WARNING: Article contains mild spoilers for Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy (Book I – Chaos Rising). Read on at your own risk.

“You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Now, I’m sure you’re probably asking this question: Why is he quoting Harvey Dent in an article about a Star Wars book? The answer is simple, and one you’ll find spread across the pages of Timothy Zahn’s latest Star Wars novel. Thrawn Ascendancy (Book I – Chaos Rising) is yet another Zahn masterpiece. This time he weaves an even more intricate backstory of one of the most loved characters in all of Star Wars: Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Thrawn Ascendancy; Chaos Rising
Image: Del Rey Books

He’s no Grand Admiral when this story begins, however. In fact, he’s really… nothing. Thrawn begins his career as but a pawn in a complex game of politics. The ruling families of the Chiss Ascendancy both revere and revile Thrawn’s brilliance, with good reason on both sides. His tactical genius is a necessity. His seeming recklessness, however? A liability. Chaos Rising tells the story of Thrawn’s tumultuous rise through the ranks of the Chiss Expansionary Defense Force. What’s perhaps most interesting about this story is that Thrawn to this point is, believe it or not, the good guy.

Chaos Rising elevates Thrawn to new levels

Despite others’ reservations, Thrawn does certainly have allies. First there’s General Ba’kif of the Defense Force. Another is a fringe but volatile player in Chiss politics like Thrawn: Ar’alani. (You may remember her as Admiral Ar’alani from Thrawn: Treason.) With the help of Thalias, a former sky-walker, and her charge Che’ri, the group unravels the mystery of a new threat against the Ascendancy. Throughout Chaos Rising, Thrawn and his “team” often find themselves at odds with the ruling, political Syndicure. In one way it is, as you might expect, because of Thrawn’s aversion to always following the same protocols. It is not, however, because of his treachery. In fact, you might say it’s because of his lack thereof.


Previously, we’ve seen Thrawn’s character in the original trilogy, the 2017-2019 trilogy, and throughout Star Wars Rebels. Thrawn isn’t just a brilliant tactician; he’s a ruthlessly brilliant one. Just in Rebels he murdered a factory worker to prove a point. Then he bombarded the planet of Lothal to defeat a group of just four rebels, Hera, Ezra, Sabine and Zeb. In Chaos Rising, however, Thrawn on multiple occasions goes out of his way to protect innocents. That even includes aiding non-Chiss, something the Ascendancy emphatically prohibits. So how did Thrawn become the treacherous villain we know and love?

Thrawn; Chaos Rising
Grand Admiral Thrawn with Chiss allies in Thrawn: Treason. (Image: Del Rey Books)

Chaos Rising does not answer that question…. But the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy as a whole surely will. This first entry superbly sets up Thrawn’s rise in the Ascendacy prior to the fall that sees him exiled at the beginning of 2017’s Thrawn. In typical Timothy Zahn fashion, Book I of the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy leaves you begging for the next installment.

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy (Book I – Chaos Rising) arrives September 1. You can preorder it HERE.