Author: Timothy Zahn
Publisher: Disney Lucasfilm Press
Unique Elements: Explores the alien anti-hero, Grand Admiral Thrawn, who seeks to bring the most peace by working with the most evil Empire in the galaxy.
Series: Star Wars (Between the Episode III and IV movies)
Release Date: July 24, 2018
Number of Page: 368 pages
MSRP: $28.99 HC / $14.99 Kindle / $50.00 Audio
Discount Link: Click Here
Website: Click Here
Purchase Site: Click Here
Reviewed by: J.T. Hanke
Final Score: 4.0 Moons (out of 5)
After the events of the first book, which showed Thrawn‘s rise to power in almost a Sherlock Holmes-style narrative, as well as the events in Rebels: Season 3, which saw him trying (and failing) to remove the threat the rebels posed to the Empire, Thrawn: Alliances sets up a quest that Palpatine sends both Thrawn and Vader on to a distant part of the galaxy.
Intercut throughout the “present” story of Vader and Thrawn is the story of an earlier mission to the same planet conducted by Anakin Skywalker in which he first met Thrawn during the Clone Wars as he hunted for a vanished Padmé.
As the stories weave together, we see more and more how much these two reluctant allies have in common.
The story arc between the past and “present” Thrawn and the past Anakin and present Vader creates a very intriguing structural narrative (although the fact that it also delves into the memories of the “now” deceased Padmé does leave it a bit asymmetrical in its structure, but not so badly as to truly pull you out of the tale—especially since a mystic and prescient force user is part of the tale).
For my money, this is the first of the recently canonized Darth Vader and other “antihero” Force tales that has actually worked, because Zahn knows how to tell anti-hero and villain tales well. To make us root for a person like Vader, who loves killing people from a distance and slaughtering younglings, you must have him helping a much more complex character (like Thrawn) and you must pit them against worse forms of villainy than the Empire currently presents. (And, don’t have them deal with plot devices we know they can’t accomplish—like going on missions to kill characters that don’t die until the movies!)
And even though we know these protagonists can’t have their lives cut short in this tale (due to other canon history they are each involved in later), Zahn still makes us believe that there are real stakes for everyone involved—which is why he’s still a master storyteller!
I also quite liked the conclusion to the book, which manages to: better foreshadow Anakin’s turn than the prequels ever did, further nuance the character of Vader than any of the movies were able to, and further complicate the character and intrigue of Thrawn than Rebels was able to. (Plus, they also left some loose ends for future books and shows to delve into, although not as many as I would’ve preferred, as I mention in the Spoiler Alert below.)
This is designed to be read by people who’ve read the book, so do yourself a favor and skip ahead to Dynamics if you haven’t read it yet.
Despite all the good about the ending, there was one area where I felt Zahn dropped the ball. After Anakin’s discovery of a super battle armor material (that’s especially powerful against Jedi), I was certain they were going to finally explain’s Vader’s suspiciously difficult to damage battle armor. It felt like everything was being set up for that. After all, what better way to explain how one Sith Lord could slaughter virtually all of the Jedi than if he had a very rare suit of armor with very rare abilities limiting Jedi weapons? (Vulnerable parts of Vader’s suit that are later damaged in other canon materials could be written off as being caused by malfunctions due to hackneyed repairs over the years.)
However, rather than leaving the possibility open that Vader might’ve returned to upgrade his armor after he was turned to the dark side (taking a page from last years’ Phasma novel), Zahn takes that possibility completely off the table in his conclusion, which made the tale feel less important than it might otherwise have felt.
The interpersonal dynamics between Thrawn and Vader are the main elements of this story, but Zahn’s able to play clever games of foil and counter-foil by going into the past when Anakin was on the other team and using these disparate antagonistic voices to better fill out Thrawn’s character.
In the end, the respect both main characters have for each other seems authentic and earned by the story points explored. Additionally, in the “present”, each character is permitted a single main “sidekick” who is able to give us insight into other parts of the action and to showcase how their particular commander’s choices effect the people around them. This is a nice touch, as well.
The use of the force by Jedi and Sith to see immediately into the future has never been better explored than it is this book. Most often referred to as “Double Vision,” we finally get greater explanation of how Force users can see into the future in order to be so hard to kill—and we also start to learn about other Force users in the galaxy outside of the range of Sith or Jedi.
With Thrawn’s fascination with Empire technology and his own Chiss science, this book officially revealing him to be the creator of the TIE Defender (the three-wing pyramid-shaped ties seen in recent films) is a nice touch. As is the fact that, although everyone in the Empire assumes the ship is a theoretical hunk of junk and waste of fiances, its actual fighting prowess shows the intellect of the person who designed it!
Part of the Gothic/Alternative experience is from the perspective of an outsider who isn’t accepted within “normal” society. Many of our readers feel prejudged due to their appearance, their style, or their peculiarities. I know I certainly did!
Thrawn fights the rampant specism and racism of the Empire by using his astounding intellect and brilliant strategic mind, while Vader uses his dark, cyborg armor and mystic abilities to inspire fear in those around him. And just as many Goths do, both Thrawn and Vader feel that they are outcast voices who are used by those in power solely because they are momentarily useful, not because they are understood or valued as individuals. For all these reasons, as well as the dark intrigue and mysterious connections to Star Wars past, Thrawn: Alliances is an excellent Gothic fit.
While this could’ve been a more exciting book if a few elements of history had been finessed minutely, it still is an excellent read that gives additional insight into Force users, Darth Vader, Grand Admiral Thrawn, and the Chiss people. I highly recommend this book!
Story: 3.5 Moons (out of 5)
Dynamics: 3.5 Moons (out of 5)
Gothic Fit: 5.0 Moons (out of 5)
Final Score (not an average): 4.0 Moons (out of 5)