When I heard the news from Star Wars Celebration Europe that Grand Admiral Thrawn was making his return to the Star Wars universe, and ultimately canonized, I found myself locked in a moment of stunned silence. This was a big moment. When the stories of the Expanded Universe were declared Legend, there were many casualties, but none as big as the exclusion of Grand Admiral Thrawn from the official canon of Star Wars.
Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire and its sequels, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command, are some of the most influential Star Wars novels ever written. Simply put, Heir to the Empire is the book that launched a thousand stories. To understand the importance of this work you need to travel back in time to 1991.
Back then Star Wars was an afterthought. Everyone knew about it and most had seen the movies, but it was no longer fresh in our pop-culture. Star Wars was something that happened a long time ago.
New films were nowhere on the horizon and there were only a handful of novels that existed. Most notably there was Brian Daley’s Han Solo Trilogy, and L. Neil Smith’s Lando Calrissian books. There was also Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which was written as a fallback in case Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope was a flop. Imagine that? Yes, the Star Wars landscape was as barren as the Dune Sea of Tatooine with nary an oasis in sight. That is, until the Summer of 1991 when Timothy Zahn opened the doors of his desert cantina and invited us in to have a drink.
I still remember that day, when I walked into a bookstore and my jaw dropped upon seeing a Star Wars display with a bunch of hardbound books called Heir to the Empire. In 1991 there was no internet or smartphones. Unless you read the book section of your newspaper, which I often did not, you had no idea that this was coming. In those days, you sometimes had to get out to know what was going on. Heir to the Empire was a complete and utter surprise.
What struck me about Heir to Empire was that it was the first novel to bring all of the main characters from the films back together in an all new adventure, and in the uncharted galaxy that was post-Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi. Many wondered if this story was the sequel that George Lucas planned, but never got around to making. Timothy Zahn took us back to that galaxy far, far away for the first time in a long time, and it was glorious. That is, until you realized that you were going to have to wait a year before you could read Dark Force Rising, and then wait another year for The Last Command.
Not only did it reunite Han, Luke, and Leia, but it introduced one of the now classic characters of the Star Wars universe – Grand Admiral Thrawn. He was a Chiss, a blue-skinned non-human species, who overcame Imperial prejudices to rise to the Empire’s highest military rank. He was the first major villain to challenge our heroes after Darth Vader and he did not disappoint. Thrawn’s style was completely different from that of Lord Vader’s, but he was equally effective, and his character commanded the same amount of respect from readers that Vader did. Vader was a Sith Lord and warrior who subjugated the Force to do his bidding and ruled by fear. Thrawn was not a Force-sensitive, but understood its power and how to negate it. He relied on cunning logic, intellect, guile, strategy, and tactics to lead the Imperial remnants on one victory after another. He did not “suffer fools gladly,” but understood that troops were valuable assets and not mere cannon fodder. He was willing to cede the battle if it meant winning the war. He was to the heroes of the New Republic what Professor Moriarty was to Sherlock Holmes.
Thrawn’s history will have to be re-written now, and who better to do that than Timothy Zahn, the man who created Thrawn. Zahn is writing a new novel, simply titled Thrawn. When asked in an interview if he would incorporate any elements from his previous books into the new novel, Zahn replied,
“I’ve thrown in a few bits and pieces. Nothing too blatant. Just little Easter Eggs for those who are familiar with my other books.”
It’s ironic that Thrawn was introduced in the post-Empire galaxy that Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens is set in, and yet, it is unlikely that he will be part of that world. Instead, he will be canonized in the days where the Empire is at the height of its power, and just beginning to be challenged. In addition to the novel, We’ll get to see and hear Thrawn in action when he appears in season three of Star Wars Rebels, where he’ll hunt down the Ghost crew and attempt to squash the fledgling rebellion.
Sure, nothing beats taking on Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo, but the Ghost crew is not to be taken lightly. I find it fitting that instead of presiding over Imperial remnants and commanding a rag-tag fleet loaded with middling officers, his talents will be pitted alongside those of Governor Tarkin, Darth Vader, and the Emperor. I have no doubt he’ll be able to hold his own and then some. Expect Thrawn to make his grand return in April of 2017.
The Cantina Cast
The wretched hive your Jedi Master warned you about!