Review: Thrawn Treason Weaves A Tangled Web Of Intrigue

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Thrawn Treason cover

Thrawn Treason is the final installment in the latest, canonized novel trilogy by Timothy Zahn. The novel contains all the elements of strategy, tactics, intrigue, and suspense that make a Thrawn novel great. 

In short, the novel was excellent, though the title set up false expectations for me. The name teases at a confrontation between Thrawn and either the Empire or the Chiss Ascendancy. I assumed that the time frame of the novel would be after the events in the finale of Rebels. In reality, the novel took place neatly in between Thrawn Alliances and the Rebels finale. And the theme of treason in the novel was much more multifaceted.

An adequate review requires a brief summary of the events in the first two novels.

Thrawn Summary

Thrawn novel cover for Thrawn Treason review

The first novel (Thrawn) told about how Chiss strategist Mitth’raw’nuruodo, or Thrawn, became a grand admiral in the Imperial Navy. His supernatural understanding of strategy and tactics, plus his knowledge of the Unknown Regions led to his rise in power. He also mentored Imperial officer Eli Vanto, who ended up joining the Chiss Navy at Thrawn’s behest.

From the first novel, we learned a few things. Firstly, the Emperor had a keen interest in uncovering the mysteries of the Unknown Regions. Next, Thrawn’s decision to join the Empire came from his loyalty to the Chiss Ascendancy. Finally, the fact that Thrawn sent Eli Vanto to work with the Chiss hinted at a future confrontation or collaboration between the Empire and the Chiss.

Thrawn Alliances Summary

Thrawn Alliances cover for Thrawn Treason review

Thrawn Alliances told two interwoven stories. The main story was about Thrawn and Vader working together to uncover a force disturbance in the Outer Rim. Thrawn and Vader uncovered a plot by the Grysks to kidnap force-sensitive Chiss children who act as hyperspace navigators. He rescued the children and returned them to the Chiss all while Vader questioned his loyalty. Thrawn defended his loyalty by convincing Vader that the Grysks were a legitimate threat to the Empire. 

The sub story was about Thrawn and Anakin years earlier working together to shut down a secret Separatist factory. Padme investigated reports of unusual activity in the sector, discovered the Separatist plot, and was captured. Anakin came to rescue her, met and allied with Thrawn, and sabotaged the secret factory. Both stories occurred in the Outer Space region near Batuu (the location featured in the Disney parks).

We learned a few more things from this novel. First, we learned about the warlike Grysk species and why they are such a threat. They were actively building and employing technology to close down efficient hyperspace navigation in the Unknown Regions. This suggested that they were preparing for a direct confrontation with the either Chiss or the Empire, or both.

We also learned that without clearly marked hyperspace lanes, navigation through the Unknown Regions was possible through force-sensitive navigators. Perhaps the Attendants, navigators from the Unknown Regions found on Snoke’s Star Destroyer, employed a similar method. Finally, it became clear that the Emperor seriously questioned Thrawn’s ultimate loyalty, hinting at a future confrontation.

**Warning: Spoilers Ahead**

Thrawn Treason Summary

This novel began shortly after the previous novel. Thrawn was caught between the political maneuverings of Grand Moff Tarkin and Director Krennic surrounding the secretive Stardust project. He agreed to remedy an issue with pests interfering with Stadust’s supply lines, causing ships to get lost in hyperspace. After quickly discerning a pattern with the lost ships, he followed one to discover a plot to steal its contents. He found a transfer station being operated by thieves, and being secretly monitored by both the Chiss (including his former protégé Eli Vanto) and the Grysks. 

When he learned that the Grysks had captured the transfer station, he disrupted their operation. By so doing, he interrupted the Chiss mission and reunited with Eli Vanto and Admiral Ar’alani. During the operation, they rescued another captured Chiss navigator, who revealed the way to the Grysk forward operating base. 

Eli Vanto and Ar'alani in Thrawn Treason
Eli Vanto and Admiral Ar’alani

Vanto and Assistance Director Brierly Ronan, sent by Krennic to keep an eye on Thrawn’s mission, discovered that the stolen cargo secretly included hi-tech turbolaser cannons. Thrawn deduced that Imperial Grand Admiral Balanhai Savit orchestrated the thefts and was a traitor to the Empire. 

In the epic finale of the novel, Thrawn and Faro in the ISD Chimaera confronted Grand Admiral Savit and his fleet of 4 star destroyers. In a stunning display, Thrawn and Faro managed to defeat Savit’s fleet and capture him. Simultaneously, Admiral Ar’alani and Lieutenant Vanto took the Chiss warship Steadfast to confront the Grysk forward operating base. Utilizing Thrawn’s fleet of TIE defenders and superior tactics, they managed to destroy the two large Grysk warships.

“It’s treason then”

As I explained earlier, I expected the novel to be about Thrawn’s treason against either the Empire or the Chiss. But instead, I found a much more multifaceted theme of treason throughout the novel. 

First is the treason of Grand Admiral Savit in orchestrating the thefts of supplies mean for the Stardust project. Savit viewed the project as a huge waste, and tried preserving some of the weapons for more productive purposes. While he was acting for the good of the empire as he understood it, his actions defied the emperor’s commands.

Next, the novel explored the impact of Vanto’s desertion and defection to the Chiss. Until this point, Vanto’s disappearance was a mystery. But his reappearance brought with it accusations of treason. When pressed, Thrawn claimed that Vanto’s position with the Chiss was actually cleared by the Emperor. The implications of this defense are interesting. If the emperor had given permission, then it is clear that he was nurturing a future collaboration or subterfuge. If he hadn’t, then Thrawn was in fact committing treason to the Empire. 

Surprisingly, Assistant Director Ronan also “defected” to the Chiss at the end of the novel. In the beginning, he was perhaps the most accusatory of Vanto’s decision. But later he realized his connections to Krennic would likely incur the ire of Tarkin and Vader. Perhaps with only the motivation of self preservation, he made the treasonous decision to defect.

Thrawn’s Treason?

Still unanswered, however, is the question of Thrawn’s loyalty. The epilogue explained that Palpatine’s ultimate designs for the Chiss was domination. He viewed Thrawn as an instrument in these designs, which would leave Thrawn two choices. He could collaborate with the Empire and commit treason against the Chiss, or defy the emperor and commit treason against the Empire. 

Whether this ultimatum came to fruition is currently unknown. Immediately after the novel, Thrawn engaged the rebels on Lothal, endured defeat, and was taken to an unknown location with Ezra Bridger. This leaves plenty of room for pretty much anything to happen, which is both frustrating and exciting. 

Thrawn and Ezra

Thrawn’s Disappearance

There is evidence that Thrawn’s final confrontation with the Emperor is significant. At the end of the book, the Emperor confronts Thrawn again questioning his loyalty. The last lines of the book are:

“When the business on Lothal is finished…you will return to Coruscant. Where you and I will have a long, long talk.” 

I’ve long felt that Thrawn’s actions in the finale of Rebels were out of character. Throughout the novels, Thrawn went to extreme lengths to limit death and collateral damage. However, over Lothal, he attempted to bombard the entire city. He was much angrier than normal, having lost his typical cool demeanor.

I see two explanations for this. First, the implications of the Emperor’s words rattled him to the core. Perhaps, even Thrawn has a breaking point and the emperor had pushed him to it. The other possibility is that Thrawn recognized that his time serving two masters was at an end. Could he have had the foresight to facilitate the confrontation on Lothal such that it ended with him being carried away by the purrgil? Could he have manufactured his own disappearance in order to evade the Emperor?

Either way, there is much more to Thrawn’s story. While this novel ends the series, it opens up so many ways that the story could continue.

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