an Imperial Navy officer is being suddenly being sidelined because he has to serve as a newcomer's aide and translator. He calls Thrawn's explanation that he needs a translator so that possibly lethal mistakes won't happen as "Krayt spit". Thrawn is confused as to what it means, to which Eli then says it's like saying "Nonsense.", so the former is led to believe that is exactly what it means. Eli then has to clarify that it's an expletive that he shouldn't use, which just further proves Thrawn's point about needing an aide.
  • Commonality Connection: Because Eli has heard stories about the Chiss and has knowledge of a language they use, Thrawn finds interest in him and takes him under his wing. He's not too entirely happy about his career being sidetracked by Thrawn, though.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Thrawn gets Deenlark to transfer Eli's bullies to the Skystrike Flight Academy. Thrawn and Pryce would later work with Skystrike to find defectors found by ISB intel in "The Antilles Extraction" and the top pilot there, Commander Vult Skerris, for testing the TIE Defender in "Secret Cargo".
    • Tarkin mentions that there are multiple other ministers on Lothal other than Minister Tua. There are a couple of them that make cameos in Servants of the Empire.
    • When interrogating pirates, Thrawn brings up their connection to one of Tarkin's enemies, a pirate named Q'anah; and threatens them with Tarkin coming down to deal with such associates of Q'anah personally. Tarkin's defeat of Q'anah occurred in Star Wars: Tarkin.
  • Deadly Euphemism: In regards to the position of governor on Lothal being vacated... otherwise known as him being thrown in prison for co-conspiring with the Bridgers against the Empire.
    Pryce: Governor Azadi is retiring?
    Tarkin: Yes. Rather against his will, it would seem.
  • Downer Beginning: The novel begins with a short prologue of Thrawn describing being charged with exile by his people and admits to himself that his future is uncertain. It later turns out that this is a case of Unreliable Narrator/Metaphorically True/Exact Words, because he's not talking about how he felt like being disowned; he's actually talking about how they're carrying out the plan to get him found by the Empire, though him being uncertain of what will come after he gets "exiled" is obviously true since he isn't omniscient.
  • Ensign Newbie: Thrawn only knows minimal Basic at the beginning of the novel and thus needs someone to coach him and translate between him and other people. Also, while Thrawn was high-ranked in the Chiss Ascendancy, he has to start near the very bottom of the Imperial ranks as a lieutenant.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Though she quickly demonstrates a ruthlessness fitting for an Imperial governor well before she can reasonably aspire to such lofty heights, Pryce cares deeply about her parents and the workers of her family's mining company.
  • The Exile: Thrawn was exiled by his people, the Chiss. Except not really.
  • Expy: Zahn has admitted that part of the reason Eli Vanto was created was because at this point in the timeline, Gilad Pellaeon drastically outranks Thrawn and thus would have a very different dynamic were he kept.
  • Fantastic Racism: Thrawn has to deal with a lot of unnecessary obstacles put in his way by other Imperials who don't like the fact that the Navy's rising star is an alien. He's also often mistaken for some of the more opressed species, like a Nemoidian or a Pantoran, making his experience worse.
  • Fatal Flaw: Thrawn, while a tactical and strategic genius, is consistently described as politically inept, something that causes him no end of problems with people both inside and outside the military.
  • First-Name Basis:
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    • Thrawn ultimately makes an ally out of Pryce, as we see in Rebels. We also already know that Thrawn will manage to get his promotion from admiral to grand admiral thanks to the Battle of Batonn, which happens at the end of the book.
    • Something will separate Eli and Thrawn after the Battle of Batonn seeing as how despite him being Thrawn's aide he's nowhere to be seen when Thrawn makes his appearance in season three of Rebels. It's because Thrawn sends Eli to serve the Chiss Ascendency following the battle.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Thrawn makes several comments about the tactical importance of flexible fighter craft in conjunction with Star Destroyers and why they're superior to any hypothetical superweapons. In Rebels he's pushing the scalpel of upgraded fighters as a better solution than the sledgehammer of a Death Star.
    • Thrawn's memoir from Chapter 7 reads (...) But a warrior may forget that even the task of identifying an enemy can be difficult. And the cost of that failure can lead to catastrophe. There's also Chapter 13's (...) No battle plan can anticipate all contigencies. There are always unexpected factors. (...) In Rebels the Battle of Atollon didn't go the way Thrawn expected because of this, the unexpected insubordination of Konstantine and Bendu's attack. The same happened during the Liberation of Lothal, in which Thrawn could have not predicted the sudden appearance of freaking hyperspace-capable space whales.
  • Full-Name Basis: Emperor Palpatine refers to and addresses Thrawn using his full name, Mitth'raw'nuruodo, while every other character calls him "Thrawn".
  • Hero Antagonist: Nightswan is just as heroic as many of the franchise's Rebel protagonists; he just happens to be set against the titular character.
  • Honor Before Reason: Nightswan ultimately chooses this, when it becomes clear he can no longer win at Batonn. His men depend on him and he can't abandon them even if he does appear somewhat tempted by Thrawn's offer to set him up with the Chiss Ascendency. He subsequently dies with his men and the civilian population when Pryce sets off the explosives.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In regards to the Legends continuity.
    Thrawn: Even when false, legends can be most informative.
  • Long Game: Thrawn does plenty of this, but most of all is his reason for joining the Empire. There is something out there that the Chiss are afraid of, and by joining the Empire he can either cripple them as a distraction, or ally with them. He decided to ally, for now, despite all the corruption of the Empire, because he figures that when the Emperor dies he will be in a position to help choose the new Emperor, who will do a better job. He is unaware (and the book doesn't mention) that the Emperor has no intention of dying, and if he does die, intends the galaxy to burn.
  • Meaningful Name: Cygni. Cygnus is Latin for swan, and "Cygni" is the name of various stars in the Cygnus constellation, which can only be seen at night.
  • Metaphorically True: When Thrawn first meets the Emperor, he mentions meeting Anakin Skywalker during the Clone Wars. The Emperor remembers Anakin telling him about the encounter. However, when Thrawn asks if Skywalker is alive, the Emperor replies that he did not survive the Clone Wars. At the end of the novel, Thrawn meets Darth Vader and agrees that they have never met before. From a certain point of view, Anakin died the moment Vader was born.
  • Military Maverick: Thrawn's a rather more subtle example than usual. His pragmatic mindset drives him to find solutions to problems that, while effective, often end up ruffling the feathers of his superiors, particularly because Thrawn often does not default to the typical Imperial procedures that are sometimes too rigid for his purposes (or selects strategies that, while highly effective, are not politically expedient). As a consequence, he winds up frequently threatened with courts-martial and has to regularly return to Coruscant to face them—his defense usually not needing to be more than "I did not actually break any laws, we won, and almost no one on our side died."
  • The Mole: Thrawn is not actually exiled, just made to look like he is. He is actually still a loyal officer of the Chiss military who happens to have been assigned the task of infiltrating the Galactic Empire.
  • Mole in Charge: Then he becomes one of the highest ranking officers in the Imperial Navy.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Eli only ever wanted to be a supply officer. His skill in this department is exceptional, and he's able to do with financial figures and materiel movements what Thrawn is able to do with art, psychology, and tactics.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: When they go to investigate an attack on an Imperial troop carrier by what appear to be pirates, Eli and Thrawn are both horrified to discover the carrier was actually transporting slaves and the "pirate attack" was a rescue mission. However, Thrawn declares that Imperial interests must be protected, even if those interests are unsavory, and they hunt down the proto-rebels behind it anyway.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • In the Legends canon, Thrawn once related an anecdote about how he once defied the Emperor by refusing to take his forces into a battle he wasn't prepared to win. The Emperor promptly sidelined him and sent a more willing commander, who wound up getting his force wiped out. In the new canon, Thrawn does much the same thing when initially ordered to retake Scrim Island on Batonn, Thrawn states that he needs time to gather more intelligence. His superior, the Fleet Admiral, demands a more prompt effort and sends a more gung-ho admiral to do the job. After that admiral gets his butt kicked, the Fleet Admiral finally agrees to send in Thrawn, who is able to retake the island using the intelligence he gathered from his rival's attempt.
    • Early in the book, one of the Basic phrases Thrawn stumbles over is "preemptive strikes". This phrase was also unfamiliar to him in Legends, with him learning and discussing it in Outbound Flight.
  • Noodle Incident: Thrawn and Anakin Skywalker met during the Clone Wars. Not much more is known about this incident other than Anakin's report on Thrawn made a favorable impression on Palpatine. The next book promptly un-noodles it.
  • Not Proven: In the aftermath of the Battle of Batonn, Yularen and Thrawn both know the latter wasn't responsible for the massive civilian casualties. They both rightly suspect it was actually Pryce... but with the evidence having literally gone up in flames, they can't officially prove anything. However, Yularen's certain enough of her culpability that he ends his professional relationship with the Governor. Likewise, while Thrawn will have to continue working with Pryce going into Rebels, any mutual respect or friendship between them is now out the airlock; from hereon out, both parties will only view the other as a tool for advancing their own respective agendas.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Whatever's out there lurking in the Unknown Regions. Nothing is said about it, aside from the fact that the Chiss are really scared of it. It's possibly the same presence that Palpatine and the Acolytes of the Beyond were said to have felt in Aftermath: Empire's End, which is implied to either be or is related to Snoke.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Thrawn's inconsistent grasp on Basic is at least in part fake on his part in order to justify keeping Eli close. The Emperor calls him out on this which causes Thrawn to drop it during their private conversation.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Invoked in cold-blooded and calculating fashion by Thrawn (like everything else he does), when he actually yells at a stormtrooper who wasn't going to let him pass. Possibly the only time, in all of his appearances, in which Thrawn raises his voice "in anger."
    Thrawn: I was not angry. Some people will not respond to reason. Others refuse to consider alternatives to their normal pattern of behavior. In such cases, an unexpected breaking of one's own patterns can be an effective tool.
  • Paranoia Fuel: In-universe. Rather than report them, Thrawn has Deenlark discreetly transfer cadets who attacked him to the Skystrike flight academy, reasoning that it's worse than simply being washed out or some other physical punishment; instead, for while, they have to live knowing what they've done and that they may be punished for it at anytime. Meanwhile, their collaborators that weren't directly involved will be rattled by their friends disappearing without a trace. (All with the bonus that Thrawn thinks the transferred students will genuinely make good fighter pilots.)
  • Rank Up: Throughout the novel, we see how Thrawn makes his way from the bottom of the chain as lieutenant to being top dog as Grand Admiral. Pryce is also eventually promoted from senatorial aide to administrator to governor, as well as Eli graduating from cadet to an ensign to ending the book as a commander.
  • Resolved Noodle Incident: The Battle of Batonn, which was mentioned in Thrawn's first appearance on Rebels, serves as the book's climax. Also turns out Thrawn wasn't responsible for the massive civilian casualties and it was actually Pryce.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Thrawn meets several competent, fair commanders who are willing to give him an honest chance and then promote him once he rises to the occasion. Of course, since it's the Empire, they mostly get screwed over by all the petty racists. Colonel Yularen in the Imperial Security Bureau survives the book with his career intact (and later shows up in Rebels), and remains a steadfast ally throughout.
  • Schrödinger's Canon: See Canon Immigrant.
    • Interestingly, the book counts as this for the Legends canon (which is itself the Trope Maker). It would take little, if any, modification for the novel to slot into that continuity, as well, serving as something of a prequel to The Thrawn Trilogy or a sequel to Outbound Flight.
  • Self-Made Man: Kind of. Thrawn has to start all over again when he joins the Empire, starting out as a lieutenant with just a Gozanti-class cruiser called the Blood Crow. He gets better soon enough, however.
  • Sequel Hook: Eli leaves for the Unknown Regions to join the Chiss Ascendancy during the events of Rebels Season 3, and we still have more to learn about Thrawn's contribution to Palpatine's plans against the threat from the Unknown Regions. Thrawn's backstory before he's found by the Empire and information on the Chiss Ascendancy are still largely unknown.
  • Serial Killings, Specific Target: The real reason for the massive civilian casualties during the Battle of Batonn. Governor Pryce needed to cover up the fact that she had murdered ISB Agent Gudry, so she decided to remotely detonate the insurgents' caches of explosives without destroying their shields first. This results in the force of the blast being redirected inward, destroying the evidence and killing thousands of civilians along the way.
  • Stealth Mentor: Thrawn himself to Eli, after recognizing how good Eli is at understanding Thrawn's plans, a skill only a few others like Wullf Yularen possess. Thrawn spends most of the book developing this talent further in Eli, and it's only when Commander Faro spells it out that Eli realizes Thrawn has been preparing him for command.
  • Synchronous Episodes:
    • Thrawn takes place over the span of about a decade and half, making several nods to events happening alongside it, mostly the backstory of the Lothal arc from Rebels.
    • When Pryce returns to Lothal, there is a Time Skip of her spending a few months there. At least the prologue of the first book of Servants of the Empire takes place during that time.
  • Time Skip: The novel takes place over a course of years, so this is expected. At the beginning of the novel, a couple of months pass between Thrawn's meeting with the Emperor (having requested for Eli to be his aide at the end) and Eli joining Thrawn as an ensign after his graduation from the Imperial Academy.
  • Vagueness Is Coming: The Chiss are being threatened by an enemy from the Unknown Regions, and that same enemy may threaten the Empire as well. Thrawn never refers to it by name. It's implied to be something relating to Supreme Leader Snoke.
  • Villainous Friendship: Similar to Lost Stars, the book goes out of its way to show the "friendships" (be it genuine or just relatively normal-as-it-can-get-for-Imperial co-worker relationships) within the Imperial ranks and also Imperials with other people. In the cases of genuine friendship, Pryce is hurt when Madras is discovered to be treasonous and asks her if it was all a lie, and Thrawn implies at the end that yes, he does see Eli as a friend when he deliberately leaves his journal that said so for his former aide to see.
  • Villain Protagonist: Thrawn, Pryce, and Eli.
  • Wham Line: The revelation of Nightswan's identity.
    Cygni: And please-call me Nightswan.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: For a given value of "Hero." Thrawn is frequently called back to Coruscant to explain his behavior to his superiors, because they don't like how he solved a particular problem (even if he got far better results than another officer would have). Frequently, once all the facts become clear, what looks at first blush like a colossal mistake ends up being one of Thrawn's trademark masterstrokes. Probably best summed up by the commander of Lansend Base:
    What the... Chimaera, did you just fire on us?
  • Worthy Opponent: Nightswan to Thrawn. A good chunk of the book is them trying to one-up the other. Thrawn even tries to recruit him into the Chiss military towards the end of the book.
  • You Cannot Kill An Idea: Thrawn's last journal entry in the book talks about this and always being ahead in the game by knowing.

... For if one is remembered by a friend, one is never truly gone.

Alternative Title(s): Star Wars Thrawn