We've said if before but we're gonna say it again — it is so good to have Grand Admiral Thrawn back in the canon of Star Wars. Over the course of the last few years, the former legend has been re-canonized by the forces-that-be; most notably brought in as a major antagonist for the second two seasons of Star Wars: Rebels. The man who originally created Thrawn many years ago, author Timothy Zahn, has also been fleshing out his story with new books. The latest one just hit the shelves, and it's called Star Wars: Thrawn: Treason.
It's a sequel to Zahn's previous book, Star Wars: Thrawn: Alliances, but it also fleshes out one of the Grand Admiral's side-jaunt in the final season of Rebels. More importantly, it returns to something that Zahn left hanging at the end of Star Wars: Thrawn, in that it brings back the perpetually demoted Eli Vanto. The book does not involve Snoke — let's get that out of the way right now. He's not in the book.
What new reveals does this book have within its pages? What has Zahn added to the Star Wars canon? Are Grysks actually going to become a thing? It's time to comb the desert and get to the bottom of it all.
**WARNING: Major spoilers lie ahead for the book Star Wars: Thrawn: Treason. That is the entire point of the article. If you at all interested in this story, spin up that hyperdrive and get out of this article. Read the book first, but then please do come back.**
Of course, the book takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... but when, exactly? The book is set before the events of the original trilogy — more specifically, during the fourth season of Star Wars: Rebels. There's a little bit of overlap even, as the capture of Hera Syndulla in the episode "Rebel Assault" is mentioned as having just happened.
The following episode of Rebels, "Jedi Night," shows Governor Tarkin summoning Grand Admiral Thrawn to Coruscant. That scene takes place at the very beginning of this book, but instead of cutting back to the Rebels action, we see where Thrawn went and what he did. Why did he leave Lothal at such a crucial moment? Well, Tarkin did say that Thrawn's precious TIE Defender program was at risk thanks to "Project Stardust." Thrawn thinks that convincing the Emperor to go with his Defenders over Stardust (the Death Star, but they try not to use that name yet) is a bigger deal than guarding Hera Syndulla, so he leaves that to Governor Pryce.
By the time this book is over, he's on his way back to Lothal, where Syndulla has managed to escape from Pryce's grasp and caused major problems for him. The Emperor's new orders to Thrawn have to do with Ezra Bridger, and so off Thrawn goes to the final few episodes of Rebels. He brings Captain Pellaeon — a mainstay from the original Thrawn novels — with him, so his brief name-drop (and re-canonization) in the Rebels finale has a bit more backstory now.
FACES AND NAMES
As Thrawn's name is in the title, he's obviously the main character in the book. He's the calculating, brilliant, strategic and calm master-of-everyone that we've come to love, and the fact that we root for him is troubling, because, you know, he's a "bad guy." Still, it's fascinating to read the ways that he solves all of the puzzles and issues that are laid out in front of him, and unlike almost every other Imperial, he passes on his lessons to those who serve him.
Those officers make up the crew of his Star Destroyer, the Chimaera. They are loyal to him beyond measure, and they have all started to think like him. Commodore Faro is back in a big way, and she has become his protege. Thrawn's former protege, Eli Vanto, finally returns here as we've said, and he gets back into the action after spending a year with Thrawn's species, the Chiss. We've had little to do with the Chiss Ascendancy before now, but they play a big role here. Zahn also makes the Grysk happen... they are not one-book wonders.
Imperial regulars like Governor Tarkin and Rogue One's Orson Krennic appear, as does a new stooge of Krennic's named Assistant Director Brierly Ronan. He is Krennic's man through and through, and he sees the Emperor as nothing more than a doddering old fool. He idolizes Krennic so much that he wears a cape just like him — though Ronan's is not as long. Another new Imperial player is Grand Admiral Savit, who isn't as bad as some of the rest of them. Or so we think.
Most of the events of the book revolve, as they often do in this era of the saga, around the construction of the Death Star. Thrawn initially goes to support his TIE Defender program, but a multi-round pissing match with Tarkin and Krennic soon has him going off to investigate production issues on Stardust. At first, he's just dealing with grallocs, space "vermin" who are cousins to the mynocks. Things aren't so simple, of course they aren't — the grallocs lead him to uncover a conspiracy based around greed, and as you might have guessed, TREASON.
The Imperials here are a gaggle of selfish, conniving buckets of poodoo. All of their arrogant politicking is based around getting a piece of Stardust, and as Savit notes early on, politics is likely to be the end of the Empire. He's not wrong, and what's worse is that he knows that the Emperor has fun playing his cronies against one another.
The only one of these Imps who's really worth anything is Thrawn, always called by his full name, Mitth'raw'nuruodo, when spoken to by the Emperor. The TIE Defender (a fighter with shields, a hyperdrive, and better maneuverability) is proven time and again to be a more subtle and effective tool against enemies. It's not a big ball of death, though, is it? It's not as sexy.
You know what is sexy, though? Winning is sexy. If the Empire had listened to Thrawn and backed his project instead of their planet-blowing bully ball, then they would have won the war. (It's probably good that they didn't, then.)
Again, the title of the book comes into play every time one of these Imperials has an argument with another Imperial, which happens on almost every page. Treason is a big word, a big deal, and a big accusation. The characters in this book throw it around like beads at Mardi Gras.
THE GRYSK HEGEMONY
Making a return from the previous book are the Grysk, a threatening alien force based in the Unknown Regions. Thrawn and Vader dealt with them out there in the previous book, and Thrawn knew of them because they were enemies to the Chiss. Now, they've popped up in the middle of Empire Space.
The larger scheme that Thrawn discovers revolves around pirates, led by an unknown backer, siphoning off shipments meant for Stardust. While tracking them, he comes across the Grysk— they're here, they're severe, and they like to kill everyone on sight. They were deemed not an immediate threat to the Empire at the end of the second book, but here they prove that they are. They've hooked on to the shipping conspiracy and have decided that they'll take it.
The Grysk do not create art, and that's Thrawn's favorite way to analyze an opponent. The enemies of the Grysk do create art about them, though, so he studies that — it labels them as arrogant, confident, and cunning. They use slaves to do their dirty work for them, having the ability to corrupt the hearts and souls of others (which they call "clients"), and they are looking for a way to use that ability on humans. They are called the "enemy with a thousand faces," and Thrawn realizes that while they probably could not take on the Empire from without, they could do so from within. He warns the Emperor at the end about them being able to take control of the Death Star itself, but Old Sheev just brushes it off.
CHISS FROM A ROSE
When he comes across the Grysk, Thrawn also comes across a Chiss ship, which has been following the Grysk. The Chiss and the Grysk have been at war out in the Unknown Regions for a long while, but both species have kept an eye on the section of the GFFA we're familiar with. The Chiss ship tracking them is commanded by Admiral Ar'alani, and Thrawn's former protege, Eli Vanto, is also aboard. We learn much more about the Chiss mostly thanks to Vanto, who has been with them for a year at this point.
What is most interesting is the way that the Chiss Ascendancy navigates their ships — they use a collection of "navigators," who are Chiss girls between the ages of 7 and 14 who possess something called "Third Sight." Using this ability, they can see through space, and are somewhat force-sensitive. Vanto gets close with one navigator, Vah'nya, who is special because she still has the ability at 22. Chiss girls normally lose the gift long before reaching that age.
Some Chiss women also possess "Second Sight," which can allow them to see into the mind and soul of another. There is a danger that if they do this with another Chiss who possesses the gift, that they will become lost within each other's souls. Thankfully this doesn't happen — both gifts of the Chiss are used to great effect in the book, and no one is damaged because of it. The Chiss are warriors, they are proud, but they aren't jerks. They don't trust the Empire, but, like, do you?
MUCH ELI ABOUT VANTO
Vanto has been serving Admiral Ar'alani aboard the Steadfast for a year, analyzing data (that's his gift, after all) and getting a taste of being an outsider. He's experiencing the reverse of what Thrawn went through when he joined the Empire— he's the only human among the Chiss, and so the Chiss don't trust him. When he comes across the humans again, they don't trust him anymore either. Everyone considers him to be either a traitor, a deserter, or both. He's one of the most loyal servants in the book.
Eventually, he proves his worth to the Chiss, and Thrawn's faith in sending him to be with them is proved to be worthwhile. He was sent t because Thrawn thought he could prove useful — we find out that this revolves around one issue in particular.
The data that Vanto has been analyzing all this time is was data about the navigators — how they work, how to identify them, and especially how Vah'nya has managed to regain the gift far past the age when others lose it. Discovering this secret is vital to the Chiss, and Vanto stays with them at the end of the book. He's proved himself to them, and honestly? They are much more worthy of his talents than the Empire. He's even promoted to Lieutenant Commander in the Chiss Ascendancy by Admiral Ar'alani, and he's earned it. As far as we know, Eli and the Chiss are still out there.
SO... IT'S TREASON THEN
Thrawn eventually finds out that it was Grand Admiral Savit who was running the initial thefts on Stardust, and he expertly out-maneuvers him. Savit doesn't believe in Stardust, not at all... he wanted some of the money wasted on it to be of some benefit somewhere else. He is the only character in the book who fully admits to treason, and he does so proudly.
The Grysk taskforce in Empire space is destroyed, but the Hegemony itself is still out in the Unknown Regions. They have gravity wells, cloaking, the works.
Though Ronan ends up begrudgingly admiring Thrawn, he still pulls some shady kriff on him in the end. Thrawn has outmatched him anyway — he suggests that Vader be added to the command of Stardust, and Vader would be able to read Ronan's anti-Emperor thoughts. Ronan's a dead man, so Thrawn offers to send him off with the Chiss, hopefully to learn more about the Grysk threat. Ronan grudgingly goes, complaining the whole time, and still wearing his cape.
Commodore Faro is promoted to leading her own fleet, having proved herself fully to Thrawn. She's one of the most capable Imperial officers in the saga, and we hope to see her again. Krennic isn't left very happy because Krennic is never very happy, and Tarkin ends up smiling, having secured a little bit more of Stardust for himself, and he's also made his political enemies look bad. We'd be angry, but we know that he'll be dead soon.
That leaves us with Thrawn and the Emperor. The book's epilogue is told from Palpatine's perspective, and we finally find out why he's been so interested in Thrawn and the Chiss this whole time — they are either a threat that needs to be destroyed, or a force that he can ally with, and then rule over. Thrawn will either hinder him (being treasonous to the Empire) or help him (being treasonous to the Chiss Ascendancy). Once things on Lothal are wrapped up, Palpatine tells Thrawn that they are going to have a very long talk.
As we know, that talk doesn't happen. One of the ironies that this book illustrates is that it begins with Thrawn being tasked with the hunting of vermin, vermin who are capable of self-propelled space travel. If you've seen the finale of Star Wars: Rebels, then you know that Thrawn is defeated largely thanks to the Purgill— huge space whales that are capable of self-propelled space travel. We don't know where the Purgill took the Grand Admiral, we just know that he hasn't come back yet.
As nasty and conniving as he is, Palpatine's questions to himself about Thrawn are good ones. Is he really loyal to the Empire, or does his loyalty lie with the Chiss? Who does he really serve? Where does his heart truly lie? Either way, he's committing treason somewhere, and to someone — to what, and to whom?
Here's hoping that we find out someday. Thrawn isn't dead, he just... went on a journey. Maybe Timothy Zahn (or Dave Filoni) will bring him home at some point. Perhaps Ahsoka and Sabine will find him when they finally find Ezra. Maybe all four of them will join forces with the Chiss, and they'll all come back to cut Kylo Ren's Solo-killing head off. To quote Thrawn himself, it would be "excellent."
Star Wars: Thrawn: Treason is on shelves now.