By George Bate
It’s incredible to think that we are mere weeks away from the 30th anniversary of Heir to the Empire and, therefore, the debut of the one and only Grand Admiral Thrawn. The blue-skinned, intimidating officer of the Chiss Ascendancy turned Grand Admiral in the Imperial Navy has been a seemingly ever-present fixture in Star Wars following his debut in author Timothy Zahn’s 1991 novel.
The character’s incredible longevity is further evidenced by his most recent appearance in Thrawn Ascendancy Book 2: Greater Good, the middle installment of Zahn’s latest Thrawn trilogy. A follow-up to last year’s Chaos Rising, Zahn continues expanding Thrawn’s backstory as a member of the Chiss Ascendancy following the victory for the House of Miith out in the Unknown Regions. As many second parts go, the underlying threat was not extinguished and now it’s time to face enemies who don’t appear to be enemies…
Greater Good continues in the fashion of its predecessors in crafting a tale rather distinct from other events and characters in Star Wars lore. Thrawn’s introduction in the aforementioned Heir to the Empire and his role in projects like Star Wars Rebels and Zahn’s first canon trilogy are largely centered around established moments and plot lines – Thrawn is brought IN to the fold of existing plot machinations. This is a relatively, and refreshingly, stark contrast to Zahn’s work on the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy. Despite taking place during the Clone Wars, Greater Good feels beautifully disconnected from other stories. In fact, this is one of the most disconnected tales we’ve gotten in canon yet, as it really feels like the adventures of Thrawn and his crew are occurring in their own little world. This allows for a lot of world-building and expansion in that, as a reader, we’re being immersed in the conflict at hand, rather than trying to piece together its relevance relative to other plotlines. This is a tale about Thrawn and the Chiss Ascendancy, a tale in the Unknown Regions, a tale not beholden to preexisting events necessarily.
As such, however, this requires readers to be on their toes a little bit. It’s been a little while since I read Chaos Rising and there were times where I felt like I could have done with a bit more of a refresher, particularly regarding the world-building of the Chiss in that novel. At times, this issue is heightened by the introduction of a whole host of new characters, many of whom are difficult to keep track of and, ultimately, detract away from our focus on Thrawn. That being said, the novel really excels when it centers on Thrawn, the central plot, and some of the more interesting attempts at world building.
Similar to many of the best Legends books, Greater Good adopts an interesting storytelling that fosters a sense of empathy toward our titular character. In canon, Thrawn is introduced as an antagonist to the crew in Rebels – a heartless servant of the Empire. But, that isn’t exactly the Thrawn we get here. Thrawn is more relatable and his intentions are understandable, although it’s difficult to not see the impending darkness within on the horizon. This is a unique opportunity afforded by presenting this story in novel format. A story like this is perfectly designed to unfold in a trilogy of novels, as opposed to a television series or theatrical films. We’re given a more introspective glance into the inner-workings of Thrawn, something Zahn has captured brilliantly over the last 30 years.
Unfortunately, at times, the book feels much like a preview of the final installment of the trilogy releasing later this year – Lesser Evil. Indeed, I finished Greater Good and just wanted to pick up the next book immediately, in large part because this second chapter doesn’t progress at the speed and with the momentum one would hope. Nonetheless, Book II: Greater Good works incredibly well as a neo-noir mystery novel with interest increasing as the events unfold.
Author Timothy Zahn and Del Rey’s newest venture into the world of Thrawn excels far more than it fails. The novel is bogged down by some convoluted world-building, disinteresting side characters, and sluggish pacing, but the uniqueness of the Chiss culture and Unknown Regions, the superb action sequences, and the brilliance of our titular character carry the story brilliantly into the upcoming final chapter of the trilogy.
Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good hits bookshelves Tuesday April 27th
Images courtesy of Del Rey and Lucasfilm