Give Me Those Star Wars 27: Heir to the Empire vs Thrawn

The Irredeemable Shag and Stella hijack GIVE ME THOSE STARS WARS for a very special episode! 

HEIR TO THE EMPIRE (1991) vs THRAWN (2017)! Both novels by Timothy Zahn featuring everybody’s favorite Imperial Grand Admiral! Shag, Star Wars EU veteran, goes head-to-head against Stella, Star Wars EU newbie! Which book comes out on top?

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16 responses to “Give Me Those Star Wars 27: Heir to the Empire vs Thrawn

  1. I came up more a Star Trek fan but it was the Expanded Universe that made me a Star Wars fan. Tales of the Jedi with Nomi Sunrider and Exar Kun; Crimson Empire with Kir Kanos; antagonists like Thrawn and Ventress; the KOTOR and Jedi Knight games…

    Even with all the films post prequels, it is the Rebels cartoon that has kept my fanfare going. I never really cared about R2-D2 and C-3PO but Chopper and AP-5? My droids.

  2. If Stella really is a Benedict Cumberbatch fan, it’s almost unforgivable that she didn’t recognize THRAWN is Timothy Zahn’s SHERLOCK fan-fiction gussied up to look like a Star Wars story. The hapless Eli Vanto is Martin Freeman’s Watson to the constantly Chisssplaining Benedict Holmes. Stella does make up for this glaring oversight, however, by showing love for Talon Karrde, the greatest character ever created for the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

    Thrawn-as-Sherlock is one part of why the character in THRAWN is very different from the character in the HEIR TO THE EMPIRE, DARK FORCE RISING, and THE LAST COMMAND. As you two pointed out, he’s the villain in the original trilogy, and he’s not a particularly complicated one. In typical old school Star Wars fashion, Thrawn is evil. He wants the Empire to rule the galaxy to bring his brand of order and control to all living things. He’s not above sending assassins to kill a pregnant woman and her family.

    As Thrawn became a fan-favorite character, though, Lucasfilm and Zahn’s depiction of the character began to soften. The slow retcon began in the ways Admiral Pellaeon described Thrawn in the SPECTRE OF THE PAST and VISION OF THE FUTURE to much later appearances like OUTBOUND FLIGHT, CHOICES OF ONE, and the short story “Crisis of Faith” which described Thrawn’s efforts to defend the Unknown Region from a far greater threat. Thrawn was even given his own nemesis in those stories named Nuso Esva, who is Thrawn’s personal Moriarty, as explained by Zahn.

    By the time we get to THRAWN, Zahn isn’t writing the character as a villain. He is the protagonist, and as such, he must be sympathetic and relatable. Hence, the new ambiguous antihero Thrawn is secretly loyal to his people over the Empire, and he’s not on board with the use of slaves or the Death Star super weapon. The transition to Thrawn as the hero is simplified by what Shag pointed out: the Rebels are terrorists. We never see them acting nobly or heroically; we get no Hera Syndulla or Cassian Andor POV character for the Rebels, no one to like or sympathize with.

    This is a major problem with THRAWN in particular, and all of the new Star Wars canon books in general. Most of the recent novels and YA books have focused on characters like Thrawn, Captain Phasma, Grand Moff Tarkin, Darth Vader, etc… All bad guys! Star Wars has always had some of the greatest, most memorable villains in pop culture, but they were unmistakably villains. When you make them the protagonists of the books, you force the audience/reader to sympathize with them, and you often compromise the character. But the bad guys of Star Wars shouldn’t be relatable; they’re the truly vial, irredeemable (sorry) bottom of the galaxy. Why?

    Because the Empire is based on fascist regimes like the f***ing Nazis! That’s why the Empire of the original trilogy and the old Expanded Universe was an old white boys club. Female officers were nearly unheard of, and when they did show up it was a big deal (Ysanne Isard!), as was the rare appearance of Imperials of color (besides blue). The Empire was not a place for diversity and representation; it was the exact opposite, hence EVIL!!! For some damn reason, though, Disney has populated the ranks of the Empire with women, POC, and queer characters. WHY? Did female readers feel like they didn’t have a hero to look up to in the ranks of the Nazi-like Empire?!?! Was someone really begging for the gunner who fired the super laser that killed three billion Alderaanians to be gay?

    All of that aside, the fact that Zahn turned his once evil villain into a reluctant Sherlock analogue is secondary to the real problem with THRAWN… it’s boring.

    What the HEIR TO THE EMPIRE trilogy had in spades was action, tons of action. Space battles, ground battles, smuggler battles, lightsaber battles, foot chases, speeder chases. Y’know why? Because that’s Star Wars. That’s the DNA of Star Wars, and so many of the new canon books like THRAWN, LOST STARS, and LEIA, PRINCESS OF ALDERAAN either skip the action, or don’t know how to write it. Or, in the case of the first AFTERMATH book, the action just sucks because the writing is bad.

    Am I biased? Well, I do love HEIR TO THE EMPIRE, that entire trilogy. I even love the Hand of Thrawn duology, and SURVIVOR’S QUEST. Some of my all-time favorite Star Wars moments come from Zahn’s books, as well as some of my favorite characters including Talon Karrde, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade, Captain Pellaeon, Borrsk Fey’lya, and Niles Ferrier. In fact, I like the Thrawn trilogy more than RETURN OF THE JEDI.

    So, yeah, the question of which book is better was never really a question for me.

    Oh, one other thing: Arihnda Pryce… A-RIN-duh.

    Great episode, great discussion. Stella definitely needs to come back to talk Ahsoka Tano and REBELS.

  3. Hi Shag and Stella,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your conversation about the Thrawn books. The original publication of Heir to the Empire launched a decade of me reading virtually every Star Wars book. It was a great period of my Star Wars fandom. I must agree with Shag because Mara Jade is awesome. I had a tough time with the book universe being wiped away and the loss of Mara Jade is definitely one of those reasons. Another reason is completely related to one of Stella’s comments which is that I always imagined the heroes from the original film trilogy having many more adventures as they worked to rebuild the alliance, just like in these wonderful books, but that’s not what happened according to the new canon. I am still enjoying many things about the recent movies, but I’m not sure the things I am enjoying entirely make up for what I feel I lost.

    Thanks for a fun show! Darrin

  4. Fun discussion! I will admit I haven’t read either book, but I knew enough about Star Wars to follow along just fine. Some very nice points were brought up. And speaking of which, anyone who thinks to be a fan you do have to read all the novels and ancillary media, or watch all the movies if you just like the novels…well, you’re one of those “fans eating each other” people Shag rallied against.

    While we’re on such subjects, good on Stella for liking the prequels, and Lord Vader help me, even Jar-Jar. Somebody has to, and it goes to show that despite the 20 years of nerd rage, those movies and that infamous character in particular worked on SOME level. If that’s not “Find your joy”, I don’t know what is.

    Based on the comment he left above, I think Ryan could now lift an X-Wing out of a swamp, so the you may have helped “force” his return….

  5. Can we please get the non-Karaoke theme back? Words can’t express how much I hate this one. It’s the only podcast theme I’ve ever heard that actively makes me feel like I should avoid listening to the podcast altogether.

      1. Absolutely, Ryan! Let’s get on that!

        And Mark, you know me well enough by now. You are just encouraging me to keep playing it when I do my own Star Wars episodes! 😛

  6. Great episode, lady and gentleman. I have not read the new Thrawn novel, but I have read most of his appearances in the Legends novels, and I recently watched Season 3 of Rebels. When Thrawn showed up in Rebels, I had no problem recognizing him as the character I knew from the old novels. Building on Ryan’s dissertation, I think Rebels gives Thrawn a chance to return to his roots as a straight up villain, which is great. In the Season 3 episodes I saw, I didn’t get the sense that he had any other motive than to serve the Empire.

    On a related note, I’ve enjoyed Lars Mikkelsen’s portrayal of Thrawn on Rebels. Quiet and understated is the way to go with that character, in my opinion. Mikkelsen also played Charles Magnussen on Sherlock, which further strengthens the Thrawn-Sherlock connection that Ryan pointed out.

    Stella, it’s always nice when you visit the Network. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve fallen behind on my BtO listening, and will have to remedy that problem as soon as possible.

    Shag, thank you for keeping this podcast going. You are the spark that’ll light the fire that’ll reignite Ryan Daly’s Star Wars fandom.

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