(2018) Timothy Zahn, Century, £20, hrdbk, 345pp, ISBN 978-1-780-89866-7
The decision to bring back Timothy Zahn in the new Star Wars canon and allow him to revamp his best character, Grand Admiral Thrawn was proved to be a good one with Zahnís first offering, Star Wars: Thrawn, which charted the early career of the Grand Admiral as he won the trust of the Emperor and rose through the ranks of his fleet.
Alliances is something of a different beast. In this, Zahn elects to tell two stories: one picking up the events after his earlier book and the other exploring events before it Ė before the fall of the Republic, when Thrawn first met Anakin Skywalker. This allows him the opportunity to utilise several of the cinematic characters, notably Anakin, Padme, R2D2 and Darth Vader.
Zahnís approach to dealing with Vader/Anakin as a character is interesting. Effectively, he considers them as two people, picking up most of the hints from the existing material and constructing a dual persona individual in Vader who considers Anakin to be Ďdeadí, but can access the memories of his former life, although the effort pains him. Zahn also describes the Force by giving Vader/Anakin a limited amount of immediate precognition; something that becomes part of the later plot.
Zahnís treatment of the other franchise characters is perfunctory. Padme rarely rises above being a generic female protagonist and R2D2 was unlikely to be more than a plot tool. In general, Zahnís storyline with Padme, Anakin and Thrawn remains consistent and competently executed, but does not become more than that. Perhaps part of this is owing to the blander characterisations of these characters from the first trilogy of films? In Zahnís previous work, his light touch with Han, Luke and Leia works well, as these are characters we already have a great deal of empathy and affection for, but Anakin and Padme are not so easy to accept in the same way, particularly as we know what will happen to Anakin later.
Of more interest is the later narrative with Vader and Thrawn investigating a disturbance in the Force in the uncharted regions. Here, Zahn is back in familiar territory, describing the tactical and strategic processes of Imperial forces, whilst also delving into the background of Thrawn and his people. In many ways, the book might have been stronger if this story had been given Zahnís undivided attention, but some of the links between the characters do need to be explained for this to work. Thrawn and Vader (as Anakin)ís previous relationship has been hinted at in other stories, so allowing this to be described in this work does bring more insight into Zahnís complex character. Another highlight here is Zahnís description of space combat, with Vader back in the cockpit of a TIE Fighter. These scenes do compare favourably to another Star Wars author, Michael A. Stackpole, but Zahn does not quite have his gift for thrilling action sequences.
In general Star Wars: Thrawn Alliances is a competent sequel that manages to add something to the Star Wars canon without disturbing too many of the major franchise themes.
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