While the world waits with bated breath for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I want to take some time to draw everyone’s attention to a series of Star Wars sequels that have existed for almost fifteen years now; Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. Zahn’s set of novels came about in the early ‘90s, at a time when there hadn’t been much in the way of Star Wars property outside of roleplaying games, some comics, and Ewok adventures. Suddenly fans had a chance to venture back into a galaxy far, far away with Luke, Leia, Han, and the rest of the gang as a new threat attempted to take control of the galaxy. Little did Zahn know that his novels would inspire an entire Expanded Universe of Star Wars stories and rekindle a fire that still burns today. There is a reason these books were so popular, and it could be something that the new Star Wars movies could learn from.
Zahn’s first novel, Heir to the Empire, was set five years after the end of Return of the Jedi, with the Rebel Alliance evolving into the fledgling New Republic. Fans found Luke struggling to find his path after redeeming Vader, Han trying to use his old underground contacts to win favor for the Republic with the smuggling community, and Leia attempting to balance her life as a Republic Councilor, expecting mother, and Jedi in training. Meanwhile, a brilliant Admiral of the Imperial Navy moved forward with his plan to reclaim control over the galaxy. The following story, which continued in the novels Dark Force Rising and The Last Command, saw the less-than-established Republic challenged by a brilliant tactician who will stop at nothing short of launching a second Clone Wars in an attempt to take the galaxy for himself.
[Image: Anthony Foti // DeviantArt]
We all know that the canon of the Expanded Universe has been vetoed by Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t aspects of these stories that could still be utilized by the new Star Wars films. A twist the novels offered, that the films had not touched on, was an equal focus and understanding of each side in a conflict. Throughout Zahn’s trilogy, an equal amount of time was spent with Thrawn and his subordinate Captain Pellaeon, as they planned and executed their strategy to foil the New Republic.
We learned of Thrawn’s respect for art, and how he used it to understand other races and cultures better when devising strategies against them. He created certain patterns in his own strategy strictly to use the Republic’s obvious responses against them. He laid traps inside of traps to unsettle his enemies, and was a master of misdirection. All the while, readers saw Thrawn’s work from the eyes of his second-in-command and learned of Pellaeon’s own fears, doubts, struggles, pride, and dedication to his commanding officer and the Empire itself. There were times where he questioned Thrawn’s tactics, and saw the results of failure under Thrawn’s command first-hand.
Unlike the Emperor or Vader, Thrawn didn’t command through fear or force, but with motivation and loyalty. While he wasn’t handing out gold stars and talking about everyone’s feelings, he did not simply choke those who served him to death when they did not succeed at something. Thrawn proved his genius to his people with numerous victories that should not have occurred, and was sure to reward and praise his people for their good work. Thrawn’s Empire seemed more deadly because the people who served under him respected him instead of just fearing him. This sort of structure could make the First Order a more devastating foe than anyone has seen in Star Wars before.
Zahn’s novels provided a villain that was very different from Emperor Palpatine, while still being just as dangerous. We have seen a lot of Kylo Ren in trailers and TV spots, but we have seen nothing of Supreme Leader Snoke. It is my hope that Snoke will be quite similar to Grand Admiral Thrawn. The blue-skinned, red-eyed Thrawn’s plan initially relied a lot on a Dark Jedi clone named Joruus C’baoth, knowing that many in the Republic would fear the threat of another Force user, and therefore distract a major player like Luke Skywalker from the real fight. With Luke busy with C’baoth, Thrawn was able to build his own clone army from an old Imperial storehouse, conquer the outer rim, launch bluff sieges with cloaked astroids surrounding Coruscant, and secure the fabled Dark Force fleet of Dreadnaught-class ships.
In the end, when C’baoth discovered he was not being groomed to replace the Emperor, he took off on his own to highjack Thrawn’s cloning process and create his own Jedi army. This was finally thwarted by Luke and the gang, but marked a major blow to Thrawn’s plans. While I do not expect the relationship between Snoke and Ren to be a recreation of this, it could offer quite an interesting twist to see the Force-sensitive underling discover he is a pawn and go rogue to carry out his own machinations, such as C’baoth did.
Zahn’s novels helped shape Star Wars into what we know now. While some may hold a grudge that Zahn’s novels lead to George Lucas creating the Special Edition trilogy and the Prequel films, it also built a large part of the Universe we know, and launched the original Expanded Universe. Lucasfilm may not bring the Expanded Universe to the screen, but it can not possibly ignore what it has to offer in storm structure and development. There is no better place to learn from than the stories that saved Star Wars.
Featured Image – Bantam Books/Lucasfilm