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On April 11th, Lucasfilm is releasing perhaps the most exciting Star Wars novel of them all: Thrawn. Created by legendary Star Wars author Timothy Zahn back in 1991, Thrawn is a legendary figure in the old Expanded Universe, and he's already made his presence felt in Star Wars: Rebels. But the novel Thrawn promises to chart his journey through Imperial ranks, and — most thrillingly of all — it's penned by his creator, Zahn himself. Lucasfilm has given a brief excerpt to USAToday, and already this book promises to transform the new Star Wars canon...
Meet Grand Admiral Thrawn
Back when Timothy Zahn released his 'Thrawn Trilogy' in 1991, the Star Wars franchise has dwindled to a background presence. The trilogy changed everything, though, putting Star Wars back on the map, and effectively launching the whole Expanded Universe. Set after the events of Return of the Jedi, Zahn's 'Thrawn Trilogy' added a rich new layer of depth to our beloved Galaxy Far, Far Away — one that even #GeorgeLucas would tap into. It was Zahn who created the Galactic Capitol of Coruscant. Thrawn's people, the Chiss, even had a small cameo in The Clone Wars.
Thrawn himself is a fascinating character. Zahn was determined to do something different with the Empire, and so created a leader who actually led through loyalty. He was interested in the 'shades of gray', revealing that not everyone in the Empire was evil, and some simply believed they were fighting for order. So Thrawn was an intriguing, morally ambiguous character who was brutal and ruthless, and yet somehow truly sympathetic. It certainly didn't help that Thrawn's tactical genius was in part inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes!
Zahn remained fascinated with the character of Thrawn, and the Chiss race at large. He penned sequels (the 'Hand of Thrawn' duology), and even a prequel: Outbound Flight, a novel that showed Thrawn's first encounter with people from the Republic. Thrawn's first meeting with the Empire was told in a short story, Mist Encounter, that was published in Star Wars Adventure Journal #7 in 1995, but was reprinted in the paperback edition of Outbound Flight.
An Intriguing Excerpt
USAToday published an exclusive excerpt from the new novel, Thrawn, and it promises to have a radical impact on the Star Wars canon. The scene is from the perspective of a new character, Eli Vanto, who promises to be the Watson to Thrawn's Holmes. In the excerpt, Captain Parck has dared to bring a non-human before Palpatine, and we're actually privy to the first encounter between Thrawn and the Emperor.
It makes absolutely fascinating reading, and the first thing to note is that Zahn is happily bringing some of his old stories back into the canon (just as Star Wars fans had hoped). Mist Encounter told the story of Parck's encounter with Thrawn, and closed with his decision to take this mysterious alien to the Emperor. It's pretty clear that Thrawn picks up where Mist Encounter closes, and makes the whole short story canon.
More than that, though, the excerpt dovetails perfectly with Zahn's previously established canon. In the old Expanded Universe, Grand Admiral Thrawn cautioned the Empire that the Unknown Regions were filled with countless unknown threats, ones that the Chiss Expansionary Defense Fleet was constantly warring against. The Empire actually sent Thrawn back to the Unknown Regions, ostensibly as part of a mapping expedition but in reality to defend the Empire against these threats. Just as you'd expect, the excerpt features Thrawn cautioning against these same threats — races that threaten both the Chiss and the Empire.
“There are threats lurking in the Unknown Regions, threats that will someday find your Empire. I am familiar with many of them.”
With Thrawn restoring so much of the old canon, fans are wondering whether or not the whole novel Outbound Flight will also become canon once again. If so, Thrawn is unaware that Palpatine is in fact Darth Sidious: the being he spoke to years ago, who persuaded him to destroy the Republic's Outbound Flight mission.
The Yuuzhan Vong
Most chilling of all, this raises the possibility that Lucasfilm may begin to subtly weave an alien race known as the Yuuzhan Vong back into the canon. The Yuuzhan Vong were a race of extragalactic invaders who blazed a trail across the Galaxy in the "New Jedi Order" series, and concept art for the canceled sixth season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars showed that George Lucas nearly wove the aliens into that series.
In Outbound Flight, the Galactic Republic is sending an expedition into the Unknown Regions — and Thrawn is persuaded to destroy it before it comes into contact with the Yuuzhan Vong. Dialogue in the novel explicitly retcons knowledge of the Yuuzhan Vong into Thrawn's backstory, and provides a key motivation for his actions in that novel.
Although I'm hardly expecting a reprise of the "New Jedi Order" arc, are we soon to see the Yuuzhan Vong woven into the canon? Or will the mysterious threats in that region of space instead be subtly woven into the developing backstory of Supreme Leader Snoke? After all, Aftermath: Empire's End has already noted that Palpatine used Thrawn's knowledge of the Unknown Regions to search out this powerful Dark Side presence.
The Mystery of Anakin Skywalker
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the excerpt, though, is the revelation that Thrawn met Anakin Skywalker at some point during the Clone Wars. It may be that this dovetails with the abandoned sixth series; #StarWarsRebels has already canonized some of those events, which you can see in the Lost Missions DVD or on Netflix. Whatever the truth may be, the Chiss are an isolationist race, so any encounter with Thrawn would have taken place in Chiss space. It seems that, at some point, Anakin Skywalker headed into the Unknown Regions; although it's sure to be discussed in detail, we don't know whether we'll get flashbacks in Thrawn. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if Zahn doesn't return to this story in a future novel.
All in all, this one excerpt will fans' pulses racing. It hints at a whole new approach to the Star Wars canon, with Lucasfilm no longer importing characters — but potentially importing short stories and novels, drawing some of the best of the old Expanded Universe back into the canon. It's fitting that Timothy Zahn, the one who effectively launched the old Expanded Universe, takes point on this new approach.