Publication Date – 24 July 2018
Two Star Wars fan favourite villains come together in the ultimate bad guy team-up in the latest novel from the extended universe icon, Timothy Zahn. I reviewed the previous Star Wars release, Last Shot here: https://unseenlibrary.com/2018/05/30/star-wars-last-shot-by-daniel-jose-older/
It is the height of the Empire’s tyranny over the galaxy, but threats are always on the horizon. When the Emperor senses a disturbance in the edge of imperial space, he despatches his two most capable servants. One is his apprentice, the powerful dark lord of the Sith, Darth Vader, and the other is the master tactician, Grand Admiral Thrawn. While both men are fiercely loyal to the Emperor, Vader and Thrawn are rivals for his favour and have differing views when it comes to command, combat, tactics and the future of the Empire, especially over the construction of the Death Star.
Vader and Thrawn travel to the planet of Batuu in the Unknown Regions, the vast, uncharted areas of space outside of the imperial galaxy. As these two ambitious individuals attempt work together, they encounter a threat not only to the Empire but to Thrawn’s secret plans. Can these two succeed in their mission, or will Vader’s distrust of Thrawn result in the Grand Admiral’s early death?
This is not the first time these two men have worked together. Back during the Clone Wars, Jedi General Anakin Skywalker encountered Commander Mitth’raw’nuruodo of the Chiss Ascendancy. Their chance encounter resulted in these two combining forces to uncover a Separatist plot that has resulted in the disappearance of Senator Amidala. But as these soldiers, now known as Vader and Thrawn, grow to respect each other, their differing priorities may break their newfound alliance apart. What connections do these two missions have to each other, and what will happen when their tragic past is brought into the present?
Grand Admiral Thrawn is one of the more interesting characters in the Star Wars universe. Created by Zahn back in the 1991 story Heir to the Empire, Thrawn was the commander of the Imperial Remnant following their defeat in Return of the Jedi and was presented as the ultimate tactician and a major threat. Appearing in several books, he quickly became a massive fan favourite character, and is easily one of the most popular creations in the entire Star Wars extended universe. However, following the Disney buyout of the franchise, the books that introduced Thrawn to the Star Wars fandom are no longer considered canon.
But the Grand Admiral could not be denied and has since resurfaced in the new Disney official Star Wars universe in all his villainous glory. First reappearing in the third season of TV’s Star Wars Rebels, voiced by Lars Mikkelsen, Thrawn serves as one of the series’ primary antagonists, masterminding plots that devastate the heroes. In addition, a new series of books dedicated to the character of Thrawn were commissioned as part of the new extended universe, which sees the return of Timothy Zahn to the fold. The first of these books, 2017’s Star Wars: Thrawn, saw Zahn recreate Thrawn’s origins to fit into the new universe and detail the rise of the alien officer to the rank of Grand Admiral in the xenophobic Imperial Navy.
In addition to the two novels mentioned above, Zahn has created a huge number of books since his first release in 1983. In the last 35 years, he has released over 50 books, most of which were science fiction novels, as well as a number of short stories, novellas and graphic novels. Of these books, 12 are set within the Star Wars universe, with many of them representing significant entries in the now defunct extended universe.
Thrawn: Alliances is evenly split between two separate timelines, both set in different parts of the Star Wars canon. The main story is set after the events of the third season of the Star Wars Rebels television show, which is set in the period between the Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope movies. The repercussions of that dramatic season finale are certainly felt within this book. The Alliances storyline set in the past focuses on a time period after the end of the Clone Wars television show, which is set between the Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith movies.
Like in Zahn’s previous books, Thrawn once again shines as the best part of Alliances. The cool, tactical way he approaches everything is a fantastic character trait, and I could almost hear Lars Mikkelsen’s voice every time Thrawn spoke in the book. The author continues to portray Thrawn as an incredibly insightful being who is able to come to perceptive conclusions from the most mundane of items or actions. These insights come into effect throughout the book as Thrawn comes up with some unique and effective tactics in his various encounters. While Thrawn is an awesome character, Zahn has also included one of the greatest film villains of all time within his story. Darth Vader is a great character throughout this book and has some destructive and memorable scenes. Fans who enjoyed his devastating appearance in Rouge One will love to see him power through his opponents is this story. There are also other excellent sequences where he shows off his renowned piloting skills, this time in a TIE Defender. Readers will also see a great comparison between the styles of the two imperial commanders that really highlights the strengths and weaknesses of both characters. Vader’s immense power and Thrawn’s tactical ability are on display as a result, but they also show off Vader’s barely contained rage and his limited ability to trust anyone. Overall, this is a creative and thrilling use of two of these two amazing Star Wars characters.
For fans of science fiction action adventures, one of the most exciting elements of this book is the significant amount of space combat throughout the story. Ship-on-ship battles in the darkness of space have always been some of the most impressive parts of the Star Wars screen instalments, and Zahn goes all out to showcase this in Alliances. There are a huge range of these sequences, from smaller fighter-on-fighter combat, to demonstrations of the destructive power of a Star Destroyer, to even a large-scale space battle between multiple ships. Zahn has spread the story across multiple characters, including imperial naval commanders and members of the stormtroopers, to really showcase these battle sequences, and this also allows him to present several boarding actions being led by the stormtroopers. Seeing Thrawn in command of all of these engagements is also fantastic, as his well-documented tactical abilities come to the fore again. These space engagements are a great part of the story and will prove to be exciting for the reader.
The use of the two split timelines is also an excellent way of telling this story and provides a number of noticeable benefits to the book. There are a number of connections between the two separate storylines that come into effect throughout the book, and it’s always fun to view some hints about the past hidden in the storylines set in the present. This split storyline is also an exceptional way to expand on the connection between Vader and Thrawn, two characters who, despite their respective service to the Empire, have never had much to do with each other before. Having one storyline feature Vader and one storyline feature Anakin is also a smart way to show the differences between the two aspects of the one man. Not only does Zahn examine how much Vader has changed since the Clone Wars but he also hints at the darkness already inside Anakin even back then. This is further showcased by examining the relationship Thrawn has with both Anakin and Vader and how the character has gone from being a trusting individual to a creature more concerned about his ties to the Emperor. That being said, Thrawn provides several taunting hints about knowing who Vader really is, and the reader is constantly wondering if the master tactician has actually worked out the biggest secret in the Star Wars universe.
Alliances also takes the reader to a more obscure part of the Star Wars universe: past the Outer Rim and into the Unknown Region. There is less of a focus on the central story of Rebels versus the Empire which is heavily featured in the films and television series, and more on the exploration of an area never seen on screen. This is an intriguing change of pace for this newer extended universe and opens up some interesting options for future books.
Legendary Star Wars author Timothy Zahn once again returns to what he knows best with another book focused on his most iconic and memorable character, Grand Admiral Thrawn. Alliances sees Thrawn team up with Darth Vader in an electrifying and powerful adventure into the unfamiliar areas of the Star Wars universe. This book is definitely geared towards the hardcore Star Wars fans, but it is also extremely accessible to the more causal science fiction reader, who will appreciate the inclusions of two sensational main characters, substantial action and combat, and a clever use of different perspectives and timelines. This is another sensational read from Zahn, and I can’t wait to see where his greatest creation, Thrawn, next appears in the Star Wars universe.