Grand Admiral Mitth'raw'nuruodo is back and this time he’s not alone! Who would have thought that Thrawn had friends? That’s right; everyone’s favorite Chiss has taken a break from interrogating Hera Syndulla and harassing Rebels to make life miserable for the hard-working Orson Krennic, those persistent Grysk, and a host of others.
Timothy Zahn (every Thrawn book) has delivered to us his third book in the Disney canon era, following 2017’s “Thrawn” and 2018’s “Thrawn: Alliances”, and although no one is saying whether it’s the end of a trilogy or not, kind of feels like it. This story is most certainly giving me the wrapped-up vibe, especially since we don’t know what happens to Thrawn after 1 BBY.
Because if you’ve seen the Star Wars Rebels finale, then you know we’re not entirely sure what he’s is up to these days, as he and Jedi Ezra Bridger were taken away by a purrgil. And this book takes us pretty darn close to that event.
Zahn’s writing, after so many years, is still so accessible and effortless that diving back into this character and world is such an easy thing for him to do. And because his strength lies in character work, with characters he himself has created, it’s very easy to jump right back in and pick it up again. Such is the case with “Thrawn: Treason”, another very worthy entry into the ever-expanding library of Thrawn titles.
The premise is relatively simple and is summed up nicely by the publisher…
“… as Thrawn's TIE defender program is halted in favor of Director Krennic's secret Death Star project, he realizes that the balance of power in the Empire is measured by more than just military acumen or tactical efficiency. Even the greatest intellect can hardly compete with the power to annihilate entire planets.
As Thrawn works to secure his place in the Imperial hierarchy, his former protégé Eli Vanto returns with a dire warning about Thrawn's home world. Thrawn's mastery of strategy must guide him through an impossible choice: duty to the Chiss Ascendancy, or fealty to the Empire he has sworn to serve. Even if the right choice means committing treason.”
So, let’s pause and think about this point in the timeline based on what we know from Rebels, Rogue One, and several written materials. This book obviously takes place prior to the conclusion of both those so Krennic is still busting his butt getting “Stardust” operational and Thrawn is intent on making his TIE Defender project the pride of the fleet. Not to mention he’s still dealing with those pesky rebels on Lothal, including a young Jedi named Ezra Bridger.
Thrawn’s ace pilot, Captain Vult Skerris, is dead and Hera Syndulla is their captive so that takes us at least past Episode 9 of Season 4 of Star Wars Rebels and deep into 1 BBY territory. I’d also bet that Jyn Erso aka “Liana Hallick” is being picked up by the Rebels on Wobani around the same time, getting the events in Rogue One underway.
Thrawn seems to have way more Imperial bigwigs in his corner, including Darth Vader, but admits that Palpatine’s favor is the only one that matters, and as the Emperor goes, so does the former Jedi. In fact, the only one worth anything on Krennic’s side is Palpatine, who of course knows what “Stardust” is capable of. But the Emperor is also hedging his bets and leaving his options open, should one fail and the other succeed. It also wouldn’t hurt to have both projects flourish, but with funds being an issue, a choice will most likely have to be made. Ugh, the business of ruling a galaxy can be so tedious.
So, when the Stardust project is stalled thanks to some local wildlife attacking supply lines, namely grallocs, Thrawn is brought in at the request of Governor Tarkin to see if he can find a resolution. He’s given one week to do what others couldn’t in years, and although Thrawn accepts, he realizes he’s playing in somewhat tricky politically muddy waters.
The importance of this mission is dictated by what’s at stake, and in this case it’s funding. If Thrawn can’t complete the task on time, then his TIE Defender funding will go to Krennic’s Stardust project and help get it back on track. What Thrawn doesn’t know and Krennic suspects, is that Tarkin and the local Grand Admiral, Savit, favor the TIE Defender project over the Death Star so they are doing what they can behind the scenes to ensure Thrawn is successful.
And speaking of the Death Star, one of the many droll facets of this book is the running gag where no one is supposed to know the true name of the “Stardust” project. The truth is, everyone seems to know, and it drives Krennic and his attaché, Assistant Director Ronan, up the wall.
In fact, because of characters like Krennic and Ronan, and a kind of blundering quality they possess, there’s almost a satirical feel to many of the scenes. For certain, anytime the senior leadership are meeting, there’s no shortage of sideways glances and eye-rolls anytime either one of them utter something inept.
It’s almost comical the way Tarkin, Savit, Thrawn, and others treat them with a sort of petulance and older brother irritability anytime they’re around. And Ronan’s adoration of Krennic, as misguided as it seems, is a great source of entertainment. Think Alfrid Lickspittle from The Hobbit trilogy or INS Agent Seedling from “Coneheads” and you’re on the right track. But unlike those characters, Ronan seems capable of change and the longer he’s around Thrawn and away from Krennic, the more things become clearer for him.
And if this isn’t enough, everything gets significantly more complicated when Thrawn crosses paths with some old friends (and enemies) in the form of the Chiss, particularly Grand Admiral Ar’alani and former protégé, now bored Lieutenant in the Chiss Army, Eli N. Vanto.
If you remember from 2017’s “Thrawn”, Vanto was assigned by his former mentor to the outer rim to hook up with the Chiss Ascendency and serve as an Imperial attaché. Unknown to nearly everyone except Thrawn and maybe the Emperor, the rumors surrounding his disappearance have taken on mythic proportions and he’s been labelled many things, most of all a traitor by the Empire rank and file who of course despise turncoats. Admiral Ar’alani, who appeared and the end of “Thrawn” welcoming Vanto, is more well known for her appearance in the Expanded Universe novel, “Outbound Flight”, also written by Zahn.
The community has been waiting for the return of Vanto ever since he made his debut, so at FIRST, I called into question Zahn’s decision to minimize his and Thrawn’s interaction. In fact, a good chunk of Vanto’s story takes place either during a side mission on the planet Aloxor, or on the Steadfast under Admiral Ar’alani’s command. Even Vanto himself questions why his former mentor, and someone he considers a friend, is giving him the blue cold shoulder after a year apart.
But, it’s only when you get to the end that all things become clear and there are good reasons why Thrawn keeps his distance, just as there are reasons for all things Thrawn does. With Ar’alani, who like Thrawn is no longer part of the Ascendancy and wears the same stark white uniform, she hasn’t always been affable with when it comes to Thrawn and his tactics. She’s a more conventional tactician and while she may not understand Thrawn’s peculiar methods, does have a measure of respect towards him and certainly won’t argue with the results.
Ar’alani doesn’t agree with his choice to join the Empire but takes him at his word when he says it’s what’s best the for survival of the Chiss. Plus, he entrusted her with the continued stewardship of Vanto, not a flippant errand by any stretch and it shows he has a tremendous respect for her intellect, knowledge, and leadership.
For the sake of this story, the battle ends up being fought on two fronts so Thrawn is more than happy that their paths have crossed once again. When he starts to peel back the layers of what’s happening with the Stardust supply lines, he encounter’s those pesky Grysk again who are starting to get a little bold and inching closer to core space. So, while tackling that problem, he uncovers a treacherous plot and an Imperial traitor is revealed. Thrawn must now not only arrange for the destruction of the Grysk and their potential threat to Chiss and Imperial territory but face this new treasonous danger as well.
This is where all sides converge and he’s able to be in multiple places at once, which is especially important when they need to track down some leads away from the battle arena. Once such mission finds Eli Vanto leading a fact-finding mission to the planet Aloxor at the Tiquwe Spaceport, accompanied by Assistant Director Ronan, and a pair of Death Troopers, Pick and Waffle. This is where we see a more confident Eli take command of the mission and assert himself more than we’ve seen in the past. It doesn’t go exactly according to plan, but they find what they’re looking for thanks to him.
If you think I’ve given away the plot of the book, don’t worry so much about that. Zahn doesn’t do mystery very well so there’s not really a “whodunit” type of situation, rather he reveals facts as he needs to and focuses on telling a good story. As the reader, we are privy to all the political maneuvering going on between Tarkin and Krennic behind the scenes. And equally so another key character’s true motivations are revealed in the first half of the book, so it becomes a race to finish rather than a game of clue. And like I said, time is indeed of the essence as Thrawn is given only a week to solve a problem Krennic and Savit have spent years attempting to fix.
But ultimately, regardless of what goes down, most of it is of little consequence grand scheme wise because of where it’s placed in the timeline. We know what happens to the TIE Defender project, we know what happens to Stardust, and we know Grysk aren’t around causing problems. So, what we end up with is another great character study from Zahn as he expands on Chiss culture in fantastical ways, and one of those ways gets to the heart of what I’m referring to.
Art by Darren Tan
“Third Sight is the sight from without, Second Sight is the sight from within."
Let’s talk about Third Sight for a moment. Very quickly, Third Sight is what the Chiss call their version of the Force and “navigators” are the ones who wield it. In traditional terms, the Jedi/Sith called this ability “precognition” and use it to see events before they happen, the Chiss use these “navigators” to travel through hyperspace, in place of nav-computers. Navigators are almost always female, and the ability begins at an early age but loses it’s luster by the time they reach their teenage years, disappearing almost entirely by the time they reach adulthood.
So, being a “navigator” traditionally has a short shelf-life as far as careers go but this book changes that a little bit and adds something else to the mix, a second ability, the aptly titled “Second Sight”. First, we meet Navigator Vah’nya who at 22-years-old should be retired by now but has managed to retain her Third Sight ability and still be very effective. No one understands how she’s able to do this but with Navigators being in short supply, she was employed past the normal age when they would be placed elsewhere.
Her and Eli Vanto have formed an attachment during his time aboard their ship, the Steadfast, and it’s important to understand this relationship as it determines the outcomes for both. As the story moves along, we meet a second Navigator, Un’hee, who is 15 years younger than Vah’nya but has been held captive by the Grysk for two years. When their ship is attacked by Thrawn and Ar’lani, she avoided execution by pretending to be dead already using a technique called “somnia” where they enter a state of sensory suppression and lower their metabolism, appearing dead.
Waking them from this “somnia” is tricky and takes patience, affection, and care, something Ar’alani is capable of. During her time with the Grysk, Un’hee suffered much under their sadistic mandate, and as a result her psyche and emotional well-being were damaged greatly. So, in order to learn the Grysk secrets that poor Un’hee was witness to, including their location, Vah’nya performs what’s called “Second Sight”. Second Sight is where two minds become one and they collect and store each other’s memories, a process that can be irreversibly dangerous if both possess this gift. Think a Vulcan mind meld only much more dangerous to the people involved.
Like Third Sight, it’s an ability only Navigators possess and once performed, they retain all the thoughts, knowledge, and experiences of the counterpart, including relationships. As I’ve said, this plays heavily into events that occur later in the book and is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story for me.
“And a servant with divided loyalties was no servant at all.”
And while we’re talking about cool stuff, this book has an epilogue where we get the Emperor needling Thrawn a bit about what had transpired and if he remains a dedicated servant of the Empire or not. That’s not unusual as the Emperor has challenged Thrawn before on this matter but what is cool is the brief conversation they have about Lothal and Jedi Ezra Bridger.
A very cool revelation is that the Chimera was potentially equipped with a “chamber” of some sorts that was going to presumably house Bridger for his trip back to Coruscant, and his meeting with the Emperor. Was this chamber used by either Ezra or Thrawn during their hyperspace journey across time and space with the Purrgils? Did Thrawn even follow the Emperors orders and build the chamber?
I doubt it’s a simple meditation/life support chamber like the one Darth Vader had aboard both the Carrion Spike and then the Executor. Could it be a freezing chamber that Thrawn was supposed to lure Ezra into? To freeze the young Jedi in carbonite for the journey to Coruscant? Perhaps one day we’ll know the answer, but I’ve jumped ahead.
So, in the end, even with the deck stacked against him and the odds not in his favor, Thrawn outsmarts, outmaneuvers, outwits, and outfoxes his opponents…again. He’s managed to curry some favor with both the Empire and the Chiss, although like I said, the Emperor still questions his loyalty despite his victory. He’s recruited another Imperial to join the Chiss cause in Assistant Director Ronan, very cautiously I might add, and graduated another protégé from the Thrawn school of military tactics in the form of Commodore Faro.
Faro is a rock for Thrawn and is the product of his teachings as she’s been his second in command aboard the Chimera for some time. And although the sneaky Ronan created some minor doubt, in the end, Thrawn rewards her loyalty by getting her a sweet promotion. She’s moving on to command the entire Eleventh Fleet, and whatever became of her and her command, that’s another one we’ll probably never find out.
Perhaps though, his greatest achievement is the evolution of now Lieutenant Commander of the Chiss Army, Eli Vanto. The book starts off with Vanto questioning the mundane task with which he’s been assigned by Admiral Ar’alani. He sees it as pointless number crunching and pattern recognition with no real impact on any tangible events or of meaningful significance.
He can’t decide if the task itself is a test, grading his ability to follow orders regardless of the habitual nature of the assignment, or is there something he’s simply not picking up on? With everything Thrawn, and Ar’alani now as well, there’s a true purpose that is most times not inherently obvious, even to someone as gifted as Vanto.
It turns out Eli was being earmarked for something very special indeed and by the end of the book you’ll learn what that is, and it’s genuinely humbling. I won’t say it here, but it opens a new avenue for Zahn or someone else to go down from a storytelling perspective and is perhaps the most exciting revelation for me personally. If I was an author being eyed up for a new Star Wars book, I’d be pitching this idea at the start of the very next meeting.
The aftermath is another foretelling of many things to come, and since we know the outcomes for the players, it’s that much more sadistic in a weird way. But knowing the outcome doesn’t make the testy exchanges any less enjoyable to read, or the consequences any less dire. Zahn’s writing is just too good to not be effective as it stands apart from the greater Star Wars universe. In many ways his work still reads very much like an Expanded Universe book, not surprising of course since that’s where he came from and achieved great success. His lines are very well defined after so many years of writing Star Wars and it shows.
I’m not entirely sure this book will please the greater fan base like “Thrawn: Alliances” did, the names just aren’t as flashy when compared to Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker, and Padmé Amidala. But there’s way more meat on the bone here and the story is quite a bit richer than the previous two entries. It both stretches and contracts the Star Wars universe in wonderful ways without compromising the forward motion of our ticking clock known as the canon timeline.
I could see some getting tired of Thrawn’s schtick, a Marty Stu type character with little or no flaws, and always emerges victorious regardless of the odds. He has met his match in some instances, the Bendu comes to mind, but you get the sense he’s a god among men and women, and he’s run out of mortal adversaries. Indeed, you either love or hate this character…I happen to love this character.
This book does close some doors but opens many more to potentially great stories about Admiral Ar’alani, Eli Vanto, Vah’nya, Un’hee, and the rest of the Chiss navigators, and what sort of adventures and enemies they might encounter. So, even if you don’t particularly like Thrawn, this book contains more than its fair share of worthwhile threads and characters that should pull you in.
I presume the next book about Thrawn, if there is one, will take place sometime after his misadventures with Ezra Bridger and the purrgils aboard the Chimera. I’m quite certain that wherever they ended up, whatever side of the galaxy they were carried off to, Thrawn will find a way back into the picture. The question is, will Zahn be the one to tell that tale?
"Thrawn: Treason" is published by Del Rey Books and is available now! Click HERE to get your copy today!
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