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  • Writer's pictureMichael W Rickard II

Book Review: "Thrawn: Alliances." Is the Galaxy Big Enough for Grand Admiral Thrawn and Da

“I have sensed a disturbance in the Force.”

Ominous words under any circumstances, but all the more so when uttered by Emperor Palpatine. On Batuu, at the edges of the Unknown Regions, a threat to the Empire is taking root—its existence little more than a glimmer, its consequences as yet unknowable. But it is troubling enough to the Imperial leader to warrant investigation by his most powerful agents: ruthless enforcer Lord Darth Vader and brilliant strategist Grand Admiral Thrawn. Fierce rivals for the emperor’s favor, and outspoken adversaries on Imperial affairs—including the Death Star project—the formidable pair seem unlikely partners for such a crucial mission. But the Emperor knows it’s not the first time Vader and Thrawn have joined forces. And there’s more behind his royal command than either man suspects.

In what seems like a lifetime ago, General Anakin Skywalker of the Galactic Republic, and Commander Mitth’raw’nuruodo, officer of the Chiss Ascendancy, crossed paths for the first time. One on a desperate personal quest, the other with motives unknown . . . and undisclosed. But facing a gauntlet of dangers on a far-flung world, they forged an uneasy alliance—neither remotely aware of what their futures held in store.

Now, thrust together once more, they find themselves bound again for the planet where they once fought side by side. There they will be doubly challenged—by a test of their allegiance to the Empire . . . and an enemy that threatens even their combined might.

-Promotional blurb for Thrawn: Alliances

As you might expect, SPOILER ALERT

Last year’s Thrawn gave Thrawn creator Timothy Zahn a chance to show fans how everyone’s favorite Chiss rose to the rank of Grand Admiral, the highest achievement for anyone in the Imperial Navy. Thrawn was a tight read that provided insight into the character and why he became such an important figure in the Empire. It also provided backstory on the Star Wars Rebels character, Governor Arihnda Pryce, tying in her rise to power with Thrawn’s without making her story eclipse his, or seem like filler.

With Thrawn established as one of the Empire’s few competent villains, Thrawn Alliances brings a story involving the grand admiral and the Emperor’s right-hand man, Darth Vader (You didn’t think I was going to say Prince Xizor did you?). What menace requires the Emperor to send two of his best (if not the two best) agents out into deep space and can they co-exist despite a clear clash of personalities.

The novel appears to lose track about mid-way, but I encourage you to keep reading as everything in the novel eventually ties in, a testament to Zahn’s writing. There’s a little misdirection (or so it seems) as Zahn takes the reader back to a time when Thrawn teamed up with Anakin Skywalker to find a missing Padmé Amidala. Initially, the book seems like it’s going to lose its way, particularly when this backstory focuses on Amidala (not that she’s a bad character, but the novel is supposed to be about Vader and Thrawn). However, Zahn doesn’t do this for long and this backstory is expertly woven into the story involving Anakin and Thrawn so the reader doesn’t feel cheated. Likewise, the past tale involving Skywalker and Thrawn is integral to the main story of Vader and Thrawn.

A much different time when Anakin and Thrawn worked together.

Any tale involving Vader and Thrawn is going to require a formidable foe, whether it’s one of sheer power or one of great resources and/or cunning. Unlike the novel Tarkin, Vader and Thrawn’s opponent seems like a true challenge to them. While Vader and Thrawn may have the raw power to obliterate their enemies, the story makes it clear that is not an option and both protagonists have to work outside of their comfort zone while working in a very unstable environment caused by their forced pairing.

Vader and Thrawn’s mission is as much about the conflict between them as it is about solving the mystery the Emperor has sent them off on. Will Thrawn suffer the same fate as other admirals have in the Star Wars saga, getting a Force choke for his troubles? At times, it seems so as Vader cannot stand being second to Thrawn aboard the grand admiral’s starship, Chimaera, nor is he patient with Thrawn’s methodical planning. Factor in the added conflict between Vader’s elite stormtrooper unit, the 501st Legion (aka “Vader’s Fist”) and Thrawn’s crew (including his Noghri bodyguard, Rukh). There’s also the great mystery of whether Thrawn knows who Vader is under his armored helmet.

The Empire's tactical genius

Another positive to this novel is that Zahn does not weaken Vader's character in order to show Thrawn's strengths. Vader is the same ruthless Dark Lord fans have come to know and his status is not diminished in order to elevate Thrawn's abilities. Rather, each character plays to their strengths and weaknesses, adding to the story's conflict.

My only complaint (and it’s a minor one) is that Thrawn: Alliances discusses a recent failure by Thrawn, but doesn’t elaborate (unless I missed this) exactly what it is. I later discovered it has to do with a story arc on Star Wars Rebels, a show I don’t watch. A brief description of the circumstances behind Thrawn’s failure would have helped. Nonetheless, this is an excellent read.

Fans looking for more adventures of Grand Admiral Thrawn can breathe easy, knowing Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn: Alliances provides an engaging story featuring two of the Star Wars Universe’s greatest and most popular villains. Zahn keeps the reader turning pages as they wonder what menace requires the Empire’s greatest military strategist and the Emperor’s ruthless enforcer to join forces, and whether these two can work together at a common goal. Despite an apparent stumble mid-way into the novel, Thrawn: Alliances is a must-read for Star Wars fans, particular those who like the Empire’s Chiss mastermind.

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