Biweekly Book Review: Thrawn: Alliances

Welcome back to Biweekly Book Reviews!

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m going include a link to a community organization that needs support in each of my posts, so lets’s kick it off with that. We’re going to start off easy. This one will cost you nothing but time. Here is a list of petitions that need signing. Sign a few, sign them all, and remember, don’t give any money to change.org! None of it ends up with the cause/person affected!

Today we will be taking a look at the second book in the Thrawn trilogy: Thrawn Alliances by Timothy Zahn.

*Spoilers Below*

The Story

Thrawn: Alliances jumps back and forth between two stories.

The first story is set during the Clone Wars. Anakin is headed to the Outer Rim to find Padmé, who headed in that direction herself on a tip from her handmaiden Duja. As Anakin arrives at Batuu (yes, the same Batuu you can visit at Disneyland and Disney World), he meets a mysterious blue alien, Thrawn, who offers him assistance in locating Padmé. Between the three of them, first separately, then together, they uncover a Separatist facility on the nearby world of Mokivj. While there they try to discover Count Dooku’s motives for setting up such a facility, while Thrawn’s motivations for making the trip to the Outer Rim also come to light.

The second story takes place during the age of the Empire. Palpatine sends Admiral Thrawn and Darth Vader to Batuu to investigate a mysterious disturbance in the Force. Tensions bubble to the surface as Darth Vader (rightly) assumes Thrawn is not 100% in service to the Empire, and tries to catch him out on it. The two also retrace many of the steps they took together during the Clone Wars as Vader worries that Thrawn may recognize him for who he is.

5 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. Padmé’s here!

Padmé’s here, you guys! This was such an unexpected surprise the first time I read the book. I don’t know why I expected Anakin to say he was off to find Padmé, and then for us to just meet up with her right at the end.

But no! She’s here, and she has a full adventure all her own. She heads to Batuu to find her missing handmaiden Duja, who sent word about uncovering something big in the region. By the time Padmé arrives, she is too late to save her friend, so she decides to pick up the investigation where Duja left off, leading her to the Separatist facility on Mokivj.

Padmé in this book feels a lot like Clone Wars Padmé. Clone Wars Padmé never really felt like movie Padmé to me, though in fairness this could be because the movies catch her at two specific, defining moments in her life, and the series covers more of her day-to-day. But I liked having her here. She’s rarely included in the ancillary books, and nobody felt like mentioning her at all in the new movies, so I’ll take what I can get!

2. Anakin vs. Vader

This is that rare Star Wars book where we don’t have just Anakin and his dark potential, or just Vader and his tragic past. We have both at the same time. The best kind of 2-for-1 deal.

Jumping between the two made me consider something that I’d kind of wondered about, but that this book threw into sharp relief. The way Anakin speaks and the way Vader speaks are so SO different. Anakin has a far less formal way of speaking than Vader does, which almost makes me wonder if prolonged exposure to Palpatine made him pick up his speech patterns and language? This isn’t explicitly stated in any way it was just something fun to consider.

There are little throwaways that connect the two. For instance, Vader is an extremely skilled pilot, and pulls off complicated moves the way Anakin used to.

But my favourite in-text connection is this: anything Vader thinks of or remembers from his pre-Vader life is thought of as belonging to “The Jedi”. Memories of Padmé are The Jedi’s memories. Thrawn has never come to Batuu with Vader before, he came with The Jedi. Though he keeps this distinction pretty firm in his head, it is harder to do with Thrawn around because…

3. Thrawn just loves messing with Vader

Hoo boy, does he ever. Aside from the usual dust ups that come from having two people be similar in rank and jockeying for control of the mission.

Thrawn brings up his past mission to Batuu in front of Vader, who all but flips out like “what? Anakin who? What? who cares! this is irrelevant”. Bro. Chill. Way to be as suspicious as humanly possible.

Then Thrawn decides to have some fun with it. Offhand mentions to the earlier mission to the region are phrased as “the last time WE were here…” “when WE discovered that facility…” only for Vader, out of a sense of obligation by this point, to jump in like “no WE, just YOU. I have no idea what this mission is that you speak of.”

By the end Vader is pretty sure that Thrawn has connected the dots, and I’m curious to see if this comes up again in book 3.

4. Batuu!

It’s Batuu, everybody! Home to Black Spire Outpost, which you too can visit once Disney Parks reopen! This was probably one of those things where Timothy Zahn had to send them SOMEwhere, so the company just asked him to make it this planet called Batuu, to plant the seed for the upcoming theme park. I know it’s shamelessly corporate but I was absolutely here for it.

Last summer, I spent 10 weeks living in Los Angeles and I spent more time (and money) at Disneyland than I would care to admit. A big reason for that was that Galaxy’s Edge had just opened, and I wanted to take in as much of it as humanly possible. Reading this book for a second time, having now spend some time in Black Spire Outpost, I found I was imagining the layout of the theme park.

The interior of the Cantina is described exactly like Oga’s Cantina at Galaxy’s Edge (reservations required). When Thrawn and Vader are about to face off against the Grysk inside the cantina, the narration mentions that the Grysk are eating something that can be eaten with one hand and looks like it came from a street vendor. Tell me those aren’t supposed to be Ronto Wraps (available at Ronto Roasters on the edge of the Marketplace) (also somehow I went to Galaxy’s Edge several times and never ate one?? I have no excuse).

5. Force sensitive Chiss

The disturbance that the Emperor sensed, the one Thrawn and Vader are sent to investigate, revolves around a group of Force sensitive Chiss children.

Vader initially wonders if the Chiss have Jedi, or even Sith among them. Which, if he’s even thinking this makes me think the Sith “Rule of 2” (only ever one master and one apprentice at a time) is more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule.

According to Thrawn, some Chiss are born with the ability (usually girls), but they all lose it as they get older. They are used by the Chiss to navigate unstable hyperlanes that change due to flying space debris.

In a stunning twist, one I hope comes back at some point in the story because it was to interesting to relegate to one line in the third act of a book, Thrawn tells Vader that the Chiss language has a specific word for Force-users. That word translates to “sky-walkers”.

WHAAAAT. This is not a coincidence and I demand more! More of this!

6. The entire B-plot with the crews

There is…some kind of subplot going on with Vader and Thrawn’s respective crews as they all work together on this mission. I wish I could go into more detail, but in all honesty I kind of spaced out during those parts. They went on too long, I wasn’t totally clear on what their motivation were, and I also kept forgetting who worked for who. About halfway through I stopped trying to care. I just tried to pay attention to the broad strokes of what they were doing, in case it had any bearing on the plot (I may or may not have succeeded)

Points Left Hanging

  • Eli Vanto does not pop up at all in this book. We know he’s off with Thrawn’s people, the Chiss, so I assume he’s coming back in the next one? I miss that sweet Wildspace boy
  • In this book, we see that Thrawn is using Imperial resources to indirectly help the Chiss. His initial story when he was captured is that the Chiss exiled him. I feel like he’s a sleeper agent. We’ve only got one more book to find out which, if either is the truth!
  • This book is set after the season 3 finale of Rebels. I wonder if the next book will be as clearly defined within the timeline, like if it runs concurrent to any episodes or something?
  • A race of aliens called the Grysk are stealing Chiss children as a means of attacking and weakening them. I’m not suuuuper clear on their long term goals but I’m hoping they come to light in book 3

Random Thoughts

New entry in Star Wars linguistic quirks: using “frost” as a stand in for “fuck” (as in: what the frost?)

Interestingly, when Vader and Thrawn enter the cantina in Black Spire Outpost, the location is barely described. Later in the novel, when Anakin and Thrawn enter for the first time, it is described in much more detail. Because it is the first time they are seeing it, even though it’s the second time we, the reader, are seeing this location in the book. I thought that was a cute point of view trick.

Much like Thrawn has his internal observational monologue, Anakin’s Force intuition is written out as having “double vision”, which helps him see things split seconds before they occur. This is nothing new to the story. Qui Gon Jinn straight up says it in Episode I. But it was cool to see it actually written out like this.

Vader doesn’t see the point in doing calculations because that’s what droids are for, confirming for me that Anakin is the kid who doesn’t want to do his math homework because he has a calculator so what’s the point.

The Separatist factory they discover is developing a substance to be resistant to lightsabers and blasters. Anakin later sees the head of the facility walking around in Clone Trooper armour from Obi Wan’s unit. I didn’t see the connection initially until it clicked that they’re remaking the armour for the Jedi units so that they can’t fight back when Order 66 comes. Which is pretty messed up…

Vader observes that there is symmetry in the Force. Not exactly a novel concept. But there is mention that the Force can reunite people. Like two halves of a dyad maybe? *removes Ben Solo conspiracy hat*

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