Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars

Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil – Review

iu-2In 1991, author Timothy Zahn created one of the most memorable Star Wars villains of all time in Heir to the Empire. Since that time, Thrawn has been made canon through the Star Wars Rebels television show and Zahn has been able to expand on our knowledge of the character through two new trilogies of books. Now, the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy reaches its epic conclusion with Lesser Evil.

The Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy has given readers one of the deepest studies of a Star Wars culture ever. Zahn has been able to expound on reader’s understanding of the Chiss in incredible ways and Lesser Evil adds even more. Reader’s will finally get the deep history of the Chiss Ascendancy, as well as the personal history of Thrawn himself. The amount of detail this race now has makes it the deepest and richest of all the Star Wars cultures.

Thrawn as a character has often been derided by some for being too “all knowing”, yet Zahn fully digs into his character in Lesser Evil to explain just what makes him special. Thrawn looks at facts as they are, not through any lens or ideology and because of this he is able to see things for what they are, not what he wants them to be. There is a fantastic conversation in the book that Thrawn has with Thalias that helps explain his reasoning,

“‘I don’t teach, but merely guide. Each person approaches problems differently. All I do is ask questions that set that person on their best path to the solution.’ ‘I see’, Thalias muttered. But only if that person was willing to put forth the effort to learn that path to logic and reason she suspected. Too many people, possibly even the majority of them, were all too content to let others do that thinking and analysis for them.”

It is Thrawn’s ability to put in the work of logical analysis, without preconceived notions that sets him apart. Later in the book Thrawn complains, “I’m was disappointed. People who can’t see things that are right in front of them…”. He is frustrated with people’s inability to objectively look at the facts and see what he sees.

This is why Thrawn can look at a piece of art and understand so much about a culture. He comes to that piece of art the same way he does to a conversation, to learn what is actually being said, not what he thinks is being said. Art is always saying something, the creator or author has something to share with their audience and Thrawn looks for the intent of that creator, not his interpretation. Because Thrawn is not looking at things through any certain lens, he’s able to parse what the artist is trying to say. And because an artist is a product of a culture, Thrawn can deduct from that artist much about the culture that produced the artist.

This theme of thinking for one’s self is further driven home through the addition of the Kilji, a race who claim to be enlightened. This enlightenment is seldom at the individual’s choice, often being forced on whole cultures by the Kilji. The leader of the Kilji illuminates their philosophy further, “All beings secretly dream of having someone to give them order and purpose, who will allow them to serve without the need for burdensome thought or uncertain decision. That is the enlightenment we offer.”

This idea is the ultimate extreme but it serves the point on how critical thought can be eroded when one stops approaching things from as clean a slate as possible, as Thrawn models. When politics clouds everything, when ideologies become all, clarity becomes obfuscated. This is what makes Thrawn special, he’s only bound to his desire to protect his people, that’s it, all else for him is open. This allows him to be able to truly listen to what is being said through art and conversation and see what’s right in front of him.

It cannot be overstated just how detailed this series has been in its plotting. Every single page is full of things that continually add to what is going on and therefore must be read with care. This makes the Thrawn Ascendancy series one of the best of all of Star Wars literature. Zahn put his heart and soul into this series, Lesser Evil is no exception. There is so much more that could be written about in this review but the book’s revelations are best experienced by reading the story for one’s self. Lesser Evil is rated 5 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Lesser Evil provided by Del Rey Press.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars

Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good – Review

Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

Thrawn has defeated Yiv the Benevolent and in the aftermath, the Chiss Expansionary Fleet roots out the leftover Nikardun nests. Unbeknownst to the Chiss, the phantom menace of Jixtus is secretly working to insight a civil war in the Ascendancy. Will Thrawn and his allies be able to decipher his plot and stop him in time?

Timothy Zahn is at the top of his game with the Thrawn Ascendancy series as the second book, Greater Good does not disappoint. He continues to flesh out the Chiss as a people, giving readers even more background and greater understanding of their civilization. Zahn has created one of the most fascinating Star Wars races with the complexity and nuance readers have come to expect from his writing.

Greater Good‘s theme is brilliantly topical. The villain Jixtus is working to destabilize the  Ascendancy by fueling a civil war. To do so, he is using the Chiss nature against itself by sowing seeds of emotionally-driven selfishness in a few of the members of the Forty Great Houses. The Forty Great Houses are the next level of Chiss society, right beneath the Nine Ruling Families. Individuals in a few of these houses are being manipulated emotionally to act in their own “interests” and the betterment of their house, blinded to the dangerous path they’ve set the Ascendancy on. Zahn shows how easy it is to emotionally manipulate people to segregate people along partisan lines, creating chaos for the whole of a society and destroying the greater good in the process.

Greater Good is the best of Star Wars literature, it is telling a story that feels familiar and new all as the same time. If you like the political intrigue of The Prequels or Game of Thrones, this series is perfect. Greater Good continues the story from Chaos Rising and sets up the final book in the trilogy brilliantly, leaving readers longing for the finale; it is rated 5 out of 5 stars!

This review was completed with a review copy of Greater Good from Del Rey Publishing.

This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Thrawn · Uncategorized

Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising – Review

iuIn 1991 author Timothy Zahn continued the Star Wars trilogy with his book, Heir to the Empire. The story was not only a continuation of our favorite characters’ stories but also an introduction to new characters. One of these creations has stood the test of time, having been adapted into canon by appearing in Star Wars Rebels and having his story continue in the literature. His name is Thrawn. This mysterious blue alien from the Chiss Ascendancy is finally getting his origin story in Zahn’s latest book, Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising.

The Book

The book is broken up into two different, alternating story lines. One is the “current” story of Senior Captain Thrawn and the second is the Memories section which tells us the history of Thrawn. The memories section also works to fill in the backstory for the relationships between the galactic powers inside the Chaos region of space, where the Ascendancy is located.

The absolute pleasure of this book comes in finally gaining an understanding of why Thrawn is the way he is. Getting to explore his history coming up in the Chiss military is fascinating and gives readers the fullest understanding of the character by letting us see his successes and, more importantly, his failures. Thrawn has always felt like the Sherlock Holmes of the Star Wars galaxy, but Zahn is not above showing readers hisblindspots. By alternating between the “past” and the “present”, the character of Thrawn comes to life in a way readers haven’t gotten to see before. Zahn gives us his motivations and worldview in the clearest possible way by having Thrawn tell, as well as show, what they are.

But this book is not just about Thrawn. It is about the Chiss Ascendancy as well. Fans have long wanted to know more about his power in the Unknown Regions and thankfully Zahn provides an opportunity to explore them. There is a richness to having this group fleshed out and developed as deeply as any race in the Star Wars galaxy. (I could spend the rest of the review diving into everything that’s revealed about Thrawn as well as the Chiss, but honestly it’s just more fun to experience it for yourself!).

Politics

Thrawn’s biggest blindspot has always been politics. Unfortunately for him, the Chiss Ascendancy is rife with politics at every level of life. Our current climates makes this a fitting theme to explore. We live in a time when politics inserts itself into every aspect of our lives. Watching Thrawn struggle with this reality mirrors the experience of many  in our world who also struggle to come to grips with this hyper-political existence.

In many ways Thrawn is not fully aware of the depth of the political wars raging behind the scenes as he works to quell the external threats to the Chiss. What will be interesting to see, as this new trilogy progresses, is if the political nature of Chiss life emerges as a detriment to them in their quest to keep themselves safe. Politics has a bad habit of clouding the most important issues because of partisan blinders. Chaos Rising clearly shows the danger of becoming myopic through the main antagonist’s end.

Conclusion

The start to this latest Thrawn trilogy is fantastic. Zahn finally gets to run wild with his creation by digging intothe Ascendancy as well as the title character. There is so much to love about the world building on display and about a story that’s only hindrance is the canon of where Thrawn will end up. Thankfully there is so much to play with, it makes the book feel fresh and new. Chaos Rising is rated 4.75 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed with a review copy of Chaos Rising from Del Rey Publishing.

This review first appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Star Wars Rebels · The Clone Wars · Uncategorized

Thrawn: Alliances – Review

Dh6ituIXkAApangThis review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report. Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

There was, Vader had noticed, a strange sort of symmetry in the Force, a balance that often manifested in patters and resonances and strange reunions. People long separated would unexpectedly meet again; events of significance would see echos of themselves within new events; places once visited would somehow draw a person back to create new memories, whether good or for ill” (Thrawn: Alliances 254)

Vader’s ruminations are the perfect summation of Timothy Zahn’s latest book Thrawn: Alliances, which explores the first the meeting of Anakin Skywalker and Thrawn as well as a mission Vader and Thrawn are sent on by the Emperor. Loyalty is tested and secrets are uncovered as the Unknown Regions become the backdrop for two events that will help shape these men’s lives forever.

The strength of this book lies in it’s characterizations. Each main character is written so well that it’s impossible not to hear Matt Lanter or Cat Taber’s voice when reading Anakin or Padmé. James Earl Jones and Lars Mikkelsen are almost audible with every word of dialogue from Vader or Thrawn. And it’s not just the voices that Zahn captures, it’s everything the characters think or do feels completely in line with who fans know them to be. Zahn has written something that feels like an arc of The Clone Wars and Rebels all in one. Using Padmé and Anakin together was a perfect touch as they bring out the most intimate parts of the other’s personality. And their individual interactions with Thrawn give us a nuanced sense of who he truly is. Lastly, Zahn does not disappoint in his Vader/Thrawn showdown, as each man works to understand the other, seeing if they
can be trusted.

thrawn-alliances-poster-Star-Wars

The other thing Zahn does well is the way he weaves the mysteries of each story and the implications they have on the prequel time period and possibly the sequel era. The Clone Wars era story adds one more layer of machinations of Palpatine, adding dimension to his plans for bringing down the Republic. The Imperial era story continues to build on the mysteries of the Unknown Regions, races there, the Chiss Ascendancy and what the Emperor could be so interested in. This may be the most intriguing part of the story and it’s one that leaves the reader clamoring to know more and with the hope that all this focus on the Unknown Regions is going to pay off in the future.

Thrawn: Alliances is a book that much could be written about, but as a review, it’s honestly best left to the reader to discover. Zahn has created something wonderful here, so should you buy it, yes! Warning, it’ll leave you hungry for more, but isn’t that the hallmark of a good Star Wars book, opening the door for more? Thrawn: Alliances is rated 4.5 out of 5.

This review was completed using a copy of Thrawn: Alliances provided by Del Rey.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · Star Wars Rebels · Uncategorized

Thrawn – Review

thrawn12f-2-webThis review originally appeared at The Star Wars Report.

It is said that to create a compelling villain an author must make them sympathetic in some way. Villains never see themselves as such, as with the rest of us, they believe they are doing the right thing. Timothy Zahn, in his new book Thrawn, has given us just that; a villain that believes he’s doing what he must to save his people and possibly the galaxy itself from an evil worse that the Empire. Thrawn is a masterpiece in subverting the readers expectations, especially in light of Star Wars Rebels. Many readers will come in expecting the ruthless, cold and calculating character they know from the show, yet that is only one side of the multifaceted Chiss. Zahn has created the most nuanced Imperial to date allowing readers a both, insider and outsider’s look at the Empire.

Breaking the Mold

One of the true highlights of the book is this theme. Both Thrawn and Arihnda Pryce (who fans will recognize as the Governor of Lothal in Star Wars Rebels) must overcome the prejudices of the Empire throughout the story. The Empire is one of the most elitist and xenophobic places you will read about in literature. The Core systems in the galaxy have very little regard for aliens or people from the Outer Rim or beyond. Each of these characters has at least one of these strikes against them and Thrawn has both. Thrawn and Arihnda must overcome these prejudices. They never feel sorry for themselves or blame the system they are apart of, they simply overcome the obstacles in their own way, though determination, hard work and in Arihnda’s case, foul play.

It’s actually incredible to watch Thrawn continually prove his naysayers wrong and obliterate their preconceptions about him, time and time again. He uses all of his talents and skills to his advantage, making himself invaluable to the Emperor and the Imperial Navy. Strange to think one could learn a valuable life lesson from Thrawn, but he never allows anyone else to define his worth, value or to be held back from completing his objectives. Of course, full disclosure, Thrawn is not a perfect role model, but this was a great theme to see play out in the book.

Thrawn_&_Pryce

The Story

Thrawn is an expansive novel that covers a lot of time. It also allows us to get that look inside the Empire, but from the outsider’s perspective. Because Thrawn is not human, he does not always see things the same way and this sheds light on much of the corruption in the Empire as well as the inefficiencies. The story does a good job of sucking the reader in and created a subtle enough character with Thrawn that you are on his side during the book.

Zahn also creates, for this book, a new person to be at Thrawn’s side, his name is Eli Vanto. Think of him as the Watson to Thrawn’s Sherlock. This is a really fascinating character that, by the end of the book you’ll be begging Zahn for more.

As is mentioned above, the story features Arihnda Pryce. The book is set up to parallel her rise to power and Thrawn’s, seeing the different ways they overcome the obstacles to get where we see them in Rebels. She is not to be trifled with and her story is every bit as interesting as the title character. There are many familiar faces in the book, that fans would come to expect from a story tied in with Star Wars Rebels as Yularan, Grand Moff Tarkin, the Emperor and a few more are sprinkled in .

Conclusion

This review is not meant to be expansive and in many areas I wanted to be vague because it’s a book that just needs to be read and experience. Zahn has done exactly what I hoped for and written the definitive, canon book of Thrawn. It ranks up there with the very best of the new canon and is rated 5 out of 5 turbo laser blasts.

This review was completed using a copy of Thrawn provided by Del Rey.

Book Reviews · Books · Star Wars · The Force Awakens

Star Wars: Aftermath – Review

star-wars-aftermath-cover-625x951As Return of the Jedi faded from theaters in late 1983, Star Wars fans entered what would become known as the “Dark Times”. Toys began disappearing from the shelves and slowly Star Wars faded into the cultural zeitgeist. Before faint whispers about Special Editions and Prequels, Heir to the Empire awakened a hunger for Star Wars that had been just under the geek surface for years. It was the first book to be licensed by Lucasfilm to continue the story after Return of the Jedi. Bringing back Luke, Leia and Han as well as introducing us to Mara Jade, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Talon Karrde and a plethora of others who would become staples of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Timothy Zahn cemented himself as the second coming of George Lucas for fans. The SWEU flourished with varied success over the 23 years it ran, ending when Disney acquired Lucasfilm and announced that the EU would be reorganized in the Legends line and a new official run of canon books and comics would be forthcoming.

This history has lead us to the weekend of September 4th, 2015 when the first official book about what happened after Return of the Jedi was released. Star Wars: Aftermath replaces Heir to the Empire as Star Wars gospel, giving fans their first taste of the aftereffects of the Rebel victory at Endor and the state of the universe in the wake of Vader and the Emperor’s death. For many fans, even though there have been other books in the new canon, this is the one they have been looking to as the “official” start since it begins them on the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Can the book live up to these expectations?

JTTFA-1536x864Plot

The plot is relatively simple. As the Empire scrambles to hold on to systems in the aftermath of the destruction of the second Death Star, a secret meeting is held on the outer rim world of Akiva. Wedge Antillies, on a reconecesne vacation, stumbles upon the meeting and is captured. At the same time Rebel pilot Norra Wexley has retured to Akiva to bring her son back with her to Chandrila, the home of the Senate of the New Republic. Mayhem ensues as Norra, her son Temmin, a former Imperial loyalty officer Sinjir and bounty hunter named Jas Emari join forces to rescue Wedge and destroy the Imperials. The book also features interludes that give glimpses to the state of the galaxy on different worlds, plus what can only be called miniscule cameos of Leia, Han, Chewie, Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar.


The Jedi

One of the strongest points of this novel is its unification of the Star Wars universe from the Prequels to the Originals. Wendig deftly weaves the two parts of the Saga together seemlesly. So for fans worried that the Prequels would be forgotten, at least here, they play a wonderful supporting role for character back stories as well as the feel of the universe. It’s nice to have the Prequels feel respected and important in the new canon.

Wendig tries to capture the ambiance of Star Wars in the dialogue and in the characters. Sometimes he captures it and sometimes he does not. There may be too many instances of Imperial officers yelling at Rebels, “scum” but that’s to be forgiven. On a whole, the new characters are good and they all feel like they fit right alongside any of the characters from any part of Star Wars.

Star Wars VII-Force Awakens-Teaser 2-Star Destroyer Jakku

The Sith

The major issue with the story is that it feels like the background to what should be the main story. The interludes hurt the book by the reminding you that the story you want to read with Leia, Han, Chewie and Mon Mothma is happening, just not in this book (Poor Luke is only a reference). Honestly there is just no excuse to not be following the major characters from the Orginal trilogy at this point. Star Wars has always been from the point of view from the main characters and any side character (on screen that is) has a relationship with a major character to help you understand their place in the Saga. A prime example of this is Star Wars Rebels and the way it has used, Tarkin, Vader and Ahsoka to give us a context for why characters like Kanan, Hera and Ezra are important to the overall story of Star Wars. In Aftermath, there is none of that. We’re never left with any other feeling other than this is a minor story that amounts to little more than a footnote in galactic history. SPOILERS: The very end of the book does tease us with a shadowy Imperial admiral that feels similar to a Thrawn-type character.

It’s clear from this story that there were some serious reigns on the author from the story group as to what he can cover. With The Force Awakens a little over 3 months away, the history of Luke, Leia and Han is being kept a closely guarded secret and their absence from this book is glaring. Honestly it might have been better to have this book come out after the movie so that the “surprise” of where the trinity is would not have to be kept anymore. Aftermath is a trilogy, so the next two books, coming out after The Force Awakens may offer more of these characters since the release date for number two is not till sometime in 2016. Author Chuck Wendig did an interview with Grantland.com where he said

“There was a great article about Age of Ultron, and that it felt like a highway with a bunch of off-ramps to other Marvel properties,” Wendig says. ‘I don’t want this book to feel like that. I don’t want it to feel like, ‘Well, it’s just a trip down memory lane, and don’t forget to buy these other great books, or other games, or other movies.’ It needs to still stand on its own, while still speaking to the fans and other properties and other stories that are out there.”

Unfortunately this is exactly what has happened. With the “it’s all connected” mentality, the story has become a mere side road to the main road we all really want to be on. The book, though well written feels like staging for the big show, never feeling truly needed or essential. I wrote in my review of A New Dawn, the first book of the new Star Wars canon that,

If you are going to have the books, comics and games be canon they need to have weight. People need a reason to read or play, so make the stories important and not just filler. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has suffered with this very issue, so please be careful to not allow this to happen with the these Star Wars properties. The fun of the now Legends line, were the big, galaxy altering events that took place. Just because there are new films or shows does not mean readers and gamers don’t want meat to the stories, something that matters.

Aftermath, like Tarkin and Heir to the Jedi all fail this test. Sadly the book never rises above feeling like filler, the light beer of Star Wars books. The real saving grace with Aftermath is that Wendig is a decent writer who is able to transcend the material enough to make this a weak recommend.  Aftermath is rate 2.5 out of 5 lost A-Wings.