I haven’t read a Star Wars book in a while, so I decided to check out one of the new books I recently purchased at the local Barnes & Noble. But which one…well, that was an easy choice. I had just purchased Star Wars: Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn. Mr. Zahn is my favorite Star Wars writer, having brought the Star Wars Universe back to live in the early 1990s with The Thrawn Trilogy. I loved that series and every other Star Wars book he has written since. Having created the character of Thrawn, who better to write more of his back story than Zahn. I couldn’t wait to start reading.
This book takes place in two different eras – that of the Clone Wars and of the age of the Rebellion. Having just missed capturing a surviving Jedi and his rebel partners, Thrawn has something to prove. The Emperor seems to have forgiven him, but Darth Vader has not. Vader is especially peeved since Thrawn seems to be a pet project for the Emperor and Vader thinks him a bit too cocky…in need of knocking down a notch. When the two are sent on a mission for the Emperor together, they both rankle at the idea, but accept the mission to find a disturbance in the Force in the Unknown Regions.
As the two embark on their journey to a location both have visited in the past, the Emperor realizes that this will be a challenge to both: for Vader to face his past and for Thrawn to face his future. We soon learn through flashbacks what that means when we discover that Vader and Thrawn have worked together in the past…well, not Vader exactly. You see, during the Clone Wars, Senator Padme Amidala ventured to Batuu after receiving intel from one of her former handmaidens regarding a secret Separatist installation of some sort. Anakin Skywalker becomes worried when she doesn’t return and he hasn’t received any communication from her. He decides to travel to Batuu.
It is there that he meets a blue-tinted humanoid of the Chiss Ascendency named Thrawn. Apparently, Thrawn has become interested in the Separatist activity in the area as well and the two join forces. At first, Anakin rankles at Thrawn’s insistence on joining him in his mission, but he soon learns that Thrawn’s analytical and observant thinking, in addition to his military abilities, is an asset in his effort to discover what happened to Padme.
Meanwhile, in the time of the Rebellion, Thrawn and Vader discover that an alien race is set on preventing Imperial intervention in their scheme to control the Unknown Regions. Enemies of the Chiss Ascendency, the Grysk and their plans are of great concern to Thrawn, but Vader is more concerned with the disturbance he feels in the Force around them. He also worries that Thrawn is so concerned over what the Grysk mean to his people that he is willing to forgo his Imperial objective for one that would serve his own. Even more worrisome is that Thrawn seems to recognize Vader for who he once was. He cannot be allowed to reveal his suspicions to others in the Empire.
Will Thrawn put his people’s safety above the Empire? Just what is causing the Force anomaly in this sector and how are the Grysk planning to use it in their favor? And just what did Padme’s handmaiden discover all those years ago on Batuu?
While I think there is no one else who can write the character of Thrawn like Timothy Zahn and enjoyed reading the Grand Admiral’s amazing analytical deductions gleaned from cultural knowledge and observation, this is not one of my favorite Thrawn novels. First, I find it strange that Anakin Skywalker had met Thrawn during the Clone Wars, yet in Star Wars: Thrawn, it would appear that the Empire knew very little about the Chiss Ascendancy. Perhaps the Emperor knew more than he let on, but to not have any real intel on Thrawn or his people available to the rest of the military seems to be odd.
But my main problem with this book was the whole “double vision” thing. Never before had Timothy Zahn used this in his writing about Force abilities. Sure, he described the amazing power Jedi have of anticipating where a blaster bolt will be placed and what danger was about to occur. That’s something that is prevalent in all Star Wars novels. But, for some reason, in this novel, Zahn took to describing how that takes place with the words “Double vision:” followed by whatever dangers Anakin or Vader foresaw through the Force. For example, “Double vision: two blaster bolts at torso, chest…” Then, he described how the bolts were blocked or the danger evaded. For readers not used to Timothy Zahn’s writing or how the Force is supposed to work, this may be fine. For me, it disrupted the tempo of the action scene.
And yet, despite those issues I did have, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy Star Wars: Thrawn: Alliances to some extent. For one thing, it was great to read about Thrawn again – I love getting into that analytical head. And it was also fun to see Rukh the Noghri, bodyguard and assassin extraordinaire. These are characters totally created by Zahn and I love the way he presents them – there is always something surprising he reveals about them in each novel. Also, it was nice to see another tale set during the Clone Wars…to learn how manipulative the Emperor truly was (I can’t say more without revealing much of the storyline).
In short, for those Star Wars fans who love Zahn’s writing, we can be annoyed by the inconsistencies in his work this time around, but can’t deny the excitement, action and intrigue found in Star Wars: Thrawn: Alliances. It’s worth the read just to see Thrawn again. He’s just such an interesting character!