Star Wars: Thrawn: Treason weaves a web of Imperial intrigue

Book review: Grand Admiral Thrawn and the Galactic Empire are as fascinating as ever, but Timothy Zahn's latest novel doesn't take enough time to develop its other characters.

Sean Keane Former Senior Writer
Sean knows far too much about Marvel, DC and Star Wars, and poured this knowledge into recaps and explainers on CNET. He also worked on breaking news, with a passion for tech, video game and culture.
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Sean Keane
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Star Wars: Thrawn: Treason has some cool scenes featuring Emperor Palpatine, but he doesn't play a major role in the novel.

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Star Wars fans should be grateful to Grand Admiral Thrawn creator Timothy Zahn. His '90s Thrawn trilogy isn't canon anymore, but it gave the Star Wars universe the shot of adrenaline it needed and paved the way for new movies such as The Rise of Skywalker.

So it's always worth paying attention whenever Zahn dives back into a galaxy far, far away, particularly if he's writing another adventure starring the genius Imperial tactician. Thrawn: Treason continues the canon story that started with the character's 2017 origin and teamed him up with Darth Vader in last year's Thrawn: Alliances. It's set halfway through the fourth season of CGI animated series Rebels, which takes place before A New Hope.

One of the first scenes in Thrawn: Treason sees the titular grand admiral in a shadowy meeting with Emperor Palpatine and other Imperial bigwigs including Grand Moff Tarkin and Rogue One's Director Krennic. Zahn injects the scene with a delicious sense of cloak-and-dagger political intrigue as Krennic gets Thrawn to help with problems plaguing the Death Star's super-secret supply line. 

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Thrawn has one week to solve the problem, or else funding for his TIE Defender project will dry up. Krennic wants that money for the Death Star, so he dispatches his agent, Assistant Director Ronan, to hinder Thrawn. Ronan's anti-Thrawn stance creates some nice conflict, but gets a little exhausting sometimes.

This sends Thrawn on an investigation that reveals a plot against the Empire and brings him back into contact with members of his own race, the Chiss, who are hunting the Grysk -- an aggressive species that's been quietly working towards an invasion. We saw the first hints of this plot line in Thrawn: Alliances.


Grand Admiral Thrawn is flanked by his fellow Chiss in the San Diego Comic-Con exclusive cover.

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So Thrawn essentially has to balance his mission as an Imperial with helping the Chiss deal with the Grysk threat. Meanwhile characters like the antagonistic Ronan are questioning Thrawn's loyalty to the Empire. Unfortunately, we never really question that loyalty because the Chiss feel underdeveloped.

The Grysk suffer from a similar lack of development. They're largely faceless antagonists and we mostly hear secondhand tales about the threat they pose. As a result, they feel like a weak surrogate for the Yuuzhan Vong, a violent race of invaders longtime Star Wars readers will know from the no-longer-canon New Jedi Order novels.

Luckily, Thrawn is such a magnificent character that he almost makes up for these shortcomings. Zahn spends a reasonable chunk of the novel's 333 pages focused on Thrawn, who's busy hatching and executing brilliant strategies, and the author's detailed writing makes these a treat to read. You'll root for his two proteges, Commodore Faro and Eli Vanto, as well. And there's plenty of excellent Imperial politics and backstabbing for them all to deal with.

Overall, Thrawn: Treason proves a slightly uneven outing for the Imperial tactician. It's worth your time because he remains as compelling as ever, but hopefully Zahn will flesh out his non-Imperial allies and adversaries a bit better in a future adventure.

Star Wars: Thrawn: Treason, from Del Rey, hits shelves July 23.

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