Audiobook Review: Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

audiobookHello to you all once again! After some thought I have decided to bite the figurative bullet and review a couple of audiobooks that have been on the to do list for QUITE some time! First comes my initial foray into reviewing Star Wars audiobooks after referencing the series a few times in some of my opinion pieces. Namely the ones on music and sound in audiobooks and on certain problems with audiobooks in general from a consumer perspective.

The Risks and the Joys of Music and Sound In Audiobooks

Voices In The Ether: Problems With Audiobooks

I have been wanting to talk about this character for a very long time! Thrawn – or to give him his full title Grand Admiral Thrawn – is a fan favourite character from the original Legends timeline of Star Wars novels. The Legends novels were originally designed as direct continuations from the Original Trilogy with several new threats being introduced to challenge Luke, Leia, Han and their friends and families. Chief among these was Mitth’raw’nuruodo, a member of the Chiss race of aliens and one of the Empire’s greatest military leaders who survived the destruction of the second Death Star by having been trapped somewhere in the Outer Rim. Thrawn is a tactical genius who is able to out think opponents by using representations of their own art and culture to study them and find weaknesses. He also has an unusually strong sense of honour for an Imperial.

All these aspects along with numerous others resulted in Thrawn becoming a breakout character with several books starring Thrawn such as Heir To The Empire, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command – the original Thrawn trilogy – and a two part sequel series called The Hand Of Thrawn containing Spectre Of The Past and Visions Of The Future or somehow referencing Thrawn. As a result after Disney bought the rights to Star Wars and declared the Legends books completely non-canon a lot of people were very very very unhappy. Especially due to some frankly terrible damage control on Disney’s part.

But at one of the many Star Wars conventions they had a surprise for fans. Not only was Thrawn returning in the new Disney timeline, but he had a main role as an antagonist in series 3 and 4 of the Star Wars Rebels cartoon series and there was going to be a new Thrawn trilogy written by his original creator Timothy Zahn. This is the first book in that modern Thrawn trilogy.

The plot is as follows: Thrawn is left exiled on an Outer Rim world by the Chiss Ascendency as a form of punishment only to be discovered by an Imperial ship. Said ship has among their crew Eli Vantoan alien who has heard stories of the Chiss from childhood and whom is given to Thrawn as a translator and general aide. Over the course of the novel we watch Thrawn and Eli as they climb the ranks of the Imperial Navy, deal with internal politics and through the eyes of both Thrawn and Eli learn about each other, their thought processes and their limits.

At the same time we also see the growing power and various machinations of a low ranking figure on a backwater world by the personal name of Arihnda. I won’t give away too much information about Arihnda as much like Thrawn she is also an important figure in some Star Wars spin off media.We as readers and listeners watch as their two worlds interconnect whilst Arihnda’s goals slowly morph and change as Thrawn deals with various threats to the growing empire.

This book is seen as an introduction to the new version of Thrawn for the modern continuity whilst also acting as a semi-prequel to elements of the Rebels show if you know what to look for. This book also contains small references here and there to aspects of and characters from the Legends timeline for long time fans of Thrawn.

This book…is fantastic! Thrawn and Eli as characters are utterly engaging individuals who make it very easy to listen for hours and lose track of time entirely. It is very interesting to hear the inner thoughts of all the main characters. What do they truly think of each other? What does the – famously analytical – future Grand Admiral think of important political figures? Of the Emperor himself? Or his fellow main characters? And just what is Eli truly thinking as he and Thrawn dance around traps laid out for them? What kind of person is he really?

Zahn’s writing is gloriously detailed and full of wonderful little character moments. Those small details that take a good character and make them great and make it all the more easy to understand various viewpoints. As well as to possibly even celebrate as Thrawn and Eli climb the ranks of the Imperial Navy which (if you’ll allow me a history geek moment) is brilliantly close to the Imperial German Navy in more ways than one. There’s a reason Zahn is a New York Times bestselling author and why I often consider him the D.C. Fontana of Star Wars.

The narration for the audio edition of Thrawn is performed by a Marc Thompson who has worked on a extensive amount of Star Wars releases as well as an eclectic catalog of unrelated material. Thompson does an excellent job with this novel. His voice as Thrawn is wonderfully calm and collected no matter the situation which suits him perfectly especially when his turn comes to be in teacher mode. He also excels as Eli who has a reputation as a deep space yokel and yet despite this is an excellent aide, supply officer and quite a bit more besides. I also have to congratulate Thompson for his ability to convincingly play the numerous (and I mean numerous!) alien species throughout the novel without making the voices sound too grating. His Imperial Officers are equally well done with just the right tone ranging from old timers with lots of experience to xenophobic newly minted commanders who are in desperate need of being taken down six or seven pegs. The story also contains a few side appearances by Original Trilogy characters including Grand Moff Tarkin who is both supremely smooth and appropriately arrogant as played by Thompson. There’s a reason when I think of Thrawn I hear Thompson’s performance no matter what is being said.

On a somewhat related note I must congratulate the sound team for all Star Wars audio releases. The inclusion of relevant sound effects such as TIE Fighters, landspeeder engines, unusual effects over the alien voices and the inclusion of several pieces of music composed and conducted by John Williams for the film soundtracks really adds to the atmosphere and makes the whole experience feel much more like Star Wars. There’s a reason that when I think of the perfect way to include sound effects and music in audiobooks without it feeling unnatural, the Star Wars audio releases are what comes to mind.

In conclusion Star Wars: Thrawn is a perfect reintroduction for Thrawn into modern Star Wars and a great way for fans to be introduced to or reacquainted with one of the greatest characters in the entire mythos. This is a personal favourite among my audiobook horde and I truly hope I did it and Mitth’raw’nuruodo justice. I just hope I can persuade some of you reading this to give this (and hopefully the equally enjoyable sequels and predecessors) an honest try.

NephriteBut Thrawn isn’t the only book that’s been on the to do list for far far too long. It is time I take us all to Arrakis.




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